From dream to reality - A mountain grizzly bear hunt
I’ve always enjoy reading other people's hunting stories and have always wanted to write my own. I started researching this hunt last year when I moved to British Columbia (BC). I have always hunted sheep in Alberta and a Dall sheep was on the top of my bucket list. I never thought I would draw, but, as luck would have it, I was drawn during my first year applying. The only downfall was that I’d previously committed to a Stone sheep hunt with friends that I was no longer able to make. But it was a good dilemma to be in. Also? I decided to make my Dall sheep hunt a combo and applied for a grizzly tag.
After a lot of online research, studying maps and talking with several knowledgeable people, I had a very good idea of the area I was going to hunt. At this point, I didn't know when the hunt would start because I was waiting to see if I would get drawn for a grizzly tag. Once I got the tag, I set a date and invited a few friends from Alberta to be my pack mules. All three of them agreed to come along. Even though my friends couldn’t hunt, they wanted to be a part of the experience.
The date had finally arrived. I left work on Aug. 25, 2015, picked my buddies up on the way, and we were off. I couldn't believe I was on my way to a hunt of a lifetime.
We drove as far as Watson Lake, stopping at Toad River for a burger and the Liard hot springs for a dip in the natural springs.
We headed north, stopping in Whitehorse for a few things and to visit with a guide that I met on a goat hunt eight years ago. He shared his knowledge of guiding in the Tatshenshini over a cup of coffee. That afternoon we arrived at the area where we were going to hunt. We checked out the trailhead and glassed until dark off the road. We spotted two rams, but, unfortunately, they were on the wrong side of the road. We also saw about 40 ewes and lambs, three mountain goats, a wolf, and a moose in the area where I was going to hunt.
The first real day of hunting we met another hunter at the trailhead who also had a sheep tag for the same area. He advised us that he planned to head in on a certain trail, which worked in favor for us, as we were heading into the trail to the north. We loaded up our essential food and gear for five days in. At the start of the trailhead, there are two good sized glacier fed river crossings, which are always fun to cross. We continued up the trail which is a brush-filled horse trail for the most part, but a lot easier than bushwhacking. We arrived at our camp location mid-afternoon, which had 41 ewes and lambs within sight. Once camp was set up, which wasn't much—two two-man tents—we headed out for an evening hike. That night, we saw two billy goats and a nice grizzly bear; however, the grizzly season wasn’t open for another four days, and I wasn’t ready to take a goat as I was holding out for a ram.
We headed up from Talbot Creek and up the valley over the saddle on the back side of the Squaw Creek trail. From there, we hiked over three more drainages to have a better look. The weather wasn't great and had poor visibility at times. We did spot three more sheep: a ewe and twin lambs; the one lamb had a broken leg and wasn't doing so good. After spending the day hiking and glassing as the weather moved in and out, we headed back to camp where the weather took a turn for the worse. We were wet from the heavy rain even with our Sitka and KUIU rain gear on. That night, we made a fire to dry out our gear and enjoyed some Mountain House dinners and freeze-dried desserts. While sitting around camp, we saw another grizzly with her cub.
We decided that we would head up another drainage. We hiked up the valley and, after we arrived, continued to climb over the back saddle to glass. There was still no sign of rams. We decided to head back down into the valley and go up another valley to take a look. While walking, we came across the billy goats that we’d spotted on the first day. Although they were getting a little more tempting since we hadn’t seen a single sheep, I decided it was still too early for a goat. After we reached the top and found no sheep, we decided to continue over the top and look into the next valley. We glassed that entire valley and continued to stop and glass as we worked our way to the bottom of the drainage, which led us back to the main trail we came in on during the first day of hunting. This day was another 30+ kilometers of hiking. Needless to say, it felt good to hit the tent that night.
The weather was changing, causing the ewes above camp to move out. Alternatively, maybe it was because of the nice grizzly we spotted feeding down the valley from them. Either way, they headed up the valley and out of sight. Maybe this was a sign that the sheep were starting to move too. We headed back up the original trail at the start of the trip to the top of the saddle. When we got to the top, you couldn’t see anything because it was so foggy and starting to snow. We decided to head up to the top of the mountain to the north of where we were on day two of hunting. After a couple of hours in, the fog cleared off and we got to have a good look around. Unfortunately, now we were looking for white sheep in mountains covered in snow. After no sight of sheep, we decided to head back down after a couple of hours of glassing from the top. On the way down, we saw a sow and two cubs. She was acting weird, running up and down the hill she was on. We sat and watched her through the spotting scope until she moved on. That night, back at the tents, we decided that this area was covered and, if we did not see a nice bear in the morning, which was the opener, we would move on.
Up and at it early, we glassed every hillside in the valley and every slope. The only thing we saw was a lone ewe that had stayed behind. After having a closer look, we notice that her lamb was laying there dead on the side of the hill. As we watched the sheep, we had a conversation about how we thought the lamb had died and what had happened to the other sheep we had seen with the broken leg. There are a lot of golden eagles in the area and, although we never witnessed it, the one comment was that maybe having the eagles chase them causes their injuries. After spotting nothing else, we packed up camp and headed to the truck to grab more food and change out some gear.
Now loaded up with food and some different gear we headed southwest. While hiking into the next drainage, we noticed lots of wolf sign and some bear sign, too. Yet, we didn’t see fresh tracks and, after several stops to glass, no animals were spotted. We had planned on heading to the old cabin where the trail splits and set up camp there. When we got there, another hunter was set up there already, so we continued down toward a new area. We ran into the other hunter and he told us he was having the same luck as us. We shared a few stories with him before deciding to continue on and find a place with water to set up camp. After climbing up, which seemed like forever, we found water, but not much of a campsite. We set up the tents on the trail and called it a night as it had been a long day of hiking.
We slept in a little this morning as we were exhausted from the long day of hiking the day before and from all the hiking we had been doing on the trip so far. We glassed from camp while having some breakfast and headed out on what was going to be another long day of hiking. We eagerly wanted to push further back than the other hunter had. We headed down the valley, which was full of ptarmigan but nothing else. Once down the valley, we noticed a saddle that I had wanted to take. As we hiked up and over the top, we came to a glacier. We discovered that while the ground might look good, boy do you get a surprise when the shale you are walking on has glacier ice under it. After a few scares, we made it to the top. Right away we spotted three goats, but they were too far to go after. So we continued to glass and, down in the valley, there was a nice looking grizzly feeding on the berry field slopes. We made a plan and decided that even though it was going to be a late night if we got him, it was time to hunt a grizzly.
We headed down to the valley bottom through some very steep terrain. As we were walking down the moss slipped out from under my boot and down I went, sliding towards the edge of a small cliff. As panic set in and my adrenaline was running from my toes to my ears, I managed to stop myself and regroup. The other guys with me were nervous, but took their time. We managed to make it down with no other issues.
We stopped at the bottom and glassed again; the bear was still feeding away. However, the wind was in his favor and we knew it was going to be challenging to get closer to him. As we walked and watched him, we could tell he had scented us and that we may not get an opportunity. We stopped again and ranged him at 1,900 yards. But, as we were looking at him, he bolted and disappeared. After all the climbing down, we were now climbing out with no reward.
When we got to the top of the mountain, now thankful we didn’t have a bear on our packs, we stopped for a break and glassed again. This time, we saw more than 20 goats, but, once again, at a distance too far to go after. While we sat there watching the goats, we decided to work our way back to the main valley through the little valley we were above, hopeful that we could spot a grizzly or a ram along the way. As we walked through the little valley, we noticed some fresh sheep tracks but no sheep. We continued on.
As we walked up high, slowly scaling a rock slide looking down in the valley for the trail, we noticed survey stakes up high in the hills and laughed about how the surveyor must have been drunk back in the day to place all those stakes. Then, out of nowhere, my two buddies who were walking slightly ahead of the rest of us started giving us the signal that there was a bear ahead.
We got down and out of sight from the bear, checked the wind, which was perfect for us this time and decided if this bear was one worth taking. We observed the bear slowly feeding upward. Yet, in order for us to close the distance of 600 plus yards, we would have to go down and then work our way above him once we got to a drainage, which was within 200 yards of him.
As we walked closer I thought to myself, “It is finally happening. I am stalking a grizzly, and the wind and terrain are perfect.”
When we got to the drainage where we could get above him, we started moving up the mountain as we did not want to be down below him in the alders or—worse yet—below a wounded bear in the thick alders. We crested to the top of the drainage and spotted him now within 200 yards; however, he took off like he winded us even though the wind was blowing right in our face. The bear eventually stopped and continued to walk and feed at the same elevation as us, but we couldn’t get any higher without him spotting us.
We thought that it was now or never. We picked up our pace and moved into a position for a shot. We were at 125 yards and the bear was walking slowly and slightly higher above us. I didn’t want to take a shot on a moving bear so I hollered and whistled, but nothing would stop him and he continued to walk behind a small hill with a bluff of trees. Fortunately, we were in a position where no matter which way the bear came out I would have a good shot. I moved up a little, dropped my pack for a rest, and sat there, ready for him to show himself.
The bear slowly walked out from behind the bluff of trees, stopped and looked down at us. At this moment I knew it was my time. I placed the crosshairs and pulled the trigger. He instantly balled up and out of sight. As we sat there waiting for him to come out, I asked my buddy with the rangefinder, “How far?”
He said, “I’m not sure, you pulled the trigger as I was about to hit the rangefinder in my binos, but you smoked him good.”
We ranged the bluff of trees; they were at 152 yards. As we gave the bear time, my patience was running out and so was our daylight. Two of my friends climbed high and looked down into the drainage where the bear was. Once they got up above and looked down, one of them hollered, “Yahoo!”
We moved in to see my trophy for the first time. There he was: all fours in the air from when he tumbled down from above. As my buddies approached me with congratulations, it hadn’t yet set in that this hunt of a lifetime dream had become reality. As we took some pictures, talked about the stalk, and caped him out, I would randomly say “Holy smokes boys I’ve shot my first grizzly!”
Once the bear and all of our gear were loaded up, we made our way up the valley with just enough light to get back on the trail we came down that morning. As we headed up the trail in the dark, the northern lights danced over the peaks to the north, and I thought to myself, “What a hunt, and it isn’t even over yet.”
We ended up getting back to camp around 1 a.m. By the time we had a snack and settled into the tents, it was after 1:30 a.m. It was a long day, but worth every minute.
We had a big day ahead of us. Still tired from the 37km the GPS showed from the day before, we faced 30+ km back to the truck with all of our camp supplies, less two days of food, and a grizzly bear on our packs. We started out in the morning with two of us working on the bear, turning the lips and ears, cleaning up the feet, and the rest of the cape. As we did that, the other two guys took down camp and glassed for sheep. While glassing, my buddy said, “Hey there’s two sheep across the valley.”
I grabbed the spotting scope and looked. Sure enough, two rams were feeding across the valley from us and the trail out, but at this point, we were way too far to see if they were legal. It was time to go so we loaded our gear and we were off, down the trail, stopping here and there to get a better look at the rams.
The two rams were working their way across the mountain range in a direction that couldn’t be more perfect; it was if they were heading right for where we were going. We finally got close enough to get a great look with a spotting scope. The one ram clearly wasn’t legal; he was maybe five or six years old. The other ram was a different story. He was a really nice ram with lamb tips. As we looked at him from many different angles, we discovered he was about 1” away from being a full curl thin horn. As my excitement faded, I sat there thinking that my dream of shooting a Dall sheep was over.
We continued to the truck, which was still over ten km away. With the weight of a grizzly on my back, I had a lot of time to think of what I had already accomplished. Although it was a long shot that we would see something from the road, I accepted the fact that this hunt was complete. My dream of shooting a Dall sheep was delayed, but I accomplished another dream with a great mountain grizzly on my back. We got back to the glacier feed river crossings and, although freezing cold, the water felt so good on our feet. At the river, we ran into a gentleman out for a horseback ride. I noticed from a distance that his horse was acting up, so I gave him a holler advising him I had a bear hide on my back, which may be why his horse was excited. He thanked me and dismounted his horse before the show got any more exciting. We had a great conversation and he told us that this trail was his favorite place to ride. We could see why; the rivers, mountains, and glaciers of the Tatshenshinni are amazing.
That evening, we drank some beer, had a fire, and glassed for wildlife from camp. We talked about the limited number of rams we had seen, despite the amount of area we covered and could not help but wonder if the numbers were declining If so, was it because of the abundance of golden eagles and their effects on the lambs? Was it the bears and wolves, the hard winters, or pressure from outfitter and earlier hunting parties that pushed the rams out of the area? Overall, I think the Dall sheep numbers are still holding steady since we’d seen so many ewes and lambs.
Now, at home writing this story and thinking back on this hunt, I am glad to have done my part in sheep conservation by harvesting a grizzly bear. I hope that one day I will get a second opportunity to hunt Dall sheep.