Having the last road less hunting territory in the East Kootenany Mountain range of the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy, many might describe their experience with A/Z Outfitters as traveling back in time, where life moves at a slower pace; work is done with your two hands and the aid of a good horse.
|The horses are free ranging much of the year.
A/Z Outfitters was founded over 60 years ago with Bill DuBois as one of the original founders. You will find him and many of the original guides still leading excited guests into the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy using traditional horse packing methods that have been passed down for generations.
With whip in hand, Brent heads out to round up his free ranging horses. Once spotted, Brent runs towards them cracking the end of his whip into the ground. The horses know what to do and immediately run towards the corrals, ready to get to work.
Handing Brent his tape measure, he carefully makes measure of the horses hoof. With single sections of un-cut steel he cuts the exact length needed to construct the shoes for his horse; the same way that it has been done for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Heat rolling out of the propane forge ready to heat the cut down sections of steel for shaping.
Clang, clang, clang, Brent perfectly shapes the shoe, punches holes in it and while it is burning hot presses it against the horses hoof, smoke rises and the hoof sizzles, Brent making sure the fit is perfect before cooling the steel and setting the nails.
Waiting for my hunting partners Rockie Jacobsen, Owner of Bugling Bull Game Calls and Jim Brennan, Bugling Bull Game Calls Pro Staffer, and Mossy Oak Western Pro Staff Coordinator, I spent my last night amongst civilization at the beautiful Cabins at Whitetail Lake.
Growing up on the back of a mule, packing into the backcountry, I know firsthand how much work goes into preparing for a ten day trip into the backcountry; double that difficulty when you are packing in tens of thousands of dollars worth of valuable camera equipment and computers.
Throwing all of your gear for the trip into a pile like an intricate puzzle, Brent DuBois our skillful outfitter and Fred Canning, his right hand man, carefully pieced everything together into perfectly weighed out packs that get loaded and balanced onto one of the good pack horses or mule.
With each of us having a 60# gear limit including video equipment, one prioritizes carefully what must be taken and what can be left behind. Knowing we were going into some of the steepest, most rugged country in the world, I put in my request early to be on the back of Brent’s only saddle mule, that I called Little Stinker or just plain Stinker. The smooth agile, carefully laid out step of a mule is priceless in the backcountry, especially when the terrain grows dangerous.
Little Stinker hadn’t been rode in almost a year as Brent’s father Bill had grown tired of his mule-isms and traded him in to ride a horse. Without reservation, I outfitted Stinker with my personal “fancy” saddle complete with silver and gold inlays, saddle bag filled with my video camera, laptop computer, handheld camera, Swarovski binoculars, and rifle with Swarovski Z3 scope. Little Stinker became a $12,000 mule in a hurry.
|Heading up the trail, it looks as if you are riding into the sky.
The warm summer like weather had warmed up the valley making the seven hour trail ride through some of the most beautiful country in the world a dream. Five saddle horses, a saddle mule, and six pack horses made the trek along Dutch Creek, swollen from the rapidly melting snow. I frequently climbed off and on Little Stinker to take photos and video of Mountain Goats, Elk and stunning scenery along the way.
Little Stinker taking every advantage of being “free” to trot in front of the pack string or head downhill for a clump of green grass; filled with the joy of being out on the trail for his first trip of the season. On the downhill sections he would pin his ears back, trot a bit and shake his head side to side. I found his mule-isms quite comical, although some probably do not appreciate the character of a mule quite as much as I do.
Seven hours later, we arrived at The “Big Cabin” that was built in 1993 by the DuBois family. Everyone contributed to the construction with Brent’s mother Georgina designing the cabin, Brent and his father Bill salvaging the logs from original 1948 cabin to build the guest bunk house and hand scribing the logs for the construction of the main cabin.
The cabin walls come to life with murals of dates and names of past guests along with short stories of their successes; a section of tree that was found nearby that was carved by a settler over 100 years ago, a broken panyard from a mule wreck and other miscellaneous items that all tell an intricate tale. The main cabin is complete with the modern delights of a refrigerator and propane lights, the guest house boasted the makings for a good hot shower.
If you prefer the old school, you can utilize the “Bug Light” which is an old tin syrup can with a hole punched through the bottom to slide a candle through and a handle on top. The old timers believed that you could light the candle within to use instead of a flashlight and that the natural light wouldn’t spook the elk that you were pursuing.
Climbing up the slide our first morning there was a small herd of elk grazing just above the horses, once they caught sight of us, they took off into the timber. Coming down the steep mountain slide, the horses tied literally nose to tail, was an amazingly beautiful sight with Dutch Creek below as the thunder started rolling across the sky and the rain pouring down.
|Glassing in the rain.
With the rain relentlessly driving down, we saddled up and headed out to glass a few nearby slides for black bears with the hopes that the dark skies would return to blue and the bears would begin to move about. The drum of the rain on the hood of my jacket was a never ending tune that played all day long. We spent the next eight hours glassing, trying to stay dry under the limited cover of trees with no avail.
Making our way back to camp down the boggy trail, Brent spotted a black bear on the face of a slide across Dutch Creek. The bear played peek- a -boo within the heavy alder brush, giving us but only a single look at the bruin. Unfortunately, the frozen heavy water flowing in Dutch Creek was so swift that it is simply too dangerous to cross in most places making a stalk on the bruin impossible from our current location.
We spent the next hour glassing for the bruin with the attempt at getting a second look at him while devising a plan to make a stalk the following day. Our time was well spent as we found two nice Moose sheds on our way back to the horses, or in my case mule.
With a hump the size of a grizzly’s, even Little Stinker had caught a shiver from the long wet day. Brent was sure I was going to get an exciting ride back to the cabin when he caught glimpse of the hump in Stinker’s back, but he happily carried me down the trail and back to camp.
|Drying out our gear.
Arriving in camp after ten o’clock that night, we converted the guest bunk house into a makeshift dry room with a roaring fire. With a belly full of delicious elk sausage and all the fixings, a set of warm dry clothes on, fully relaxed from finishing my second cup of Dutch Tea (hot water from the creek, whiskey, and honey) I gladly climbed into bed looking forward to another day on the mountain.
I awoke the next day a year older; this was my second birthday in a row being out of the United States, far away from home secluded in the wilderness. The skies were dark and dreary with rain sprinkling down intermittently throughout the day. I took the opportunity to relax in camp, enjoying the simple pleasure of a nice hot shower and homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies thanks to our camp chef Aaron Cameron.
|The slide where I harvested my bear.
After two long wet days, the rain finally subsided making us all anxious to get out on the mountainside to glass for hungrily grazing bears. Saddled up and rearing to go, we set out to check out a few slides. Without wasting anytime at all, we spotted a black bear feeding on the far side of Dutch Creek, before we had a chance to get a better look at the bruin, he disappeared into heavy timber and out of sight.
With Dutch Creek separating us from the slide, Jim and Rocky were not going to be able to put a stalk on the bruin with their bows if he were to reappear. With rifle in hand, I was up as shooter and they were on the cameras.
|This yearling bull calf was less than 50 yards from us.
In the middle of the slide, we spotted a small black bear peeking in and out of the heavy brush, sitting back getting video of the small bear working its way across the slide feeding on the tender green grasses. A yearling Bull Moose made an appearance on the edge of the timber and leisurely strolling towards the edge of Dutch Creek nibbling on Black Birch less than 50 yards from us.
All of the wildlife seemed to be enjoying the break from the rain as much as we were and were happily moving about the basin. As luck would have it, the bruin that we had originally seen earlier that night reemerged into the slide feeding right towards us. Armed with my binoculars, it was an easy determination that this was a shooter boar.
The wind was in our favor, he was unaware of our presence a mere 100 yards away across Dutch Creek, laying on my stomach I readied my gun using my backpack as a rest. Waiting for the bruin to feed into the perfect broadside position seemed like it took hours. Finally, with the bruin perfectly broadside I took my shot.
Less than 40 yards from where he stood in the grassy slide into the timbers edge he fell, all caught on camera. My birthday present had been delivered, a beautiful black bear boar taken in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The young Bull Moose never spooked from my single gunshot, instead, he forged Dutch Creek heading right towards us. I had been so focused on the bear that I didn’t even realize that a second larger bull moose was standing directly behind us at less than 40 yards, also unaffected by the sound of my gun shot.
With the light quickly fading, Brent our outfitter suggested that we wait to attempt our recovery until first light due to the freezing cold high waters of Dutch Creek. To cross in the dark would simply be too dangerous. With the sound of mud sloshing under my mule’s feet, I rode back to camp wishing that it were already morning and that we were on our way to recover my bear.
Surrounded by the warmth of a good fire and great friends Happy Birthday was sang to me by all, over the top of a homemade chocolate cream cheese cake. What a great birthday it had been.
The next morning, I traded in Little Stinker the mule for Whiskers the horse. Whiskers is a 1400 pound draft cross that is unbelievably big and strong, perfect for crossing the deep fast moving spring waters of Dutch Creek.
Once we reached the slide, retracing the bruin’s final steps was easy as we had seen his last steps the night before. The boar was old; his teeth were worn almost down to nothing, he had an infected bite mark on his hind quarter, most likely from another younger more aggressive boar. With a skull just over 16 inches and stretching over 5 ½ feet, the bruin had lived out his last day on the beautiful slides of the Purcell Mountains.
Often times, we all get busy and forget to take the time to slow down, get back to our roots and enjoy life at a slower pace. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoying a place un-touched by modern civilization on the back of a good mule surrounded by friends was the best gift for me on my birthday.
With Rockie and Jim both armed with black bear tags needing punched…the adventure continues.
|Me and Brent DuBois from A/Z Outfitters.
A/Z Outfitters offers hunt opportunities for Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, Mountain Goat, Moose, Mule Deer & Elk. Visit A/Z Outfitters online at www.abarzoutfitters.com.
Under Armour Clothing for Kristy
Base 2.0 Top
Camo Evo Cold Gear Pants
Camo Evo Cold Gear Hoody
Camo Full Zip Hoody
Quest Jacket & Pant
Women’s Camo Glove
Camo Active Beanie
Speed Freek Boots
Hitch Lite Cushion Boot Sock
Under Armour Clothing for Jim & Rockie
Ridge Reaper Jacket & Pant
Stealth Rain Jacket & Pant
Camo Big Logo Hoody
Camo Armourloft Vest
Z3 Rifle Scope
EL 42 Swarovision Binoculars
65mm HD Spotting Scope with 20-60x Eyepiece
8x30 Laser Guide
Eberlestock X1 Backpack
Wilderness Athlete Performance Bars, Energy Gel, Energy & Focus Drink Formula, Protein Plus
Nosler Custom Trophy Grade 180 Grain Accubond Ammunition