Part 4 of 4
We soon found that our big fellow was a night rover also, and visited his various kills under the cloak of darkness. In one particularly steep and rugged canyon, he crossed a little creek at a set place. Up on the side of this canyon he mounted to the plateau above by one of three possible trails. At the top within forty yards of one of these was a small promontory of rock upon which we decided to form a blind and await his coming. We fashioned a shelter of young jack pines, constructed like a miniature corral, less than three by six feet in area, but very natural in appearance. Between us and the trail was a quantity of down timber which we hoped would act as an impediment to an onrushing bear. And the perpendicular face of our outcropping elevated us some twelve or thirteen feet above the steep hillside. A small tree stood near our position and offered a possibility in case of attack. But we had long ago decided that no man can clamber up a tree in time to escape a grizzly charging at a distance less than fifty yards. We could be approached from the rear, but altogether it was an ideal ambush.
The wind blew steadily up the canyon all night long and carried our scent away from the trail. Above us on the plateau was a recently killed elk which acted as a perpetual invitation to bears and other prowlers of the night.
So we started watching in this blind, coming soon after dusk and remaining until sunrise. The nights were cold, the ground pitiless, and the moon, nearly at its full, crept low through a maze of mist.
Dressed in our warmest clothing and permitting ourselves one blanket and a small piece of canvas, we huddled together in a cramped posture and kept vigil through the long hours. Neither of us smoked anyway, and of course, this was absolutely taboo; we hardly whispered, and even shifted our positions with utmost caution. Before us lay our bows ready strung, and arrows, both in the quiver belted upright to the screen and standing free close at hand.
The first evening we saw an old she-bear and her two-year-old cubs come up the path. They passed us with that soft shuffling gait so uncanny to hear in the dark. We were delighted that they showed no sign of having detected us. But they were not suited to our purpose and we let them go. The female was homely, fretful and nervous. The cubs were yellow and ungainly. We looked for better things.
Bears have personality, as obvious as humans. Some are lazy, some alert, surly, or timid. Nearly all the females we saw showed that irritability and irascible disposition that go with the cares of maternity. This family was decidedly commonplace.
They disappeared in the gloom, and we waited and waited for the big fellow that some time must appear.
But morning came first; we stole from our blind, chilled and stiffened, and wandered back to camp to breakfast and sleep. The former was a fairly successful event, but the latter was made almost impossible by the swarms of mosquitoes that beset us. A smudge fire and canvas head- coverings gave us only a partial immunity. By sundown we were on our way again to the blind, but another cold dreary night passed without adventure.
On our way to camp in the dim light of early dawn, a land fog hung low in the valley. As we came up a rough path there suddenly appeared out of the obscurity three little bear cubs, not thirty-five yards away. They winded us, squeaked and stood on their hind legs, peering in our direction. We dropped like stones in our tracks, scarcely breathing, figuratively frozen to the ground, for instantly the fiercest-looking grizzly we ever saw bounded over the cubs and straddled them between her forelegs. Nothing could stop her if she came on. A little brush intervened and she could not locate us plainly for we could see her eyes wander in search of us; but her trembling muscles, the vicious champing of her jaws, and the guttural growls, all spoke of immediate attack. We were petrified. She wavered in her intent, turned, cuffed her cubs down the hill, snorted and finally departed with her family.
We heaved a deep sigh of relief. But she was wonderful, she was the most beautiful bear we had ever seen; large, well proportioned, with dark brown hair having just a touch of silver. She was a patrician, the aristocrat of the species. We marked her well.
Next day, just at sunset, we got our first view of the great bear of Dunraven Pass. He was coming down a distant canyon trail. He looked like a giant in the twilight. With long swinging strides he threw himself impetuously down the mountainside. Great power was in every movement. He was magnificent! He seemed as large as a horse, and had that grand supple strength given to no other predatory animal
Though we were used to bears, a strange misgiving came over me. We proposed to slay this monster with the bow and arrow. It seemed preposterous!
In the blind another long cold night passed. The moon drifted slowly across the heavens and sank in a haze of clouds at daybreak. Just at the hush of dawn, the homely female and her tow-headed progeny came shuffling by. We were desperate for specimens, and one of these would match that which we already had. I drew up my bow and let fly a broad- head at one of the cubs. It struck him in the ribs. Precipitately, the whole band took flight. My quarry fell against an obstructing log and died. His mother stopped, came back several times, gazed at him pensively, then disappeared. We got out, carried him to a distant spot and skinned him. He weighed one hundred and twenty pounds. My arrow had shaved a piece off his heart. Death was instantaneous.
We packed home the hind quarters and made a fine grizzly stew. Before this we had found that the old bears were tough and rancid, but the little ones were as sweet and tender as suckling pigs. This stew was particularly good, well seasoned with canned tomatoes and the last of our potatoes and onions. Sad to relate the better part of this savory pot next day was eaten by a wandering vagabond of the Ursus family. Not content with our stew, he devoured all our sugar, bacon, and other foodstuffs not in cans, and wound up his debauch by wiping his feet on our beds and generally messing up the camp. Probably he was a regular camp thief.
That night, early in the watch, we heard the worthy old boy come down the canyon, hot in pursuit of a large brown bear. As he ran, the great animal made quite a noise. His claws clattered on the rocks, and the ground seemed to shake beneath us. We shifted our bows ready for action, and felt the keen edge of our arrows. Way off in the forest we heard him tree the cowardly intruder with such growls and ripping of bark that one would imagine he was about to tear the tree down.
After a long time he desisted and, grunting and wheezing, came slowly up the canyon. With the night glasses we could see him. He seemed to be considerably heated with his exercise and scratched himself against a young fir tree. As he stood on his hind legs with his back to the trunk and rubbed himself to and fro, the tree swayed like a reed; and as he lifted his nose I observed that it just touched one of the lower branches. In the morning, after he had gone and we were on our way to camp, we passed this very fir and stretching up on my tip toes, I could just touch the limb with my fingers. Having been a pole vaulter in my youth, I knew by experience that this measurement was over seven feet six inches. He was a real he-bear! We wanted him more than ever.
The following day it rained--in fact, it rained nearly every day near the end of our stay; but this was a drenching that stopped at sunset, leaving all the world sweet and fragrant. The moon came out full and beautiful, everything seemed propitious.
We went to the blind about an hour before midnight, feeling that surely this evening the big fellow would come. After two hours of frigidity and immobility, we heard the velvet footfalls of bear coming up the canyon. There came our patrician and her royal family. The little fellows pattered up the trail before their mother. They came within range. I signalled Young and we shot together at the cubs. We struck. There was a squeak, a roar, a jumble of shadowy figures and the entire flock of bears came tumbling in our direction.
At that very moment the big grizzly appeared on the scene. There were five bears in sight. Turning her head from side to side, trying to find her enemy, the she-bear came towards us. I whispered to Young, "Shoot the big fellow." At the same time, I drew an arrow to the head, and drove it at the oncoming female. It struck her full in the chest. She reared; threw herself sidewise, bellowed with rage, staggered and fell to the ground. She rose again, weakened, stumbled forward, and with great gasps she died. In less than half a minute it was all over. The little ones ran up the hill past us, one later returned and sat up at its mother's head, then disappeared in the dark forever.
While all this transpired, the monster grizzly was romping back and forth in the shaded forest not more than sixty-five yards away. With deep booming growls like distant thunder, he voiced his anger and intent to kill. As he flitted between the shadows of the trees, the moonlight glinted on his massive body; he was enormous.
Young discharged three arrows at him. I shot two. We should have landed, he was so large. But he galloped off and I saw my last arrow at the point blank range of seventy-five yards, fall between his legs. He was gone. We thought we had missed the beast and grief descended heavy upon us. The thought of all the weary days and nights of hunting and waiting, and now to have lost him, was very painful.
After our palpitating hearts were quiet and the world seemed peaceful, we got out of our blind and skinned the female by flashlight. She was a magnificent specimen, just right in color and size for the Museum, not fat, but weighing a trifle over five hundred pounds. My arrow had severed a rib and buried its head in her heart. We measured her and saved her skull and long bones for the taxidermist.
At daybreak we searched for the cubs and found one dead under a log with an arrow through his brain. The others had disappeared.
We had no idea that we hit the great bear, but just to gather up our shafts, we went over the ground where he had been.
One of Young's arrows was missing!
That gave us a thrill; perhaps we had hit him after all! We went further in the direction he had gone; there was a trace of blood.
We trailed him. We knew it was dangerous business. Through clumps of jack pines we cautiously followed, peering under every pile of brush and fallen tree. Deep into the forest we tracked him, where his bloody smear was left upon fallen logs. Soon we found where he had rested. Then we discovered the fore part of Young's arrow. It had gone through him. There was a pool of blood. Then we found the feathered butt which he had drawn out with his teeth.
Four times he wallowed down in the mud or soft earth to rest and cool his wound. Then beneath a great fir he had made a bed in the soft loam and left it. Past this we could not track him. We hunted high and low, but no trace of him could we find. Apparently he had ceased bleeding and his footprints were not recorded on the stony ground about. We made wide circles, hoping to pick up his trail. We searched up and down the creek. We cross-cut every forest path and runway, but no vestige remained.
He was gone. We even looked up in the tree and down in the ground where he had wallowed. For five hours we searched in vain, and at last, worn with disappointment and fatigue, we lay down and slept on the very spot where he last stopped.
Near sundown we awoke, ate a little food, and started all over again to find the great bear. We retraced our steps and followed the fading evidence till it brought us again to the pit beneath the fir tree. He must be near. It was absolutely impossible for any animal to have lost so much blood and travel more than a few hundred yards past this spot. We had explored the creek bottom and the cliffs above from below, and we now determined to traverse every foot of the rim of the canyon from above. As we climbed over the face of the rock we saw a clot of dried blood. We let ourselves down the sheer descent, came upon a narrow little ledge, and there below us lay the huge monster on his back, against a boulder, cold and stiff, as dead as Cesar. Our hearts nearly burst with happiness.
There lay the largest grizzly bear in Wyoming, dead at our feet. His rugged coat was matted with blood. Well back in his chest the arrow wound showed clear. I measured him; twenty-six inches of bear had been pierced through and through. One arrow killed him. He was tremendous. His great wide head; his worn, glistening teeth; his massive arms; his vast, ponderous feet and long curved claws; all were there. He was a wonderful beast. It seemed incredible. I thumped Young on the shoulder: "My, that was a marvelous shot!"
We started to skin our quarry. It was a stupendous job, as he weighed nearly one thousand pounds, and lay on the steep canyon side ready to roll on and crush us. But with ropes we lashed him by the neck to a tree and split him up the back, later box-skinning the legs according to the method required by the museum.
By flashlight, acetylene lamp, candle light, fire light and moonlight, we labored. We used up all our knives, and having neglected to bring our whet-stones, sharpened our blades on the volcanic boulders, about us. By assiduous industry for nine straight hours, we finished him after a fashion. His skin was thick and like scar tissue. His meat was all tendons and gristle. The hide was as tight as if glued on.
In the middle of the night we stopped long enough to broil some grizzly cub steaks and brew a pot of tea; then we went at it again.
As we dismembered him we weighed the parts. The veins were absolutely dry of blood, and without this substance, which represents a loss of nearly 10 per cent of his weight, he was nine hundred and sixteen pounds. There was hardly an inch of fat on his back. At the end of the autumn this adipose layer would be nearly six inches thick. He would then have weighed over fourteen hundred pounds. He stood nearly four feet high at the shoulders, while his skull measured eighteen and a half inches long; his entire body length was seven feet four inches.
As we cleaned his bones we hurled great slabs of muscle down the canyon, knowing from experience that this would be a sign for all other bears to leave the vicinity. Only the wolves and jays will eat grizzly meat.
At last we finished him, as the sun rose over the mountain ridges and gilded all the canyon with glory. We cleaned and salted the pelts, packed them on our backs, and, dripping with salt brine and bear grease, staggered to the nearest wagon trail. The hide of the big bear, with unskinned paws and skull, weighed nearly one hundred and fifty pounds.
We cached our trophies, tramped the weary miles back to camp, cleaned up, packed and wandered to the nearest station, from which we ordered a machine. When this arrived we gathered our belongings, turned our various specimens over to a park ranger, to be given the final treatments, and started on our homeward trip.
We were so exhausted from loss of sleep, exertion and excitement, that we sank into a stupor that lasted almost the entire way home.
The California Academy of Sciences now has a handsome representative group of Ursus Horribilis Imperator. We have the extremely satisfactory feeling that we killed five of the finest grizzly bear in Wyoming. The sport was fair and clean, and we did it all with the bow and arrow.