DAY TWO: “The Good, the Bad and the REALLY, REALLY Ugly”
It was mid-afternoon on the second day when Travis, our guide, and Walker and I saddled up and headed east on the trail to our evening hunting blinds. Travis in the lead, followed by the pack mule, then Walker, then me. We had only been on the trail for 45 minutes when I had a sinking feeling. As I glanced down by my right leg, I could see that the scabbard for my rifle was empty! I yelled to Travis, and he doubled back along the trail in search of my rifle and returned with it unharmed after he found it gently nestled in a willow bush. I hoped this mishap wasn’t a sign of things to come, and I now was in doubt of the accuracy of the scope, which did appear to be undamaged.
After following the switchback trail for an hour, we stopped to get Walker situated in his ladder stand and then headed further up the trail for another half hour until reaching Asparagus Creek, a small feeder stream that was roaring with runoff from the snowmelt. Travis crawled up the hillside on the far side of the stream and set up the bait site — about 75 yards from where I would sit. He returned to point out where the bear might come from, and then gathered the horses and mule, headed down the trail to camp, and said that it would be after dark until he returned. The stage was set, it was now 4:00 p.m. and the waiting game had begun.
The setup felt really good this time, with good visibility into the timber on the left and right of the bait, but the only activity all afternoon was a pair of ravens that flew into the bait site several times from their perch in a nearby fir tree. Shooting light was fading when, at 7:40, I caught a quick glimpse of black moving through the timber from the left and toward the bait. He disappeared as he crossed the opening behind a large boulder, and then slowly reappeared from the right. It was a nice sized male, and, with the fading light, I quickly centered the crosshairs just behind his shoulders and gently squeezed the trigger. The 200 grain Hornady Hunter Precision bullet from my .300 Weatherby Magnum appeared to hit its mark as the bear spun and ran into the timber to the right. With the loud rumbling of the creek below, I never heard the bullet strike its mark, nor did I hear the bear fall or make any sounds at all.
In the meeting at camp with the guides, the hunters were adamantly instructed to stay put if we made a shot. “Do not go to the bait site. Remain where you are”. I followed the advice, and I am glad that I did. No more than 10 minutes had passed when a second bear appeared. At first, I thought it was the bear I had shot at, but this one was slightly smaller. With a two-bear limit for the season, I decided to take this one also, but before I could get a steady rest to make the shot, he turned and disappeared into the timber.
Travis arrived well after dark, and before I could say anything, he told me of his misfortune on the ride back in when his horse bucked him off, the mule ran away and through the process, he lost his cell phone! The mule was almost back at camp before Travis was able to catch up to it.
He apologized for being late, but when I told him of the bear that I shot, he was super excited and said he would run up to see if the bear had dropped close by. It was only a short time until I heard him whoop and yell down “You got him and he’s a nice one”! It was 8:30 when he yelled down that he was going to stay there and skin out the bear — even though it was pitch dark and he was by himself with only a dim head lamp. It was 10:30 when I assumed that he had completed the task as I thought that I saw his light slowly coming down the hillside. And then…
“The Really, Really Ugly’
To be continued…