Bears

   
 It’s late archery season and pouring rain. We drop the kids off at their grandparent’s house and make the hour and a half drive to an area that we’ve heard the elk are. By the time we get there, we’ve missed the daylight hour, so we spend a few hours driving the mountain roads to glass and scout the area to decide which spot we should hike into for the afternoon hunt. Not really seeing anything much from the road, we make a plan to head back down and nap in the truck for a few hours and later we would go to the highest peak and bugle to try and locate and go after them in the morning. On the way down, we notice this tree with two magpies and about ten crows on it. Corey and I look at each other, nod and pull the truck into the brush to get out and see what kind of carcass they are eating on. This would give us information of what kind of animals or predators are in the area, since we had not hunted here in about two years.

Now it’s important to note, Corey and his dad had logged this area fifteen years ago and did logging and road construction here over the years. Now they both said to me, they’ve never seen a bear in this drainage, ever.

I get a bit unnerved when someone says they’ve never seen a bear here. Because now that I am here, you’ll see your first one, believe me.

So with my .40 on my hip, and Corey’s in the safe, we get out to go look at what we assume is a carcass. I take one step out of the truck and look down.

Now, my mother and most of my family think I should have gone into forensic work. They thought this way before CSI or any similar shows. I have an acute sense of details of my surroundings, so acute sometimes I get turned around, or get so focused on looking for one thing that I can be in the right place and just not realize it. While hunting, my guard is never down, and I’m always scanning and looking for something out of place, or that one detail to tell us which way to go when tracking.

So, I get out of the truck and look down. It looks like the deer and elk had a party and decided to use this 20 yard circle as their bathroom. And fresh. Corey and I silently walk back to the truck, while I grab my bow, he reaches for his call. We follow the trail about 150 yards into the brush to sit and wait. At this point the rain has stopped but everything is soaking wet and nothing is making a sound. It’s quiet, eerie quiet.

Now a little bit of background on the area we hunt. The elk aren’t as vocal as they used to be due to the predators, so a lot of times they will come in silent. And a gunshot has brought in a pack of wolves or a bear, more than once.

Corey lets out a few cow calls and we wait. Nothing. A few more chirps. Half an hour later, still nothing. After deciding to hang out for a few hours Corey heads back to the truck for some lunch and I head off to explore around this area a little bit and just see where some of these trails lead. About forty yards from where I was sitting earlier, I come across berries, well what looks like berries that had been thrown up. So thinking to myself, what in the world, oh wait, that’s fresh bear scat that’s gotten rained on. Hmm, now might be the time to turn back. I have a bear tag, and would have no trouble harvesting one. But I am hunting elk at the moment, and I know myself, I get so absorbed in tracking or paying attention to all the little details that I will miss a cow standing in front of me; as I did when I “rattled” one, but that’s another story. Following this trail further my attention to surroundings is now on alert. Another 100 yards down the trail, and a second pile of bear scat. Yeah okay, time for this mom to turn around.

I get back and tell Corey about my find. We talk and go over strategies of what we think the elk are doing. Have you ever tried to think like an elk? Our plan was to drive down to this gate about a mile down the mountain, closer to the river, and walk in. This area looks amazing, there’s deer and elk sign everywhere and trails going up each bank. I even find a nice shed, which was very easy to spot, making me think that no one had really hunted this area this year.

The farther we go, the more sign we see. Then it stops. There’s one pile of bear poop. Eyes get wide. Oh wait, there’s another. Unclip holster. And another. Now there’s a shell in the chamber and the pistol in one hand and my bow in the other, begging Corey to turn around. When I see the bear poop with pieces of a garbage bag in it (I’m dead serious) I totally lose my shit. I’m too scared to leave Corey’s side and he’s pushing on to a clearing. This went on for about half a mile. Literally stopped counting after twenty large piles.

We reach the clearing, its only about 100 yards across and 50 yards deep, but looks like a perfect place for something to come out right at dark. I sit quietly trying to calm my nerves but keep looking over my shoulder into the deep dark trees. Suddenly, something starts crashing down below us. We both jump up and run to the edge of the old road and look down the hill. It’s so thick there could be a moose and you’d have trouble seeing it. Back to our seats. It’s getting close to that perfect time for bow hunting, right at dusk. And with every passing minute, it’s getting darker and darker.   I turn to Corey and tell him its time to head back to the truck even though it’s not dark and we might be missing an opportunity, I honestly can not sit here another minute. I’m still calm, but fear that I’m really going to be attacked by a bear. The panic in my eyes must have told him that I’m not joking and we made the trip back to the truck. Never knowing if the bear was close by or not, I felt a wave of relief hit me once I closed the truck door.

So we head back to the spot with the birds from earlier, which we never found a carcass or anything. At this point, it’s dark, and thankfully fire restrictions have been lifted, so we fumble around for headlamps to get the lantern going and start a fire. A cold beer and warm mountain house sitting around the fire, makes all my troubles disappear. But still being conscious about bears, we didn’t leave any food out or burn anything except for wood in the fire. We crawl into the back of the truck and turn on the little heater and close the topper door to warm up a bit before bed. A kiss goodnight and alarms are set to go back out and look for the elk in the morning.

Three hours later I wake up, needing to use the bathroom.

I nudge Corey and tell him. He mumbles “Why are you telling me?” My response, “Well, I don’t know, I’m still a little freaked out from earlier.” “You’ll be fine,” he says.

Now I find it important to say, nothing is exaggerated.

I have my hand on the topper glass door, going to push it open, and there’s this “gggrrrrrrshh” (ok I totally need this to be in audio) it’s an unmistakable bear groan. Corey, grabs my arm, pulls me back, and whispers “Don’t move.”

It’s pitch black, but my eyes were as wide as saucers and I’m whispering back, “what the hell was that, that’s a bear, oh my god, my pistol.” I had on my insulated pants earlier, since I’m always cold and left my pistol in the holster, on my belt, in the front seat.

Then there’s this scratching tapping noise on the glass. And you can hear him walking around the truck. No weapon in the back with us, and the topper unlocked. Corey grabs the keys and sets off the truck alarm. You can hear him lumber off. Oh thank god, but I’m beyond panicked at this point. As tough as Corey is, I can tell he’s freaked out too, but trying to stay calm. After being married almost nine years, I can tell when there’s panic in his voice or on his face, and when that happens, you know the situation is bad. He uses the remote start on the truck and with the dim day time running lights on, we try to look out the fogged up glass and see if there was anything still out there. The truck runs for ten to fifteen minutes before turning off if you don’t put the key in the ignition. So the truck turns off. And we sit still and wait, just to make sure nothing comes back.

About three minutes later, he does. You can hear him breathing and then there’s this thump on the truck. Some choice words were whispered and now I’m literally shaking with fear. We set the truck alarm off again and remote start it. By now, I really have to pee and thinking we are going to get attacked by a bear, I’ll have no chance for clean underwear when they find my body. Not necessarily appropriate, but the exact thoughts that were going through my head.

We don’t hear him leave, but really cannot see anything. The truck goes off. And will not remote start again. (I later learned that you’ve got to wait about half an hour before it will start a third time as a safety feature). Weighing the options of breaking out the back window of the topper and truck, or getting out and getting into the truck.

So we throw on our boots and grab the two closest things to a weapon I had in the back: a 2’ shovel and a cruisers axe. The plan was, for Corey to jump out with the axe and keys in hand to unlock the truck and I would run to the front seat and grab my pistol.

GO.

I honestly wish this event was caught on film. We both scream and throw open the topper and what is normally a feat for Corey to get out of the small opening was done with grace and in about a third of a second. I’m right behind him, out of the topper and around to the front seat and with a round in the chamber, safety off and ready in another second and a half.

We rush back to the tailgate and while I’ve got the pistol trained on the darkness in front of me Corey lights the lantern and throws the heater and two chairs into the back of the truck. He then looks at me and says, “Ready to go?” I’m like heck yes, but I’ve still got to pee.

So we get into the truck and start it, looking around for signs of anything. By now, there’s no way I’m going back to sleep, much less hunting here in a few hours. So at 2 am, I drive us the hour and a half home.

On the way out, after twenty miles on gravel road, we hit the highway. I pull over and want to look at the truck, and unload the pistol that’s still in my lamp and put away the burning hot lantern that was in between Corey’s legs. My truck was a muddy mess from the rain and dirt roads, but you could still see the nose prints and where he had brushed up against the truck, along with a few new small scratches.

We get home at 3:30 am, and all we can do is laugh. We are both in shock of what just happened. Needless to say, I think this area has bears and I won’t be spending the night in the back of my topper again without my pistol.

 

Hunting Solo

   

 I love hunting. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a passion. I am usually the one that says, let’s check this one last ridge even after we’ve hiked five miles, or one last push through the brush when we’ve been hunting in twenty below weather all day. But I am not particularly fond of hunting solo.

Our kids are six and seven, almost old enough to start going out with us. We hunt mainly spot and stalk and do not have stands or blinds set up to where they can come along and sit and enjoy it with us. We usually hike miles in to hunting spots and they just aren’t ready for that, and that’s ok. So, if my husband, Corey, and I want to hunt together, that means a babysitter, and we usually save that for our big five day elk camp trip and a few quick early morning or late evening hunts close to town.

Since my passion for the outdoors is growing, I’ve decided to hunt solo more. I do try to be smart about it. I always make sure someone knows where I will be going, have designated check in times since some of the spots I go does not have cell service, and make sure my husband is working in town and could help should I get into trouble or need help packing an elk out.

This past season I had gone out by myself probably six times but there was this one particular area that we used to hunt and scouted in the spring and saw elk sign, which we hadn’t in a few years. There had been this nagging feeling that I just had to get in there and see if the elk were in there or just moved through earlier in the year. In years past, Corey and I had hiked the mile and a half in to the big meadow and up the ridge and put on fifty plus miles for about three years in a row. We saw some monster bulls in there. I was a bit inexperience and when he told me to go set up down the hill, he meant 100 yards down the hill, not ten, where I did. He called in and watched two bulls fight and come to the exact spot that would have been perfect if I had set up where I was supposed to. I also had a cow at forty yards that we joke I tried to rattle in, as when I went to knock an arrow I was shaking so bad, it rattled across the other ones and of course spooked her off. I heard my first “live” elk bugle in this area, had my first encounter with a bear coming to a cow call, captured two mountain lions in one trail camera picture and had a bear cross ten feet in front of us. So this area has been pretty magical to me and it pulls me in like a trance. I knew I had to go in, solo. I had tried once before last year, and only made it about half a mile to a little clearing, and almost ran the entire way back to the truck. So I was determined to make it at least the mile and a half to the meadow this time.

So I dropped the kids off at school and I drove the forty minutes to the gate, blaring rock music the whole way in the truck to pump myself up so I didn’t chicken out. Arrived at the gate, and there’s another truck parked. I knew this would probably happen since I wasn’t able to be there before daylight and other hunters would be around since it was rifle season. So even though I was disappointed someone was parked at the gate, it gave me hope that the elk might be back in the area, as we had come to believe that the predators had taken over. I decided to purchase a wolf and mountain lion this year just in case. The next day I tried again with the same result, so by my third attempt I was kind of shocked and unprepared for there not to be a vehicle. Thinking to myself, it’s now or never. I parked and loaded up with my game plan of which route I was going to take and what time I would have to turn around or which peak I would need to hike up to for cell service.

It had snowed about an inch the day before, perfect conditions to see what kind of animals had been through the area. The old logging road still gets the occasional forester vehicle in the summer, but the entire area is dense and “grown in” for the most part. So even though I was walking down an old road, you still are not able to see more than 75 yards unless you get to a clearing or meadow.

I get about 200 yards down the road, and there’s four sets of wolf tracks in the snow. Wolf tracks right? Yeah pretty sure. Well maybe they are mountain lion tracks. Thinking to myself. I can see down the road a ways and they (the tracks) are coming towards me and then turn off into the brush. I’m standing there, still able to see my truck and thinking to myself, this is a moment of truth. Do I chicken out or do I continue on? If Corey was with me I wouldn’t have thought twice about it and followed the tracks into the brush. But I was alone. And scared. I was confident they were wolf tracks, but found myself scanning the trees to make sure there wasn’t a cat perched up there.

It was about twenty degrees out, but I stood there with my loaded 30-06, in the middle of the road, 200 yards from my truck, for about ten minutes, scanning the trees and the brush, looking for any sign of movement. Determined to work up the courage to move.

You know that feeling, when your senses are so heightened that you hear every leaf falling to the ground, or a pile of snow falling off a branch and hitting the ground, that literally any noise could be an animal. Well magnify that by about ten, and you get my current state.

Finally, I took a step, then another. I walked about 20 yards, then would stop and listen. After a few hundred yards, I was able to walk quietly enough that I could be aware of my surrounds and not have to stop and make sure something wasn’t following me or waiting around the next bend, all the while, I’m following wolf tracks, well where they came from, not the direction they were going. So, was there a kill site ahead that they had moved on from, or were they hunting, moving through? For some reason I still felt the need to scan the trees, even though I knew they were wolf tracks, not mountain lion.

I had my rifle loaded and a bullet in the chamber, with the safety on and my finger off the trigger. But every squirrel and bird that I heard was in my crosshairs within a millisecond.

I finally made it to the meadow. Found a spot, listened and waited. Made a few cow calls to see if I could entice anything to come out, but nothing. Even though I probably wasn’t alone, I felt like I was comfortable enough to finally set my rifle down and use my binoculars. Now at this point I had walked in about a mile and a half, which took over an hour. My rifle was in a prone position the whole time, not slung over my shoulder. My arms felt tired but knew I still wasn’t comfortable enough to walk out without having it ready. I had made it to the meadow, but not a step further. The walk out was more of a normal pace, thinking that with each step I was closer to my truck.

Fast forward to that night. Being so alert and making every move so precise as to not step loudly on the crunchy ice/snow and having my rifle up like I was stalking, my entire body ached and I was mentally exhausted.

Three days later, I drove to another spot, about two miles away. There were no wolf tracks a few hundred yards down the trail, but I knew I wasn’t far away and it would be stupid to think that they weren’t or couldn’t be in here, but for some reason I felt much more okay with being there alone. Was it the wolf tracks that had me so freaked out, or did I just need to prove to myself that I could do it? I’m not sure the reason but I do feel a sense of accomplishment.

Venison Crockpot BBQ

IMG_6480.JPGIngredients:

2-3 pound tenderloin, backstrap or roast

1/4 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp celery seed

1 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp chili powder

 

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1 tsp liquid smoke

2 tbsp. Worcestershire

2 tbsp. vinegar

1/4 c packed brown sugar

1/2 c chili sauce

1/2 c ketchup

 

Combine pepper, celery seed, garlic powder and chili powder; rub onto all sides of meat and put into crock pot.

In a medium bowl, combine dry mustard, liquid smoke, Worcestershire, vinegar, brown sugar, chili sauce and ketchup. Mix well and pour over meat.

Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4. Remove meat and shred. Put meat back into crockpot and mix with juices/sauce.  Leave on warm for a minimum of 15 minutes before serving to marinate.

Serve on a bun or over mashed potatoes.