By Mike Willis
It was August 30th and the archery season for mule deer opened up here in Idaho. I can’t possibly put into words how excited I was to break out my gear again after what seemed like forever.
Despite Idaho’s generous length of their hunting season, it still feels like an eternity waiting between seasons. But on this beautiful August day, there would be no more waiting!
I have a ridge that I absolutely love to hike on because of its endless glassing opportunities and high elevation. I knew that was where I wanted to be on opening day. What I hadn’t considered were the other critters that may have been drawn to that exact location at that exact time.
It didn’t take long to encounter my first bear of the day. It was a Grizzly! It shot by me at Mach III at an uncomfortable 30 yards. It’s beautiful gold-tipped fur immediately clued me into what it was.
Bears can be surprisingly quiet as they run through the woods. However, at 30 yards, I could hear each paw pound the ground as it barreled on by me. I remember it was as though a horse was galloping by. I could feel its contact with the ground in my boots as I drew my 44 mag.
Fortunately, he wanted to get away from me even more than I wanted to be away from him. This has typically been my experience with bears, but once in a while, someone will manage to catch them at the wrong time, and the outcome is much more exhilarating!
As I watched the bear scurry away, a cow moose and her calf stood up to figure out what in the heck made the bear run. Momma did her job by making her presence known to whatever was lurking about. I didn’t intend to hang around any longer, so I slipped through the sparsely wooded, windswept ridge to find a new area to hunt.
As I tiptoed down the ridge, I would stop every 50 feet and sit still. It was one of those odd hunts that gave me an unusual amount of confidence, and I just knew that I was on the heels of something.
As I picked my way through the brush, the sky began to open up with some much-needed rain. I climbed under the biggest tree I could find and awaited my new neighbors coming out to celebrate. Twenty minutes into the storm, I began to hear movement.
It was too quiet to be elk and too loud to be mule deer. I was a little confused because it did sound like there was a herd. Feeling confident that multiple animals were moving through the area, I began what felt like the perfect stalk.
As the wind would blow, I would slip in a little closer. I began to anticipate their direction of travel and positioned myself in a spot that was certain to produce a close encounter. My heart was pounding, and the adrenaline was flowing. I was in my glory. I drew my bow back and stood ready for what was likely going to be a 15-yard shot.
As I listened to their breathing, the brushy hillside began to reveal the unmistakable silhouette of a momma bear and her two cubs. I was no longer in my glory.
I quickly quivered my arrow and traded it once again from my beloved 44 mag. I was able to start easing backwards towards the top of the ridge with minimal detection. The bears became aware of my presence but unable to determine what I was.
As I slithered my way up the hillside, they remained hunkered down hoping to go unnoticed. By the sixth bear encounter, I was no longer hanging around to find a mule deer.
Five of the six bears were under 30 yards. The other was at about 50. Only one was a grizzly, and the rest were various color phases of black bears.
I realized that I had managed to place myself at the last elevation that huckleberries were still growing. At the lower elevations, the berries were beginning to dry up and die. Every bear in the region was led up to the areas highest point in search of some pre-hibernation nutrition.
Maybe next year August 30th will be a bear hunt.