The second the bear charged, I raised my bow to full draw. I saw, in an instant, the long silver tipped guard hairs and broad forehead and knew that this was a grizzly. At fifteen feet, the bruin slid to a stop and pounded the ground with a huge forepaw, sending a spray of forest debris across my legs and torso as it let out a deep rumbling growl. As suddenly as it began, it was over. He retreated back into the forest, while I let down my shaking arrow from the bow. My heart still racing and feeling a little dizzy, I sat upon the cool earth and collected my frazzled nerves. “This is getting old”, I thought to myself, “really getting old!”
Dark timber to most folks seems a place foreboding and full of dangers. For me, these places are the perfect haunt, big elk get big by staying in this rough country and the hunter who braves the wildest country, has the best chance of harvesting one of those old warriors. The only real danger in these places is the possibility of an encounter with the king of the forest, the wild grizzly bear. In recent years, their numbers have increased dramatically. Where I once saw the occasional track, now an encounter with a bear is imminent. Last time I hunted on the North Fork of the Shoshone River, I encountered eleven bears in a six-day period. Two of those encounters were close calls with one bluff charge, bears protecting their food source (white pine nuts). During the September bow season the bears are dangerous, they forage the high slopes in search of red squirrel caches. The squirrels bury thousands of white pine cones in preparation for the long winter, and the bears dig up the huge mounds and feed on the bounty the squirrels have provided. You would have to see the actual digging to believe it, the woods look like a bulldozer went through from all the digging, and the bears spend the day lying around in the forest, sleeping near these caches. For the unsuspecting bow hunter, stalking with the wind in his face and moving very slowly, these bears are a real danger. They are storing fat reserves for winter and are very protective of their food. A two hundred pound man with a knife and bow is no match for a large carnivore weighing as much as 1000 pounds. Most bears run for cover when encountering a human, but at this time of year they more often growl and charge toward the threat. Let me tell you, even knowing most charges are bluff or false charges, the sight will still wilt even the most seasoned of outdoorsmen into a mass of shaking fear. Their growl is so sudden and fierce that your initial reaction is to flee. Never run! If you do this will trigger a predatory response, the bear will give chase and the result will be sudden and decisive.
I am not knocking the grizzly, quite the contrary; I like the fact that the wild ecosystem is intact and relish the chance to meet up with these old warriors. I am not Treadwell. The fact is that there are too many bears with little or no fear of humans sharing the wild backcountry with me. I cannot take my family into the wilderness without fear of the inevitable bear encounter. Furthermore, if I was forced to kill a bear to protect others, or myself the bear has already been given immediate protection from any wrongdoing. In any court of law, I would have to explain to a group of individuals that have never even seen a bear in the wild, why I killed a protected species. If they thought I had wrongfully killed this bear, my status as an honorable and ethical hunter would be slandered, and my right to hunt and fish could be taken away for my lifetime. This kind of ridiculous behavior by the Game and Fish is not at all the bears fault, nor the hunter who values the high lonesome places. The fault lies in the political agendas keeping the bear protected, as well as the sportsmen not speaking out so that those who are enacting these laws can hear our voice. Unless the mighty grizzly’s population is controlled in our wilderness areas, we stand a very real chance of loosing our rights, even the right to use the wilderness ourselves. I have seen the closure of trailheads to honest hard working tax paying citizens, and cringe at the possibility of what the future may hold for the majestic Grizzly and for future generations of outdoor enthusiasts. I would never shoot a grizzly unless it was a last resort and do not believe that bear spray is a deterrent on a bear who has a family member down or is protecting it’s cubs. I have used pepper spray on a female bear with cubs, she could have killed me. Luckily, I was in a tree when she began her assault. The spray did not deter that bear in any way shape of form. She thought I was a threat and she was determined to have at me no matter the cost to her delicate senses. I would not try to deter anyone from enjoying the wilderness. Most of the year, in most places, there is no real danger if you keep a clean, bear proof camp and be vigilant. For any hunter who hopes to hunt the Absaroka wilderness or Bridger Teton wilderness in September here in Wyoming, I would suggest you think twice before venturing out there with your family or loved ones. The danger is real!
Although I think all bears are beautiful and believe they have every right to live free and prosper, if one tries to eat me there will be a battle, and may the best warrior win. The fact is that the largest carnivore in North America left unmanaged will continue to have conflict with humans, and in the end, the bear always looses. If you value the grizzly and your right to use the wilderness areas please remember to vote for a management plan concerning the mighty king of the forest, their future, and ours depends on it.
(B&B)- Mike “Hawk” Huston is contributing editor for Bulls & Beavers LLC