Is There a Bear Out There? (Chapter 3)

camp cook -

Is There a Bear Out There? (Chapter 3)

I had one of the most terrifying moments of my life while I was alone in hunting camp one night. Usually, the wrangler or one of the guides was assigned to be the only soul left in camp during the time in-between hunts. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the reasons for this was to deter any grizzly visits to camp while we were away. The outfitter and guides were well aware of a grizzly that lived in the area and had made its presence known for some years now. The bear had yet to cause any real problem, and the guys had named him... Ethan, if I remember correctly. The wrangler, who was a teenager from Denver, CO, drew the unsavory duty of "guard dog" most of the time. As a city dweller, the hunting camp experience was a new adventure to him also, but guard duty was not a part of it that he necessarily enjoyed. I don't remember the circumstances that led ME to draw guard duty once, but it happened. When I voiced my opinion of the matter, my boss assured me that he could get the groceries bought and packed without my assistance, and I would be just fine. "Don't worry," he said, and handed me a sawed-off shotgun and a pistol, neither of which I had ever shot. "If you have to shoot, shoot to miss. The last thing you want to do is piss him off." With that, everyone climbed into their saddles and trailed out of camp, leaving me to face my fears alone. The wrangler was to return alone the following afternoon, and I told myself I could make it 'til then. After all, the bear had been through camp once already, the proof being in the tracks he left in the snow one night, just a few feet from the door of my tent. (See photo with tracks circled in red) He hadn't bothered anything that night, so why would he this night? I carried the guns to the cook tent and laid them on the table, hauled a couple buckets of water, and made sure I had enough firewood collected for the evening. During the afternoon hours, I spent an equal amount of time in and out of the cook tent, not sure whether I preferred to see my surroundings or hide in the tent. Come night fall, I lit the lantern and turned the battery-operated radio/cassette player on, with the hopeful logic that the noise and light would deter any unwanted visitors. I don't recall what time it was when I finally decided to head to bed. I walked through the cold darkness to my sleeping tent; lantern and pistol in one hand and shotgun in the other. I crawled into my sleeping bag and burrowed down into it until I was completely covered, said a silent prayer, and drifted off to sleep. The shotgun lay across my pillow, and the pistol lay next to my pillow, with my hand on its grip.

I awoke to a loud CRACK, and other noises, that made it sound like my tent was being violently torn apart; this lasting just a few short seconds. I stopped breathing and tightened my grip on the pistol, waiting for what was to happen next. I laid there in the deafening silence that followed, remembering something my boss had said — "Bears don't use the doors of tents; they come through the sides." I expected a bear to attack me at any moment. I stayed "hidden" in my sleeping bag, frozen in fear, and came to terms with the fact that this could be my end. I reckoned that I had been blessed with a wonderful life, and I was in a good place to die, if it was indeed my time. The silence continued, and there was no ensuing bear attack. I let myself breathe, but as quietly as possible.  I heard coyotes howling in the distance, and smiled as I thanked God for that bit of reassurance. You see, the coyotes howled every morning as light began to creep into the sky, so I knew I had made it through the night! I slowly uncovered my head, and in the dim light, I could see one corner of my tent had collapsed at the foot of my bed. I dug myself out of my bag, stood, and crept to the door of my tent to take a look outside. To my surprise, about six inches of snow covered what had been bare ground the night before. The wooden corner post of my tent had broken off at ground-level, unable to withstand the weight of the heavy, wet snow that had settled on the roof. (Note the tent post that's circled in red in the photo previously referred to) My vital signs returned to normal, and I greeted the day with a new-found confidence. Unfortunately, it was not enough to help me, or the wrangler, do our job as camp "guard dogs" the following night, but I'll save that part of the story for the next post...

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