Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hold Your Fire

Here's a snapshot of my Friday evening:

3:00pm - Matt calls, wanting to know if I'll join him on an evening bear hunt...we'd leave in an hour.
3:05pm - I work feverishly to put the finishing touches on an advertising proposal.
3:45pm - I'm frantically pulling mothballed camo out of the closet, and loading my Mystery Ranch Crew Cab with a few essentials.
4:00pm - A quick stop at the post office to fire off the proposal.
4:15pm - I arrive at Matt's, late as usual. We hop in his rig and hit the road.
5:45pm - We arrive at the trailhead and with my naked eye I can see a herd of elk in a distant meadow. This is new country to me, and it looks great! Heavy timber interspersed with grassy parks and a lush creek bottom look like ideal bear habitat.
6:15pm - We're glassing from a great ridgetop vantage point with a commanding view of several meadows. There are elk in nearly every meadow, including a couple of sizable herds and some bulls sporting a bit of antler growth.
7:00pm - Getting antsy now, we're still at the same vantage point and despite abundant wildlife, no bears have shown. Matt hunted this location the evening before, but was much further down the drainage. At 7:30 lastnight he had spotted a big bear in one of the meadows we were now overlooking, but he couldn't cut the distance in time. Tonight we're in good position and hoping for a habitual routine from the bear.
7:15pm - We decide to start working our way down to the bottom of the drainage, to getter a better view of the creek bottom meadow directly below us.
7:30pm - We come to a slight break in the timber as we head downslope...enough to glass the meadow and - right on schedule - Matt spots a bear. With the creek covering our noise and the wind in our face, we make a beeline for the meadow.
7:45pm - We creep to the edge of the meadow and there is the bear, unaware of our presence. Matt is pretty calm and collected considering the circumstances, and is getting into position for a clear shot. Being the ethical hunter that he is he takes one last look around and wouldn't you know it - this big, jet black bear is a momma.
8:15pm - We've been watching this sow and her two cubs for about a half hour from a hundred yards, the cubs are pretty entertaining, wrestling with each other, scurrying around the meadow, climbing trees... and generally causing mischief.
8:30pm - We spend the last half hour of shooting light hiking along the creek bottom, seeing bear sign, and loads of elk and deer, but no more bears.
9:00pm - In the twilight we hoof it up a thousand feet out of the drainage and back to the truck. I'm out of shape.
11:00pm - We roll back into Bozeman, tired, but happy with our evening hunt. We'd lucked out and found a bear, perhaps the same bear that Matt had seen the prior evening. Above all else we felt fortunate that Matt had spotted the cubs before pulling the trigger, which would have effectively ended the lives of three bears. In the heat of the moment it would have been all too easy to assume the bear was alone, since the cubs were well concealed in the timber at the edge of the meadow.

The moral of the story? Hold your fire.

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