Grizzly bears are not prevalent in the area of Idaho I hunt, but Lions and wolves are common.
I interact with many non-hunters and am not surprised when they show reservation to the news that I enjoy to hunt alone in the backcountry of Idaho. Areas with bear, mountain lions and wolves are common. I am sometimes surprised by the same reaction I receive from my fellow hunters. The truth is many hunters through out our great nation do not live among these predators, and are not camping miles away from the nearest road.
Backcountry and solo hunting could be discussed at length as their own topics, and I’ll save those for another time. For now I’ll explain that I enjoy combining the two as it gives a level of freedom that is very difficult to come by these days. I come out of the woods feeling refreshed. Life slows down and becomes simple. Stay alive, make it home to my family, and bring home the most delicious meat I can get my hands on.
I hunt for many reasons. I love to be in wild places where it feels like few others have been. That is probably why backcountry hunting is so appealing. I love to feel life slow down. It feels like hitting a reset button. I love having wild meat in my freezer and knowing where it came from. And I love to feel alive. There is something special about reaching the peak of a mountain and being able to see for miles in every direction and know that nature is out there doing what it does. In the areas I make it to this also happens with very little input from humans. It is nature at its best. Not what it looks like through glass in a zoo or a movie screen, but raw, brutal, beautiful nature.
That takes me back to the predators on the landscape. I feel a strong connection to generations long since passed as I walk in wilderness, and think it would be a bit empty without knowing there are animals out there that pose a real threat to me. Native Americans could not escape that reality. Early settlers of this country could not either. And honestly, we are really only a few generations removed from ancestors that interacted with predators on a very regular basis as they tended their flocks and farms.
I was fortunate to fill my deer tag last fall. I typically weekend hunt since my normal weekly work routine does not let me sneak away often. I had set aside one weekend in the middle of October and was prepared to stay two nights if necessary. The first night and I got into my area and set up camp it was very cold and snowed part of the night. I woke up early the next morning, eager to gain some elevation and glass for deer. I unzipped my tent only to find bear tracks in camp.
The area of Idaho I hunt does not currently have grizzly bears, although that could certainly be possible in the near future. So, while the bears I encounter are black bears and seemingly less scary than the larger grizzly, they still pack some pretty big claws and teeth. Those paw tracks also serve as a reminder that I am in country that holds large predators. Lions and wolves are common as well. While admittedly spooked, I set about my morning routine and started hiking up the mountain to the area I planned to glass. The weather was terrible. I was in sleet and snow, with occasional rain and lighting.
The temperature was in the low 30s and I couldn’t help but think how great that would be if I got a deer. Not long after getting to my spot a buck crossed only 50 yards in front of me. Not a typical Western mule deer range, but great for me. I got a good hit on the deer, and just as I pulled my knife to begin processing the deer, a young cinnamon phase black bear popped out of the brush about 75 yards away. That was a beautiful bear. I felt proud to share the mountain with it, and also felt my senses heighten knowing I was about to quarter and load a deer into my pack while also remaining extremely aware of what was going on around me.
It was a horrific pack out. Heavy pack, steep country, and six inches of wet snow gifted new with a three hour pack down to my truck. Heaving my pack onto my tailgate, I thought of that bear and how cool it was to know that I was not the only predator on the mountain.