by John Carlson
It was already dark when my wife answered the satellite call, “Hello! Did you get one?” As I replied, “Yes! It’s a beautiful silvertip.” My voice cracked, my knees buckled, and tears filled my eyes. All of the emotions and fatigue hit at that moment. I really don’t remember much more of the conversation. As soon as the call was over I hit the sack. As I lay in my sleeping bag looking at the countless stars in the dark sky I began to replay the last 40 hours:
At 5:00 AM the day before my family took me to our small regional airport for my 7:00 AM flight. Being a seasoned traveler of one previous hunting trip, I had no problems. I had connecting flights in Minneapolis and Seattle before I cleared customs in Prince George. By 1:00 PM I was meeting Les at his float plane on Tabar Lake. The flight to Saiya Lake was spectacular! There were bear on the roads below, moose swimming in the lakes, mountain goats on the peaks, but no grizzly. We were able to get a Spartan camp set up just before dark.
We ate some of Les’s mom’s famous cabbage rolls heated over the fire and caught up on some BS before turning in. With the time adjustment I had no problem waking before daylight. We put together a couple of light packs filled the water bottles and struck out before sunrise. There was wildlife sign everywhere. There were wolf tracks on the trail we followed, the moose had rubs on several trees, and there was a spot with a natural salt lick that was dug into the forest. As, we started to climb the first mountain the berries were thick. There was lots of bear sign in the plants.
After a two hour climb we crested the ridge. The colors were spectacular: the greens of the Douglas firs, the reds of the berries leaves, the yellows of the aspen, and the sky was a brilliant blue. Les explained that we were going to glass a drainage on the facing mountain. I was to take the right and he was going to take the left. Before I even got my binoculars out of the pack he said, “There’s one.” As I came over to look where he was looking he said, “There’s another!” Within minutes we have spotted 12 grizzlies in that drainage! There was one in particular that I had my eye on: It had a beautiful coat that was tipped with silver and gold. We made a plan and started after that bear. The side hill was slippery and the going was tough. Suddenly the bears began to roar! The chill in my spine made it perfectly clear then that these were not black bear. The bear began moving on the drainage and we stopped and reconnoitered. The bear we wanted fed over into the next drainage and the wind was perfect for us to make our approach. We quickly descended the rest of the mountain and dropped all but the necessary gear and assaulted the mountain of the bear.
There were three grizzlies feeding above us as we skirted toward the one I wanted. How those bear can move so quickly on that face is beyond me! I dug my toes in the soft soil and used bushes to pull myself up. Les kept encouraging me with not so positive epitaphs. It worked. I made the bench we had chosen and there feeding calmly below us at 120 yards was the bear of my dreams! The shot was true and the follow-up unnecessary. The bear tumbled to a creek bed and got caught on a rock. It would square over 8 feet and the skull would measure 23 inches. Any lacking in size was more than made up for in the beautiful fur. We checked the time and it was not yet noon.
I wish I could say that the rest of the day was easy, but the real work always begins after the trigger is pulled. There was a moment when our improvised pack (my belt) broke and the hide rolled into the stream and was soaked that we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But we eventually retrieved the pack frame and lashed the hide down and crawled, stumbled, and climbed through the rocks, tanglefoot, and blow downs back to camp. The wind was perfect for take-off, so we hastily broke camp and flew back to the base camp just as dark was settling in. I looked at the stars one last time smelt my bear on my clothes and drifted off to a well deserved sleep.