Dream Hunt in Kyrgistan

Good Hume argali.

Neil with Marco Polo ram.

I had an opportunity at the end of February to go on an adventure I have been dreaming of since I was a kid. I recall as a youngster reading of sportsmen hunting the mighty Marco Polo sheep in Asia and had always hoped it was a species I would pursue on day. This winter, I had an opportunity presented by a friend and booking agent in Europe whom indicated he could organize a last-minute Marco Polo and ibex hunt in Kyrgistan. I had a hard look at it, did some research, looked at my schedule, negotiated a price and said ‘What the hell, this opportunity isn’t going to come around every day.’ So, in February I was on a plane heading to Kyrgistan! It was a long trip, but I landed in Bishek (capital of Kyrgistan) in the middle of the night and was met by my interpreter/assistant whom eased my transition to this very foreign land. We immediately headed out of the city and started on the long drive to the hunting concession. I was amazed by the beauty of the country but also a little awed by the poverty of the people living in the rural areas. It is a very poor country and are still finding their own way since breaking from the USSR in 1991. Due to this apparent poverty, I was also apprehensive if the locals would have overhunted the game for sustenance and income. This worry was to be quickly laid to rest.

The drive to base camp was slow and some poor roads covered. This camp was extremely remote and required crossing a military-type checkpoint to gain access. When asked why this checkpoint was necessary, I learned it was because we would be close to the border of China and also to strictly control access due to the wildlife values of the area. This gave me a good idea how strictly they control their hunting and part of the reason I was to see so much game in the area. When we arrived, I found it to be very comfortable and had exotic, yet good food. I proceeded to sight-in my borrowed rifle for the trip (a nice Remington SPS in .300 Mag), had dinner and headed to bed for some well-needed rest. The next morning we jumped in a Russian jeep and slowly made our way into spike camp where we would base out of for our hunt. Once in spike camp, we immediately headed out hunting. Game on and I was stoked! We rode the little Kyrgz ponies about 45 minutes and set up to glass on a high vantage south of camp. Within minutes we had spotted several herds of sheep and ibex! My fears of depleted game populations were quickly laid to rest. We immediately started a stalk on a herd of Marco Polo. The first herd had no good rams, so we kept riding. We kept seeing herd after herd of sheep throughout the day. No real big rams were spotted on day 1, but it was apparent that with this many sheep, it was only a matter of time before we spotted ‘the’ ram. Day 2 was basically the same – ride and glass and put several stalks on rams. At one point we glassed a herd of about 25 rams across the valley from us, and decided to ride over to that side and get a better  look. Where they ride their horses is simply amazing. They are small horses by North American standards, but extremely strong and sure-footed. We slowly made our way to where we saw the big herd of rams and eventually relocated them, but just as we were easing over a ridge to make a final assessment for big rams, the wind shifted on us and they took off in a huge cloud of dust and rolling rocks. We could see, though, that there were at least 2 big rams in the group. We were very disappointed, but made a huge circle around the mountain and one of the guides and I went ahead on foot to see if we could locate the herd again. After a long hike, we were almost back to the valley floor where we were to meet the other guides and the horses, when my guide excitedly pointed uphill where we could see a small group of rams. We got down into rocks and got positioned for a possible shot, but could see they were only young rams. Where was the rest of the herd? We kept watching and the young rams got nervous and took off uphill to the left then kind of hooked around and started downhill to the valley floor. Hmmm… Looking down below these rams, we saw the rest of the rams from the large herd walk out into the open. Holy crap about 20 rams knotted up in a bunch! A quick assessment revealed a good ram out in the open a bit to the left of the group. I quickly got the rifle around and my bipod kind of level on a small rock shelf and contorted my body to get steady. My guide was very excited and urged me to hurry up. Easy for him to say, but I know what it is like to be the guide in that situation. I am sure it was only a few seconds, but seemed like it was taking quite a bit of time to get organized for the shot, then there he was, large-as-life in my scope and boom! Ouch…scope came back and nailed me. I can’t see where my ram went since my eyes are watering badly, blood is obviously pouring down my face and there are sheep running everywhere. I was confident in my shot, so was not too worried and proceeded to apply pressure to my wound while my guide sprinted down the hill to see where the ram went. Within a minute he was whooping and hollering and waving frantically to me. I sort of got the bleeding stopped then made my way down to see my ram. What a beauty! I was thrilled.

The next morning it was off to hunt ibex. The guides rode us through the bottoms of very steep canyons and we kept scanning the canyon walls for ibex. We some several groups before one of the guides excitedly exclaimed something in Russian and soon they were spurring the hell out of the horses and we all raced up the frozen stream bed. Certainly not how I expecting to be hunting ibex. Oh well, go with what the guides do and hang on! I could quickly see the cause of the excitement – a large group of ibex billies we running parallel to us on the canyon wall and only about 100 yards up from the bottom. It was also obvious that there were a least several shooters in the group. We gained on the billies and once beside them, everyone bailed off the horses and they beckoned me to quickly get set up for the shot. I scrambled for a rest and one of the guides dropped down on his butt ahead of me and beckoned me to rest on his shoulder. OK…your ears. I picked out a good billy and got on him as he was running across the scree. Give him a bit of lead and hit the trigger. Crap, must of missed. Crank another round in. Just as he was about to clear a small ridge and gain safety, I got on him and let rip. Sounded good, but couldn’t see what happened as he immediately disappeared. I gather myself and calmed down a bit and watched as the guides quickly rode ahead to see where the ibex had gone. Within a few seconds they were whooping and hollering again, so it was evident I had made the second shot count. I rode up on them and could see a great billy lying at the toe of the slope where he had obviously fell at least 300 vertical feet to land on the ice. What a sight!

This ended the hunting portion of my trip. I spent a day in base camp and relaxed while the camp taxidermist prepared my trophies. We then made the long trip back to Bishek where I spent a couple of days sight seeing. I had a number of days to kill since the actual hunt was a lot shorter than I had anticipated, so I changed my flights a bit and then headed to Istanbul, where I also spent a couple of days of sight seeing. I had a great trip and fulfilled a life-long dream. The outfitter was extremely well organized, has been in business for over 20 years and has great concessions to hunt. I highly recommend this adventure and if anyone is interested, I would gladly assist them in getting their own trip organized.

39 inch billy.

Great mid-Asian ibex.

 

Two Toms for Jan

Potential B&C tom.

Jan with very large tom.

Hunter Jan Divis of the Czech Republic had an extremely successful hunt with Bearcat Outfitters in February. He had originally booked the hunt in January, but due to very poor snow conditions we re-booked the hunt for mid-February. Fortunately Jan had the flexibility in his schedule to re-book the hunt and this proved to be a very good decision by all. The hunt started with extremely cold temperatures of -30 Celsius, but we all made the best of it and persevered. The first two days were spent covering large areas on the snowmobiles, but no big tom tracks were cut. We cut one tom track, but it appeared to be small- to medium-size and we didn’t release the hounds on it. On day three, the local trapper told us of a cat that had been destroying his trap sets, so we located the fresh tracks and let the hounds go to see if we could help him out a bit. The hounds treed the cat in fairly short order, but when we got to the tree we looked the cat over closely and it was a female that appeared to be pregnant. It was a legal cat to harvest, but as a group we made the call to let it go. We kept scouting for a good tom track and later that afternoon, I cut the track of a large tom and we spent the remainder of that day and the morning of day 4 unsuccessfully trying to ‘box’ this cat in. The afternoon of day 4, though, we tried getting ahead of the cat by scouting some new areas and my guide Shane Brady cut the tom’s track. It appeared to have hooked-up with a female cougar, so we knew where we would be on the morning of day 5! The next morning we converged where we last saw the tom track and walked the hounds in on leashes to see if we could freshen the track up. Sure enough, we only went about 500 yards and found where the tom and the female had killed a mule deer and had bedded nearby. We sorted out the tracks to make sure we were on the tom’s track and released the hounds. They went about 1 km. and treed the large tom. Jan made a great shot and the cat was in the bag. The tom has a huge skull and looks like it may well qualify for the Boone & Crocket record book. We then went on to hunt bobcat on day 6. We let the hounds go on a bobcat track that looked smoking-fresh, but after about 2 or 3 hours we caught up to the hounds as they were slowly working on the track and the track didn’t look any fresher than when we first let the dogs go on it. We had to admit defeat and surmised that it was a tom bobcat that was ‘lining out’ simply looking for a receptive female. Oh well, we still had one last day of hunting to try and close the deal on a bobcat. On day 7, I cut a big bobcat track in fresh snow and again the hounds were release. The hounds trailed the cat for only about 1 hour and then we heard them baying ‘treed.’ We hiked into the dogs, but could not locate the bobcat in the tree. We spent at least an hour carefully glassing the trees with binoculars to see if we could see the cat. Finally, Shane saw something out of place at the very top of a huge Douglas-fir. We put the binoculars on it and sure enough, there was the bobcat laying out on a limb about 20 feet from the stem of the tree! Jan made a difficult shot and hit it perfectly and we had a very large tom bobcat to add to Jan’s trophy collection. This ended our cat hunt with two great toms for Jan.

30 pound bobcat.

Great tom bobcat for Jan.

11th. Hour Cat

11th. hour cat.

Norbert’s cougar.

Client Norbert Wenninger came over from Germany last week to hunt for cougar. We worked hard through his 7-day hunt to put a cougar up a tree for Mr. Wenninger, but cat movement was slow and conditions were a bit challenging. We had located a nice cat on day 5, released the dogs on the fresh track, but they quickly came to sheer cliffs and were not able to follow the cat. Seems this cat knew what to do when chased by the dogs. We checked the same area on day 6, but no fresh tracks. We hunted some other areas with no luck, and Norbert had already packed up his stuff about noon on day 7 and was ready to head to the airport. We decided we better check one more time for the cat from day 5 as it was sort of on the way back to the Kamloops airport. Sure enough, guide Shane Brady cut the cat’s fresh tracks and radioed us to get over to where he was. Norbert and I got there about 2:00 and I went with Shane to sort the cougar tracks out. We found it’s last ‘exit’ track and let the hounds go. I radioed Norbert to get his hunting clothes back on as the chase was on! The hounds followed the cougar for about 1.5 km. and we could hear them jump the cat out of it’s day bed and the chase went into ‘fast’ mode for a short while then sort of stopped. We didn’t know what had happened so we hiked into where the dogs were. It turns out one of the dogs had fallen off a big pile of brush and had gotten it’s foot caught in some branches and was hanging by one foot about 4 feet off the ground! The other dog was at the base of some cliffs and couldn’t make it any farther on the track. I hiked around to the top of the cliffs and found where the cougar had gotten up through the cliffs and taken off to the south. We got the one dog untangled and I caught the other dog and led it around the cliffs to where I had seen the cougar’s tracks leaving the area. The race was back on and within about 1 km. the dogs had the cat up a tree. By the time we made it to the treed cat, it was almost dark and Norbert had to make a tricky shot on the cat. It came out of the tree and literally hit the ground within 2 feet of Shane. Definite excitement and Norbert had his 11th. hour cougar.

Great Start to Cat Season

Large tom cougar.

Big tom cougar for Steve.

We had a significant dump of snow in mid-November which afforded us great tracking conditions for cougar. While out scouting, I cut the track of a large tom cougar. I started following the big cat to see where he was headed and it was quickly evident this cat was putting on a lot of miles each night. I enlisted the help of local houndsman and outfitter Abe Dougan to help me track this cat down. Abe had a client on-call in the event that we located a big cougar, so the hunt was on to figure out exactly where this cat was and hopefully release the hounds on him. Client Steve Small is a very busy businessman and had limited available time, so such a hunt arrangement worked well for him to collect a trophy cougar. Abe and I tracked the cat for an additional 2 days after my first day of tracking and we were able to follow him and knew we were starting to get close behind him. It was difficult to follow this cat as he was travelling at least 10 miles per night! The tom was making scratch piles and urinating on them about every 200 yards. He was also crossing the tracks of female cougars every night. What was he looking for and why go so far each night? Something only a tom cougar will know, I guess. After the third day of tracking, we figured we were close enough to the cat to call Steve up and get him driving to Kamloops. We had a final location on the cat once the client arrived to Kamloops, so it was time to let the hounds go and see if we could put him up a tree. I had Steve with me and Abe was in the field with the dogs to try and sort the track out. The cougar had gone into a maze of blow-down, dead pine and it was very difficult for dogs and handler to figure out where he had gone exactly. After a couple of hours, though, the hounds got into very fresh scent and the race suddenly went into ‘fast mode.’ It wasn’t long then before the hounds were baying ‘treed’ and I knew Steve and I could start heading to where the action had ended. We all converged to a big Douglas-fir and could see the huge tom about 40 feet up the tree! Steve made a fine shot and we had the beautiful cat on the ground. We took picture and dragged the cat out to the nearest road. Steve was a very happy hunter, but could only enjoy the time with his trophy for a short while before having to get back on the road to attend to pressing business issues. Way to go Steve!

Hunt in Slovakia

Perfect fallow deer area.

Typical hunting country in Slovakia.

I recently had the opportunity to go on a hunting trip to Slovakia. Bearcat clients Dusan and Matus Ondreicka hunted cats with me last winter and generously invited me to hunt with them in Slovakia. I accepted the opportunity and flew there in late October to see how they hunted over there. The weather was freakishly warm for late October, which did not make the hunting easy, but we had a great trip and I was able to harvest a 2-year-old red deer.

2-year old red deer.

Red deer harvested by Neil.

We also tried hunting fallow deer and wild boar. We employed a wide range of hunting methods while I was there, including stalking, drives by people, drives by hounds, road hunting and night hunting from high seat. My hosts the Ondreicka’s as well as their close friend Tomas Kabana worked extremely hard to ensure I had a successful trip and to show me how it is done over there. I was very impressed with their organization and work ethic. One of the things that draws me to hunt in other parts of the world is to see the local culture, experience their foods and traditions and to see how they hunt. I had all these desires fulfilled on this trip and had a fantastic experience.

I was not able to harvest a fallow deer due to some complicating issues, but saw a number of bucks and was able to hear them actively ‘grunting’ as I caught the tail-end of their rut. This was extremely exciting and left me with a huge desire to return one day and harvest one of these magnificent animals. I hunted with Tomas Kabana on a night hunt from high seat and was about 300 metres from Tomas when he harvested a nice wild boar. This was a great experience for me. I would have never thought I would be interested in hunting at night, but once having done it, I wanted to do it again! We were mostly hunting in mature, deciduous forest and the carpet of leaves on the ground made it obvious when there was game approaching. It was like hunting with your ears and was a great sensory experience. We also hunted with traditional Slovakian hounds, the Kopoj. One hunt resulted in the harvest of a nice 6-point red deer for the hunter immediately beside me. I elected to pass on the shot as the deer were directly between me and the adjacent hunter, but he was able to get a clear shot and take down the nice stag.

Kopoj hound.

Slovakian hound with Kevlar vest used when hunting boar.

Dusan Ondreicka invited me to return to Slovakia in the future and see if we can accomplish my goal to harvest a fallow deer and possibly a wild boar and hunt for a big red deer. I am honoured by the generous invite and plan on returning next September if possible as Dusan feels this would be the best to hunt fallow deer and to pursue red deer in the peak of the ‘roar.’

I would like to extend a huge ‘thank you’ to the Ondreicka’s for allowing me this experience!

Mixed-Bag Hunt for Randy

40 inch Shiras moose

Randy with big Shiras bull

Randy Bell of San Angelo, Texas just completed his mixed-bag hunt with Bearcat Outfitters. Shiras moose was the primary quarry so we concentrated on this species first. Day 1 and 2 of the hunt resulted in a few cow sightings and a brief opportunity on a 2-year-old bull, but Randy was holding out for a 3-year-old bull or better. Day 3 was slow in the morning, but in the afternoon we spotted a pretty decent bear and Randy decided he would be happy to harvest him. The boar was taken and we had our first animal in the bag.

Randy with black bear

Nice black boar

Day 4 started out with clear, blue skies and a temperature of about -7 at the high elevations – perfect hunting conditions for moose. We snuck into a small meadow at first light and did a bit of calling with no luck. We then decided to try an area a little further to the south and as we were driving to that spot, we sighted two cows in a meadow. We moved ahead a bit so we were out of sight, parked and snuck down to the end of the meadow to get a better look at the cows and to see if there was a bull with them. When we get to the edge of the meadow we could see a number of other cows plus one large bull chasing one of the cows. We moved a bit closer to close the shooting distance and got Randy set up on his shooting sticks. We watched the bull breed the one cow and once he was off her, Randy made the shot. The bullet from his .338 Ultra Mag connected but didn’t kill the bull quickly, so a couple of more follow-up shots were required. We later determined we must have had a misreading on the range finder and the range was over 300 yards, not the 260 yards we thought and the first shot hit low in the shoulder. It all ended well, though, and we just sat and watched the sight in the meadow once the big bull was down for good. We saw about 15 moose total including two other bulls chasing and breeding cows over the next 20 minutes. One of the bulls appeared after we shot our bull and was at least as big as the one we harvested. It was a sight both of us will never forget. The rest of the day was spent getting the huge animal into the truck. It was a big job and when we later weighed him at the butcher, his carcass weight was 625 pounds. That is about as big as a Shiras moose gets. No wonder we had so much trouble getting him out! We spent the rest of the trip looking for a decent mulie buck for Randy, but did not spot any good ones. We saw a number of one- and two-year old bucks every day, but never saw a mature buck Randy wanted to take. We did do a bit of grouse hunting and managed to get a nice pair of blue grouse one afternoon, which added some good action and some very nice eating.

Nice blue grouse.

Randy with brace of blue grouse.

Meat-Stealing Grizzly Cuts Trip Short

Bill's ram

Bill with Stone Sheep

My friend, Bill Poppy, and I ventured to the northern Rocky Mountains of BC in mid-September on a hunt for elk and Stone sheep. It was a new area for myself to go, but Bill had been in there 3 years ago so he had a good idea what we were up against. He told me that it was a difficult ATV ride into the hunting area, and he certainly wasn’t exaggerating on that front. The drive to northern BC from our homes to the trail head took about 14 hours then it was time to drop off the ATVs and load the trailers with our gear for the trip to base camp. The ATV ride was extremely challenging on our bodies and our equipment, but we made it in about 6 hours with a few pit stops to conduct field repairs on my ATV trailer as we went. It was raining hard the entire way and when we arrived at base camp we were both soaked. We got the wall tent set up and the wood stove going and it didn’t take long to dry out and get warm. It rained most of the first night, but when we got up long before daylight the next morning for the first day of our hunt, it had cleared a bit and there was some low-hanging cloud and fog in the valley – perfect for elk hunting in the rut! Bill headed up the valley on his ATV to try a spot he had scouted his previous trip and I decided to head up the valley right behind camp. I was just getting my pack ready to head out and I could hear a bull elk bugling right behind camp. Game on! I hiked up a small ridge behind camp and determined where the bull roughly was and snuck in that direction. I went a couple hundred metres and bugled to the bull. I got an immediate response and the bull quickly started coming my way. We bugled back and forth a few times and then I could hear the bull coming through the thick timber towards me. He came straight at me and I was having trouble counting 6 points to make him ‘legal’. He came to about 15 metres of me and I could then see he was a nice, big 6X5 bull and readied for the shot. He knew something was not right and swung around me to get my wind. I never had a clear shot even at that close range and he ended up winding me and taking off. Disappointing, but I was still shaking and very stoked with this fast action the first morning. I then thought I would head farther up the valley, but could hear another bull bugling straight across from me. He had obviously heard the commotion and was coming to investigate. This time I got set up where I could see a lot better and had a small opening in front of me. I bugled the bull a few times and saw him emerge across the valley form me. I could see he had 6 points on each side, so was much more prepared this time. I kept calling and he made his way to my side of the valley and came up to about 25 metres of me where I could see him fairly well. One shot with the 7 mag. and he was mine. I looked at my watch – exactly 1 hour since I left camp. Very fast start to this hunt!

Good 6 point elk

Neil with nice bull.

I called Bill on the radio at 9:00 as we planned and he told me he had called in a 4-point bull and sounded very thrilled. I told him I had already shot a 6-point and he wasn’t sure if he could believe me or not. He did believe me when he got back to camp and saw the blood on my hands, though. It was easy to get my bull out of the bush and hung up to cool, then we had lunch and planned our afternoon hunt. We went up behind camp again and could glass a pretty good bull in an open burn with a couple of cows. We couldn’t be sure he had 6 points, but kept watching him through the spotting scope as he was bedded out in the wide open. Bill and I split up a few metres apart to glass two different areas, and just after Bill left, I looked over my left shoulder to see a nice bull emerge from the timber about 100 metres away and start walking straight towards me in the wide open! I got Bill’s attention and he quickly scurried over to where I was sitting. We looked the bull over and were trying to determine if he had 6 points or not. By the time we were 100% sure he was legal, he had figured out something was wrong and made an escape. Oh well, pretty good action for day 1. Day 2 we hunted elk in the morning with no action, but did see a pack of wolves feeding on a kill way off in the distance. We quickly closed the gap on them, but by the time we got into shooting range they had just slowly wandered off into the timber. Only a matter of a couple of minutes earlier and we would have had them in a very vulnerable spot at under 400 metres and in the open, which is a very rare occurrence with wolves. There were at least 4 black ones and a very large white one. Disappointed, but still excited in coming so close to a great shooting opportunity. We headed out that afternoon to scout a new valley and did some glassing. We saw a bunch of Stone sheep, including one good ram we figured would be legal. We watched them until close to dark then headed back to camp to get some sleep and dream about the upcoming sheep hunt for the ram. Morning of day 3 our plan was to hunt elk in the morning and if we had no luck, go and hunt the Stone ram in the afternoon. We climbed a big ridge behind camp at first light and kept working our way up and bugling and glassing as we went. We had one bull calling back to us, but he wouldn’t move closer, so we figured he had  cows with him. We kept climbing higher and could see some beautiful country all around us. The same bull would call occasionally and later in the morning I was glassing where we last heard him and could see him in a small opening about 1000 metres below us. We put the spotting scope on him and could see he was a legal bull. I sent Bill down off the mountain to close the distance on the bull and I kept tabs on him with my spotting scope. He had a cow with him and I was able to keep track of his location almost until Bill had worked his way into shooting position. The bull then bedded in some thick timber and I could just barely make him out. Bill couldn’t see him, so I suggested to him on the radio to let a bugle rip. Bill did just that and the bull came unglued. It headed straight for Bill and stopped about 90 metres from him and tried to locate where the intruder was located. Bill didn’t have a clear shooting lane and started to get a bit panicky after several minutes. He then tried a head shot, which didn’t work out as planned but it did hit the bull and made him move to the side a bit where Bill was able to cleanly finish him with a neck shot from his 30-06. Bill was stoked! It was his first bull elk.

6X5 bull for Bill.

Bill with his bull.

The work then began and as we packed out the first load of meat, we could see very large and fresh grizzly tracks on the trail heading the same way as us. We had to walk right by where we had hung my elk two days before and we were on pins-and-needles as we got closer to where my elk was. I glassed ahead to where the meat was hung and could see one quarter on the ground. Great! We both had our rifles cocked and locked and were on edge. Bill then looked just a few metres to our right and could see another quarter in the bush. We had obviously just interrupted his feeding frenzy and knew the bear was right there in the thick jungle, watching us I am sure. Believe me, when they say the hair stands up on the back of your neck, this is a literal expression! We made it back to camp and then moved my elk meat closer to camp and hung it and Bills as high in a tree as we could. The rest of the day was spent getting Bills meat out and cleaned up and a few cocktails in celebration.

Day 4 was for sheep hunting. We went back to where we had seen the ram on day 2 and started glassing. We picked up the mature ram right away feeding with a smaller ram. The plan was for me to keep track of the rams as Bill hiked into position. I kept watching the rams, but before Bill could close to shooting range, they both bedded in some scrub timber. I could barely make out a piece of the older rams butt through some trees, and tried earnestly to guide Bill into where he was bedded over the radio. Pretty frustrating as he got to about 40 metres of the rams and could not make them out. He eventually spotted the smaller ram then the bigger ram must have caught Bill moving as they both got up and started to move off. Bill could see the bigger ram, but was having a bit of trouble making 100% sure he was legal. The rams were not overly spooked and started feeding after a few minutes. Bill was eventually able to confirm the ram was legal and made a nice one-shot kill on him. The ram was at least 9 years old. It was broken-off on one side, but still a beautiful trophy. Bill packed the ram out and we had another celebration in memory of the old ram that night. We talked to another group of hunters on the way back to camp and they had been having a huge amount of trouble with the same grizzly we were dealing with. Morning of day 5 we started heading out of camp at first light and decided to look at our meat cache on the way out. We quickly saw the carnage from the same grizzly and this time he had completely eaten one of my elk quarters and stolen another. We were angry and frustrated and decided we had better salvage the meat we had and break camp and get out before we lost all the meat. It was a shorter trip than we were wanting, but we knew when to cut our losses and make the best of things. We packed up and made the gruelling ATV trip back to the pick-up and the long drive home. On the way out, we saw a huge pile of very fresh grizzly crap on the trail. I think he was sending us a parting message! We will be back to that area one day, but next time, we will be hanging our meat at least 15 feet in the air.

Northern Rocky Mountains

Beautiful elk country.

Team Utah Bear Hunt – Phase 2 (Book Bears)

Battle-scarred boar

Jeff with battle-scarred, old boar

The heavy rains of days 4 and 5 of the hunt for the boys from Utah were a bit depressing, but we did make an attempt to hunt the best we could. Nobody really had much for confidence, though, as heavy rains really leads to depressed bear activity from my experience. We only caught fleeting glimpses of a couple of bears on these days.

The weather did clear nicely, though, on the morning of day 6 and we all left the cabin early in the morning with high hopes. Dan and Jeff cruised one of Dan’s favourite areas, while Beau, Mike and myself toured a nearby area along a powerline I liked. I hadn’t hunted too long when Dan called on the radio and said he had let a couple of his dogs go on what appeared to be a good boar track. We quickly closed on their location and followed the progress of the race. Beau, Mike and I got ahead of the bear and the dogs at one spot and could hear them moving towards us. We quickly hiked as close as we could, but the bear must of winded us and took off out of the area at a hastened pace. The pursuit continued for another two hours or so and Dan was able to position himself and Jeff in front of the dogs and bear in some very thick bush. The bear came straight towards them and Jeff got off a shot at very close range. Jeff could only see bits of the bear in the dense brush and hit him a little farther back than he would have liked. Jeff later said to me the bear then locked its eyes on his and came right for him! Jeff only had time to quickly jack another round in the gun and shoot the bear in the forehead at about 15 feet as it came for him! It turned out Beau was close behind the dogs and showed up unexpectedly within a few seconds of Jeff’s second shot. Beau had been following the hounds and bear for close to the last 2 hours and had even got a shot off himself earlier, but his bullet had hit a small tree in the thick cover. Huge, old, battle-scarred bear down and major celebration for all.

We started day 7 much the same as day 6 and Dan’s dogs struck another large boar not far from where they had started the chase on Jeff’s bear the day before. Mike, Jeff and I followed the hounds as best we could, and almost got a shot at the bear where it crossed the road just ahead of us. We kept in contact with Dan and Beau and kept abreast of the dogs on a series of old roads, but the bear was moving faster than normal and kept just ahead of us. At one point we came around a corner and could see the bear start across an opening, but quickly turn back to thick cover when it saw us. It turned out Dan and Beau had also just spotted the bear and we inadvertently screwed up their shot opportunity by showing up at the wrong moment. The bear really kicked it into high gear after that and lead the dogs into a very deep canyon and across a freshet-swollen river. I suspected the chase would not end well at this point as this canyon it not ‘hunter friendly.’ As luck would have it, though, the bear went up the other side of the canyon into some much more benign terrain and the advantage turned back to our favour. Dan and Beau could see the dog’s progress on GPS and quickly drove to a spot on a logging road they hoped the bear would cross. I got to the same spot just in time for the boys to get out and get set up ahead of the bear. The wind was in our favour and the bear emerged out of the thick brush only about 5 yards from Beau and Mike and coming straight at them. They both got shots off and quickly dispatched the large boar without any damage to themselves or the hounds that were literally on its tail. This bear was a bit younger than Jeff’s and a bit smaller in body size but had a huge head and a beautiful hide.

Nice boar

Beau and his huge bear

We were all very tired and excited after the outcome of the hunt for Beau’s second bear of the trip, but it was the last day of the hunt and we still wanted to see if we could get a good bear for Mike. Mike has shot a lot of bears over the years and wasn’t too concerned if he got a bear on this trip; he was more interested in getting his friends 2 bears each even if it meant he went home empty-handed. Having said that, we still had a bit of time left and we were there to hunt, so we took off after dinner to see if we could put a spot-and-stalk on a good bear for Mike. I let Mike decide where he wanted to hunt the last evening and he picked a series of beautiful, green meadows and a recent burned area I had showed him on day 2. We pulled into the burn with only about 1 hour of daylight remaining and slowly cruised a couple of roads and glassed as much as we could. Sure enough, I was looking over one beautiful area and could see a bear feeding on clover on an old landing area. We could all see this was a very good bear and we got the truck parked, determined wind direction and made a plan to execute a stalk on the unsuspecting bear. We stalked in to about 200 yards and had a good look at the bear. It was definitely a good boar and Mike wanted to take this bear home with him. Mike’s first shot went wide, but he made his second one count. The hit bear moved down into a steep creek draw, and we had to maneuver above it to get  a look at it and Mike had to make a finishing shot. We got up to the bear with only maybe 30 minutes of light left and got the bear set up for a few pictures and a hasty skinning job. The boar was very old with almost all his upper and lower incisors worn flat and missing half of one ear. This was definitely the oldest bear we harvested this spring. It is a great trophy and made even more exciting to harvest it in the last hour of the hunt.

Mike’s boar made it three huge, black boars in 2 days and it looks like all 3 should make the BC Record Book with 19+ inch skulls. An amazing end to a great hunt.

Beautiful bear

Mike’s last hour bear

 

Team Utah Bear Hunt – Phase 1 (Color Bears)

Beautiful color-phase boar

Jeff with 6-foot color-phase boar

Bearcat Outfitters recently had a group of 3 bear hunters come up from Utah. Friends Mike Taylor, Jeff Green and Beau Beus had hunted together numerous times and are experienced outdoorsmen.

We split the group up so that one hunter was with my hound guide,  Dan Coleman, each day and the other 2 were with me. Myself and hunters are out looking for spot-and-stalk opportunities while Dan is attempting to ‘strike’ with his hounds. ‘Striking’ is achieved by having the two most experienced hounds riding on top of the dog box in the back of the truck and when they drive by a spot that has had recent bear use, the hounds start baying at the hot scent. Dan then gets out to check for tracks and if he can determine the scent has been left by a mature boar, he then releases his dogs to start pursuit of the bear. This combination of spot-and-stalk and pursuit with hounds works extremely well for us and leads to fast-paced action.

The first day of our hunt resulted in spotting a good bear feeding in a dandelion patch along a river. Myself, Jeff and Mike put a stalk on this bear, but as we were getting close to shooting range, the wind swirled and the bear made a hasty retreat out of the area. We glassed a huge black boar and sow just before dark, but by the time we made it over to where the bears had been, they had disappeared into the thick cover. Bears two, hunters zero, but this was to quickly change.

On day 2, Dan got a strike and could see large tracks in the mud on top of his tire tracks from the day before. He let his hounds go and the chase was on. The bear led the dogs into some steep, broken terrain and covered a lot of ground with the dogs on his tail. We tracked the chase on the GPS units and kept as close to the dogs and bear as the road system would allow. After several hours, we could see the bear slowing down and we drove as close as we could and started pursuit on foot. Jeff, Mike and I posted on a clearcut to try and cover-off a possible escape route for the bear while Dan and Beau tried stalking in to see if they could get a shot at the bear as it moved ahead of the dogs. Beau and Dan could not get close enough for a shot and the bear moved up into some cliffs and headed north. I could monitor progress of the race and could see we had to try and get ahead of the bear and cut it off before it moved further north into some completely inaccessible country. I grabbed Jeff and walked/ran as fast as possible to see if we could locate a shooting lane ahead of the bear. We found one very narrow lane in the thick timber and got Jeff set up for a possible shot. We could hear the hounds moving our way and caught a couple of glimpses of the bear moving across the steep hillside. We could see it moving towards our shooting lane and hoped for the best. Sure enough, the bear hit our shooting lane with the dogs on his tail and Jeff was able to get off a shot at about 100 yards. Perfect hit and the bear rolled down the hill stone dead. It was a large, color-phase boar and we were all very pleased with the outcome of the hunt.

Day 3 was Beau’s turn for an opportunity if it arose. We had spotted very large boar tracks on day 1 not far from where the race for Jeff’s bear had begun and kept an eye on the area. As Dan went by this area on morning of day 3, his dogs struck the large boar and the chase was on. This bear led the dogs on a brutal chase into a nasty canyon and the bear made his escape. We pulled the dogs off and kept searching for another opportunity. Later that morning we saw a nice color-phase bear run off the road we were driving down. We couldn’t get a shot opportunity, so called Dan on the radio and had him bring his hounds. We got the hounds on the bear’s tracks and the race was on! The bear quickly moved north and we were not able to get ahead of him in time to get a shot as he moved across a couple of different roads in front of the dogs. He then led the dogs into a big piece of inaccessible country and proceeded to stay in the thick forest and lead the dogs in circles. We could see he was not going to leave this area, so Dan, Beau and I made the hike in to see if we could get a shot at the bear. The area he was in had dead pine from the pine beetle epidemic that was starting to fall down and resulted in some very brutal blowdown to try and get through. We closed on the dogs and bear several times, but it was just too thick and noisy to sneak in on the bear and get a shot. After about 2 hours of cat and mouse, the bear finally started to tire and Beau was able to make one final mad dash through the thick bush and made a great shot on the moving bear at about 20 yards. Beautiful color-phase boar down and we were all relieved to see this chase end. Getting the meat, hide and extremely tired hounds back to the truck was a feat in itself, but we got it done and the beer certainly tasted good after getting back to the cabin that night!

Days 4 and 5 were pretty much a wash-out with heavy rain, but when it cleared on day 6, the hunt was going to turn into an almost unbelievable experience. I will capture the events of days 6 and 7 in my next story.

Beautiful brown bear

Beau and his hard-earned color-phase boar.

Well-Traveled Dogs

Bear #1 crossing road ahead of dogs

Rasmus Nyman and friend Benny Andersson flew from Sweden in early May to undertake a bear hunt with us. This in itself isn’t overly remarkable as Swedish hunters are definitely keen on hunting bears, but what was remarkable is that these guys flew their hunting dogs all the way over with them! They both own a breed called an Eastern Siberian laika. The guys wanted to get their dogs experience in hunting bears so they could hunt brown bears back home. They figured a BC hunt would provide an excellent training ground with lots of bear action. This definitely proved to be the case. Their dogs Tyson and Olga did an excellent job on our hunt and made them both (an the outfitter!) proud.

I picked Rasmus and Benny up at the Vancouver International Airport on May 5 and we made the drive up to our new base camp on the shore of Monte Lake. The first day of the hunt resulted in the sighting of a sow with 2 beautiful brown cubs, but no opportunity to release the dogs. On day 2 we kept scouting and about noon spotted a medium-size bear feeding on the edge of the road. The boys were keen to see how their dogs would do and quickly released them from the back of the truck. The dogs were a bit unsure at first how to adapt to this new situation, but didn’t take them long to figure out what the plan was and soon were ‘lined-out’ on the tail of this bear. The boys kept track of the progress of the race on their GPS trackers and could see the direction of travel in relation to our road system. After a short while we could see the dogs heading for a road and we raced in the pick-up to get ahead of them. We stopped where we thought the dogs and bear might cross the road and Rasmus and Benny bailed out and literally ran up the road to keep ahead of the action. Sure enough, the bear crossed the road just in front of Rasmus and he made a great shot  to put the bear down. Even better, Benny got it all on video. The dogs were quickly on scene and they certainly now knew what bear hunting was all about!

Day 5 of the hunt brought the next opportunity to let the dogs go on a bear. We were scouting fairly early in the morning and just caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a good bear running off an old landing where he was feeding on dandelions. The dogs were released and we tracked their progress on the GPS receiver. We could see them heading north and I knew they were paralleling a road we could drive. We drove as fast as we could to get ahead of them and Benny jumped out and got his rifle ready. Sure enough we could hear the bear coming through the forest. The bear almost came out on the road but must of saw us at the last minute and swerved away from the road. Benny got off a quick shot at the running bear and made a great shot with his 9.3X55 Blaser. Bear #2 down and it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful, 6-foot boar.

Benny and his dog Olga

Benny and Olga with his beautiful 6-foot boar

The next day Benny got a shot at a nice blond/brown bear on the edge of a clearcut, but wasn’t able to connect. It wasn’t a great spot to pursue with dogs, so we let this bear go with no further effort to chase with the dogs.

Day 7 resulted in another sighting of what appeared to be a good bear feeding on dandelions as we came around the corner in our pick-up. Rasmus and Benny were quick to get the dogs out of their kennels and onto the bear’s track. The race proceeded quickly and we paralleled their progress as best we could in the truck. After about a half kilometer we all jumped out as it appeared the dogs were heading for the road. We could hear an animal running through the bush towards us and Rasmus got set for a possible shot and Benny had the video camera running. We caught movement of something black and I thought ‘This is going to be a close shot.’ We then saw it was a moose and it crossed the road only about 25 metres in front of us. We were disappointed, but could also see that the dogs were quickly moving not far uphill of us. We kept track of their progress and Rasmus and Benny kept running to stay abreast of the action. The bear hit the road about 100 metres ahead of Rasmus but was going too fast for a clean shot. The dogs were hot on his tail and followed him below the road into a patch of old-growth spruce and Douglas-fir. Not long later we could hear the dogs really barking in one spot and could see on the GPS receiver that they were not moving. We suspected they had the bear treed, and this quickly became evident as we moved into the bush and could see the boar up a huge Douglas-fir. We took lots of photos and then Rasmus dispatched the bear.

Nice boar

Rasmus’ second bear up a Douglas-fir

End of successful chase

Rasmus and Neil with Rasmus’ second bear

We kept hunting for a second bear for Benny, and had another good chance the day after Rasmus got his second bear. We glassed a good bear grazing in a beautiful green meadow along the Salmon River and hiked down with the dogs into the canyon to get them close to the bear before they were released. The dogs could scent the bear long before the bear knew we were anywhere near and once they were released they ran like two brown bullets straight at the unsuspecting bear. The dogs were quite close to the bear before it realized what was going on and it appeared it was so startled it only ran about 100 metres and climbed the first good-size tree it got to. We could watch the action from where we were and it was quite the sight! We got to where they had the bear treed and I looked it over very carefully with my binoculars. Even though it was mature and a good-size, it looked like a sow to me, so we elected to not shoot it and pulled the reluctant dogs back to the truck.

Over the remainder of the hunt we let the dogs go on a few more bears, but were not able to get any more shooting opportunities. We had a great trip and Rasmus and Benny got some great training for their dogs and were able to harvest 3 beautiful bears. I hope one day to go over to Sweden and hunt with these guys on their home turf and see how they do it over there. It appears that between them and their dogs, there would be lots of action!