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BRITISH COLUMBIA – 1957 - Part 1
It was Glenn St. Charles who named this the Presidents’ Hunt.
Another new experience in another new area. It is great and beautiful country, the Cassair district which lies in north central British Columbia.
Saturday, September 7
—Four hours and 400 miles north of Prince George, our Pacific Western pilot, Mery Hesse, eased the Norseman down to a gentle meeting with the mirror surface of Coldfish Lake. The floating dock was barely able to sustain the weight of the group assembled to greet us. Tommy Walker, our outfitter, and his wife, Marian. Tommy’s partner, Rusty Russell, and his wife. Guides, both Indian and white, wranglers, and general help. On the brink of the hill by the corral fence were the wives and children of the Indian men. Behind them, the Indian village, and from farther back, the defiant bark of the sled dogs could be heard.
Big job unpacking and sorting gear for the pack trip tomorrow. Poring over a map we find that we are about 200 miles south of the Yukon border and equidistant from the Pacific Ocean and the Alberta line. A beautiful country of towering peaks as far as the eye could see. Glaciers fill their irregularities and start cascading streams that snake through the spruce and jack-pine valleys. To the east the Spatsizi River comes up from the south to empty into the Stikine. This river flows west and then southwesterly to empty into the Pacific Ocean at Wrangell, Alaska. Nearest outpost is the Indian village of Telegraph Creek on the Stikine 160 miles west. Thirty-five hundred square miles in which to hunt stone sheep, goats, grizzly bear, moose, and caribou.
Sunday, September 8
—Ed, Knick, and I went with Tommy to the east end of Coldfish Lake to fish for rainbows while our outfit goes by horse on their way to Gladys Lake camp. They left saddle horses at our fishing site for our trip to camp later. We caught a great many beautiful, lively trout on small dry flies. These fish are hard of flesh, brilliantly red inside, and delicious. They averaged between one and two pounds. We took some with us and the remainder went back to base camp to be smoked.
Monday, September 9, After Dinner-7 P.M.
—Rainbow trout, red and firm. Rode with Charles Quock today looking for sheep. Saw none. Saw four moose, six caribou, many goats, and a small flock of ptarmigan.
Ed, starting for the river to fish, saw some moose and did a stalk. No luck. Never did get to fish.
Knick went with Dale. Saw much sign, but no game. Tommy went back to base camp.
Tuesday, September 10
—Charles Quock, my Indian guide, and .I rode a long way up Connor Creek to the west branch. Lost some time trying for, a moose on the way. Got there at noon and stopped by a creek’ to eat lunch. Mated a lone ram bedded down high on the shale. Put the scope on him. “A full curl,” said Charles.
We made a stalk. The ram had been facing away from us, but as our heads showed over the ridge he was looking at us at fifty yards. He got up and started away over the shale.
I shot an arrow at about sixty yards, but it didn’t reach him. He disappeared around the mountain with us hot on his trail. The ram climbed a rocky peak and stood looking at us from the top. We continued along the side, planning to circle over and find him again on the other side.
After crossing the shale we were on a grassy, rolling, steep sidehill. Charles ahead and I panting along in back of him. Looking back I was surprised to see three rams in a depression we had passed. One was lying down and two were feeding. We kept on going because the lone ram we had seen first was the biggest.
Just before reaching the top, I, behind as usual, saw the big fellow crossing the next draw beyond. I signaled to Charles. He came back and we watched him go over the next ridge. We continued after him and routed a flock of seven rams on the other side. No time for them, however.
Circling back we peeked over a ridge beside a glacier. Our ram was about 150 yards below and just going over the next knoll. When he was out of sight we ran and slid down the fine shale just in time to see him disappear over the next ridge. We ran again and there he was about thirty-five to forty yards away. Just his head showing looking at us. He knew we were after him.
I do not like a head-on shot. Just a few inches off the mark will only wound and the hole through the rib cage into the chest cavity is no larger than a baseball. In addition, to shoot an arrow at full draw to clear the ridge would hit him in the head.
The only way was a short draw to lob it over the ridge and drop it into the brisket. If I had been alone, I would not have taken the shot. But Charles barked, “Shoot Quick!” I felt that I was on the spot and to hesitate would have been to lose face with the Indian.
The arrow went in a perfect line but I had a sick feeling that after it cleared the ridge it had dropped too low. The head disappeared and Charles ran over while I tried to regain my breath. When he got there he turned to me with a wide grin.
We found him jammed against a rock halfway down the shale slide. He had run about sixty yards and died on his feet. Then rolled down the mountain until he hit the rock.
He was a beautiful animal. Horns not broomed. A 411/2-inch curl and 27-inch spread. He would dress out at well over 250 pounds. There was a big hole right in the middle of his brisket. I was very lucky to get such a large ram on the second day of hunting and would have been quite happy with a smaller one. A 42-inch ram is the biggest head that has been taken out of this area.
We had left our hats on the other side of the mountain weighted down with rocks to keep the wind from blowing them away. Charles said he would get them and told me to roll the ram the rest of the way down. I did so reluctantly and he came to rest on a bench far below.
It was four-thirty and raining. We were four hours from camp. We propped the ram up for pictures and then went down to the horses and back to camp. I was bushed.
Wednesday, September 11
—The weather has been bad since we got here. But this morning the sun was shining. We went back with a big pack horse, took pictures, and packed the ram out whole. Another eight hours in the saddle.
Thursday, September 12
—Charles dressed out the ram last evening by flash-light. We never found the arrow. The ram was facing me at an angle. The arrow entered the brisket center, cut the big jugular vein, skidded along the rib cage and shoulder blade, and passed out behind the front leg. I never saw a more devastating arrow wound. I would like to see the arrow, but am not going to climb back up there to look for it!
Coming back with the ram we saw a beautiful grizzly high up on a mountain. Saw another one on the mountain across from camp this evening.
Today was a rest day. We took pictures around camp in the morning. Went fishing this evening. Caught many rainbows. Tommy Walker came in this evening. Delighted with my kill.
Friday, September 13
—Saw the grizzly (a beauty) on the mountain across from camp this morning. Being Friday the thirteenth, I was not sure I should stretch my luck and go after him. He was such a beautiful animal. Black with silver up his back, neck, and head with black rings around his eyes. Tommy, Charles, and I had planned a high trip for sheep pictures but I could not resist a try at that bear.
It was 10 A.M. when we left camp. Rode part way up and then climbed above the bear. But he was not there. Stayed up until three-thirty and then gave up and came back to camp. Had a bite to eat and just now (6 P.M.) spotted him on the next mountain. Spent the last half hour watching through the thirty-power scope. He is eating mossberries, blueberries, huckleberries, and cranberries—all of which are plentiful. Have one scope on the bear and another on a billy goat.
Knick went up to a salt lick in the area where I shot my sheep. Got back a few minutes ago. Built a blind and shot two blue grouse on the way.
Morris, our wrangler and woodcutter, is a young Indian. Robert, the cook, is Charles Quock’s brother. Both he and Charles are around thirty years old. The Indians are a happy lot. They sing in harmony, very well. They pitched horseshoes at odd times.
—Dinner is over. Ed got in. Saw two caribou.
Charles has good eyes, is a good hunter, and is not afraid of grizzly bears. Emphasis is always on the word grizzly. It is never a bear—always a GRIZZLY bear. He is the first Indian I have ever seen who was not afraid of grizzlies. He also has a sense of humor. The night we left my ram on the mountain some suggested that a grizzly might get it and Charles said: “Where he get oxygen.” The ram was up high… .
Had sheep ribs last night. Roast hindquarter this evening. Yum.
Several days ago, watching a bull moose through the scope, Charles said: “Make me hungry looking at him.”
The Indians are singing at the dishwashing now. We have a campfire every night. I am sitting by it writing while the others sit on blocks of wood discussing horses. Tommy has top equipment in every department. His fifty-two horses are fat and gentle.
Knick and I share a tent. Ed has a smaller one. Tommy has a short-wave radio here. Talked to his wife at base camp this evening. I had him send a wire home about my good luck with the sheep.
Saturday, September 14, 7 P.M.
—Sitting by the campfire. Got in at five o’clock and pitched horseshoes for a while. Ed came in a few minutes ago. He had seven ptarmigan. Got almost close enough to a big bull caribou.
Charles and I rode up the valley today where the bear went last night. Did not see him. Rode to within sixty yards of a big bull moose and cow but cover was too thick for a shot. Saw a beaver and four ducks on a small lake. I asked Charles if he shot ducks. “In the spring,” he said. “Shotgun?” I asked. “No, .22. Miss a lot. Come back in spring full of lead.” “Lead?” I asked. “Yes, shots from shots gun.”
I asked Charles about his family. “Four sisters in Telegraph Creek.” “Married?” “Yes, lots of kids.” Of all things, he is having his dog sled shod with fiberglass.
This is a beautiful country. Not so desolate as the Yukon and more game. Weather has been fine since I shot my sheep. Last two nights have been cold. Freezes water at night. Very cold mornings until the sun comes up.
Sunday, September 15
—Another freeze last night. Poplar leaves are beginning to fall. We all rode up Connor Creek this a.m. Ed and Laman went up into a low, wide valley. Tommy, Charles, Dale, Knick, and I looked over three valleys. Saw two sheep and some moose on the way. We were high and could see Ed down below us. Also saw wolves. Ed told us later that the wolves played in front of them for half an hour. Never more than 500 yards away. We could hear the wolves howling. They chased a band of sheep over the mountain later. Ed saw a wolverine and shot three more ptarmigan. Birds for dinner tonight. Very good.
Plan to go up to where I got my sheep tomorrow. Need sheep pictures.
Monday, September 16
—Got in too late.
Tuesday, September 17
—Got in too late.
Wednesday, September 18, 10:30 A.M.
—Sitting by the fire. Camp is being torn down. We’re moving to Rainbow Camp at south end of Coldfish Lake. Tommy and Knick hunting on the way. Ed and I going with pack train to get pictures and fish.
Monday we all rode together up Connor Creek. Charles, Dale, Knick, and I took the west branch. Tommy and Ed went up to the head of the creek. We saw eight sheep but they were too far away for pictures. Went up a different valley, then crossed a mountain and came back. Saw a bull and two cow moose just before dark. Met Ed and Tommy on the trail.
—Just had lunch. Cook tent coming down now. The sun is warm but it froze a half inch of ice last night.
Tommy Walker came here from Bella Coola in 1949. Came to this country from England in 1929 to start a fur farm. It didn’t work out and he has been an outfitter ever since.
Charles goes to Telegraph Creek by dog team before Christmas each year. It takes him nine days. He brings back presents for the family and also the Roman Catholic priest who stays for a few weeks. The priest tells them that if they have big families, they might have a mission here later.
Three families winter the horses at Hyland, thirty miles east of here, where there is good grazing. They live in log cabins and subsist on moose meat. Staple groceries for these people come in from Prince George by plane when they come in empty to pick up hunters.
Two goats have been on the mountain across from us all morning. Spotting scope is always set up. Looking in, we either see a goat, moose, sheep, or bear.
Rainbow Camp is where we hunt goats. Tommy says there are lots of them there. We need meat. We have eaten all the sheep. Expect to be at next camp for two or three days. Then to Coldfish Lake Saturday when Bud Gray comes in. Will hunt caribou from there for a week. After Knick and Ed leave we will pack in for a week. That will end the hunt. Frosts of the last few nights have hit the poplars hard. Leaves are off in most places.
Thursday, September 19
—Knick and Tommy came in last evening after I had finished writing. Am writing at breakfast now. It is raining and blowing. We have a cabin for the cook and dining headquarters. Big and well made of logs. All lumber for the roof, floor, and window frames is whipsawed.
Knick came in last night, built a roaring fire in our tent, poured himself a drink and finally blurted out that he had shot a bull moose. Shot him in the back leg cutting the big femoral artery and that was that. I’m going out with him this morning to get pictures. I hope the weather will clear up.
—Sitting on a hillside where Tommy and Dale are butchering Knick’s moose. Black flies are pesky. It has cleared up somewhat. Warm and cloudy. Can see the two horses but not Laman, Charles, or Ed across the mountain. There are eight goats in sight.
Lots of meat in this moose. Antlers are about forty inches with sixteen points.
Ed and I did some fishing yesterday afternoon. Rainbow Camp is only about twenty minutes from our fishing spot. Waited for trout to rise in shallow water and waded out ten feet. Ed threw his fly, I focused on it and got the trout coming up and taking it. I want to get back there again to fish from my horse and take pictures.
Friday, September 20, 5 P.M.
—Sitting by our fire in front of the tent. Knick shot a nice goat today.
Knick, Dale, Charles, and I rode up high on Goat Mountain this a.m. and saw a pair of goats bedded down in a draw. Charles and I moved down and set up the camera with a six-inch lens. Could cover the goats well. Knick made the stalk down. It was a perfect setup. The goats were directly below a big rock. Knick shot at about 35 yards hitting one of them straight through the middle. He ran about 200 yards, fell, got up, and fell in some buckbrush. A beautiful goat with ten-inch horns.
It is about time I started hunting again. Have not done any for a week. Too busy taking pictures.
This is the end of the first stage of the hunt. Tomorrow we will go up Coldfish Lake to base camp. Bud is due in tomorrow and we will reorganize and start off again.
We spend too much time riding. I hope to take my pup tent and ride off with Charles for the last week. Would like to camp wherever we are at the end of the day and start from there the next morning.
Wednesday, September 25, 6:30 P.M.
—First notes I have written since last Fri-day at Rainbow Camp. We are now in base camp. Bud came in Saturday. He and Tommy and I went south to get sheep pictures. Ed and Knick went caribou hunting. They saw a great many, but no shots. We saw some sheep and got good pictures.
Monday we all went up to the caribou plateaus. Split up and Tommy and I saw two bulls in a valley flat. Spent two hours on a stalk and could not get a shot. Got into camp just after dark.
Yesterday Ed, Charles, and I went to caribou country again. Saw a band with large bulls on top of a mountain. We made a stalk and were pinned down from 3:30 to 7 P.M. when I finally got a running shot. A tremendous bull.
The shot was too high I thought, up near the shoulder. He ran to the top of a hill with the group and they stood there. His antlers were much bigger than my elk. He was gray in front and halfway back. With glasses I could see a blood streak down his white side. He kept his mouth open and seemed to be panting. I wondered if the arrow had gone lower than I’d thought—perhaps into the lung cavity and he was gasping his last. I handed the glasses to Charles and asked what he thought. “Him barking at cow,” he replied, handing back the glasses. The rutting season was on.
We found the arrow later. Little penetration. A slight wound that didn’t even interfere with his love-making.
There were three big bulls in this herd. Also some smaller ones and many cows. We watched them at close range through two siestas and a feeding period. Much pseudofighting, clashing of horns, and barking all the time. The long hour ride down the mountain back to camp was most spectacular after dark.
Three hunters from Tucson and L.A. got in from a hunt. Yesterday a.m. we visited while we waited for our pack train to be made up. They had three sheep, six goats, a moose, and a grizzly. One sheep was forty-two inches.
We said good-by to Ed and Knick who rode off for the day’s hunt. They will hunt from Base Camp for two days and then go out Friday.
Bud and I, Charles, Dale, Robert, and Morris are on our way to Marion Camp, two days from Base Camp. It is now 9:15 A.M. Thursday the twenty-sixth. We are at Cache Camp halfway to Marion. The sun is warm as we sit in front of our tent. Have been waiting since daylight for Morris to bring the horses. Hear bells now. They must have gone a long way.
Charles and Dale are sitting with us. Charles is telling us his problems. He met his wife at a “gamble.” Has worked for Tommy for eight years. His oldest child is seven now and he is worried about schooling. Does not want to send his children “out to school.” “Come back no good.” “Take things without asking.” May go to Telegraph Creek for the winter. Can get a job for him and his dogs at survey on road work. Might trap “if they pay good for fur.”
I have not talked much about our good horses. First I rode Whitey. Easy to ride and not a bad trotter. She wandered off one night and was not recovered until Dale went on a search several days ago and found her. She is now with our group of fourteen. Next mount was Snip. A gentle bay and the best climber of the group. He was affectionate and would steal the camouflage twigs from my hat or reach around and nip my saddle quiver gently, thinking it was my leg. Short, choppy steps and a hard rider. Since yesterday I’ve been riding Snookie. She is an easy rider and responds quickly to the reins. Not hard to urge into a gallop when I want to ride ahead for pictures.
I have more gear hanging from my saddle than a pack horse. The camera saddlebags weigh thirty pounds. Attached to the right one is my bow. Between them I have my rain suit and the big lens. From the pommel hangs my saddle quiver, handgun, spotting scope, and binoculars. My pockets are loaded with film, light meter, and camera accessories. Also lunch and a pint thermos of tea. On the hunt we sometimes tow a pack horse with the big camera and tripod and extra magazine.
—Four horses are in. They are being saddled to search for more.
—Still waiting. Bud and Charles took a stroll up the hill. I took some pictures of Dale making “fire sticks.” Have camera set now on some pancakes as whisky-jack bait. Have them pegged down. They carried the first two away whole.
Bud and Charles back. Said they heard a shot. Think the horses are found. Very warm, sitting in shade.
—Horses in. Cook tent coming down—packing begins. I took 100 feet of whisky-jack pictures. We will be late getting into Marion Creek Camp.
Friday, September 27
—Just had dinner. T-bone steaks from a caribou I shot yesterday.
We had come over a pass with the pack train. Down in a flat valley ahead, in an area broken up by small ridges and mounds, was a big bull caribou. Bud and I dismounted and stripped for action. Bud elected to cut in ahead of him. I went straight toward him but he eluded both of us. The boys from the pack train whistled and pointed to another bull, a smaller one. I made a sneak on him, got behind a big rock, and waited. He came within twenty-five yards and stopped.
It seemed obvious that he would pass me on one side or the other. I was crouched to shoot either way keeping my head just high enough to see the top of his antlers. He stood for about a minute looking at Bud and then at the pack train. I wanted him to pass by for an easy shot at eight or ten yards but was afraid he would wheel and run back, so I decided to move out beside the rock and try a shot. Looking through the brush beside me I could see that he stood facing me at an angle of forty-five degrees, offering a good rib shot. I eased my feet to the side, checked my arrow, and started out. He had heard me and was looking my way. Before I completed my draw he wheeled and I loosed the arrow after him. As he ran down through the willows and brush, I could see about eight inches of it protruding from his flank. I saw the arrow come out about 100 yards away. Twenty yards farther on he stopped for a moment and stood with his head down. Then he walked into a hollow and did not come out. We found him there, dead.
Dressing him out it was evident that he died in less than two minutes. The arrow had punched through the far side and the insert blade had been shed inside. The hit was straight through, just nicking a bone in the rear quarters. Must have hit a large artery.
He was not a monster, although these Osborn caribou are large animals. Antlers are about three feet high and three feet wide, with a shovel. A beautiful, large gray-and-black body. Should weigh dressed out about five or six hundred pounds. It was too dark for movies, so we came back to camp.
This is a beautiful place, and for the first time, no rocks just under the turf to break arrows.
Before going in after the bull we counted twenty-two goats on the mountain across from camp. Bud and Dale went after them while we went to get the caribou. Took pictures in the rain. Got back about 3:30 P.M. Bud was in camp with a fine goat. What a start for a hunt. A caribou on the way in and a goat the first day.
Have been busy getting our tent in shape. Needed drying racks by the stove for our wet clothes and gear. Bud has been working on an elevated bunk for the past three hours. Stopped for a minute while I got a picture of his “beauty rest.” Says he will make one for me but not tonight. This is the best camp I have ever been in. There have been only three shots fired in this part of the country in two years. We have great hopes for the six days of hunting that are left.
Knick and Ed were to go out today. No planes could come in at this low ceiling. Rain stopped about 3 P.M. but it is damp and the clouds are thick. Charles is steamed up to hunt GRIZZLY bear. Says we will find one, watch him until he starts digging for marmot, and when he has a trench dug and only his rear is showing, we will slip in and shoot him.
Tomorrow we will start. Charles has abandoned his .38 revolver in favor of a rusty 30-30 rifle. We should see other game on this trip. There are many caribou and goats, some sheep and moose. Bud’s sleeping masterpiece is about finished. Time to go to bed. Have changed from daylight saving to standard time.
Chapter 4British Columbia - Part 1
A great and beautiful country of British Columbia awaits Fred and company. Thirty-five hundred square miles of sheep, goats, grizzly bear, moose, and caribou reignite their spirits and imaginations.