When do I get to go back? That's always the question I find me asking myself whenever I have to leave the mountains, and the end of my 2012 spring bear hunt in Idaho is no exception! We had an incredible time and I'm more fired up to get back to Colorado for the start of my first two week adventure in the fall.
We (my buddy David and I) were hunting with Boulder Creek Outfitters. This was my second hunt with Boulder Creek, my first being an elk hunt in 2010. Both hunts took place in the Lochsa drainage in some of the most beautiful land in this country, about an hour and a half drive west of Missoula, MT. The area holds a lot of history as this is where Lewis and Clark crossed the Bitterroot Mountains and there are many other tales still told today of mountain men, outlaws, and hunting parties that visited the region.
We flew into Missoula on Saturday before the beginning of our hunt scheduled for Monday. We decided to spend the night in Missoula and took advantage of our early arrival to see some of the sights around town and shoot our bows. Flying into Missoula is great, as the airport is filled with mounts of elk, moose, bear, pronghorn, deer, and other animals and just gets you absolutely pumped to hit the woods! After renting a car from the friendly folks at Dollar, we hit our first destination -- the headquarters of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Welcome to Elk Country!
The Visitors Center of the RMEF is filled with a number of educational displays, some cool mounts, and a gift store that is sure to suck a couple of dollars from your wallet. Here's some pics from inside...
The grounds also has a short little hiking trail that we used to stretch our legs and take some photos with the friendly neighbor whitetails. My buddy David made a friend...
The second stop of the day was to the headquarters of the Boone and Crockett Club. I had no idea Missoula was the home to both the RMEF and the B&C but was thrilled to find out it was! Although the B&C headquarters were closed when we showed up, we spent some time looking through the window and also admiring the statue outfront.
Finally, we hit the hay after a busy day in Missoula. The next day found us up early in anticipation of getting on the road. After loading the car back up, we hit Highway 12 and drove the hour and a half to our next destination, the Lochsa Lodge. This was where we were to stay for the night before driving into bear camp. The Lodge is a cozy little place with a main lodge, a number of cabins on the grounds, and a general store. The inside of the main lodge is filled with a number of mounts and it just gets you in the right mood before starting a hunt!
We used the rest of the day to break in our boots by hiking a 14 mile loop on the Colt Killed Creek Trail (named by the Lewis and Clark expedition...I'll let you guess why!), grabbed dinner, and then went to bed with dreams of sows and boars dancing in our heads!
The modest camp accomodations of Boulder Creek are located about 40 miles downriver from the Lodge at the Wilderness Gateway campground. The setup consists of a main cabin and two guest cabins, of which David and I had our own. We were joined by five other hunters in camp who all knew each other -- Rob and his adult sons Bobby and Andy, and Wayne and his boy Weston, who was on the hunt as a present for starting high school. The folks in camp who took care of us were the owner Tim, his son Matt, guides Tony and Karl, and camp cook Alex. After some introductions, unpacking, and a quick lunch of BBQ'd chicken, we started rounding up the gear for the afternoon's hunt.
As this was my first bear hunt, I learned a lot about bear hunting. In Idaho it's legal to hunt over bait, which, in this country, is pretty much required as the timber is thick everywhere. Also, the weather was warm and sunny to start the hunt -- a good thing for bear hunting. The warmer and sunnier the better, in fact. That's spring bear hunting tip #1 for you!
Karl, Wayne, Weston, and I volunteered to take stands that required horses. Here's my bud Rover, who I ended up riding the first three days.
And some of the rest of the crew...
The ride into our stand area was about 45 minutes and the trail...well, let's just say it wasn't the friendliest trail I'd ever been on! Weston quickly earned his spurs, as this was his first time on a horse and it was a tough trail in points for even experienced riders.
I ended up hunting the same stand the first three days. It was a treestand placed 20' up in a patch of firs and pines. The bait was 13 yards away...a chip shot for me with my bow -- so no excuses!!! That first evening sit produced this guy, who the camp affectionately named Webster.
Webster visited me everyday I was on the stand. In fact, I've got some hilarious video of him burying his head in the bait with his two back paws sticking nearly straight up in the air. As you can see, this is clearly his bait!
As you can also see, he wasn't a shooter!! With no other action during the day (the trailcam pics were capturing a BIG bear coming in at night hitting the bait!), we decided to switch things up on Day 4 and I was put in a different stand.
The weather for Day 4 improved tremendously, as Day 2 and 3 brought rain and a chill to the air. Most bear activity tended to be at night, so the sits on the stand were generally from about 1 til dark, which was 9 o'clock. This day, we tried to extend the hours a bit and got on stand at about 10 in the morning. Treestand hunting is about my least favorite kind of hunting, but it still beats a day at work! With nothing happening for the first few hours, I left the stand at 2PM and met guide Tony to report back. He said to be patient, as they had pics of a blonde bear hitting this bait. With the words of encouragement, I was back in the stand about 3PM.
The bait sat on a nearly the spine of a little finger ridge, and my treestand was on the west side of the ridge in a tree about 30 yards down from the top but at about eye level with the bait given I was up about 22'. Tony told me to focus on the top of the ridge to the north and so that's where I spent most of my time watching. That's when the magic happened.
At about 5PM, while sitting in the stand just praying for something to come in, preferably that blonde bear, I looked back up the ridge to see a beautiful golden bear waddling down the center of the spine of the ridge. My heart went from 0 to 60 in .3 seconds! I told myself to breathe and relax, as the bear was still about 60 yards from the bait, but on a clear line towards it (albeit nice and slow). In what felt like hours but was probably a minute or two, the bear covered the remaining 60 yards to the bait, and I watched carefully making sure not to reveal my position.
As he passed one tree, I moved my hand up and clicked my release to the bow. Continuing to watch him. Keep in mind, after three days of watching Webster, this guy looked HUGE! Between that and the prettiest blonde coat I've ever seen, I couldn't slow my heartrate down. As he started to pass the last tree before the bait-site, I came to full draw. The bear paused and didn't move and I thought I was busted. I decided to stay at full draw and try not to move, and after what seemed like minutes but was probably only seconds, the bear cleared the last tree.
He stepped a few more yards and was broadside at 13 yards. Bear hunting tip #2 is that the vitals are more forward than you may be used to for a deer, so I picked a spot about a third of the way up the body in line with the middle of his front right leg, settled my 20 yard pin on it and released the arrow...THWACK!!!
With a snap back at a the entry point of the arrow and a little snarl, the bear bounded over the top of the ridge down the other side and out of view. It looked like I made a perfect shot, and after a few minutes I went to look for my arrow and blood. The arrow was burried halfway into a rotted stump behind where I was aiming and showed bright red blood -- a perfect pass throught! I walked a few yards up to look for blood and found a few drops. With a pefect pass through and a fresh sharpening of the G5 Montecs, I expected more blood. After about 10 yards of looking I decided to back out and wait for Tony to get back to help in the recovery.
The wait from 5 o'clock to 9 o'clock was agony!!! There's no cell reception and no walkie talkies, so I had no way to let anyone know what happened. Seconds ticked by until finally 9 o'clock rolled around and I exited the stand. I had grand plans of saying I didn't see anything and then showing the bloody arrow, but by the time Tony rolled up and asked if I got anything, I couldn't contain myself! He let out a whoop and some high fives and hugs and honest to God was more excited than I was. That's something I'll say for the guys at Boulder Creek is that they absolutely LOVE it when guys get animals. You'd think after two months of doing this and all the manual labor they might be sick of it, but nothing could be further from the truth and it's much, much appreciated!
After meeting up with the others to see if any other bears were down, we formed a search party to head out for my bear that consisted of me, David, and Tony (in fact, David shot a bear the exact time I did, but they decided based on how he was hit to give him til the next morning).
By 10:30 we were on the blood trail...of which there wasn't much. Bear hunting tip #3 is that given they're fat and fur, often times bears don't leave much of a blood trail. We first decided to head downhill and see if we couldn't stumble upon them. One fruitless hour later we were back at the top of the ridge, on hands and knees following starting from where we knew there was blood. Man it was tough. We had to look hard to find drops of blood the size of a fly. Certain spots we'd stop and discuss for a few minutes whether we thought it was blood or not. But finally, after marking our blood trail with objects such as a Coors light bottle cap and a powerbar wrapper, we had a decent trail going and saw that he was headed back towards the top of the ridge. Soon, David exclaimed he had more blood, and more, and more...literally five seconds later and a matter of three yards away, my bear lay piled up. He hadn't gone 30 yards from where I shot him. Then the whooping and hollering began!!! After some high-fives and some hugs, we posed him up for pictures. This is my first bear and will be a tough one to top.
Me with David
Me and Tony
One skinning job and a bunch of laughs and smiles later, we were back on the trail headed down to the truck. The cold beer waiting back at camp never tasted so good! Not only that, the other guide Karl (who I hunted with the first three days) was still up waiting to see what we came back with, too excited to sleep. Once he saw the bear, he gave me a big shake and a hug and was as excited as any of us. Again, I can't say enough about that. It was 2:30AM, he was due to take hunters out at 3:15AM, and he was too excited to sleep waiting for us to get back. Gotta love that dedication.
It was all the highlight of an incredible week in camp. The hunting was a little slow (we only brought in three bears, and unfortunately David never recovered his as we think it was just shoulder shot), but the laughs and the smiles weren't. I've made some lifelong friends and plan on hunting with many of these people again in the near future. We were happy for Weston, who just turned 14 and was one of the lucky few who did bag a bear. And despite losing his bear, David is absolutely hooked on hunting now and is both looking forward to our other hunts this year (he's going with me to Colorado for mule deer and New Mexico for elk) and getting back for next year's bear season. And although I've been hunting since I was 12, this is only my third big game animal and second with a bow. Having taken an elk and a whitetail, I can tell you that my hear has never beaten as fast hunting as it did as that bear was walking in and I can tell you I'm absolutely hooked on it as well! It's a great start to my 2012 season, which I'm already deeming a success!
I plan on doing a full body mount on it and now the fun begins as I get to pick what I want. I'll be sure to to post some pics when it's done! That's it for now. Amazing to think that my Colorado mule deer hunt is only two and a half months away...