Encounter with a Grizzly Bear
The story has been told of the sportsmen that head to hunt elk near the borders of Yellowstone National Park and how they encounter grizzly bears on a very regular basis.
I certainly do not want to take anything away from their grand adventures that they take part in every year where the sound of a gunshot is like ringing the dinner bell to the ears of the grizzly bear. In fact, I admire the ones who continue to make a living as outfitters in the country that offers more bear encounters than elk sightings.
It has become the talk of the west where the cattlemen and the hunters are pleading for some relief from this protected species and yet find themselves year after year living and surviving in the bear’s world. Many years have passed with me listening to these stories and reading the articles in the newspapers of bear attacks and encounters, but today is the day that I am fortunate to be here to tell my own story where I crossed the path of a wandering grizzly.
I have seen bears in the Tosi Creek drainage on several occasions and mostly they are sightings of black bears, with the rare find of a grizzly bear at a safe distance. On a couple of occasions I have been a little uncomfortable with circumstances when seeing the bears, but never have I been intimidated or scared.
My wife, however, is a saint when it comes to doing the worrying for me. She worries in the morning, noon, and night about all of the bears that we have seen in our hunting territory and the chance that someday I will get too close.
On this year’s archery hunting trip, that exact thing happened. I had been hunting with a friend of mine on what we call Elk Mountain in hot pursuit of a couple fired up bugling bulls. We had closed the distance on one of the herds, but the wind shifted at the last minute, and we were busted.
As we worked our way on up to the pass that drops down into Todd’s Hole, another bull was found, but not before he happened to spot us and the second opportunity was blown for the morning hunt. A storm was brewing by this time, and the wind was extremely erratic, so I decided to work some timber for my partner while he watched the notch where any elk would have to walk within 15 yards of him. It was the perfect set-up, and one that I had always wanted to try since I first saw this well-traveled notch in the mountain.
I had killed a nice 6-point bull a couple of days before and so was unarmed in every sense of the word. No pepper spray or sidearm, just a pair of 8 x 32 Swarovski binoculars and a couple of granola bars and bottles of water in my daypack. As I departed from my company and headed for the other side of the hill, I could hear the bull elk carrying on in the distance. They would be easy to locate and my plan was to circle around them in hopes that they would head towards the notch. There are several benches and cuts on the side of Elk Mountain and I had traveled through about three of them.
The forest had went silent by then, and I was a little curious as to where the elk had all went. I thought I should be closing in on one bunch by now, but I could hear nothing. Then, off to my left, I heard one. He did not sound real big, but we were not picky on this being our last outing before we headed home. I climbed to the top of one more bench just to assure myself that they would not go above me when I moved in.
Then, all of sudden, I heard some movement off to my right. Looking that way I was sure that I had blown a heard of elk in the wrong direction, but that was not the case. Instead, it was full grown grizzly running at full speed right towards me. He was at 80 yards and closing the distance in a hurry. Now you all know that I survived this encounter or I wouldn’t be here telling the story, but what transpired over the next few minutes was the most intense experience of my life.
I guess you always wonder what you would do when put in this situation. It is a circumstance that I am not sure you will never fully be prepared for mentally. I have heard some people say that you are to play dead, and others just tell you to start shooting or spraying. Some have even told me that you just stand there and make yourself look big by lifting your arms in the air and shouting.
As tough and bold as all of these may sound, and maybe they would have worked, I did none of them. I reached for my cell phone and dialed………..just kidding.
In the direction of the bear and about 10 yards away, there was a tree that looked like a place of refuge. The trunk was big at the bottom but had branched into three separate trunks where I could jump up into it and start climbing. I made it about six or seven feet in the air by the time the bear arrived at the bottom of the tree. He had an evil look in his eye, but would not look upwards where I was hanging helplessly. He was staying about five yards from the tree and making his way around as if to be confused about where his brunch had gone. All that was going through my mind was to hold still and keep praying that he would not try to climb up the tree and eat me.
My legs were shaking so bad that I am sure that if I had climbed an aspen tree all of the leaves would have fallen off and landed on that big griz. He found a comfortable spot and sat down as he continued to look around in confusion only ten feet from me, but still never looking up.
Just as quick as it all started, the wind switched directions and the bear caught my scent and rose to his feet with his nose in the air. I thought I was done for, but instead the bear lumbered off the hill at a slow trot never looking back. To this day, I do not know if the bear was really after me or if he was after the same elk that I had been in pursuit of. What I do know is that I am forever thankful to the good Lord upstairs for protecting me in the most helpless situation I have ever encountered.
After the bear departed, I found the courage to get down out the tree and continue my circle up the mountain and back toward the pass where I had left my friend, but not without an extra sense of awareness with what was going on around me. It is hard to describe the feeling that I felt as the hunted instead of the hunter, and since I have told the story a few hundred times the emotion still remains. The picture of the bear running directly at me only 80 yards away is just as clear in my mind today as if it just happened.
Many have asked me how big the bear was, and I can honestly say that I don’t know how to judge bears at all since I have never spent much time hunting them or sizing them up in the wild. My only response to the question is that, “He was bigger than me”. Rest assured that you will continue to read my stories, but it may appear that I am a little heavier on my left hip since my future adventures will only take place with a .44 magnum on my hip as I travel “off the paved road”.
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James Rogers: Outdoorsman, rancher, cow dog trainer, bull breeder, hunting guide, cowboy, real estate agent, husband and father.
In this column for Pinedale Online, James shares his insights into Sublette County, ranching in the Green River Valley, the ebbs and flows of real estate here in the real west, and our lifestyle "off the paved road".
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Pinedale, Wyoming. James can be reached by e-mail at:firstname.lastname@example.org
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James also works as a guide for Black Diamond Outfitting, hunting and
fishing guides, operating
on the Bridger-Teton National Forest out of Tosi Creek in the Upper Green
and Gros Ventre Wilderness area, www.blackdiamondoutfitting.com.
Click on small thumbnail pictures to see a larger version. Copyrights: Photos and stories by author James Rogers, 2001-2005, unless otherwise noted. Off the Paved Road is an outdoor column sponsored, hosted and copyrighted by Pinedale Online. Graphic artwork for Off the Paved Road by Pinedale Online. No part may be reproduced without permission.