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!

Spanish Adventure Continues

Nice ram

Mouflon ram from central Spain

After completing my ibex hunt, I traveled back to Barcelona with the rest of my hunt group then hopped the high-velocity train to Madrid. I did some sight-seeing around the city as well as went on a tour of the town of Toledo to the southwest of Madrid. This is a ‘must see’ for any tourists in this part of Spain as it has an amazing cathedral and sites dating back to time of Arab occupation of the Iberian peninsula. I also met up with a couple of clients that had hunted cats with me two winters ago and connected for a fabulous, traditional Spanish supper. My one client Rafael is also a forester and I was very interested to see what he did in his job duties and how it compared to what I do as a forester in British Columbia. He graciously invited me to accompany him the next day on a road trip to visit a couple of the estates he manages. I was to learn that most of his job entails intensive management of the wildlife resources on the properties he oversees in addition to management of agricultural crops and timber species such as Monterey pine and various types of oaks.

At the first estate we went to they were in the process of ’rounding up’ their yearling red stags (termed ‘spikers’), inoculating them and selecting a small group of the stags with the best genetics for antler growth to use as their future breeding stock. These superior stags were kept in paddocks for the breeding program and all the other stags were released into the main part of the estate to live the rest of their lives in a ‘wild’ state. Even those these estates are mostly high-fenced, they are generally very large with thick brush, so the animals live in a relatively natural state. The mouflon breeding stock are generally kept in paddocks their entire lives, with the yearling males released to the main part of the estate to also live the rest of their lives in a natural state. This was a very interesting visit for me.

We then drove about 1 hour for Rafael to have a quick meeting with a client and then off another 2 hours to a different estate he manages. On the way he asked me if I would be interested in possibly hunting mouflon at this next estate. I thought about it for maybe 1 second, said ‘yes’ and we came to terms for a possible hunt. Upon arriving at this estate we met the manager and quickly got changed into hunting clothes and jumped in the 4X4 to look for mouflon. The manager dropped Rafael and I off in a strategic location and we started hiking and glassing for mouflon. Within about 20 to 30 minutes we located a herd of about 15 rams approximately 1200 yards to our south. We hiked towards them to get a better look, but when we topped a ridge about 500 yards from where they had been, we could not locate them. We kept glassing then found the herd moving quite quickly to the west. I asked Rafa if he thought we had spooked them, but he said probably not, they just move around a lot for no apparent reason. We tried to keep track of the herd, but they quickly made it over a distant ridge and we had to radio the manager to come and pick us and relocate us closer to where the rams had disappeared. We got to where we thought they had gone and started a hike to try and locate them. We located them alright; at about 40 yards in the thick brush and all we saw were horns and various body parts as the rams took off. We kept hiking to relocate them, and probably went close to a mile before we were able to spot them again. It appeared they had hooked up with a few more rams as the herd was even larger. We made another attempt to get into shooting range of this big herd, but spooked them one more time. We did a big circle around where we thought they had gone and got the wind in our favour and started working slowly through the brush. We were able to make out a few animals only about 100 yards ahead of us, but again one of them made us and the whole herd took off. This was getting a bit frustrating… We made another quick loop to try and get ahead of the herd, and as we came over one small ridge, could see a whole bunch of rams heading up a fairly open slope across a gully from us. Rafa quickly assessed the rams he could see and said the top ram in one small opening was good one and to take the shot if I could. I got a quick rest on a small tree branch and lined up on the ram with the Mannlicher 7X64 the estate had lent me. I had a pretty steady hold and let the shot off. The ram immediately jumped and ran uphill. Rafa said ‘You hit him’, but couldn’t tell how well. I quickly moved to the side to try and see where the ram went and could see him do a bit of a summersault and roll down the hill, obviously dead. High-fives and back-slaps ensued and we radioed the manager our location to come and pick us up. We located the ram in the thick brush with the aid of Rafa’s Jack Russell terrier, Gus. We went back to the historic hacienda on the estate for a great dinner and a few cocktails by the fireplace then off to a deep sleep.

Rafael dropped me the next day at a train terminal and I went back to Madrid while he continued his business trip. I spent that day in Madrid touring a museum and their version of ‘Central Park’ and then Rafa picked me up the next day to accompany him on a roe deer hunt. We went to a large concession he leased for his own personal hunting trips in north-central Spain. He was after one specific trophy buck he knew lived in the area and we tried to located him the first evening. The wind was swirling and made it difficult of Rafa to figure out which way we should approach the known hang-out of this buck. We did our best to sneak into the area carefully, but within about 15 minutes of leaving the truck, jumped a small buck and doe out of their beds. They ran off and then we saw the big buck get up and run off with another doe. Not good. We tried to circle ahead of the big buck and set up a stand overlooking a couple of small fields he liked to feed in, but never saw him again. We moved to a different, remote field just before dark and glassed a couple of small bucks and then saw a pretty good buck come out of the brush just at dark only about 100 yards from us. Rafa looked him over as closely as possible in the low-light, but opted to pass as he was fairly sure it was only 3-year old buck.

We stayed in the local town that night, had another fabulous meal that included traditional, cold partridge salad and red wine that Spain is famous for. We were up very early the next morning to try a different part of the concession. We climbed onto a small hill at first light and could glass several different roe deer as well as one wild boar. Rafa asked me if I wanted to try and shoot the boar and I said, ‘no’ we should concentrate on a roe buck for him while the deer were still out in the open feeding. He insisted we try for the boar and I didn’t want to compromise his hunt, so I was a bit apprehensive. While we were debating, though, we saw the boar suddenly take off running for the thick bush. I asked Rafa what was up. He said the wind had shifted and the boar had smelled us from over a half-mile away. I now have a new respect for these animals!

We hunted the remainder of the morning but saw no shooter bucks then we headed back to Madrid where Rafael dropped me off at the train station so I could make my way back to Barcelona and catch a flight back to Canada the next day. That completed an excellent adventure in Spain. I am already looking forward to going back and next time trying for red stag, fallow deer, roe deer and boar.

Ancient castle

Ancient ruins of a castle overlooking roe deer country

Adventure in Spain

Good ibex - 2013

Beicite Ibex

Like most hunters, I have always had a desire to go on a hunting adventure overseas. I have the good fortune of being born and raised in British Columbia and I have been on many trips for a diverse number of species that most hunters in the world dream of. Even so, I still yearn for adventures in foreign lands for exotic species.

I knew I would have a bit of a break in my normally busy schedule this late winter, so I really put my mind to where I would like to go on an international hunting trip in March or April. There are many places to potentially go, even though this time of year is outside of the core hunting period in much of the northern hemisphere. I started some research and come up with options of New Zealand, Africa, South America as well as parts of Asia and Europe. I have always desired a trip to Spain and did some inquiries with some contacts in Europe and found an opening for Beicite ibex in east-central Spain with a group of hunters from Slovakia and Czech Republic. I jumped at the opportunity, and soon found myself booked for ibex in early April.

I flew to Barcelona where I met my fellow hunters. We were shuttled to our ‘camp’ in Morella and arrived very late at night. Morella is an ancient walled city and we were booked into a beautiful, 5-star hotel. The next morning all the hunters were paired with their local guides and we all went in separate directions in search of ibex. We toured a number of rough four-wheel drive trails that cut through the local mountains. The terrain was very rocky and broken and covered with scrub oak  and some Sylvester pine in the moister hollows and north-facing slopes. Many old, abandoned homesteads are scattered across the region and a few active farms still remain in the areas with the most productive soils. The ibex could be found anywhere, but they seemed to concentrate near small, cleared fields that had new spring grass emerging.

At about 10:00 AM we spotted a group of three rams leaving a small field and heading up into the thick brush. We quickly got out of the 4X4 and scrambled to get ahead of the rams and into shooting position. We cut the distance to about 200 yards and the guide determined which of the rams was the best trophy and got his pack set up on a rock for me to shoot off of. I readied myself with the borrowed Blaser in 7 mm. Remington Mag and let a shot go. The shot went just over his back and the rams headed for safer cover. I couldn’t believe I had missed such a good opportunity! Only three hours sleep, severe jet lag, borrowed rifle I had never shot… List of excuses, but bottom-line is I pulled the shot and plain missed. I uttered ‘so liento’ to my guide several times to apologize for my brutal shooting, but he indicated minor concern and assured me there would be other chances.

The search continued and a couple hours later we glassed what appeared to be a pretty good ram high on a rocky ridge. We tried to get within shooting range unnoticed, but we never saw him again. We kept covering ground and did lots of glassing from good vantages, but it wasn’t until late in the afternoon that we spotted more rams. We glassed three rams in a lush pasture that a herd of goats and sheep had been grazing in the morning. It was obvious that one of the rams was a very good trophy and we quickly determined wind direction and started a stalk. We hiked in about half a mile and came over a small ridge where we could look down on the field where the rams had been feeding. They were nowhere to be seen so we kept creeping forward and glassing. After a tense 15 minutes or so, my guide Lucas motioned me down and pointed earnestly to a rocky slope north of the fields where they had been. Sure enough, we could see the 3 rams on a rock outcrop and determined the top one top be the big ram. I quickly got a bit of a rest on the branch of a juniper tree and this time squeezed off the shot at the ram 150 yards distant. Perfect hit on the point of the shoulder and the ram folded instantly and rolled down the hill. We were very excited and I felt a bit of redemption in my shooting ability.

We did a bit of sight seeing in the area for the next couple of days as the other hunters harvested their ibex and I toured an amazing ancient castle and cathedral in Morella. I then travelled to meet a couple of friends in Madrid and hunted for mouflon and roe deer, but that will be covered in another story.

 

Cattle Killer Down

Grant with his cougar

Grant with the cattle-killing cat

I received a phone call this last Tuesday from a local farmer whom had a calf killed and partially eaten by a cougar. He asked if we could perhaps hunt down this cat to avoid any further losses. With calving season just starting, there was the potential for serious losses if this cat had became accustomed to eating beef.

My friend Grant Mcdonald purchased a cougar tag and cat guide Russ Bouveur volunteered to help hunt down the cat. I received another phone call from the farmer on Wednesday night that one of his neighbours had just seen the cat on the road while driving home that evening. We definitely knew where to start the search on Thursday morning with this new bit of information. On Thursday morning we went directly to where the cat had been seen on the main road and started to track it on foot from there. It had walked up the main, public road for about 1 km., then up another neighbour’s driveway and right through the horse paddock behind his house. We talked to these people and they were very supportive of hunting the cat down. This farmer’s wife felt she had seen cougar tracks on her daily walks recently and was quite nervous and was anxious to see the cat removed.

We released Russ’ hounds in the horse paddock where we last saw the tracks and the hounds moved out quickly. They circled up around the house and headed south only about 300 metres before barking ‘treed.’ We all started to converge on the site, and Russ was the first one there and spotted the cat up a small cedar tree. It didn’t stay there long before bailing out and resuming its run. The hounds were quick to tree it again, and this time it stayed treed up a good-size Douglas-fir. Grant and I made it to the new tree quite quickly and Grant got set up for the shot with his .308. Couple of shots later, and the cat was down for good. Cattle killer eliminated.

We then started to drag the cougar back to our trucks and on the way, Russ looks down and sees more cougar tracks in his boot tracks from about 20 minutes before! Appears there was more than one cat on the little ridge where Grant shot his cougar. Russ then made the decision to put his dogs onto this new cat to try and get rid of a couple of cougars while we were in the area. His dogs set off quickly on the new track, but due to heavy melting and deep snow, had to slow down considerably after a few hundered metres into the chase. Russ kept following his hounds on foot and the chase led into some seriously-nasty country and deeper snow as they gained elevation. It was eveident that the hounds were simply not going to be able to pressure this cat into treeing with such poor snow conditions. Russ caught up to his dogs in a canyon and was able to pull them off and start the long hike back to the trucks. Grant and I were able to get permission from another neighbour to allow Russ and the hounds to at least take a somewhat easier route back to a driveable road. I walked up towards Russ to help break a trail for him to walk out on, and just above this neighbour’s house, I spotted another very fresh cougar track. That made 3 different cougar in about a 1 square km. area.

Russ was one very tired houndsman when he got back, but got some satisfaction from removing at least 1 problem cat from the neighbourhood and helping out some local landowners. Hopefully the other cats don’t take up an appetite for veal, or I fear we may be getting another call in the near future.

Father and Son Team Up For Cats

Nice tom for Dusan

Dusan with his tom cougar

Father and son Dusan and Matus Ondreicka of Slovakia teamed up last week for a combo cat hunt. The original plan was for Dusan to come with one of his hunting buddies from back home, but when his friend got sick at the last minute, Matus was invited to join his father. Matus is finalizing his PHD in computer sciences and fortunately had enough flexibility in his schedule to make the trip with his dad on very short notice. Matus desired a bobcat on this trip and Dusan cougar and lynx if possible.

The first 3 days of the trip were spent covering a lot of territory on snowmobile and in the 4X4 looking for cougar tracks. Several female cougar tracks were located, but we didn’t cut the tracks of a large tom that we had been trying to relocate. We cut his tracks at the end of our last hunt in a remote area and were trying to find where he had moved to. We didn’t find this cat, but on day 4 guide Russ Bouveur spotted a bobcat on a logging road and got in contact with us to move to his locale to try for this cat. I brought the hunters to the last spot Russ had seen the bobcat and Russ got the hounds organized for the chase. Since Russ had seen him, the cat had done a few circles in this one area and went back up onto the logging road and cut to the uphill side. This took us and the hounds about 1 hour to straighten out what was going on, but we eventually determined where the last ‘exit’ track was, got the hounds on it and race on! The race lasted about half-hour and the hounds bayed the cat up a large Douglas-fir. I went back and got the Ondreicka’s and got Matus set up for the shot. Matus made a good shot given the difficult angle and branches covering most of the bobcat’s body, but he got it done and had his cat.

Day 5 started with fairly warm temperatures and about 2 cm. of fresh snow – perfect tracking conditions. On our way to our first area to scout, we spotted very fresh tom cougar tracks crossing the main road. I quickly phoned Russ and he made his way to us. Russ and I unloaded the snowmobiles and did a ‘box’ around the last place we saw the tom’s tracks. This ‘box’ was completed in short order, and we could tell this was going to be a quick chase for the hounds. The hounds were released on the last cougar tracks we had located and they had the cat up a tree in less than 15 minutes. Dusan, Matus and I were able to get the snowmobiles to within about 300 metres of where the dogs were treed and we did a quick hike in. We looked the cat over carefully and noted it to be a nice, young tom and Dusan indicated he wanted to take this cat back to slovakia. He made a one-shot kill and the high-fiving and back-slapping was on. Even though Dusan couldn’t speak English, he made it very clear he was a happy hunter!

We tried for the rest of the hunt to try and locate a lynx in an area where the snow might possibly be shallow enough to successfully run with the hounds, but all the tracks we located were in typical, high-elevation areas with close to 1 metre of snow. Dusan had to go home without his lynx, but has vowed to come back one day to complete the ‘cat trick.’ Dusan also invited myself to Slovakia for a hunt this fall, and I am going to take him up on the offer. I am very excited about this future adventure, with the possibility to hunt red stag, mouflon, boar, fallow deer and roe deer.

Matus and his trophy.

Matus with a very pretty bobcat.

Christmas Cat Hunt for the Doctor

Nice tom for the doctor

Ralf with his tom cougar

Dr. Ralf Fronicke of Berlin, Germany had a Christmas break from his surgery clinic and booked a long-awaited cat hunt to Bearcat Outfitters. He and his girlfriend Annette arrived in Kamloops on Boxing Day.

Days 1 and 2 were spent combing the country for fresh cat tracks. We located bobcat and female cougar tracks, but no fresh tom cougar tracks in the first 2 days. On day 3 we cut a fresh set of bobcat tracks and guide Russ Bouveur and I got off the snowmobiles to investigate. We followed the tracks a short ways and Russ almost stepped on a dead moose. He was a bit startled by the discovery, but we were happy to see that the bobcat had been feeding on the dead moose when we pulled up and had just ran off. We decided to run this cat and went back to the trucks to pick up Ralf, Annette and the hounds. The hounds were released on the fresh track and the race was on. The bobcat pulled its usual tricks of going through nasty blowdown and circling back on itself, but the hounds kept on the trail. Ralf and I were posted in a large opening listening to the chase and following it on the GPS receiver. We were watching the area and then saw the bobcat trotting across the opening about 800 m. to our right. We radioed Russ what was going on and started calling the hounds to where we last saw the bobcat to help them out a bit. They quickly arrived on scene, and were then able to tree the bobcat about 300 m. from where we had last seen it. It took Russ and I about 15 minutes with the binocluars to find the cat in the tree, but we eventually spotted it staring down at us. We then went back and got Ralf where we had left him on the side of the road and got him set for the shot. Cat #1 in the bag!

On day 4 we located a fresh cougar track that we figured may be a tom, but it was too late in the day to chase it that day. We were back in the area on day 5 to try and cut it’s tracks from the previous night and we located it heading north. In doing this search, though, we were lucky to cut another fresh track that was definitely that of a nice tom. The hunt now shifted to this new track and we returned to the truck for Ralf, Annette and the anxious hounds. We went back to the last place we had seen the tom’s tracks and cut the hounds loose. They followed the track a very short ways and we heard them ‘blow up.’ About 1 minute later, they were baying ‘treed.’ The tom was up a big Douglas-fir about 10 minutes after the dogs had been released. The big cat had been sleeping under a blowdown only about 300 metres from where we had last cut his tracks. Cat #2 in the bag!

Ralf really wanted a lynx to complete the ‘cat trick’ and we tried the next two days, but had to admit defeat as the snow was simply too deep to effectively chase lynx. We were all frustrated as there were lots of lynx around, but as with many hunting trips, the weather can often throw you a curve ball and there is nothing you can do about it. We have all been there before. Nonetheless, Ralf and Annette had a great trip and a good start to the New Year.

Game on!

Getting ready to chase a cougar!

Ralf's bobcat

Ralf and Annette with bobcat.

 

Classic Mule Deer Hunt

Big mulie

Neil with very large 4X5 mule deer

I finished up with my ‘fall’ clients last week and had a chance to get out and do some deer hunting for myself. I set up a trip with friend Pat Minamide and we headed out on Friday. I saw a few whitetails on Friday, but only 1 small buck. Pat and I split up on Saturday morning, and I watched a creek bottom where a whitie had made a few aggressive rubs and Pat cruised some logging roads and walked into a few cutblocks. He spotted about a half-dozen whitetail does, but no bucks. We then figured a good plan for middle of the day would be to glass a large hillside that usually harboured some decent mule deer. We set up for glassing about 11:00 and after about 20 minutes Pat picked up a small group of mulies. We put the spotting scope on them, but turned out to be a small buck and 3 does. We kept glassing the hillside and about 20 minutes of hard glassing later, I spotted what appeared to ‘may’ be the white face and large rack of a mule deer in a micro-clearing in the forest at about 1.5 km. away. I quickly grabbed the spotting scope and zoomed in on the object. Sure enough, it was a very large buck bedded in the opening. We both looked him over carefully and were in awe. We then started to formulate a plan on how to get an opportunity on this buck. He was bedded is a very good spot for him and not so good for us. The mico-clearing he was in was surrounded by thick forest and rocky ridges and we knew it would be extremely hard to get a look at him from shooting distance. We kept analyzing the situation, but knew at some point we were just going to have to make a play on him and hope for the best. I found myself starting to shake with anticipation and I was still 1.5 km. away from him! I can’t say as I have ever had that happen with a mule deer.

Our plan was to drive closer to the deer, have Pat drop me off, then we would separate and I would stalk closer to the deer to try and gain a vantage and Pat would return to the glassing location and act as spotter. Fortunately, we had hand-held radios and this was ultimately the tool that made the difference. I hiked in to a spot on a rocky ridge down wind of the deer and worked up and down the ridge a bit to see if I could see the opening he was bedded in. Pat was able to locate me on the ridge and did his best to describe where the buck was, but as we suspected, the timber around the opening was just too tall and too thick to see into. I figured the only real option we had at that point was to just be patient and wait for the buck to get up on his own and make the first move. Now the waiting began. I was on pins and needles and every 15 minutes or so I would ask Pat what was going on. Pat continued to glass the buck and soon was able to see another smaller buck and a doe near the bedded buck. The doe moved around a bit once and the big buck just followed her around, and we thought maybe this was going to be the chance to possibly make a move on the deer. Unfortunately, they all bedded back down again. I was absolutely on edge, knowing I was within about 150 metres of the deer but couldn’t see anything that was going on. Pat kept watching the deer and I waited impatiently. After almost 3 hours of waiting, Pat radioed me and said the doe was moving uphill towards an open ridge I could see well, and suggested I move around that way a bit. I snuck about 50 metres to my left and then saw the doe come up onto the open ridge. I quickly dropped to my knees and shuffled over to a large Douglas-fir blowdown that would make a great shooting rest, knowing the big buck would be on her tail. As soon as I looked over the blowdown, there he was at about 100 metres out in the open! The shot was anticlimatic after all the tense waiting and the old monarch was cleanly dispatched with a heart shot. I made my way to the buck and could not believe the size of his body and the mass of his rack. Pat was then on his way over to help me with pictures, get the buck off the mountain and into the truck.

This was truly a joint effort and I highly doubt I would have got this deer without Pat’s help. We both discussed the hunt over and over again the rest of the day and into the early morning hours over cocktails and both agreed this was a classic mule deer hunt if there ever was one.