Carrying Heavy Burdens Into The Wilderness
By Dan Towsley
“We loaded our horses with hopes of packing out heavier than when we headed in. Emotions on our sleeves, we grew closer to the adventure of a lifetime, but this hunt was about more than harvesting a spring Wyoming black bear; we carried a heavy burden up into the wilderness,” recalled Scott Knap. Just six months before this hunt, Scott, his wife, and daughter lost their 14-month-old son, Redding. That experience is a burning memory that will never ease its way from those who knew the Knaps and their precious Redding, and it was the true reason for this experience.
Ben Rogers of Stone Mountain Outfitters organized this hunt for Scott in collaboration with the Hush crew, Casey Lavere and Logan Butler. Ben said, “Scott is one of the most passionate outdoorsmen I know, and he introduced me (a hunter with upland roots) to big-game archery hunting in the state of Wyoming, and he can hunt damn well.” For Scott, archery offers a freedom that eases his mind in the face of terrible tragedy, allowing him to focus on the great wild with friends, laughs, and camaraderie.
But while Scott was grateful for the hunt, it was one he wished he didn’t need because that would mean his Redding would still be here.
He continued, “We loaded up on a string of horses and headed into our five-day hunt. The first afternoon and evening were spent setting up wall tents, unloading gear, and getting a game plan together for the following afternoon’s first sit on bait. We cracked into a bottle of Pendleton and shared stories with the crew while getting to know each other better.”
Ben woke up early the next morning to stoke the fire and warm a pot of coffee. Scott and his wife lazily arose, with a slight thumping in their heads from the evening libations, and Ben headed out of camp a few hours later after preparing breakfast burritos.
They had a relaxing morning while Ben was gone. They shoveled snow out of the perfect spot to pitch their Seek Outside Eolus tent for the next four nights, got a fire going, and enjoyed a meal of canned soup warmed by the embers. Ben rejoined them and they geared up for their first evening at the bear bait.
Scott recalled, “It was uneventful, with nothing but pine squirrels running around our bait. We got back to camp to find that no one else had success shooting a bear, but they managed to see a few. Casey and Logan had a boar come into their site a couple times during their sit and Casey, being a seasoned bear hunter, passed on this younger boar to wait for larger bears that Ben had seen in the area over the past few months.” That night, Casey asked Scott if he wanted to switch sites and Scott agreed, especially being new to bear hunting and wanting to shoot a mature boar. With a new spot in mind, they were re-energized by the possibility of seeing their first bear on a bait site.
They arose the next morning ready for an eventful, and hopefully successful, afternoon sit. Once again, they fueled up with coffee and warm breakfast burritos drowned in tabasco, and made a plan to head out on horseback. They arrived on a beautiful, sage-covered hill with the bait 146 yards away. The views alone made this spot their favorite: a massive draw in front, a canyon in the distance, and lodgepole pine trees as far as the eye could see. A few hours in, four bull elk in velvet wandered in, eating as much greenery as they could. They watched them for an hour while they fed through the area.
Ben remembered the next moments: “As the afternoon faded, I noticed a dark silhouette appear from the timber moments before shooting light. A light rain began to fall and I thought my eyes were playing a trick on me. We’d been staring at the area for hours, and it was hard to believe a bear was coming into view. But, it was no trick. I pointed out the bear to Scott, the same bear from the previous evening that Casey and Logan had seen.
“The bear held up short of the bait pile, sat for a moment, and scanned the area. Scott and I had to move quickly to get into sight of the bear before we lost our evening light. We quickly and quietly moved 30 yards to our right. I was able to get set up with the camera and Scott focused on calming his breath and holding steady on the bear. I whispered to Scott, ‘Breathe.’ A second later, a shot rang out of his 6.5-300 Weatherby Vanguard. The bear ran to our left, tumbled, and continued running back into the deep timber. Scott was filled with excitement and wonder, among many other emotions, but questioned whether he'd hit the bear. We reviewed footage and knew it was dead.”
The agreement was that if Ben didn’t see them come back, it meant they needed a pack-out—so they waited for him to come down the hill. Later, Ben arrived in the dark of night with his string of horses. The rain started to pick up while the three of them walked down the hill to follow the bear’s trail. After five minutes of searching, they found Scott’s bear piled up in a log jam. A wave of emotion ran over them. Scott had given Redding a black bear toy the previous Christmas, and just before Scott left for this hunt, his daughter told him to bring it along. The bear in front of them, lying against the logjam, had a strikingly similar color palate. This toy—and this moment on the hunt—carried deep meaning for Scott. It allowed him to be back in the outdoors where he thrived with his family and his faith.
But, they didn't let their emotions hold them back that evening while they were soaking wet from the rain and tears that flowed down their faces. They got the bear packed up on one of Ben's Haflinger horses and slowly rode out of the dark, wet sagebrush canyon. Along the trail, Scott’s leather scabbard broke free, swung, and nudged his horse. The midnight rodeo began. The horse began to buck while Scott was still hanging on and all hell broke loose while Ben was yelling and Scott’s wife was doing anything she could do to help regain the scabbard. Scott rode it out like an NFR saddle bronc champ. Ben doesn’t laugh or smile too often, but he sure did have a big grin on his face after they all came out unscathed. They got back to camp at 1:00 in the morning with a little more excitement, adrenaline, and relief than they knew what to do with. Banquet beers were then cracked and stories were shared over a warm fire.
Ben reflected, “We awoke the next morning with an immense feeling of relief, joy, and satisfaction. Sure, we’d gotten our bear. We also got so much more. The mountains provided Scott with camaraderie to help soothe his mind after a tragic loss. It gave him the opportunity to share his story, to help him share their love for Redding, as well as others who’ve gone through a similar hardship. This trip had given all of us many gifts and we were carrying them back down the mountain—one bear packed and ready for the freezer and another clutched tightly, safe and warm.”
A massive thanks to Ben Rogers of Stone Mountain Outfitters, along with Casey and Logan from Hushin. They generously offered their time and resources to provide this much-needed hunt. To fully experience the story, check out the short film on Hushin’s YouTube page and learn more about the story on the Weatherby Podcast.