By Stephen Rosso
The sound of silence was what brought about my alarm, the mules had stopped moving around and that in itself was not normal. As I raised my head, I was met with the body and face of an adult Grizzly less than 20 feet away. I had a knife in my hand, and two dead bull elk within feet of me. It was not a situation you want to be in. In quick response I stood, started yelling, and threw my knife hitting the bear in the body with the butt. Luckily enough for me, between my mules, the 3 clients standing up on the hill who finally realized what was going on below them, and myself, a crisis did not happen and the bear disappeared into the forest below.
Hunting in grizzly country in the lower 48 is a topic that comes up over and over on hunting forums Internet wide. Can it be dangerous, yes! But the rewards can sometimes overrule the fear. Big bulls, incredible scenery and the overall aspect of the remote American West bring thousands to it every year. And each year lately it seems, more and more grizzly/human interactions are happening, with bad results. I spent five years living in tents in the Teton Wilderness running a pack string through the summer months, then living out of a wall tent camp 18 miles into the heart of grizzly country during fall. Understanding a scenario, in which you will encounter bears, can be vital in knowing how to handle it.
During summer and early fall, grizzlies tend to be far less interested in a “free” meal. I have watched a grizzly walk past my kitchen tent under a full moon while I sat nervously in my tent 30 yards away. Keeping a clean camp no matter the time of year is of utmost importance. But my encounters have showed far less problems with bears during the warmer months. I never carried electric fence and never had a bear problem in my camp, though they were always around and in close proximity. For the DIY hunter you must take into consideration how to keep smell and bear attractants to a minimum. I can’t reiterate enough the need for keeping a clean camp. The moment a bear finds a food source, they wont be leaving the area anytime soon. Other tips would be to not camp in tight trees, and stay in an area that you can keep a good eye around you in case a bear decides to come and investigate.
Fall means one thing to almost all who read this article; hunting season has arrived! And with that the chance of running into a hungry grizzly grows every day as the fall progresses. The most active I see bears, is once the snow has begun to fall and they are thinking about hibernation. I have sat on top of a mountain and watched a grizzly follow my horse tracks step for step hoping to find a dead elk at the end. Grizzlies have figured out what hunters can bring to them, an easy meal. It is no lie; gunshots can attract bears. Retrieving game and doing it safely are very important in preventing a bad encounter with a bear. If you do not have horses at the ready to get an animal off the mountain, you need to prepare for most likely having a large furry visitor waiting upon your return. Drag the guts as far as possible, if you have the ability to hang the quarters do so, and try to find the most visible return approach to the carcass area so to not stumble upon a possible feeding bear.
For many people who do not have the experience to feel comfortable in grizzly country, hunting in it can seem daunting. I personally hunt on foot alone in grizzly country a lot. It’s not a scenario that bothers me because of my time spent around bears. Hiking in daylight and planning your hunts around not being in thick country at dark are aspects to consider for someone who is apprehensive about bears being in the area.
If you opt for the adventure of hunting in grizzly country, most importantly understand where you are going and prepare for bear encounters. Being over prepared will help prevent a bad encounter in the long run. Have a plan for when you put an animal on the ground. Remember when gutting and field dressing to keep your eyes up and look around, being surprised by a bear during that time is very possible and never a good situation. In the end, being respectful and understanding of the dangers that come with grizzly country will help you make it out of the woods without a bad interaction, and hopefully a great adventure!