Fred Bear&#39s Field Notes

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BRITISH COLUMBIA – 1957 - Part 2

Saturday, September 28, 9:45 A.M.

—Rained last night and off and on this morning. Thick overhead. Decided to spend the day in camp and get things dried out and everything shipshape. While the time is short, we have a good start on trophies and do not begrudge the lost time.

Camp was invaded last night. A pack rat cut almost all of the tent ropes off the guides’ tent and toted them to his home in a big, hollow, leaning spruce tree. The tree was about three feet in diameter with a thin shell as hard as bone.

The problem was discussed from all angles at the breakfast table. Robert suggested a propped-up piece of wood to be triggered with “spikes to come down on him.” Bud was for a set-gun type of installation with his bow but the problem of a release could not be solved. My suggestion was a set-gun with the .44. Snares of various types were considered also. With no conclusions reached, Charles went out and started chopping at the trees that supported the dead one.

A twelve-inch tree did not release it. Nor did another eighteen inches, so Charles shinnied up the hollow tree and hitched a rope to the top and we pulled it off. The cavity produced an amazing assortment of supplies for the pack rat’s winter. Short pieces of tent ropes. A half bushel of dried mushrooms, pieces of caribou hide, ptarmigan wings, and feathers. Bones, large bunches of grass, and various plant fibers. Willow leaves, pieces of bread, and other odds and ends. Both ends of the trunk were packed like this.

Charles poked a long tent pole up from the butt end and the rat could be seen from the top. Bud magnanimously offered to take a stand at one end with his bow and some blunts. Two well-placed shots dispatched the marauder and order was restored in camp once more.

Putting an end to the pack rat was considered of prime importance. Dale said that the rat would find the saddles and cut all the lacings which would cause quite a stir in the progress of the hunt.

Bud is doing some needlework while I write. His elevated bed needs only a canopy to make it complete. Inquiries among the Indians produced no one talented in beadwork and he may have to settle for burlap bags sewn together with scalloped edges.

Bud’s total bag to date is the goat, a Yukon gopher, and the pack rat. It takes a lot of meat to keep an outfit like this going. Each of the crew eats what is equivalent to a good-sized steak with lots of pancakes and cereal for breakfast. Our meat pole is hanging full. We could live out a fairly long storm with it.

Same Day, 3 P.M.

—Had lunch of caribou steaks, potatoes, and beans. Am be-ginning to understand how the boys can eat so much meat. I ate about a pound and half for lunch myself.

Bud and Dale went hunting right after lunch. The only two saddle horses available up to now. Charles is out looking for more. A timely suggestion was offered to hobble them tonight if they were found, in order to get a good start in the morning, rain or shine.

Aside from a short brush with caribou in British Columbia two years ago, this is my first experience with them. These Osborn caribou are the largest and carry the greatest antlers of them all. The Barren Ground caribou is the smaller—not much bigger than our deer. The species is something like the antelope of Africa as far as intelligence is concerned. They become confused and are likely to run in two directions at almost the same time. From a distance of a few hundred yards, they are not alarmed by an intruder but at closer range, it is a different matter.

In my two close contacts with caribou on this trip, I have found them to be as alert as white-tailed deer. They can wheel and be gone in an instant like elk or deer; their senses are keen and they like a certain space between them and unknown sounds. I feel certain that they are quick enough to avoid a well-directed arrow at thirty yards if the shooter has been seen. They seem, like many other animals, to find security in numbers and this condition, with more noses, eyes, and ears to contend with, piles up more odds against the bowman.

Goats are somewhat down the scale from the caribou in IC). If one does not mind climbing and can locate them from below, it is just a question of time even for the bowman to make a successful stalk from above. Moose would not be difficult in this country. There are enough for good hunting but it takes time to find them where bow shooting conditions are favorable.

Sheep are more difficult and to hunt a trophy ram with the bow is not exactly a relaxing pastime. It could take a long time to be successful. The grizzly bear is the most thrilling of all game to me. I have had several occasions to observe them through the scope. Most of them are mixed silver and black. They move with an easy, sure-footedness and carry themselves as if they had a gentle and inquisitive nature. While or° senses dignity about them, there is power and fury hidden there that is unexcelled by any animal on this continent. The gun has taught him that man is his superior. I hope he will not recognize the limitations of the bow!

4:30 P.M.

—Raining again. I have water heating to wash some socks. Bud and I shot off the Marion Creek Championship before lunch. He won, hands down. He is a good shot.

Sunday, September 29

—In too late to write.

Monday, September 30, 8 A.M.

—Waiting for the horses. Can hear the bells. Yesterday was another day without sun. Wind and rain squalls. We were in the saddle from eight to eight. It is good to get an early start and anticipate the luck for the day. Also good to come back to the campfire and comfort of our camp.

Last night, coming in, we broke out of the spruce to see the glow of the warm lighted tent. Bud had our usual outdoor fire going and everything shipshape.

Charles and I rode up Marion Creek yesterday past its source and came out on top overlooking the Stikine Valley. A beautiful sight with a low ceiling pierced by mountain peaks. While we admired the scene Charles pointed out his marten trap-ping grounds where he and a cousin had caught forty in forty days.

Sitting there on our horses we heard an almost inaudible sound. I thought it was ptarmigan chuckling, but Charles said “Moose.” We made a stalk. It was a small bull with a cow. Charles took his chaps off. “Can’t run fast if he comes after us… . Tongue going out and in; him mad.” I took pictures of the moose from several angles at about forty yards, then the horses got loose and the moose ran off.

During lunch a lone bull caribou saw us from the next hill. He started toward us to see what we were and I shot pictures of him at about 150 yards. I doubt if they will be good because rain was spitting on my lens. He was slightly larger than my bull but not what we were after.

We went around the mountain and saw about a hundred caribou in four or five groups and looked them over. One bull was very nice and we rode straight for his group. At 200 yards we left the horses and crept over a knoll to within 125 yards. We were deciding what to do when the horses strolled in sight and the caribou ran off.

I ran under cover of the ridge and got a running shot at the big fellow at about sixty yards. They continued on up the slope and began feeding about a third of a mile away.

We got the horses and started toward them again but they tried to cut in front of us. Charles spurred his horse and I switched mine for the race. The caribou were running at an angle to us while we tried to cut them off. It was like an antelope wanting to cross in front of a car, both at high speed.

I passed Charles. With my bow with arrow on the string in one hand and switching Whitey with the ‘other, I had no way of steering. If I stopped switching, Whitey would slow down.

I finally got up to within forty yards of the bull and rode beside him, imagining myself getting close enough to sock .an arrow into him at close range like the Indians did on buffalo. I found myself wishing for a roping pony… . The bull ran with that peculiar caribou pace—legs spraddled and apparently doing his best. My horse played out at last and the chase was over. I wish I had had a picture of it.

Some time later the same caribou were grazing peacefully a half mile away. We saw a large bull moose id a cow on the way home. The cow was quite gray. Charles called in his best moose voice. The bull was interested but came only a short way toward us.

It was five-thirty then and two hours from camp, so we did not go after him. Ptarmigan chuckled at us from the safety of spruce thickets as we rode past. They are not so tame on rainy days.

Tuesday, October 1, 11 A.M.

—Sitting in the tent. We have a fire in our stove and one outside. Charles and I went out this morning at 9 A.M. It was raining. By the time we got to the top of the knoll above camp the rain had turned to heavy snow. Snowflakes hit hard against our faces. We rode on for about ten minutes and I noticed Charles was not urging his horse as usual. I asked him what he thought. “Real bad,” he said, so we turned back.

Bud was glad to see this show of common sense. I took pictures around camp in the storm and again dried out my gear. Will try to catch up on my notes.

This Marion Creek area is an easy one to hunt and it seems to be the Osborn caribou capital of the world. They are here in great numbers and some have enormous heads. Charles told me that before Tommy Walker located here hunters sometimes rode all the way from Telegraph Creek (160 miles) to get big caribou. If we get nothing else, I hope for one day of sunshine to get pictures of those big bulls.

We have had no sun at this camp. Have not taken the big camera out since the long lens calls for good light.

Just took off a half hour to see who was archery champion of the day. Bud won again. Our arrows melted into the snowstorm.

Bud had a good day yesterday. Got two long shots at sheep. Saw goats and four caribou.

Charles and I rode up to where I killed the caribou to see if a grizzly had been around. We rode to the top and all sides looking continually, searching over miles and miles but no sign of bears. We saw at least a hundred caribou, twenty sheep and goats. We always see goats.

The trouble in hunting caribou with the bow is that while one can place himself in front of the herd, the cows come first and the big bulls last. This is the mating season and the bulls are busy chasing the young bulls away from the cows. They never seem to be looking around, depending on the cows for sentinels. A bull alone would not be hard to handle with a bow.

This is not a caribou migration. It is a gathering of the herd for the purpose of propagating the species. The wind was blowing a gale topside. We hunched in a little draw to eat our lunch. Later on we came upon another herd of about thirty.

They were bedded down beside a half-acre alpine lake. We watched and photographed them for about an hour. Some got up and stood in the water. Two fought standing in the lake and two more fought on shore. Much snorting and clashing of horns. The cows have horns, but smaller than the bulls.

When they moved off we tried a stalk. I shot two arrows at seventy or eighty yards but they hit the gale and went down sideways. If they had hit, it would only have been a slap because of the wind.

Back at camp just at dark. Bud not in yet. Raining hard. Bud came in half an hour later, soaked. It was a good day.

1 P.M. now.

Still snowing. It is melting in the valleys but clinging to the hills. We unsaddled the horses and forgot about hunting 44:lay. Sleeping bag looks good. Bud is repairing arrows. Stove and outdoor fires going.

Wednesday, October 2

—Too late to write.

Thursday, October 3, 6:30 P.M.

—No time to write this morning. Am now waiting for Bud and Dale to come in. Yesterday we all went together. Took a pack horse and the big camera. Snow on the ground and cold and windy. Ran into about forty caribou. I set the camera up while Bud went to work on them. Got about 200 feet of film, although the camera was sluggish from the cold. It took both hands to turn the focusing ring on the lens. Bud got several seventy- to eighty-yard running shots.

Coming back we crossed a big grizzly track, over our tracks. If we had been a little sharper on the way out this morning, I might have gotten a shot at him. We had seen a bull caribou walking along the side of a mountain about a third of a mile from us and had seen him shy at something behind a knoll but had paid no more attention to it.

Charles and I left Bud and Dale and took the trail. It led us down into a steep spruce ravine where we left the horses and went afoot.

It proved to be a bad chase. Too late to go farther. Backtracking to where the caribou had shied, we found it had been the bear that he had seen. Got in about an hour after dark. Bud had the place warm and a drink waiting.

Bud got wet down from violent exercise chasing goats and is taking a bath as I write. Had a good day, he says.

Charles and I took off after the grizzly again this morning. Cold as hell last night and today. A small lake we passed in the a.m. was frozen over when we came back tonight. Trailed the grizzly several miles but had to give up. We think he winded us yesterday as we found running tracks today.

The cold yesterday brought snow about two inches deep and two-foot drifts at times. I had hoped it was just a forerunner of Indian summer but doubt it now. I believe it is the priming coat for winter. The alpine lakes are frozen and glaciers are stilled. Drain streams are slowed down and the muskegs are tightening up. It is the long winter settling in and this is the snow that will melt next year.

As always the first snow tells all about animals we have not seen. I have not seen a red squirrel. Have heard them, have seen many tracks, and have found their mushrooms drying on the spruce, however. Two wolverines made tracks last night not far from camp. Fox tracks mingle with those of ptarmigan and snowshoe rabbits. Weasels are around too, as well as the fisher.

We saw about six or seven bull caribou today. That is all.

Have had dinner. Goat ribs and delicious trimmings. Very cold outside. We’re snug here in our tent.

The horses are getting tired. We should have a change in saddle horses. This ends our grizzly quest. Too scarce. We will concentrate on caribou. Have only tomorrow left, although we can hunt on the two-day trip back to Coldfish Lake. Looked down on the Spatsizi River today. What a big country this is. I wish I could capture all of its moods on film.

Friday, October 4, 6:30 P.M.

—Got in at five-thirty. Had a bath. Washed socks and underwear. Shaved and am now waiting for Bud.

Charles and I started out this a.m. bent on caribou or moose. Ran into another grizzly track and spent the day on that. Found where he had watched two bull moose fighting. They had torn up the ground over half an acre. One had been down but we saw no blood. We assumed that the grizzly was waiting for an easy meal.

From here the grizzly wandered aimlessly until he got up out of the timber and he then headed for a pass. We went around by an easier pass hoping to pick up his track on the other side. Not so. We had to circle the mountain and come back over the one he had headed for. We found his tracks on top. He had turned back, possibly because of the cold wind cutting through the pass. He had taken a nap in a spruce thicket and then headed down for timber. There are blueberries down there even after this snow and cold weather.

The only living thing we saw today was a spruce hen. The last hunting day is over. We will hunt on the two days to Coldfish Lake. May get something. If we don’t, it will still have been a good trip. To see and to photograph those big caribou was almost enough in itself.

Saturday, October 5, 7 A.M.

—My wife’s birthday and as always I am hundreds of miles away on this day… .

Up and dressed. Horses just came in. Waiting for breakfast call. Bud is dressing and telling about his goat. Bud and Dale got in at 8 P.M. last night, packing the head and skin of a big goat. Bud had climbed up for him with Dale giving signals from below. Bud made a good shot at fifty yards.

Sunday, October 6, 9 A.M.

—Sitting at Cache Creek Camp. In the sun this time. Two inches of water froze solid in the tent beside the stove last night. The day is clear, and the sun feels good. Had a big campfire last night. Got away from Marion Camp at noon yesterday. Bud, Dale, and I rode ahead to hunt. Never strayed from the trail. Saw a band of caribou in the distance, but too far.

Little wind. Cold, but a beautiful day. Saw my first red squirrels. Two of them, big and fat. Bud shot a spruce hen. We saw wolverine and wolf tracks. Got here about 5 P.M. A good dinner of caribou steaks. Charles and Bud and I are about ready to take off ahead to hunt on the way to Coldfish Lake. We will take the long way in and hunt caribou. May be late getting in and it is not likely that I will have time to finish my notes until on the plane going home.

Monday, October 7, 12:30 P.M.

—On the bush plane a half hour out of Coldfish Lake. Will go back to yesterday.

Bud and Charles and I hunted to Coldfish. Took the long, high route. Saw caribou antlers on the skyline. It turned out to be a lone bull lying on a knoll taking a drowsy rest. We split and made a stalk from opposite directions, out of sight of each other. The bull lay prone, one antler resting on the ground. I thought Bud had gotten in closer and had shot him. Later he said that he was about the same distance away and thought that I had shot him.

It would have been a good time to hustle right up to him in the open but much time had gone by and I thought Bud was close by and I was afraid of ruining his chances.

After fifteen minutes the bull woke up and at the same time I saw Bud still some distance away. He seemed to have run out of cover. I was pinned down also.

It wasn’t long before the bull became drowsy again and when I could see only his ears above the buckbrush, I made a bold dash across thirty yards of open to take cover below the hill he was on. A careful stalk put me within sixty yards, as far as I could go.

I had been careless of the wind—and knew it—but hoped that if he winded me he would go on toward Bud who was downwind. There was a chance that he would get up and stroll my way, too.

Fifteen minutes went by. I could see Bud. I felt the wind change to blow on the back of my neck. I got ready to shoot.

The bull sprang to his feet, facing me, and snorted a few times. I had hoped he would turn slowly and offer a shot at his ribs. But he whirled quickly and made off; my arrow was too late.

He half circled Bud who got four arrows off but no damage done. We had spent an hour and a half on this job… .

Came down the mountain to Coldfish at dusk just as Mery Hesse was coming in for us in a Beaver plane. Got our first news from the outside world via Tommy’s short-wave set. Learned about the launching of the Russian satellite and about a new granddaughter for Bud. Also learned that the temperature was plus three and plus six the last two nights.

Just stopped at Takla Lake for gas. Airborne again. Should be in Prince George by three-thirty. A bath, a change to street clothes, check trophies, and hope to catch a plane at seven-thirty to Vancouver.

Breakfast at eight this morning. Left some bows and arrows for Charles and Robert before we left. Bud gave an outfit to the pilot also and some lessons on the art of shooting. Well qualified for the job since he was champion of the Marion Creek contests.

I met and photographed the family of Charles Quock. Six children and a seventh expected. They live in a log cabin that looks small for a family of eight plus a mother-in-law. Got the slippers and gloves I had ordered from them. Left candy and gum for the children.

A busy time packing up. Many things to talk about and not much time left. Lots of film exposed. We finally got the ship in the air at 11 A.M.

It is always interesting at the end of a hunt in remote places to speculate about the number of game animals there. It would seem that where hunters are not at all numerous game would be most plentiful. Also, that the farther north one goes, the more game he will find. But this is not so.

Last evening in base camp we talked to Tommy about the amount of game in his hunting territory of thirty-five hundred square miles. He has been hunting this area for eight years and should be in a position to estimate a fairly close count. He figures there are about thirty-five hundred game animals of the five species found here—grizzly, caribou, moose, sheep, and goats. That means about one animal to every square mile.

In our northern deer states a population like that would indicate that the herd was practically extinct and the area would not attract hunters except possibly on fresh tracking snow and in an “any deer” season.

This so-called scarcity of game came to my attention not only in the Coldfish Lake area, but farther south in British Columbia two years ago as well, and again last year in the Yukon. Nature has established a balance and the small amount of hunting does not take the surplus. It is doubtful if game would increase, even without the infrequent hunting pressure, unless wolves were hunted.

But if there were no wolves, game would increase more rapidly and might soon destroy their winter food supply and die of starvation. This is a condition we have now in many states with our deer herd. While game is not plentiful in terms of animals per square mile, hunting is good for these reasons: the terrain and cover of these northern areas allow animals to be seen at great distances, either with the naked eye or with glasses. In Michigan, with its heavy cover and flat ground, it would be almost useless to hunt with such a low game count. But here, where one’s view is unobstructed for miles, certain areas are known to contain sheep, others are the home of goats. Moose and grizzly bears might be seen anywhere. During the latter part of September the caribou gather on certain high plateaus for mating and can be found there.

With a condition like this, in open mountainous country, good hunting can be had even with a scattered assortment of game. The very remoteness kindles the imagination of the adventurous hunter. He likes to think that he is perhaps the first white man to have climbed a certain ridge or looked down into a deep, glacier-carved canyon. There is always a chance that he might collect a world record head. For the confirmed climber always anticipating the view from the next ridge, this country is Utopia. From the top of any mountain the challenge extends, far and wide, until the mountains meet the sky.

Chapter 5

chapter British Columbia - Part 2

Fred Bear and company continue to take advantage of their time bowhunting in British Columbia. As snow continues to fall, the team looks to add more meat to the table.

The cold brought snow about two inches deep and two-foot drifts at times in British Columbia. The alpine lakes are frozen and glaciers are stilled. Drain streams slowed down and the muskegs tightened up. The long winter settled in and the snow won’t melt until next year.

The hunting company and pack train plods along. Horses are extremely important to the hunting expedition whether it is for riding to catch up to game, carrying gear and meat, and for transportation from camp to camp.

Bud helps Fred hunt a caribou bull by cutting in ahead of him while Fred made a sneak on him and got behind a big rock and waited. The caribou stood for a minute looking at Bud, and Fred’s arrow was able to connect before he ran.

Knick, a member of Fred’s hunting party in British Columbia, returned to camp with news he shot a bull moose. He shot the moose in the back leg in the femoral artery and Fred went out with him the next day for pictures.