At dawn we loaded up the backpacks with our essential gear and headed upriver to a mountain we called "Koelzer's" Mountain. This is where a bowhunter took a big boar last year during a very hairy situation.
The hike upriver was as bad as all the others. Swamps, blow downs, bushwhacking, etc. all made for a "fun time". On top of that we had to cross the river at four locations. Before my hunt Bryan recommended that I purchase a product called "Wiggies" which are best described as Nylon garbage bags which slip over your hunting boots and pants. They only weigh a few ounces and are so much more convenient than wearing, or lugging, waders around. At each stream crossing Bryan and I simply slipped on our wiggies, crossed the stream, then slid them off.
It took about three hours before we began climbing sharply up Koelzer's Mountain. Three fourths of the way to the top, the weather turned sour and it became a downpour. Despite the nasty weather, Bryan and I picked our way up to the ridge and glassed the berry slopes below. No bears. We continued along the ridge where an adjoining ridge connected to another mountain. While moving along through the rain and poor visibility, bryan stopped dead in his tracks and said:
"Big, BIG, grizzly".
There it was, less than 400 yards from us, downhill and around the opposite slope. The problem was the wind absolutely sucked. It was blowing straight down the mountain with an occasional swirl. To make matters worse, the bear was on a very steep slope and feeding away from us. I would need to be on his level (or below) and pray the wind would hold out.
Bryan and I discussed the situation, and had what I called our "facts of life" speech.
"It's better to be above the bear in case something goes wrong." Bryan said. "If the bear charges you, make sure you hit the deck so I can shoot him. Because of how close you need to get, he may chew on you a little but don't worry - I'll get to you quickly and blast him if that happens. He should not be able to do too much damage that way. Of course, this is "worst case." Now, go kill that bear." Bryan said.
I slipped on my arm guard and shooting glove and began my descent toward the big bear. Bryan followed behind at 30 yards. I took it slow at first. We had last seen the bear behind two bright yellow trees and now that I was standing under them, we were both on high alert. But couldn't find the bear. I continued forward. Bryan and I side-hilled very slowly and deliberately along the steep slope. Then, I saw him.
"He's 100 yards dead ahead" I motioned to Bryan.
The grizzly was in a patch of blow downs. That concerned me. Bryan caught up to me. "I don't like this setup, it will be hard to catch up to him in those blow downs. They're likely to be noisy. Bryan agreed but with the combination of the wind and the bear's direction of travel, we had little choice. I continued further until I was forty yards away. With my recurve, I needed to cut that distance in half.
The bear was unaware of my presence as I placed one foot gently in front of the other. Then, I snapped a branch.
The bear whipped his head around and looked right at me. I froze.
He slowly moved a few steps, still looking in my direction. After a long pause, he went back to feeding. I took one step forward on the steep, slippery slope. All of a sudden I slid down the hill. My weight bearing foot hit a wet root that was sharply facing downhill and my entire body hit the deck. The bear, startled, ran up the hill, woofing and growling. I had blown my first stalk on a huge, record book bear. I was pissed. Looking back at the situation there was no way I could have seen that root, and given the conditions of rain, slope and wind - I had little chance of getting within twenty yards. Bryan and I headed back to where we left our packs. Just before dark we spotted another big bear 300 yards above us. There was no way to stalk it so Bryan tried a predator call. The bear was too interested in the blueberries to bother with a dying mammal, so he just ignored us.
Tired, wet and hungry we both knew we were looking at a long and difficult hike back to camp. But I had not realized just how difficult it would be.
Darkness rushed in quickly. The brush was wet which saturated our clothes and navigating deadfalls, slick from rain, was wearing me out. After several hours of tripping, sliding, getting tangled in thick brush, or getting stuck in muddy bogs, I had just about had it. As a student of Hypothermia, I am acutely aware of the ingredients which lead to it: wet clothes, extreme fatigue, and cold temperatures were all in the mix. I simply had to keep going - spending the night was not an option.
Shortly after midnight we arrived in camp. Bryan, having been in the mountains for the past few months, was in good shape and knew how to navigate the deadfalls and brush better than me. I was hurting. After a warm meal and a change into some dry clothes, I slipped into my sleeping bag. Despite my exhaustion, I couldn't sleep. I was keyed up over the bear stalk and my worn out body. We were going on our 4th day, and with the loss of days at the beginning it was actually my 6th day. My trip was already half over. Despite a nagging feeling that I needed to go harder, my practical, reasoning side told me that I better slow down and regroup. Sometime in the early morning hours I fell asleep.
|Our grizzly hunt takes place in Northern British Columbia with Bryan Martin of Canadian Mountain Outfitters.|