As we flew over the landing strip, I noticed that Gnarly had already picked a campsite and had the tent set up. We landed, off loaded the remaining gear, and reconfirmed the pick-up date. Mike pointed out where we could expect to see caribou and left. Since we couldn’t hunt the same day as we flew, we continued setting up the camp and getting organized. We also began doing some spotting to see what we could. We saw a couple of caribou over a mile away exactly where Mike said we should see them.
When we awakened the next morning, the first thing we saw after stepping out of the tent was a caribou which had just walked out from the brush and onto the landing strip, about 150 to 200-yards from our tent. The animal took one glance our way and took off down the strip, crossing over into the brush on the other side. We were caught off guard and could only watch the caribou as it departed, but the shot opportunity was not good anyway.
We were in a valley at around 3000-foot elevation and between two ridgelines, both of which were at least another 1000 to 2000 feet higher in elevation. The western side had a mountainous, rocky face while the east side was covered with vegetation to the top and wasn’t as steep nor as high. We set up the spotting scopes and began watching for game.
Because the first caribou spotted had trotted down the landing strip and, we think, crossed into a river bottom about a mile away, Gnarly decided to hike to the other end of the strip and watch in case caribou decided to wander back toward our end. He made the trip for the next few days before deciding that there were better options to watch.
While Gnarly was glassing from the other end of the strip, he saw what he thought was a grizzly bear working an apparently fresh caribou kill. The odd thing he noticed was the bear appeared to have a dark tail about 18-inches long. That puzzled him and, when he returned, he asked me if grizzlies had tails that long. I told him I had never heard of such a thing and I immediately informed him he had discovered a new species of bear – the Gnarly Bear!
He speculated that maybe it wasn’t a bear after all, but rather a wolverine. Based on the apparent size of the animal, an estimated 250-300 pounds, the wolverine theory was immediately eliminated. As the hunt progressed, Gnarly gave the whole situation some further thought and decided what he had seen as a tail was, in fact, an optical illusion. The bear was nearly black on its back half and the way it was running when Gnarly noticed the apparent tail was, most likely, the bear’s hind leg as it was making a turn.
We concluded the mystery was solved but teasing Gnarly about the “long-tailed bear” continued through the hunt. I’m glad he has a great sense of humor! Gnarly Dan enjoys cooking and has always volunteered to be the camp cook on hunts I have made with him. Since we were using mostly freeze-dried foods on this trip, I often complimented him on his ability to “boil a mean pot of water” to reconstitute the freeze-dried meals and make a cup of instant coffee!
So far, a few days into the hunt, we had seen enough caribou to keep our hopes up and the sighting of the “Gnarly Bear” was an added thrill. I saw the bear on the ridgeline as it was trying to dig out a squirrel. There was no doubt it was a bear. While we both had grizzly tags, I was hoping the bear would wander off and not decide to check out our campsite. We didn’t see the bear again after that initial day.
A day or so after the “Gnarly Bear” episode, Dan spotted a single ewe and lamb Dall sheep coming down off the east ridge. They crossed over through the brush and climbed the ridge on the other side of the valley. As we watched through the scopes, Gnarly spotted two rams on the rocky face of the mountain, probably a mile or so away from us and at least a 1000-feet higher in elevation. The ewe and lamb eventually joined the two rams, but not as a part of their group.
The lamb had gone over near one of the rams, but the male wanted nothing to do with the youngster and bullied it off. The lamb rejoined its mother and the two stayed close, but not too close, to the rams. We watched the sheep for the next five days as they ate, slept, and wandered over the steep and rugged rock face of the mountain on the west ridge.
To be continued….