Backcountry Bear Part 2: Welcome to the Neighborhood
Part 1 of this series ended with the four of us settling into our tent on the banks of the Selway River in Idaho. Part 2 picks up there with us beginning our first scouting day with a late morning after sleeping in through a dawn shower. One nice thing about Spring bear hunting is that early morning pre-dawn starts usually aren’t necessary as the bears tend to move and feed throughout the day, gorging on fresh grass, making leisurely camp mornings a possibility.
As the sun rose, the clouds broke and we started our morning routine. By the time I stumbled out of the tent Clay was already up and had the fire going and a big dutch oven full of backcountry hash browns with eggs, peppers and cheese was baking on the fire.
It was while discussing that very breakfast that the first OSIF (Oh Shucks I Forgot) item was discovered. Not so much forgotten, as a communication breakdown when it came to packing. You see I was instructed NOT to pack any ‘cooking items’. To me, that includes items necessary to consume said cooked things, such as plates and utensils. Clay however does not share that same definition of ‘cooking items’, and as such I found myself needing a plate and fork in order to dine in a civilized manner and not eat like a goat.
And so began a backcountry lesson in the usefulness of fallen fir trees. It turns out a spatula was also forgotten (not by me), and Clay quickly fashioned one from a section of a fir branch. I in turn borrowed the camp saw and set to work on a fallen tree by the river, sectioning off what would be my sturdy camp plate for the week. Once cut, a quick trim of the outer bark with my Buck Compadre camp knife and I was in business, dining in style.
Camp chores complete and bellies full, by mid morning we were hitting the trail to begin scouting for bear. Clay and I chose one ridge and Thayne and Tiege another. The terrain was steep and wet, and progress was slow but steady. As we gained elevation the cloud ceiling lifted a bit, yielding good views of the mountains across the river and the Selway below. A high snow line could be seen in the distance, and I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d have to climb that high before getting into bear sign.
It was around mid-day when we bumped back into the brothers. We watched a mule deer doe skirt a face above us, and then settled down there ourselves for a late lunch break to see what else may be moving. The weather was closing in again – cold, windy and drizzling, and Clay and I decided to loop South into heavier cover out of the wind and look for fresh bear sign there while the brothers continued North along the ridge.
Our decision didn’t turn up any fresh bear sign either, and by late afternoon we found ourselves back near the main trail, returning towards camp. The first day of scouting was in the books, and from the results we either needed to go higher, or somewhere else in general.
There were still a couple hours of light left, and I wanted to cast a fly line while the river was still high to see if I could find any trout tucked tight into the banks as they often do in high water conditions. If weight and conditions make sense, I’ll always try to pack fly rod and small selection of fly gear into the backcountry as a fun way to mix things up and pass some time. I chose an Orvis Recon and CFO for this journey, and it turns out that was a good choice. I had a fun time bringing a dozen or so feisty Selway cutthroat to hand before returning to camp.
Settling by the fire for a cold, wet evening in camp, it was noted that the company was light – Clay, me, goats, big pot of jambalaya, but still no brothers. Intriguing. Were they lost? Spending the night out? Dancing with a bear? Only they knew, and we’d find out at some point.
For now, I was whittling on another piece of fir, making a spork for the week. Dinner was about to be served….