Written by: Justin Starck
To me, mountain hunting is not just about velvet bucks in August or bugling bulls in September. To me, mountain hunting is about experiencing what the mountains have to offer all year. In the summer, I have backpacking, fly-fishing, and scouting. The fall, there is hunting of course. In the winter, I have snowshoeing and alpine touring. However, spring has always presented a dilemma for me; there is too much snow in the high country for scouting but too little for skiing. This dilemma is what turned me onto bear hunting. It filled a gap for this mountain junky.
My girlfriend, Desarae, my brother, Ethan and I planned our 2014 Wyoming bear hunting trip to a location I picked out on Google Earth, as I do with most all of my hunting areas. I felt good about the location, but as the hunt date neared I started to second guess the date we had picked. I continually checked the snow depth reports online; the snow just wasn’t melting. Regardless of the snow, we left for our hunt as planned.
During a pit stop in Dubois, Ethan couldn’t help but to buy a book on bear stories. He shared stories of bear encounters ranging from mountain men being mauled by Grizzlies to hikers coming across bears on their hike, further increasing Desarae’s fear of bears. Even with Desarae’s increased fear of bears and my concerns about the snow we found ourselves headed up the trail for a few days of bear hunting in western Wyoming. It may have been a different trailhead than we had originally planned on but we were hunting none the less.
As we reached the top of the first mountain, a snowstorm hit. We decided to set up camp since there were some good vantage points in the area and we were not sure how long the storm would last. It turned out to only be a short flurry, stopping soon after we had the tents set up. We were able to get some glassing in that evening but only located elk, lots of elk.
During the first full day of hunting, fog and continued flurries kept us from glassing as much as I had hoped. We ended up still hunting some of the country close to camp. Desarae and I came across a set of bear tracks but that is close as we got. However, when it came to elk we couldn’t get away from them.
The second day was clear and we decided to hunt together. The plan for the day was to cover as much country as possible, both with boot leather and glass. After covering quite a bit of country it was going much the same as the first day; lots of elk but no bears. That is until I spotted one on the opposite side of the river after reaching a vantage point. However, I was soon off my high of locating a bear when I spotted two cubs tagging along. We still enjoyed watching them for a while before deciding to head down the mountain.
While moving down toward the river, Desarae spotted a bear in the same general location we had been watching the sow. I was able to look get my binos on it, “That might be a different bear, it seems browner.” Once we got our spotters up, we confirmed that it was a different bear; a big cinnamon boar. Once, we knew we had a legal bear located; we set about determining the best way to take him.
We headed down the mountainside as far as possible to a location where Ethan, who was the most comfortable shooting at distance, could get a shot across the valley. The closest we were able to get and still have shooting window was 450 to 500 yards. Ethan got set up for the shot, resting on our backpacks. I got set up to get it all on video, “this is really going to happen!”
Eventually, the boar stepped into an opening, but Ethan did not get the shot squeezed off before the bear disappeared into the cover again.
We moved along the hillside and relocated the boar. He was bedded behind a tree with only a small portion of his rump visible to us. Ethan and I decided that I should cross the river and stalk to a location where I could get a shot. I had been bow hunting but decided to take Desarae’s 7 mm on this stalk; It just didn’t feel like a good situation for a bow stalk.
I crossed the river and found my way up the other side of the valley. However, erring on the side of caution not wanting to come in too low, I ended too high above the bear and had to backtrack. I didn’t locate the bear until I saw him get up at less than 100 yards and start moving away. As I went down to one knee, he stopped and I got a quartering away shot on him. He took off, going out of sight right away. Hearing a shout of joy from across the valley gave me a confirmation of the shot and I decided to take up the trail.
But, as I started to take up the trail, no blood was found even in the snow I was sure he would have crossed. I continued down the hillside, keeping a watchful eye out for him…and the sow. At last, I saw where he slid down a snow bank to his final resting place.
Ethan eventually made his way over to take pictures and skin the bear out. Desarae, unfortunately, did not feel comfortable with the river crossing and didn’t make it over for pictures. To further increase her discomfort, she was concerned about the sow at large with only bear spray and some broadhead tipped arrows for protection.
I was willing to stay for a couple more days to try finding another bear or two, but Ethan and Desarae were satisfied with how the hunt had turned out and wanted to end it on a good note. We packed out the next morning. This hunt may have started out as a way to extend my time in the mountains; it turned into a great hunt. Bear hunting is now something I will look forward to every year.
What’s your springtime go-to hunt?