It started as just a regular Idaho black bear hunt and it became an obsession.
I was guiding bear hunters in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and a group of hunters from Wisconsin had sent us some trail cameras. We had six well-established baits spread over our hunting area and they were already getting hit hard even though it was only late April. I was excited to get the cameras out and early the next morning I made the rounds to see if we had any pictures. I was hoping for three or four. We had eighty. Hmmm… Who woulda guessed? One of our bears looked like a monster. It wasn’t a great picture and at first glance, isn’t very impressive until the next day when we noticed that he had been about 20 yards beyond the barrel and the tracks…. oh the tracks.
As the weeks went on we got pictures of him visiting most of our baits and we confirmed it… he was huge. We called him “Toad” and he was the type of bear you dream about. Not only was he big, but he was a deep chocolate color to boot. Our Wisconsin hunters were ecstatic. Not only because of Toad, but we had a nice blonde bear spotted for them as well.
So, our hunters showed up in mid-May and for five days they passed up bear after bear in their quest for Toad and Blondie, neither of whom showed up for the party. Hunters came and left all season and our two stars never made a showing, although they did continue to pose for our cameras. On the last day of the season we didn’t have any hunters so I hunted Toad’s favorite bait and he did come in, but it was after shooting hours. I sat in the stand watching him in the moonlight for a long time… drooling. The next two seasons were more of the same and he began to become a legend. Our hunters all left with nice bears, but not THE bear.
In 2007 we purchased a new hunting area in the Frank Church Wilderness and I knew that my chance to get this great bear was coming to an end, so I set our with a vengeance and hunted hard. I only put out one bait, but it was in a better area with thicker cover and much harder to get to. I figured that this would give him fewer choices and I hoped that he would feel more comfortable in the thicker cover and come in during the shooting hours. I hunted hard and I passed on a bunch of nice bears. Big ones, blonde ones, chocolate ones, red ones and even one that I called “frosted chocolate”.
I’d like to say that it ended with a hero shot of me and my bow and a big bear named Toad… but it didn’t. It did end with a BANG! though.
You’re probably asking yourself, “I thought this was about Blazing Saddles“, well, here it comes: Our bear hunting truck was an old piece of crap Toyota and it was on it’s last leg. On my final trip in to hunt Toad I was 20-some miles from the lodge when I smelled something burning. I was on an old logging road with overhanging brush, so I didn’t want to stop and burn down the whole forest, so I pushed on hoping to get to a spring that crossed the “road” a few miles below. Before long, the cab was full of smoke, my head was out the window and there were flames coming out of the passenger side floorboard. I was flying, desperate to make the spring. As I skidded around the last corner I tried to slow down, but the brakes lines had burned through I guess… uh oh. The only option I had was to run into a big willow growing out of the spring. That put a stop to things real quick.
I bailed out and tried fruitlessly to put the fire out, but soon realized that it was just too big, so all I could do was salvage what I could, back off, take pictures and try to put out any forest fire that might start. The smoke was incredible, the flames were huge and the tires blowing (I think it was the tires) were surprisingly loud. It didn’t take long for that old pickup to burn to the ground.
Once the fire was out, I put on my backpack and started a long walk back to the lodge. I didn’t take the roads so it was only about 15 miles as the crow flies, but it still took most of the day. I flew out the next morning to start a new adventure in the Frank Church Wilderness. My quest for Toad the monster black bear was over.
Last spring a friend of mine who hunts the same area showed me a picture of a huge chocolate bear at one of his baits. The legend continues… and since I’m not outfitting anymore, I just might re-kindle my obsession.