~Have you ever seen a Grizzly Bear? Not in a movie or on tv or even at a zoo, but a Grizzly Bear, in the wild… Hmmm. During a recent Campfire Chat with Alaska Chick, I spoke of a Humbling moment of my own and I thought I would share the story for you here, now.
I was listening to Boss’s hunter, Ricky, chatting with my client, Harold about my favorite subject, Grizzly Bears. (Harold said no, he had never seen a Grizzly Bear in the wild.)
The powerful and magnificent Ursus arctos (Grizzly Bear!), was not the trophy Harold was dreaming of. His dream was the Dall Sheep. This was my job, to guide Harold and to do everything in my power to see that dream come true.
We headed out, keeping our eyes on the mountains, searching for those dots of white that he came all the way to Alaska from North Dakota to hunt.
~Oh, my new Vanguard tripod is, as the boys say, “tits.” Looking up the valley, taking a closer look at the sheep that Ruger had spotted while wrangling the horses in the morning chill, Harold spots his first Grizzly, ever, “THERE!”
Watching the Grizzly disappear into a bowl towards the ridge of the mountain, we spotted more sheep. Definitely worth a closer look, so we packed it up and remount the horses.
~It just, no matter how corny it may sound, makes my heart fill to hear the excitement in a client or guest’s voice and to see it on their faces.
The creek, coming from it’s glacier approximately two and a half miles up the valley, is terribly rocky and it roars. You can hear the water tumbling rocks I can’t even lift and it is murky from all the rain.
We travel a ways to stop and look again at the two groups of sheep and spot another group of what appears to be another band of Rams. That’s three groups in this little valley we are hunting today, two groups on one side, one on the other and we are only half way up the creek.
As we meandered our way, zig-zagging back and forth around the creek and rocks, we work our way closer. Finding a good knob-hill, we tie up our horses, grab the scope and climb to the top.
Settling into a good hidey-hole and setting up the spotting scope, I see young quarter, half, three quarter and even a 7/8 ram along with a couple ewes and lambs. (Must call Becky-Biologist, is this usual? I’ve never seen rams of that age grouped with ewes and lambs. You do see a band of rams with a lamb sometimes, maybe an orphan, but I don’t think I have ever seen them live as a family group.)
Looking towards the next group, we spot two rams we will be looking much closer at. Another group appears, pops out from behind the rolls of the glacier merain, more little guys. Deciding to look at the smallest group, directly behind us, the wind is perfect for our needs, back down to grab the horses and we begin to climb.
Finding a good spot to tie and hobble the horses, off come the bridles and observe the nasty storms coming at us from both directions. (Oh! The mountains!) The massive double rainbow makes a statement to each one of us and we start our climb.
Finding the Rams again, so far from where they were, we sit and glass some more. We walked and quickly gaining altitude with the lay of the land. “What are they so intent on?” Ruger asked. Looking up, distracted from my climbing mantra that I repeat over and over, under my breath, to give me the motivation to keep climbing, I see that both Rams are intent on whatever it was that disturbed them from their naps.
(~Ok, ok…”George, George, George of the jungle…”)
We watched them, watched and glassed above to see if we could spot what they had. The Rams gave up their vigil, turned a couple of times and laid back down to chew their cud. We, as well, decided to have our lunch.
As we were finishing, the first storm reached us. Hail bigger than fresh peas and heavy rain both pelted and soaked us quickly. The fog rolled in and boiled around us and the sheep in swirls, turning everything in the valley into a mystical landscape of movies and dreams. The hail finally stopped leaving the crevasses coated in white and the rain spit and sputtered itself finished as we started back down.
Harold, walking between Ruger and myself, says excitedly, “there’s a Bear!” We stopped to watch the young Grizzly Bear trotting along right below us, maybe 300 yards away. “Grab the camera, Ruger” I urged. (I really wanted to get more shots to share with you all!) Poof! Gone. They move surprisingly fast and it just took too long to get the camera from the dry bag it was in to protect it.
As we three sat and chatted more about Grizzly Bears and how he (Harold) could now return to camp tonight and let Ricky (our other client, Boss’s hunter) know that he had seen two Grizzly Bears in the wild on his first day out along with 22 Rams, 4 ewes and 4 lambs.
Ruger looked over at me suddenly and said, “Hey! He’s headed right for the horses!” We grabbed our packs and started quickly down the last slope and towards the horses.
Ok, this is what I do. This is one of my biggest thrills and source of the biggest satisfaction I get from doing what I do every year. Photographing and hunting as well, Grizzly Bears. Testing myself and my skills against the ancient and powerful ruler of the forests and hunt. However, there is nothing I can think of, that could possibly be a worse experience than surprising a Grizzly Bear.
Actually, now looking back, I ‘m not sure which of us was more surprised. Us, a step away from running straight downhill or the Grizzly who was. That unmistakable head and hump appeared like magic, skidding to a stop at the edge of the slope, standing up onto his rear legs, looking straight into my eyes. I said, “Get your rifle, NOW, you may have to shoot him” as I stepped forward to the left and ahead of Harold and his rifle and closer still to the Grizzly Bear snuffing and sniffing. I braced, thought for a moment of my children, put up my arms and used my deep, loud, drill sergeant voice to say “HEY!”
The bear wheeled and ran flat out (and boy, can they haul butt!) away from us and away from the horses. We watched as he crossed two ravines in less time than it would take us to walk (downhill) the last thousand yards to the horses. I’d say the whole encounter was at most three very long minutes, tops. About 90 seconds later, I looked down at myself and said to the guys, “Well, hey, how about that, my knees are shaking!” and sat straight down onto my butt.
Ruger ranged the distance that we were from the surprised bear and looked back at me, “7 yards.”
~That day’s lesson? Any takers? Ok, Don’t cover your side arm with your rain gear and tie them so tight you can’t reach it when you need it.