George Bird Grinnell.

Hunting at high altitudes: the book of the Boone and Crockett club online

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movement in it. Messiter, however, had some
idea of where the bear lay, and it was determined
that we should fire into that locality from each
side and see if that would induce him to move
about. About this time Fishel arrived with the
greyhound, but no orders or persuasion could get
him into the thicket.

Messiter and I now began to bombard the place
where the bear was supposed to be. I was shoot-
ing a 45O-grain solid ball with 90 grains of powder,
and this penetrated the willow brush admirably.
On the other hand, Messiter's rifle was a double-
barreled Long rifle, carrying a i6o-grain express
bullet, with 120 grains of powder. This bullet
was too light to penetrate far. We finally made
his hiding place so warm that he rushed to the
upper end of the thicket and charged fiercely out
to Messiter's side. Each one of us got in a shot
and each wounded him, when he retired to the
thicket and again lay still. Messiter now left his
perch, mounted his horse and came up on the
opposite side of the thicket. The stream bottom


Hunting at High Altitudes

outside the willows was covered with rose bushes
and buck brush about as high as the horse's belly,
and this made it difficult for a horse to turn quickly.
The bear was evidently wounded. All we could
hear was his breathing. We approached the edge
of the willows as close as we dared, and by shoot-
ing at the sound of his breathing, kept his vicinity
pretty warm. The bear watched his opportunity,
crept to the edge of the thicket on my side and
rushed out at me. I fired, but over-shot him, for
he came on and was close to my horse's heels be-
fore he could turn. I stood not on the order of my
going, but went as fast as spurs could persuade the
horse. In the scrimmage I lost my hat, and be-
fore the horse could be controlled for he was
thoroughly frightened and another shot deliv-
ered, the bear had returned to his place of conceal-
ment. Still guided by the sound of his breathing,
we continued the bombardment and induced him
to move. In the course of half an hour he crept
along the bed of the little creek to the edge of the
thicket near the point where I was stationed, and
watching his opportunity charged out at me the
second time. As he approached, I again made a
shot in the chest with a solid ball, which dropped
him in his tracks, and in such a fashion that I
shouted, "I have got him !" but it was not so, for


Memories of a Bear Hunter

before I could load and give him a second shot,
about fifteen feet off, he was up again and rushed
for me. My horse barely got out of the reach of
his claws before getting headway, though as a
matter of precaution he was headed outward. We
had now spent more than two hours about this bear
and a blinding snowstorm had begun, which made
it more difficult to hear or see him as he moved
about in the thicket. He was evidently badly
wounded in the lungs. For some time we kept up
the bombardment, but accomplished nothing since
we had to aim wholly by guess. A council was
held then as to whether on foot we should boldly
approach him or wait until morning, when we felt
sure he would be found dead. We finally con-
cluded that discretion was the better part of valor.
Had we ventured in on foot and the bear possessed
a little more vitality than anticipated, we should
have stood no chances against such an infuriated
monster in brush so thick as to prevent the effective
use of our rifles.

We now reluctantly withdrew, and reached
camp, about two miles away, at half past five
o'clock. We were wet from the driving snow-
storm and disappointed that we had been obliged
to leave the bear hide on the carcass. A hot sup-
per revived our spirits, and after it, although the


Hunting at High Altitudes

snow still fell, we gathered about a huge camp-fire
and spent the time in discussing the events of the
evening fight and remarking upon the size, fierce-
ness and great vitality of the brute. The only
bear met with in subsequent years which was the
equal of this one in ferocity was the one killed
in 1880 near the north fork of Stinking Water.
This will be mentioned in its proper place.

After a good night, which seemed more com-
fortable by contrast with the storm without, and
a warm breakfast, we mounted our horses ten go
back to the bear. At the buffalo carcass it was
found that a bear and two cubs had visited it, and
these we purposed to look for later. At the
thicket everything seemed quiet. Messiter and I
gave our horses to Fishel to hold, and pushed our
way cautiously in the direction of the locality
where the bear had been left behind the evening
before. Every precaution was taken to guard
against a surprise, but when we reached the middle
of the thicket and carefully pushed aside the wil-
lows, there, in a hastily improvised bed, the brute
lay stiff and stark. He was one of the largest of
grizzly bears, brownish in color, gradually turning
grizzly or silver-tipped, and in two months more
would have been called a silver-tip bear. Standing
on all fours he would have been three and a half

Memories of a Bear Hunter

feet high at the shoulders and seven or seven and
a half from the end of his nose to the end of his
tail. Standing erect on his hind feet he would
have measured eight feet high with his head level.
He was in good order, but not fat, and would have
weighed about six hundred pounds. Though not
as well furred as he would have been later in the
winter, his robe was a large one. After skinning
the bear, Messiter and Fishel took up the trail of
the mother and cubs, while I carried the skin to
camp. The trail was followed until the sun had
set, and the two hunters then returned.

We remained in this camp until the i8th of
September to allow the robes to dry. There were
many deer about, and we killed enough for food.

Our next camp was at Warm Spring Creek,
about ten miles distant in an air line, but twelve or
fifteen by the route we were obliged to follow.
This is a bold running stream when it leaves the
mountains, but in autumn it sinks at the crossing
of the Carroll and Helena roads. The camp
selected was in the canon where the creek leaves the
mountains, a spot well sheltered from storms, with
an abundance of dry wood and pure water. It was
an ideal camping site, the more desirable as the
time was approaching when snowstorms might be
expected. The Judith Basin at this time was a


Hunting at High Altitudes

great locality for game, especially for the white-
tail and the mule deer. There were a few bands
of elk and some large bears. The Basin is shut
in by mountains, except to the northeast. On the
northwest it is bordered by the Highwood Moun-
tains, while the Snowy and the Judith Mountains
help to close it on the south and southeast.

During the autumn the Basin was frequented by
large bands of buffalo, and the presence of these
attracted to the hunting grounds friendly Indians
from west of the mountains. For many years it
was the practice of the Government to permit the
Nez Perces, Bannocks and other friendly tribes to
come through the mountains to hunt buffalo for
their winter's meat. This season the Nez Perces
had already come and gone, and the only Indians
here were a band of Crows, and sixty-five lodges
of Bannocks under Chief Tendoy, a firm and well
tried friend of the whites. Tendoy and Washaki
of the Shoshoni, saw far enough before them to
realize that it was best for the Indians to be on
terms of friendship with the whites. At this very
time a band of Bannocks were on the war path,
and for fear Tendoy's band might be disturbed
by whites, the War Department had detailed
Lieut. Jerome, 38 of the Second Cavalry, and four
men, to camp with these Indians as a protection.


Memories of a Bear Hunter

We remained for ten days at the camp on Warm
Spring Creek without succeeding in seeing any
grizzly bears. Along the; stream in the foothills
deer, especially white-tails, were very abundant.
My notes say that in one day thirty-two white-tails
were seen. They were not wild, but quick shooting
was required to get one when routed out of its bed.
Still, it was not difficult to keep the camp in meat,
although five healthy men living an outdoor life
consumed a good deal. Besides this, we supplied
Tendoy and his outfit with quite a number of deer.

During this time, Messiter visited the Bannock
camp, partly for the purpose of trading off one of
his horses bought at Carroll, and incidentally to
see Indian ways and to learn something about the
hostile Bannocks, who were reported to be coming
our way from the Lemhi reservation. He took
with him my bear skin to be dressed by the Ban-
nocks, who have not that fear of handling bear
skins that the Crows have. 39

The next day Messiter returned mounted on a
handsome, well-built and high-headed gray horse,
which he had received in exchange for a Winches-
ter rifle and $30, in the Crow camp. I wondered
why these Indians had parted with such a fine
horse, but was not long in learning the reason, for
the next day, when we started out on a hunt, he


Hunting at High Altitudes

bucked off his new owner, giving him a high fall,
but as it happened without injury. It still remains
a mystery why this horse had waited for a day to
display his accomplishments, instead of doing so in
the presence of his new and old masters, and before
the bargain had been completed. An Indian will
not keep a bucking horse long, and this horse
proved to be very troublesome. Besides bucking
off his rider he would constantly pull up his picket
pin and be gone several days, being usually found
tangled up in a thicket. He was never of any use.

The Indians often visited our camp and ate with
us. Sometimes we gave them one or two deer
carcasses that hung up in the camp. I was inter-
ested in their method of packing it. After remov-
ing the head, all the bones were taken out of the
carcass, leaving the meat attached to the hide.
Then by rolling the meat in the hide, it was easily
tied behind the saddle. The long experience of
the savage taught the white man a new trick.
Usually the white man lashes the stiff carcass, with
all its projections of legs, head and horns, on his
saddle, and then perhaps walks, leading his riding
horse for miles.

In hunting here where game was so abundant, I
had an opportunity to try the efficacy of the express
ball on these animals up to the size of the elk.


Memories of a Bear Hunter

Before leaving the East that year I had deter-
mined to try the express principle with a long-
range Sharps rifle, the finest made, which carried
a .44-caliber ball in a shell holding 90 or 100
grains of powder, the latter being introduced by
means of a reloading tube about thirty inches in
length. The ammunition furnished by the Sharps
factory carried a 450 and 500 grain solid ball. It
is, of course, understood that the gunpowder was
black powder.

British rifle makers have demonstrated the prin-
ciple of the express bullet, Henry of Edinburgh
having received the greatest credit on account of
his exhaustive experiments on living animals. This
maker was the inventor of the Henry system of
cutting the rifling, which was adopted by the Eng-
lish government for the Martini-Henry musket.

The express system is the combination of a solid
bullet with a hole of varying diameter running
back from the point of the bullet about three-
fourths of the ball's length. The diameter and
length of the hole depends in some degree on the
caliber and weight of the bullet. Such a bullet,
with a heavy charge of powder behind it, giving
a muzzle velocity of from 1,750 to 2,000 feet,
constitutes an express bullet. A suitably designed
ball with this velocity, after penetrating the skin of


Hunting at High 'Altitudes

the animal, bursts into many small fragments with
sufficient momentum for these fragments to reach
the opposite ribs of the animal and make a dozen
perforations of the vitals, instead of a single large
perforation, as in the case of a solid ball. The
express bullet expends its momentum on the vitals
in a space about equal to a circle with a six-inch
diameter, whereas the solid ball makes a clean cut
hole of the caliber of the bullet, which, passing
wholly through the animal, expends much of its
energy after it has passed out.

The bursting front end of the express bullet is
supposed to be caused by the sudden compression
of the air in the hole after the ball strikes the
obstacle of the animal's flesh. A similar result
appears to occur in shooting into water, as I have
se'en when it was necessary for me to kill trout in
the water with one of these balls, fragments of the
bullets being found in the dead fish. The sudden
shock of the water close to the fish, of course, is
partly responsible. At Henry's Lake a single shot
turned up four trout.

That year, before I left the East, I had designed
and caused to be made by the Sharps Company
an express bullet of 275 grains weight with an
eighth inch diameter hole in the point, with 90
or 95 grains of powder. This gave a proportion


'Memories of a Bear Hunter

of powder to bullet of one to three, which was
supposed to give the required velocity. A lighter
bullet of that caliber would be so short as to lose
its accuracy.

From September 13 to October i, I made such
experiments as I could with deer, killing no more
than we could use. On white-tail and black-tail
deer I made many experiments. When hit back of
the shoulder, the animal's lungs and heart ac-
cording to the location of the bullet's entrance
would be perforated apparently by at least twenty
fragments, most of which we found on the opposite
side of the chest. Usually the butt of the bullet
considerably flattened out was found next the
skin on the other side. If the animal was hit
further back over the paunch, the intestines would
be cut in many places, and the butt of the bullet
would be found under the skin on the opposite
side, the fragments usually remaining in the vis-
ceral cavity. If hit in either of these ways, the
animal would stagger off and be found within
twenty to fifty yards. They seldom fell in their
tracks. Hit in other parts of the body, the shock
appeared to be much greater than from a solid
bullet, and as a rule, quite as disabling. I had no
opportunity on this trip of testing this light bullet
on elk, but I believe that if this animal was hit


Hunting at High Altitudes

over the lungs, heart or smaller intestines, it would
succumb within a short distance.

The trajectory of this bullet is very flat. It
shows a rise, as carefully tested, of seven inches in
two hundred yards. It is accurate, for as often
tested, careful shooting would place ten consecu-
tive bullets within a twelve-inch bullseye. It was
sighted for two hundred yards. For all distances
within that range it was necessary to aim low,
and for distances up to two hundred and fifty yards
the mark was usually reached for a deer by aiming
at the top of the back.

A few years subsequent to this, my hunting car-
tridges were kindly tested at the Frankford Arsenal
by Major Michaelis, of the Ordnance Depart-
ment. I was then using the long range .45 caliber
rifle made by the Sharps Rifle Company, but by
putting a double patch around the .44 caliber 275
grain express bullet, it shot as accurately from the
.45 caliber rifle as from the .44. A few cartridges
were sent to Major Michaelis with the 275 grain
express ball and an equal number of .45 caliber
express bullets of my own design weighing 340
grains. Into all the shells no grains of powder
were loaded, and the result as determined by the
Government chronograph was that the .45 caliber
bullet attained a muzzle velocity of 1,830 feet a


'Memories of a 'Bear Hunter

second, while the 275 grain bullet had a muzzle
velocity of 1,910 feet a second.

My conclusion was that the lighter express bullet
was not the best for game larger than deer. Later
experience has convinced me that the 340 grain
express ball is sufficient for all the large game of
the continent For great beasts like the buffalo a
heavy solid bullet is the thing, but during the sea-
son of 1 88 1, after I had become familiar with the
habits of the grizzly bear, I killed, using an express
bullet with no grains of black powder, twenty-
three of those bears, of which seventeen required
only a single shot.

On September 29 we moved camp westerly
around the foothills of the mountains to the head
of Cotton Wood Creek, about twelve miles above
the only Indian trading post in the Judith Basin,
owned by Reed & Bowles. This post is at present
the site of the flourishing town of Lewiston. Major
Reed had been the Government agent of the As-
sinaboines and the Gros Ventres of the Prairie,
with headquarters at Fort Belknap on Milk River
in northern Montana. He possessed manly quali-
ties and was perfectly fearless in the presence of
danger. As an evidence of this trait it is related
that at one of the gatherings of the Indians one
of them shot Reed's dog without provocation.


Hunting at High Altitudes

Without hesitation Reed took up his rifle and
killed the Indian. Of course, this made quite a
disturbance, but they were prudent enough not to
tackle Reed. The dispute was finally compromised
by his paying the Indian's relatives a price in ponies
or trade goods. The religion of the Indians that
inhabited the Southern States demanded an "eye
for an eye," and "a death for a death." The near-
est relatives were religiously bound to shed the
blood of the slayer of their family, and with the
nomad tribes of the Northwest this revenge has
become a matter of trade. 40

Bowles, the partner of Reed, had, just before
our coming into the neighborhood, distinguished
himself by a quarrel with the Indians. His wife
was a woman from the Piegan Indians, whose
agency was at Badger Creek, 41 in northwest Mon-
tana. A few months before this date, a party of
these people, some of whom were relatives of
Bowies' wife, came into the Judith Basin on a
hunting and proposed horse-stealing expedition.
After loitering about the trading office for a time,
they disappeared, and with them Bowies' woman.
Suspecting that she had been persuaded to go off
by her relatives, Bowles mounted a good horse,
and by riding all night, overtook the party just
before they packed up for the next day's march.


Memories of a Bear Hunter

The result of the meeting was that Bowles killed
two of the men, scattered the balance and brought
his wife back with him, and when we reached the
neighborhood she was living quietly at home.

These instances are suggestive of acts of some of
the pioneers of those days. Major Reed stood
high as a fearless man, and the fact that he was
swift to punish, even by death, an Indian that had
deprived him of his property did not injure his
standing in the community as a good citizen, and
gave the Indians a wholesome respect for him.

Our camp at the head of Cottonwood Creek,
established October i, was delightful. Grizzly
bears were fairly abundant, about as much so as
anywhere on the frontier that I have been. White-
tailed deer were extremely abundant. It was not
uncommon- for different members of the party to
report having seen in one day twenty, thirty, forty
or even fifty deer. Some of these reports may have
been more or less exaggerated. In the immediate
vicinity there was a large band of elk, then in the
midst of the rutting season. The flesh of the bulls
was useless, except as bear bait. 42

The numerous willow thickets which extended
for miles down the stream from the foothills made
splendid cover for the white-tailed deer and grizzly
bears. Higher up on the hills the alternate gulches


Hunting at High Altitudes

and intervening ridges, more or less timbered, are
the resort of the black-tails. I have never found
grizzly bears abundant in any portion of Montana
or Wyoming to compare with any other game, not-
withstanding the fact that the females bring forth
from two to three cubs each year. 43 Two cubs are
nearer the rule than the exception. Not more than
ten of these animals were seen by the members of
the party during the month spent at or near this
camp, and some of these were seen more than once.
The numerous willow thickets made it almost im-
possible to kill them in daylight. When wounded
they sought refuge in a neighboring thicket, and
if followed, could always elude the hunter's ap-
proach. In this neighborhood four of these bears
were killed, two by Messiter and two by me.

One I killed October 4 in the open and in day-
light. He was discovered on an open flat near
Cottonwood Creek, about two hundred yards dis-
tant and feeding leisurely toward me, but in a
quartering direction. Knowing that these bears
cannot see distinctly unless looking up, and since
he was too far off to risk a shot, I determined to
boldly approach him in the open. Watching until
his head was down feeding, I walked toward him
as rapidly and noiselessly as I could until he raised
his head, when I crouched down, to make another


Memories of a Bear Hunter

approach when he began feeding. I finally came
to within forty or fifty yards of him without his
discovering me, and watching when his side was
exposed, delivered a deadly shot, which knocked
him over. I fired two more shots to make sure of
him. He was a large bear, his skin measuring,
when tacked down, seven feet seven and a half

Messiter also killed a good-sized bear when
alone and in daylight. The two other bears were
killed at a bait established near the camp, one at
9 o'clock and the other at 12 o'clock at night.
Other elk baits were looked after at night, but
somehow the bears always learned of our presence
in time to retire. We had more or less stormy
weather, blizzards of rain and then snow, which
sometimes lasted for twelve hours. In the
three or four inches of snow which some-
times lay on the ground, we followed the bear
tracks, but to no purpose. From the Bannock
camp we heard, October 4, of a fight in the valley
of the Yellowstone, 44 , which General Miles had
had with a hostile band of Bannocks. He was said
to have killed eight or ten, and to have dispersed
the remainder. He felt sure that these people
would now make for Tendoy's band, and joining
them, would become respectable Indians. Of


Hunting at High Altitudes

course, we saw nothing of them, but we did see
moccasin tracks and pony tracks in the snow pass-
ing down the stream with our camp, and this
warned us to be cautious. About the middle of
October one of the men sent with supplies and mail
matter to the Forks of the Musselshell 45 reported
that while he was there Indians had come down
and stolen about twenty head of horses, his own
among them.

After a stay of a month at the Cottonwood camp
we became more or less hopeless of success, and
left the Forks of the Musselshell, intending to
spend the remainder of the hunting season on the
eastern slope of the Crazy Woman Mountain, 46
between the Musselshell and the Yellowstone
Rivers. 47

Messiter's horse again bucked him off and gave
him a hard fall, but did not injure him. We
camped at Ross' Fork of the Judith River, along-
side of a large freight outfit loaded with rifles and
ammunition for Walter Cooper at Bozeman. The
next night we went on and camped in Hopley's
Hole, twelve miles beyond the Judith Gap on the
way to the Forks of the Musselshell. The freight
outfit of six or seven teams camped at the springs
near the Gap.

Just after bedtime a band of Indians made a


Memories of a Bear Hunter

dash for the freighters' horses. By good luck the
teamsters heard the noise in time, jumped out of
their blankets, and by a rapid fusillade drove the
Indians off before any horses were taken. For-
tunately our insignificant bunch of horses was no
temptation to these discriminating savages. 48

We reached the Forks of the Musselshell on
November 2, and camped in Gordon's cabin, two
miles above the post-office. Here we stayed for
several days reading our accumulated mail and
newspapers, and on the 6th left camp for a hunt
between this point and the Yellowstone, on the
heads of Sweetgrass and Big Timber Creeks.

On November 8 we camped at Porcupine Butte,
and on the 9th on the Big Timber. As the wagon
and outfit passed on the road at the foot of the
mountains, Messiter and I scouted along the foot-
hills above, looking out for game. We saw white-
tails and antelope in considerable numbers, but no
sign of bears. We reached Big Timber Creek

Online LibraryGeorge Bird GrinnellHunting at high altitudes: the book of the Boone and Crockett club → online text (page 5 of 27)