HomePublicationsThe Tracker MagazineVol 1, No. 4, Jun-Jul-Aug 1982

The Tracker Magazine - Vol 1 No. 4, Jun-Jul-Aug 1982

Grizzly Encounter
Rick Shrack

A frosty Montana morning dawned golden rays of the sun into the ramshackled old cabin. Life stirred within and without and birds had been singing for hours. The cabin dweller only now began to move after his long night of sleep. Clothed only in a red union suit, he grabbed his buckskin pants and pulled them on. His feet rejected the earthen floor, so he took the time to put his boots on also. Half-clad now, he fetched wood for the breakfast fire, which would warm the cabin simultaneously. Before 1ong, he had blueberry pancakes and malpe syrup warming the inside of his six-foot-three-inch frame. But before he'd finished the dishes, a hearty yell came from the forest's edge.

"Waugh!" came the husky-throated, earthy, distinctive greeting of his mountainman friend, Bill, known also as Wolf.

"Wolf," answered the tall man, "Yuh 'rived in time fer breakfast, big brother!"

"Why do yuh think I come so early fer?" riddled the whiskered, buckskin-clad man. "Hadta git up wi' the crickets ta git here fer some o' that Ohia surrup!"

Bill was about half a head shorter than I was, but the years in the high country gave him a griz's stockiness. His moderately long brown hair and beard also gave him more of a bear's appearance than most men could imagine. The look of an eagle's stare bore out of his eyes as deadly as the bird itself. His buckskins were old and greasy, and decorated with interesting Indian beadwork. I often had to think twice about what year I was in, for it, could very well have been 1830 in many ways. Alas, though it was 1981, but it did not really matter too awfully much because was in my element -- mountain wilderness.

It was not too long ago when Wolf had allowed me to come, live with him to learn what skills I didn't already have in the art of survival and Ancient Indian ways. After my Air Force hitch was up I took him up on his offer because I had to know if this was the way I wanted to live the rest of my life. I had made my decision months ago, and I still lived out here on my own as a result of that decision.

The cabin in which I lived was an old miner's cabin at one time, but I built it up again and fortified it to be sturdy and reliable. It had been near destruction, and about 130 years old. Later it would serve purpose as my smokeh6use when my new cabin was finished. Time would only tell now. The land had been up for grabs because of delinquent taxes, and I did the grabbing.

Today was the start of our winter meat hunt. We took only our guns, amunition, canteens, bedrolls, and our inexhaustible knowledge, for we knew the mountains, and the abilities of each other. My fresh buckskins felt good along with the leather boots, coyote cap and the sharp caress of the October wind through my scruffy one-inch beard. A short length of rope slung over my shoulder held my bedroll in place. My Winchester 30-30 and Bowie were kept handy for any job. Wolf was similarly equipped.

"Best not fergit yore tommyhawk, cub," Bill added before departing. He used my new nickname until I could receive an Indian moniker. I slid the tomahawk's handle through my belt, apparently for ensuring gathering plenty of wood, I reckoned. "This chile's gonna have venison in his meatbag tonight, cub!"

"We best git to walkin' and doin' less talkin', Windy," I joked. Bill kicked hard towards my hindquarters as though I were a stubborn mule needing his attention got. The old Wolf received little for his efforts because I strutted forward onto the trail and he merely brushed the seat of my pants, causing him to nearly fall on his own seat. We haw-hawed a bit then proceeded attentively down the well-worn trail. Quietly we whispered an agreement on the locale of the hunt and continued as though we could read each other's mind. We knew predetermined signals and the actions of all our prey, and stalked them with the stealth of the mountain lion.

We found elk and deer sign prevalent, but hoped for moose, antelope, or Rocky Mountain sheep as a change in diet. The we saw the fresh grizzly tracks which caused us to look at each other apprehensively. The tracks were so fresh that we guessed they were less than an hour old. We shrugged off the thought of impending danger since we had to concentrate on the hunt. Running across some recent goat sign, we watched intently for awhile, then resigned ourselves to settle for a muley we saw on the ridge above us. Bill moved fast and low so as not to be seen, and he was ever so silent. The buck came into view before him, and Bill quickly raised his rifle and fired. The deer was hit hard, but still it hobbled away from the sound of the shot out of our line of sight. A hundred yards or so down a ravine we spotted the carcass of the buck. Bill hollered his satisfaction and took off to survey his kill. Just about the same time, a grizzly reared up as though he was claiming the carcass, too. He sniffed the air and then clacked his jaws contemptuously. Bill stopped dead in his tracks. I knew he'd be looking for a tree and soon he cautiously edged toward the closest, stoutest tree as I leveled my 30-30's sights on the breast of the big bruin. The griz moved about the deer, but gave no intention of sidetracking itself onto something that did not really threaten him or his meal. Bill had reached the tree and then backed his way up the hill toward me.

"Sure was glad I didn't have to plug that beautiful silvertip!" I greeted him.

"Reckon we'll haveta lose a day's hunt if'n we don't see nuthin' more, but I'm thinkin' there's an elk'r two in that meadow below us there," Bill nodded toward the direction of which he spoke. He then continued, "Yeah, damn shame 'bout ol' Ephraim takin' that buck from but us, but I jus' as soon, leave 'im be." I agreed. Then we proceeded on.

Well, there was a mite more in that meadow, let me tell you. We scared up a small herd of antelope and the quick reflexes of old Bill ensured him a palatable difference in his diet. I was determined to get some meat of my own, too, and before Bill had the antelope dressed, a hapless buck succumbed to the power of my 30-30. By the time I'd skinned the critter, old Bill was all packed and ready for heading home.

"Need any help with that carcass?" asked Bill as if an afterthought while he pondered the trip home. He knew better, but he was just being downright neighborly.

"Naw, Wolf, I'll be finished 'bout sundown, and I'll be headin' back tomorra early, I reckon. You go ahead since you can be home by dark. I'll be seein' yuh 'fore long," I said as I started to gut the deer.

"Okay, cub, but watch yer topknot, yuh hear?" Bill replied.

"I will if you will!" I shouted as he turned for the trail home.

Life was good, it surely was. I figured that griz wouldn't be hassling me any considering he'd be feeding his face plumb full of deer before he'd leave it be. Just to be doubly certain, I tied the carcass up in a tall tree. I kept clear of his water source, and all the trails. I slept rather well with my Winchester handy, and my one eye open as it were. Before dawn I awoke, built a small fire to take the chill off my bones, and fixed a bit of venison and cattail root soup. With my meatbag warm and full, I proceeded to let down my kill and strapped it onto my back. Lucky for me he was a young one and not too heavy for toting.

The return trip was uneventful, but I took the time to enjoy the mountain sunrise, the clean air, and the movement of what animals I happened to spy upon. Salting the meat well, and storing it in my cache, I took more time to start tanning the hide for clothing and such. Put some sourdough biscuits in the dutch oven to brown up and gathered a heap more of rose hips and cattails for the tea and starch of my meal.

"Reckon I'm just about the happiest feller alive, 'ceptin' maybe ol' Bill," I thought as I looked up to thank the one responsible. I knew life could be a heap worse, but there was no sense in thinking of such things. Heck, no, not now.

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