Part three of this series ended with dodging rattlesnakes on the way back to regroup with the team at camp and have some bear for dinner.
Morning Rock Rub
Part four begins the following morning, waking up in camp after a restful night. The sun was shining, the goats didn’t run away, and a day of trying something new awaited. With the weather clearing and warming up significantly, I decided to spend my day doing what I thought the bears would be doing – seeking cool in the shade.
So far we’d been seeking fresh grass on more open slopes, and while that paid off in the cold, poor weather we had early, warmer and sunnier weather seemed to be pushing the bears into heavier cover. So, that’s where I was headed. Something new to try is always a good way to fill a day.
Me and the Tree
I headed upriver and then up a ridge I hadn’t scouted yet. I met a tree on that ridge that I decided had one of the best views of any tree I’d ever met. I bet he’s seen a lot pass by on those mountains and river below.
Not long after that I had some confirmation that my plan for the day was a good one by finding some bear scat on the trail at a lower elevation than any I’d found yet. I was going up a ridge with a deep, dark bowl to my East, with an prominent creek flowing down through it. That always keeps things cool, and the bears and other game often seek that dense foliage for protection and comfort from the heat.
I decided to break from relative ease of moving up the ridge and bushwack into the gorge once I got to at an elevation that I thought would let me find a way across the creek, at a small bench on the topo map right above a big cascade. As I did so, I entered a mountain jungle, choked with lush underbrush, and bear sign everywhere. Everywhere as in every 10-20 feet I came upon a new pile.
One pile was so big it looked like a wheelbarrow had been dumped there. It was about then that I reminded myself that grizzlies lived here too, not just black bear, and maybe coming into bear haven alone wasn’t the brightest idea I’ve ever had. That’s a quick way to heighten your senses.
I tucked under a tree for an afternoon snack and to see if any bears were moving around in the jungle bowl. It wasn’t meant to be, and by late afternoon I decided to move on and try to cross the creek before it got too late and I found myself stuck in a deep gorge trying to cross by headlamp. My navigation worked out though, and I crossed the creek right on a bench at the cascade I was shooting for.
Crossing The Top of the Cascade
A little more bushwacking, and I was popping back out into more open country and getting some afternoon sun. It wasn’t too long and I heard that tell-tale rattling sound again of something else enjoying the afternoon sun.
Rattlesnake in the Grass
This time however, I decided enough was enough, and that some rattlesnake would go nicely as an appetizer with the bear for dinner. I’m experienced in handling venomous snakes, and very carefully dispatched the snake. Two more would join it in my pack before I was back in camp.
That dictated the rest of my afternoon. Cleaning snakes in the river, and helping prep dinner for what we all decided would be our last supper in the backcountry. The hunt had gone amazingly well, and with weather warming, we didn’t want to risk losing the meat we already had.
I’ve cleaned and eaten a lot of rattlesnake in my day, but these would be my first Northern Pacifics, so I wanted to save the skins and prep the meat for the pot. That begins by slitting up their bellies, then removing the skins and entrails. I always take some care in skinning out the heads as well, paying careful attention to mind the fangs.
Once skinned and cleaned, I laid them out on a log and used some of the salt we packed in for bear hides to give them a good salting to preserve them until I could get home and give them a proper fleshing.
Salting Skins On a Log
Once prepped, they were sectioned into appetizer sized bites for the dutch oven. One very nice aspect of bear hunting is that bear provide their own oil to cook in by rendering their fat down you end up with a very nice cooking oil.
Bear and Rattlesnake Waiting To Cook
Bear and rattlesnake cooked in bear fat, with a little seasoning – that’s a fine last backcountry meal. We enjoyed some wild protein, some stories, a good fire, and the whiskey bottle was empty when the sleeping bags were filled.
Rattlesnake – Finger Lickin Good
The next morning we were packing up and heading back downriver towards the truck. We’d eaten much of the food weight and traded that for bear, but we all had full packs. The hike out is always bittersweet – reflecting on a good hunt mixing with anticipation of going home and seeing loved ones, enjoying a good shower, work anxiety, etc – but that’s the world we live in. Sometimes it’s healthy to detach a bit. I enjoyed each mile.
Back at the trailhead, an empty truck bed and an Orion was waiting. In went the meat, and we were on the road back, already talking about the next backcountry adventure.
Filling the Truck
That’s the story of our Spring black bear hunt. A great way to spend a week in the Idaho backcountry, and thanks to Clay, Thayne and Tiege for the comaradarie — you can borrow my hand sanitizer any time:)
(Note from Damon: Handling rattlesnakes is extremely dangerous. Please don’t disturb them unless you are trained and know what species you are dealing with and what you are doing. Rattlesnakes are protected in many states. Know and abide by the appropriate game laws for the state you are hunting before harming any reptiles or amphibians, and act responsibly.)