On July 17, 2013 I left for a 2 day scouting trip to the area I previously called “The Bench”. This was a follow up trip to ” A Sow with Cubs” and I was hoping to see some of those Bucks that I had seen on that trip while on my way out. By July the high country is at its hottest and the bugs are at their worst. It’s actually my least favorite time of the year to go, its usually buggy even up on the ridges and the Bucks don’t spend as much time out in the open during daylight. But cabin fever takes over and I’m out in the heat and bugs, at least for the first part of the hike. On a drier year like this one, once you get out of the canyon bottoms and up on tops of the ridges you can mostly escape the bugs and enjoy the breezes. This is exactly what the Deer and Elk do too and mostly for the same reasons.
I arrived to my parking spot around 8:30 AM and hiked up onto the ridge that overlooks the slope where I had seen the bucks in prior trips. I have been up on this ridge a lot and it offers great glassing but there is no water easily accessible so I have to carry enough for the rest of the day and the night. The next morning I then either have to drop back down to fill up at a seep, or hike another mile and a half with about a 2000 foot elevation gain farther up the ridge to a snow drift. The peak just above the snowdrift is one of the best vantage points in the area and I had initially planned on making the hike up there on day 2.
As I approached the flat area on the ridge I wanted to camp, I saw movement ahead of me, and then identified it as a black bear. I froze and observed, looking to my right there was a brown phase black bear standing up out of it’s bed at about 100 yards. It was looking at the black one in front of me and didn’t see me. I quickly realized that these were probably the sow and two cubs that I had seen on the last trip into this area. I cautiously proceeded forward a few steps and the black one popped out from behind a bush, looked me over probably thinking I was the brown one, and then ran when it realized I wasn’t. I was glad this happened because if this was a young cub and it headed up a tree, I would then be in a completely different situation. I would be in between the sow and her cub, and she would eventually figure out that I wasn’t her cub. I immediately looked over to my right to keep track of the brown one, and could see it behind the trees heading along a trail towards me and where the black one had been. The bear didn’t look very concerned and was lazily going down the trail right towards me. Bears don’t have the best eyesight, but make up for it with their excellent sense of smell and although there was no breeze, the wind must have really been in my favor because I was undetected or ignored at this point. I could smell my own swamp ass where I stood, why couldn’t the bear? I decided to let the bear get about 50 yards, get a picture, and then say Hi. Any closer and the bear might feel threatened and feel like it can’t escape. Then it would think it had to fight and as usual during scouting I was unarmed. I snapped a pick at under 50 yards, said Hi, and the bear did a 180 and bolted back down the trail and up to the base of the incline that was to my left like I expected.
The bear went up the incline about 50 yards and slowed way down to a labored walk. It was mid day now, sunny and hot. I could see the bear panting from just that short run and there was no way it was going to keep going up that steep incline. The bear started to loop back around and head back towards my direction again but staying on the hillside ahead of me and to my left. I slowly moved towards the hillside and the bear to try and get another pic. We ended up parallel with each other about 100 yards apart and slowly moving along for a while checking each other out and I got one decent pic. Then the bear got ahead of me and slowly disappeared in the direction the other bear(s) had gone. I’m still not sure how many bears I had originally seen, but most likely it was the Sow and 2 Cubs I had seen the last time I was in the area. Same colors on the sow and cub and about a mile away from where I had seen them feeding on a hillside in the “Sow and Cubs” entry.
I went ahead and set up camp and ate in the nice flat area near where the bears had been bedded, it was a good spot and where I had originally planned on camping that night anyways.
The evening glassing session was rather disappointing, I saw a Doe and a Doe with young fawns and that was it. Both of which started feeding at last light, the Bucks must have been out of that area already and up higher on the mountain or just completely nocturnal due to the heat. I ran out of water by dark, but I had been well hydrated up to that point so I wasn’t to worried and I slept great. The next morning I opened my water bladder, drank the last ounce of water, and glassed for about 2 hours. I saw the same Deer and nothing new, so I packed up and headed down to get water. I knew there was water down a little lower but I wasn’t sure exactly where and I was reluctant to drop that far down and look the night before. I really wanted to go higher up the ridge to the snowdrift site that morning, but that wasn’t going to happen. It was to far to go without water in that kind of heat and I wasn’t 100% sure there is a snow drift there on a dry year like this anyways.
I figured since I’m going back down the mountain I might as well hike across the canyon and try a new spot. I got a drink at the seep on my way down and then filled up at the bottom of the canyon in the main creek, ate, and forged on.
I made it to the feeder creek I wanted to get to by mid day and kicked back, ate again, and drank more water in the shade. My plan was to follow an Elk trail up out of the canyon onto a bench. I had never been up there before, but I had seen a small herd of Elk go up there last year and the topo map showed a great looking bench that offered great vantage points on 3 sides. I assumed there would be no water so I filled everything I had to get me through the night and next morning and started up the trail.
It was a well used trail and very steep, clearly being used to get back and forth from the bench down to the creek. It was the heat of the day now so I took my time to minimize sweating and luckily there was a decent breeze to help cool me down. This mountain was steep and when I made it to the bench and had flat ground to compare the slope to it really hit home what I had just crawled up. This is where being in shape comes into play. Had I not been in decent shape, I would have probably not been able to make the accent and camped in the bottom with all the bugs.
The game trail entered the bench in a great place to set up camp, but I wanted to do a little recon first and possibly find a better camp spot and/or water, so I walked along the edge of the bench to where it ended and then glassed a little bit. It was still a little early for any activity, but I spotted a couple Does bedded on the hillside getting harassed by flies. One of them was flicking her ears like crazy and then jumped up and bolted about 50 feet to get away from the bugs. It must suck not to have bug spray available for the summer.
I got camp setup and did my normal eat/rest routine to pass the heat of the day. It was still hot, and not even the birds or chipmunks where not active.
Latter as it cooled off the birds started becoming active and I knew everything else would start their evening movements as well. Birds have a fast metabolism and will be the first ones in the Forrest to become active as the afternoon turns into the evening because they really need to eat. I wanted to start glassing but the conditions where terrible. The smoke from wildfires moved in and eliminated visibility. The previous night I had to wait til the sun went down to see across the canyon and the Deer didn’t start feeding til almost dark anyways. So I kicked back as long as I could stand it and then got up and glassed anyways. I glassed til dark moving along the ridge and didn’t see anything to note. About 10:30 that night when I was almost asleep I heard what sounded like an Elk, based on trot cadence, go right through my camp.
The next morning I headed out to the other end of the bench to glass a tight canyon for the morning. I had been into the canyon a few times 2 seasons ago and had seen Does and Goats. I had always come in from above and would be glassing down the canyon. Now I was somewhat below and glassing up the canyon. The reason I never came in from below was due to the ruggedness of the mouth of the canyon, it is mostly cliffed out and that’s where the goats liked to hang out.
Around 8:30 AM I saw goats making their way out of the bottom of the canyon, heading up the cliffs feeding along the way. I ended up spending the whole morning watching the goats as they made their way up the cliffs about 3-400 yards across from me. I had seen 2 adults on that slope and 1 adult in the next basin over 2 seasons ago. This time there were 4 adults, 1 adolescent, and twin kids on that slope. They really took hold in this area and it was neat to see the population growth.
On the way out I followed the same game trail down the slope that I had come in on. It didn’t take long going down hill and before I knew it I was at the creek getting water. I found an early crop of Golden Currant in the main canyon on the way out. Fresh fruit like that is a delicious bonus, but don’t eat too many of them, you will not be able to get your pants down fast enough.
I didn’t find any Bucks or Bulls on this outing, but that’s not uncommon for me in July. I seem to start seeing Bucks and Bulls after the first frost sometime in August when the Huckleberries are ripe or in early August when it cools down a little at night. In July the Bucks and Bulls are usually as high on the mountain as they can get taking advantage of that last flush of growth before it dries out and the coolest weather available. On the next trip I will probably go all the way up and maybe confirm that, or at least have better luck.