Everything was wet and muddy, the skies were socked in and dark, the air was brisk, this adverse weather was actually turning out to be a huge advantage for us. Dutch Creek’s swift current was already at dangerously high levels, with temperatures so freezing cold that on contact you felt as if you were being stabbed with a million tiny icy daggers straight down to the bone. With the water reaching up to the bellies on the horses in most places, we couldn’t afford for the water levels to rise any higher.
The cool weather was keeping the snow in the high elevations from rapidly melting off while at the same time allowing the snow in the lower elevations to slowly dissipate with the falling rain. If the weather were to suddenly get too warm for too long of time, the water levels in Dutch Creek would rise to impassably high levels and we wouldn’t make the final trek up to Hyak camp.
We spent three hours packing and loading up all of our gear on the six pack horses, a farewell was bid to the Big Cabin, a special place that that possessed the welcoming feeling of home. The plan was to head up Dutch Creek on horseback even deeper into the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy, the only road less territory of its kind, the last frontier. Our destination, Hyak Camp, two cabins located roughly 30 miles from the nearest road and almost 50 miles from the nearest electricity, cell phone service, or town.
The remote cabins at Hyak were barely accessible just one week prior, blanketed heavy with over four feet of snow. Not knowing what lie ahead, I tightened the cinch on my saddle, swung my leg over the top of Whiskers the massive draft cross horse, once again on the trail bound for adventure.
A/Z Outfitters has been operating in the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy since the early 1960’s, co-founded by Bill DuBois. Today his son Brent DuBois owns and operates the family business offering everything from hunting trips to sight-seeing pack trips into some of the most beautiful and remote country in the world. On this trip, we were in pursuit of black bears, with my tag already full; Jim Brennan and Rockie Jacobsen were up as hunters and me as cameraman.
|1930's Trappers Cabin
Heading down the trail that is kept so pristine and un-touched, a place left as it has always been for hundreds of years. Glimpses of stories long forgotten lined the trail along the way; remnants from a fire that had ripped through the countryside in the early 1930’s, only leaving behind clues of what once was. A charred trap was hung on a tree along the trail marking a destroyed trapper’s cabin location, a monument of sorts.
One trapper chose to rebuild after the fire as we came across a tiny cabin that was constructed in the later part of the 1930’s. Inside we found a handcrafted table, a plate, and old kettles, left behind and seemingly mummified in time within the walls of the forest.
After crossing multiple swollen creeks, avalanche slides, and many miles of trail we finally reached Hyak camp. The snow drifts were still over four feet deep in the heavy timber, but the face of the cabins had been revealed in less than a week’s time as the snow was nearly gone that had surrounded the cabins just days before.
|My first glimpse of Hyak Camp
The cabins had been vacant since the last group of hunters had left in November of the previous year. We were the first people to set foot into this part of the territory in over seven months. The welcome mat of nails was still in place and un-touched on the front porch, the windows boarded and protected by steel bars, all had faired the winter without a single grizzly bear break-in.
|The two cabins at Hyak
|Welcome mat for the bears
At first opportunity, I traded in Whiskers the horse in favor of riding a little sorrel mule that I affectionately called Little Stinker. Not knowing how high the waters would be, I played it safe initially by riding the much larger rounder horse but once I knew that Little Stinkers smaller size would be ample to safely transport me across the swollen waterways, I climbed aboard the sweet little mule with a huge personality that brings a smile to my face still to this day when I think of him.
The snow crunched under Little Stinkers hooves as we headed out to look for bears, Jim was up as shooter and armed with his bow, Rockie and I were running the video cameras. We tied up the horses and sat down to glass a large avalanche slide. The center of the slide was deep with snow but the sides boasted freshly growing green grass shoots, a delicacy for all bears in the spring.
Almost immediately we spotted a large bruin making his way across the slide feeding on grasses along his way. After watching the bear for a few minutes we got a good feel of where he seemed to be heading, with bow in hand Jim and Rockie with his video camera took off heading up the opposite side of the slide from the bruin with the hopes of stalking within bow range. I stayed behind with Brent and my video camera to film a second wide angle of their approach on the bruin.
Moving as quickly as their legs and lungs would allow, Jim and Rockie, slowly made their way up the steep slide, their size diminished by the sheer size of the mountain. This country is expansive and deceiving and it is no wonder why the wildlife flourishes hiding in what seems like the wide open. With Jim and Rockies fantastic camouflage they seemingly disappeared on the mountainside with only their small movements giving their location away.
The scenario could not have worked out more perfectly if it were personally scripted by one of us. As Jim and Rockie headed up the slide, the bruin literally walked right to them. From a distance, the slide appears open and grassy, in reality the brush is over one’s head in many places making for great bow stalks.
Brent and I sat in near disbelief as we watched Jim and Rockie made their way towards the bruin and the bruin towards them. The trio had gotten so close that I was certain they were going to be busted at any moment. With heavy cover, we were unsure if the pair could see the bruin so we gave them a hand signal for Jim to get ready to draw.
Just then, the bruin disappeared just out of our line of sight behind a large Spruce tree. As quickly as Jim spotted a glimpse of the bruin’s ears, he stepped just out of effective bow range and line of sight. Rockie being an expert caller, made a short series of animal in distress squeaks that peeked the curiosity of the bruin causing him to come back for a closer look. With the curious bear sitting and staring a mere 40 yards from Jim and Rockie; Jim took aim and released his arrow into the bruin executing a perfect shot.
Brent and I watched the bear trot back into sight then walk into a section of small timber and out of sight, and then once again reappearing on the other side taking a moment to sit and finally disappear into a heavy old growth timber stand.
At this point, we were thinking that the bruin had busted Jim and Rockie and trotted off pretty much unaffected by their presence. We sat their waiting for Jim and Rockie to come running down the slide towards us with the hopes of catching the bruin on the other side of the old growth timber stand.
Instead they took their time videoing, finally making their way to us. I could hardly believe my ears when I heard what had unfolded and how perfectly the stalk had been executed, but I was even more awe struck when I saw Rockies video footage of how it had all went down.
With darkness quickly setting in we decided to play it safe and make the hour long horseback ride back to camp with what little daylight remained so that we would be safe in traveling through the treacherous terrain, moreover, we did not want to get caught up in the dark over the remains of a freshly harvested animal in grizzly country; the grizzly bears out there own the night.
The following morning we made our way back to the slide, Jim successfully recovered his arrow that had been broken, with the bruin retaining nearly 20” of arrow shaft and broadhead. Jim retraced the bruin’s final steps and blood trail, Rockie was behind him filming up close and I once again was filming a wider angle.
Brent called out just below me on the slide that there was a massive grizzly bear a mere 150 yards away making his way towards us. Running down the slide and towards Brent as quickly as I could through the brush and fallen trees I had hopes of capturing the massive bear up close on camera.
By the time I reached Brent, the grizzly had taken off in the opposite direction having heard him call out. I did get film of the bruin but not as closely as I had hoped, possibly for the better; we had made a wise decision the night before in coming back during the daylight hours.
|Jim Brennan's spot & stalk archery black bear
Jim’s bear was laying less than twenty feet from where we had last spotted him the night before, his bow and arrow had performed perfectly penetrating through the bruins forearm and into his heart and lungs.
After de-boning and caping the bear, we gathered up the horses and headed back to camp. Two down, one to go, Rockie was up as hunter and Jim and I were on the video cameras. With the chill of the morning melted off by a hot lunch and a warm fire, we set out on horseback for our evening hunt.
Our strategy was to ride straight out of camp an hour and slowly glassing each slide on the way back to camp until dark. Catching a glimpse of two black bears on the inside edge of some alder brush; we tied up our horses to get a better look.
With spring in full swing, love is in the air for black bears, we knew that this was either a boar chasing a sow or a sow with cubs. If it was a boar and a sow, we would make a stalk, if it was the latter, we do nothing. For this very reason, much of your time bear hunting in the spring is spent by glassing, saving you from doing un-necessary hiking and stalking. A considerable amount of time passed as we patiently waited for the pair to emerge from the brush into the wide open slide, to give us a better look. Once they came out into the slide and immediately we realized that this was in fact a sow and cub. After getting some video of the pair, we made our way back to the horses and finally back to camp.
The chill that had crept down from my spine to my toes was quickly chased away by the warmth radiating from the wood stove. The sounds of laughter filled the cabin as I listened to the guys tell tales of adventures past while making them a fresh peach rhubarb cobbler. Simple things bring the most delight while in the backcountry, everything you eat always tastes better. The sound of the last fork hitting the plate signaled to me that it was time for bed to get rested up for the big day that lay ahead.
Little Stinker never missing a step or loosing stride as he carefully maneuvered his way through the belly deep snow, heading deeper into the Purcell Wilderness than we had yet travelled. Fred, our guide, frequently climbed off his horse with ax in hand to remove fallen trees that lay in our path. You could hear the water rushing down the mountain at ground level buried under the snow drifts, winter was quickly melting away.
The full moon had been high in the night sky, so we decided to change up our hunting strategy a bit and heading out for our hunt just after breakfast with the hopes of catching a bruin out and about midday. The sun was high in the sky warming the valley under her gentle rays.
Sitting on the base of a slide with our backs resting against a tree we were enjoying our sandwiches when Rockie and Fred spotted a whitetail doe bounding across Dutch Creek, fear striking behind her. Everyone was instantly on alert, something was wrong.
Rockie stood up and worked his way down the slide to get a better look behind us and on the opposite side of Dutch Creek where the doe had just darted from while Jim and I continued to glass up the slide. Running back to us, he had spotted a big black bear, a mere 100 yards away.
With video cameras in hand, Jim and I followed Rockie to the edge of the slide, the bear had moved into heavy timber allowing for a limited view of the bruin. One thing that was clear, he was eating something and we all feared that the bruin had taken the frightened does fawn for its meal.
After watching the bruin for a great deal of time, it became apparent that he was not moving off of whatever he was eating anytime soon, so we walked the slides edge in search for a better view and shooting angle. Rockie rested his gun against his backpack and waited for the perfect opportunity to take his shot. Moments later the bruin was down.
Getting the horses through the final snow drifts leading up to the slide was going to be tricky, but we could not forge the dangerous waters of Dutch Creek on foot. Without another option, Fred and I carefully laid out a safe passageway through the snows heavy drifts for the horses to travel through. This is where you are thankful to have experienced mountain horses to safely transport you through springtime’s rugged terrain.
|Rockie Jacobsen's spot & stalk black bear
Once we were across Dutch Creek, we tied up the horses and approached the expired bruin. Our fears were then confirmed, the bruin had been feasting on the newly born whitetail fawn. We were all deeply saddened by the sight but pleased with the knowledge that by having harvesting not only this bear but a total of three in the territory, we had saved the lives of many other deer fawns and elk calves.
Having spent 25 days deep within the remote Rocky Mountains of British Columbia in the Royal Kootenay Range and the rugged Purcell Wilderness Conservancy, we packed up our camp at Hyak in preparation to make the two day ride down the old trail and back to civilization, marking the end of this journey, leaving me longing to return.
My heart and soul soar within the mountains and an all too familiar voice deep inside calls me to return time and again, forever growing louder and more demanding. I bid farewell for now only to return before long…
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