Spot & Stalk
Mar 25 2022
A Very Propitious Event
By Dawson Smith
“Deep in the guts of most men is buried the involuntary response to the hunter’s horn, a pickle of the nape hair’s, an acceleration of the pulse, an atavistic memory of his fathers; who killed first with a stone, and then with a club, and then with a spear, and then with bow, and then with gun, and finally with formulae” -Robert Roark – Horn of the Hunter
”A Very Propitious Event”:
(pruh-pish-uhs, indicative of favor, favorably disposed towards you)
Every once in a while something significant happens that causes you to ponder the individual choices that decided the outcomes in your life. That causes you to wonder; what if things went differently, what if I went left instead of right, what if I stayed home, what if I did ask that girl out on a date, what if, what if, and what IF? The what “if’s” could have been a work related matter, a relationship related matter or perhaps “it” happened while you were just out having fun. My passion is and has always been hunting; mountain hunting to be exact, and, more often than not, the significant propitious moments have taken place while I’ve been on a mountain somewhere. One such noteworthy moment happened during an adventure on a remote mountain in north western British Columbia, in early September.
“Look at that” Geoff said.
Further up the valley, high on a south facing slope we zoomed our spotters in on a grizzly bear digging for ground squirrels. The bear would dig like mad for a few minutes, then, as we could only guess, the squirrel would zip out of the hole and the bear would chase it, round and around they would go. It was a few miles away, however, from the actions we could see, the bear would pounce and then sit down, we assumed it had caught the squirrel. The grizzly was a magnificent boar, big head, blocky, its beautiful coat shimmering in the September sun and I had a tag in my pocket. But there was no sense in even attempting a stalk right then, the bear was racing back and forth across the tundra, even if it stayed relatively where it was, surely it would smell or see us if we got close on the open hillside. We just stayed put, lounging behind our glasses in the late afternoon sun and watched the show, and it was a show and a half.
Geoff Helfrich and I were way above tree line, a day and a half from the closest highway and about a four hour hike back to our tent. It was day three of a ten day mountain goat and grizzly bear hunt. As we watched the bear, an ominous dark bellied cloud slowly but steadily crawled its way from the east heading our way.
“Let’s head down before we get wet” Geoff said pointing at the cloud, “we can come back and find him tomorrow, between the berry patches and ground squirrels he’s not going anywhere.”
“Good plan” I replied.
As with most mountain hunting plans this one went a bit south, we woke up the next morning to rolling banks of fog, low hanging clouds and rain. We tried to get some glassing in but it was for naught, by mid morning we were back in camp and had decided that it was a Kobo kind of day.
“Man, I sure hope that bear hangs around” I said during a rain squall “it’s one of the better ones we have seen up here.”
“Ya that’s a great bear” Geoff replied, “he’s probably like us right now, hunkered down waiting out this storm.” I could only chuckle, tent days are part of mountain hunting. Just before dark I looked to the east and saw a line of blue heading our way. “I’m thinking tomorrow is going to be clear” I said, “we should plan to head out real early.”
During the night a strong wind picked up, our little tent fly flapped in the wind, but wind was a good thing as it would push the bad weather away. I was up and had the coffee boiling before light, shiny bright stars twinkled from above. After coffee and a quick cup of porridge we got ready, slipped our packs on and headed up the draw. A few hours later we came up over the east end of the valley. Years earlier we had named it bear valley. It was well above tree line with a long flat south facing side, a small creek flowed from end to end, across the wide bottom the north facing side was the backside of steep rock faces. It was a perfect transition from the lake to the east to the high plateau country to the west. Over the years we had seen many bears in it, both feeding on the abundant berry patches, munching on the green grasses along the creek or up high digging ground squirrels. The north facing ramparts more often than not had goats and stone sheep in them. It’s a magical place.
Once up in the valley we hiked over to a rock pile that gave us a clear view, end to end, of the south facing slope. I leaned my back pack against a rock and settled down to glass.
“There it is” Geoff said pointing way up across the valley. He hadn’t even sat down yet!
The bear was just below some rock outcroppings moving downhill.
“Good spot” I said to Geoff.
As we watched it I looked for the best route to get up the wide open hillside without being seen. The wind was coming steady down valley so we didn’t have a wind issue. There was a run off channel from the ramparts above about five hundred yards down wind of the bear. “We should be able to sneak right up that out of sight” I said to Geoff.
“Ya for sure” he replied and we headed off.
Once in the channel it was perfect, what probably started as a trickle eons ago was now a runoff channel about twelve feet wide and probably ten feet deep, it was like walking up an escalator. We gauged our accent by looking at the mountains behind us. It seemed like hours but eventually we made it to a set of rocks that we had picked out as the spot to poke up from.
“Let’s have a look here” I said to Geoff.
We took our backpacks off and slowly came out of the draw, a brisk wind blew right in our faces, Geoff whispered “this is perfect.”
At first the roll of the slope hid the bear but we crawled slowly ahead. I looked back and mouthed to Geoff, “see those rocks, let’s get to them and hunker down, the bear is around here somewhere.”
He gave me the thumbs up and we crept along.
Just as we got to the outcropping I saw the back of the bear about forty yards ahead, it was digging and totally unaware of us. I eased back and whispered to Geoff “it’s right there.”
He raised up a bit, had a quick peek and quickly dropped down. “Holy crap Dawson.”
Geoff and I have been on many grizzly bears hunts together, we have been successful and in some cases not, but all have been memorable. I smiled and whispered “I’m going to crawl ahead to that rock and shoot from there.”
“I’ll wait here” he replied.
I crept ahead while the bear was busy digging away. I waited until it was full broadside, placed the crosshairs of my scope on its engine room and squeezed the trigger. Or attempted to, “what the f” I thought, the safety was off but the trigger wouldn’t work. I tried a second time but it wasn’t working. Slinking back to where Geoff was I unloaded my rifle and tried the trigger, it was frozen. “This is crazy” I said to Geoff, “I’m not sure what is wrong, can I borrow your rifle?”
The whole time we were fooling around with my rifle we were peaking over the rocks at the bear a scanty forty yards away, the wind was strong so getting scented wasn’t an issue.
Geoff handed me his rifle “there’s three in the mag but nothing in the pipe he said.”
I crawled ahead to the rock again. The bear had moved our way a couple yards and was still digging, completely unaware of me and the fiasco with the rifle.
Again I waited until it was full broadside, facing downhill, found the engine room and squeezed the trigger. This time the rifle in my hand went off, the bear dropped in the hole it was digging.
He crawled ahead and we watched the bear for a bit, “that was awesome” he whispered.
After a while we quietly moved up hill a few yards and slowly crept up on the bear. I love bear hunting, bears and big cats are my favourite, every time I walked up to a kill I am amazed of the size and just overall demeanor of these incredible predators. I do not take killing one lightly.
“Beautiful bear” Geoff said “what an incredible hunt.” We sat in the hole the bear had dug and took the moment in. The colours of fall and the splendor of being in the mountains is as much a part of a hunt as is the hunt and kill.
We took a few pictures then rolled the bear over to skin and debone the meat. I was skinning the neck out and noticed some damage, “what’s this” I said to Geoff. “Hmm” he replied “that’s weird.”
Peeling the hide back I found where a bullet had went in and the exit hole. “I thought you shot it in the chest, broad side” Geoff said. “I did” I replied, “there’s no way I would have shot it in the neck.” But once we had it skinned out there was only one hole, “that’s not right” I said to Geoff, “when we get back to camp we better take a shot out of your rifle.” It was dark by the time we got the bear skinned, de-boned, loaded in our packs and got back to camp. It was a great day, while making a small fire, hanging the hide and meat in trees we went over the day, “still not sure what happened with the shot though” I said.
“We’ll find a spot and take a shot in the morning” Geoff replied.
Early the next morning I said “ready,” Geoff was lined up on a tree fifty yards away. He shot, then shot again, eventually we sorted out that his rifle was shooting twelve inches to the right and about ten inches high!
“How did that happen” Geoff said, “I shot this rifle a few days before coming on this trip, obviously I banged the scope somewhere, probably on the way in.”
“Oh my” I said smiling, “I waited and waited until that bear was facing downhill to shoot it. My thought was if he jumped or took off at the shot it would be down the hill away from us instead of up or across towards us. I aimed at his side and hit him in the neck, if he was facing uphill and I aimed for his side I would have hit him in the butt.”
“Haha” Geoff replied, with one rifle not working and the other shooting a foot off, we would have been in a pickle for sure.”
We got Geoff’s rifle shooting straight and after a few awesome days trekking around the mountains he killed a dandy mountain goat with it. It was another long day, late into the night getting his goat back to camp but eventually we had it hanging on the meat pole. Just before slipping off to sleep we talked about the trip, we both had the hunt we came for and were heading down with memories to last a lifetime.
Was the adventure with the rifles and grizzly a propitious moment for us, we will never know for sure the “what”, or “if’s”, but the outcome certainly was in our favour!