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Memories of a Bear Hunter

of horn on curve, 28^ inches; circumference at
base, 1 6 inches; circumference at half its length,
15 inches; spread of horns from tip to tip, 21
inches. The horns made a few inches more than
one turn, and we estimated that he would weigh
nearly 400 pounds.

On the way down the hill to get the horses,
Catlin pointed out a groundhog sitting at the root
of a tree about thirty yards distant. Being desir-
ous to see if he resembled the eastern animal, I
shot him. Going to pick him up, I discovered just
below me the other wounded ram. He was a
three-year-old, with a perfect set of horns, not
battered, as in the old one.

The next day Catlin went to Martin & Myer's
ranch and a storm threatened all day. The next
day it was raining, turning to snow at night, and
on the morning of April 21, ten or twelve inches
of snow lay on the ground. It was soft and melt-
ing, and ceased about midday. The following
day we set out to look for signs along the base of
the mountains, and found two bear trails coming
down. One of them led to an elk bait, which I
determined to watch for the bear, since his tracks
showed him to be a large one. Unfortunately, the
bait was in the open prairie, without any cover
near it. If I watched on the ground near enough


Hunting at High Altitudes

to the bait to see to shoot after night, the bear
would smell me, while, if I remained out of gun-
shot, I could not creep up to him because of the
noise made by the frozen snow, so that night after
dinner I rode over to the bait, picketing old Jim,
the pack horse, at a little distance and going to a
point within a hundred yards of the bait, where I
could command a view of all approaches. I
watched until dark, but saw no; sign of him, and
returned to camp.

Two days later we moved camp to one of the
springs of Elk Creek, about two miles from the
base of the mountains. The spot should be a good
one for game, for it was a park in the mountain
about five miles in circumference. On the way
there we saw seven or eight bull elk, one of which
I tried to shoot at, but the rifle was unloaded. I
saw some large bands of antelope, and one band
of white-tail deer.

While riding next day, I witnessed the extraor-
dinary sight of a sickle-billed curlew chasing a
large eagle. Other summer birds were beginning
to appear larks, flickers, bluebirds and others.
For a week past I had heard the sandhill cranes
and geese passing over. Although there was
little or no snow on the prairie, still in the narrow
valleys, which were shadowed by the hills, the


Memories of a Bear Hunter

southern foothills were covered with snow and
with deep drifts, some of which were frozen hard
enough to bear a horse. This was on the north
fork of Shield's River. Across the river from our
camp was a beautiful park, watered by clear
streams, with many willow and quaking aspen
thickets along their course, which once must have
been alive with white-tailed deer. Now not one
was to be seen, nor were there any elk in sight. All
of them seemed to have followed the large bands
further south. 51

On April 27, while going out to look after the
horses, I saw a band of fifteen or twenty elk feed-
ing on the hillside of Elk Creek. After watching
them for an hour through the glasses for they
were two and a half or three miles away they
lay down. To reach them I made a circuit of per-
haps four miles to get to windward of them, and
then climbing the hill, got close to them. How-
ever, I did not find them where I had expected, and
working along down the hill, disturbed a band of
black-tail deer, which ran off in the direction of the
elk and started them. They went off slowly, and
running to the top of a hill, I got a shot at them,
just before they plunged down the side of the
mountain. One of them reared, and acted as if
fatally wounded, but managed to go off with the


Hunting at High Altitudes

band. They disappeared in a creek bottom a mile
off, and as I did not see them come out of it, I went
to my mare, and making another circuit, climbed
the mountain, and when I looked over, discovered
three bands on the opposite side of the valley, some
lying down and some feeding. As it was late, I
determined to return to camp and perhaps try for
them to-morrow. On my way back I killed three

About 9 o'clock the next morning, I set out to
find the elk, and after a time discovered what I
supposed to be four black-tails a long way off on
the mountain bordering Elk Creek on the south. I
climbed the mountain to the windward and looked,
but seeing nothing across the valley, crept on down
after the black-tails. When I had come close to
them, I found they were not black-tails, but elk, but
near them was the band of ten or twelve black-tails
that I had seen a few days before. I was obliged
to creep just above and even among the deer to get
a shot at the elk, which lay just beyond. One of
them, lying down broadside about 125 yards
distant, was shot at. I made allowance for a strong
wind, but the light ball drifted and struck it in the
neck, killing it at once. I then turned my atten-
tion to the band of black-tails about 200 yards
down the mountain, but failed to get one.


Memories of a Bear Hunter

Among the elk that I saw on the 27th was a
young bull that had not yet dropped his horns. He
seemed to be three or four years old. The follow-
ing day I spent in camp, 'experimenting with car-
tridges, to discover the effect, if any, of a lubricant
wad melting and being mixed with the powder, but
I could reach no definite conclusion. The next day,
while out looking about, I rode up on a ridge and
saw three deer approaching, feeding. I dis-
mounted, and although my mare was in plain sight,
they came up within a hundred yards of the horse
before seeing her. This shows that deer are not
always as vigilant and watchful as they have the
credit of being. 52

On May i, Catlin got back, and the day after,
August Gottschalk rode up. He had come from
his ranch near Bozeman to hunt with me, and
unable to find my camp, had camped about a mile
and a half to the south. After dinner we went out
to look the land over, and to the south saw one
band of elk and some other game. We spent some
time trying to get within good rifle shot, but at
last they winded us and went off to the higher
benches. We might have had a long shot at them,
but the wind was blowing fiercely, and we wished
to make a sure kill, for my friend wanted to take
some meat home with him. The next morning it


Hunting at High Altitudes

was storming, with about two inches of snow on
the ground, but before long it cleared up and I
went over to Gottschalk's camp to make a day's
hunt to the south. We found no bear, but saw
one fresh track near our own camp. From one of
the high points, we had a fine view of the country
below, and so discovered two hundred elk feeding
in different bands. Determining to make a circuit
of about five miles in order to get south of the elk
and drive them toward our camp, we covered a wide
sweep of country, which we examined for bear or
bear sign, but without encouragement. There were
many white-tail deer and antelope. At length we
approached the southernmost band of elk under
good cover, and got within a hundred and fifty
yards of them. There were about fifty of them,
and they were lying down. Gottschalk fired before
I was ready, and all my shots were at the band
while it was running. After firing three shots
apiece, we discovered that our horses had stam-
peded as well as the elk, and before getting back
to the elk, they had all disappeared. Several were
going off wounded, however, and Gottschalk fol-
lowed them. I heard a shot at one of the wounded
and ran around a butte, hoping to meet a band
going south. Those that I saw after were going
down the stream, but about one mile away I saw a


Memories of a Bear Hunter

band of a hundred and twenty-five coming toward
me, evidently intending to go south around the
point of the mountain. This we wished to* prevent.
When the elk discovered me, they turned back and
bent their course to the northwest.

Going toward camp, I found a small band of
elk, and got within easy rifle shot and shot a
young bull with a 102-386 cartridge. He was
badly wounded, being shot through the thigh. I
then fired at another elk a hundred and fifty yards
off and wounded it, and away went the balance to
the northwest. The bull was badly wounded, and
soon fell, and I went after the wounded one which
fell in the brush near our own camp. When I
went back to the bull, he was dead. Just then my
friend hove in sight, having killed the elk he was
after by a second shot. He reported that one of
my 386-grain balls with a hole in the point %4 of
an inch in diameter, which struck the elk just over
the hip to the right of the backbone, passed under
the ribs and out of the hollow, and had been
stopped by the skin in front. He cut out the ball,
which was mushroomed. I do not think that it
lost any Weight in splintering, and it evidently had
not sufficient velocity to give the best results. This
ball was a 4o6-grain bullet, and the hole was three-
fourths of an inch deep. After hanging up the


Hunting at High Altitudes

hindquarters, we returned to camp, reaching it
just after sundown. Elk, antelope and white-tail
deer were exceedingly abundant. Talking over the
subject of bears with Gottschalk, he expressed the
opinion that they had not yet left their winter
quarters, and as he was a good hunter, that opinion
should be worth something.

We remained here for some days longer, and
Gottschalk went home May 5. I killed what
game was needed for food, making some interest-
ing experiments as to the efficiency of the hollow
ball. On one occasion when looking for elk, we
got to a point from which we should have seen
them, and found that they had mysteriously dis-
appeared. Just then two white-tail deer came
toward us along a trail, and approached us very
closely. We could not do anything for fear of
alarming the elk, knowing that if the deer ran off
the elk would see them and start too. The leading
deer, a doe, came up within twenty yards of us
and could not make us out until she had got around
to windward, when she raised her tail and ran
swiftly back. This soon showed us where the elk
were in a coulee very near us, for they started off.
We ran rapidly up the ridge to meet them at the
point where we supposed they would cross, but they
were too smart for us. and went off in an opposite


Memories of a Bear Hunter

direction. The bull elk at this time were just
growing their horns.

A few days later, I went out with Catlin and
had some amusement in watching him while he
went off after a band of elk. They smelled him
before he got anywhere near them, and went off;
but he was not aware of that and spent a long time
crawling about and peeping up to try and find the

At last, at 5 o'clock, I started for camp, but
before I had mounted my horse my eye caught a
dark moving object on the south side of the moun-
tain. It was not a deer, nor an elk, and when I
used the glasses it was evident that it was a grizzly,
and presently I made out a second. I watched for
a few moments to see what they were likely to do,
and saw that they were moving down toward the
elk baits that had been laid out when we camped
cut on this creek several weeks ago. I mounted
old Jim and set out down the mountain. Not
daring to go directly down, lest I should be seen, I
passed out of their sight and down a valley and
through a canon. When I passed out of it, I dis-
covered the two bears on the opposite side of a
deep gorge, and about five hundred yar3s off. To
keep from being seen, I was obliged to go straight
down to the creek bed, for which they headed, and


Hunting at High Altitudes

I wanted to get there before they did. I had the
wind of them, and went as fast and with as little
noise as possible to a point opposite to where I
thought they should be intercepted, and there I tied
my horse, climbed up the opposite side of the steep
bench and cautiously looked around. I soon saw
that they were ahead of me, and as there was much
brush on the stream below, I began to despair of
getting a shot. Going on a hundred yards further,
heard a noise which I thought might be made by a
bear just over a little rise of ground. Creeping up
to the brow of this rise and peering over, I saw
a good-sized grizzly coming up the hill toward
me. I dropped down on the ground, determined
to fire at the first good opportunity. Looking
down the hill, I saw behind the first bear another
smaller one, and noticed that the old one now and
then sat up and called to the cub to hurry it along.
Something down the creek had evidently alarmed
her. I determined to await her approach where I
was, but felt that it was necessary to make a sure
shot, as there is always fight in an old bear when
her young are in danger. At the moment, I could
not sight at her from my position, for she was
behind a stump. Presently she started up the hill
again in front of me, occasionally nipping off buds
as she walked, but always concealed by some ob-


Memories of a Bear Hunter

stacle. Seeing a large pine tree just between us, I
determined to get a little closer, and noiselessly and
rapidly gained the cover of a tree without attract-
ing the old one's attention. The cub, however,
stopped, and would not come on. This tree was
within forty yards of the old one, and as I peered
out ready to shoot, I discovered the bear sitting up
and looking back after her cub. I brought my
rifle to my shoulder in an instant, took deliberate
aim at her chest and pulled. Just as I did so,
however, the bear turned her right side slightly
toward me. She fell with the ball near or through
her heart. Quickly loading, I turned my attention
to the cub, which was now sitting up trying to find
out what had happened. I pulled on him, the ball
going through the shoulders high up and breaking
the backbone. Two grizzlies in two shots I
thought was pretty good luck. I loaded again with
a light ball in case any fresh shooting should be re-
quired, but both animals soon lay still. I then went
back to my horse, determined to dress the animals
and return to-morrow with Catlin to skin them.
On going to my horse, however, I was glad to see
Catlin not far off coming toward me.

When he came up, he said that he had discov-
ered the bears and determined to be sure as to what
they were, had crept up within a hundred yards of


Hunting at High Altitudes

them and immediately came back to tell me, so that
1 could kill them. I thanked him, but put a some-
what different construction on his motives, as he
had several times declared that he "had never lost
any bears."

The next morning, while we were skinning the
bears, a ruffed grouse began to drum, and this
suggested the question so often asked as to how
the sound was produced.

After we had finished the work of skinning the
bears, a rain squall came up and we went for
shelter to some pine trees near some brush, when
presently the grouse sounded his drum on a dead
pine log about thirty yards distant and partially
screened by underbrush. Choosing as good a posi-
tion as possible for observing him, I watched him
carefully through the field glasses. He went
through the operation of drumming five or six
times, and there need be no mistake as to how the
sound is made. 53 After a few preliminaries, he
seemed to grow larger, as if he had inflated his
lungs, and then standing on tiptoe, like the rooster
when crowing, he struck his wings violently over
the breast, producing the sound which is often
heard half a mile. Each spell of drumming con-
sisted of six or eight blows, delivered slowly at
first and more rapidly toward the end. When the


Memories of a Bear Hunter

drumming was the more rapid, the crop seemed to
be swelled out, and the bird's contortions were very
odd. I was sure that the wings did not touch the
log, and that the tips of the wings were not used in
the drumming. During this drumming, his tail
was spread like that of a turkey gobbler. I walked
up to within ten feet of him, examined him closely
and satisfied myself that he was the same bird I
had so often seen in Minnesota, and had known as
ruffed grouse.

Later in the day Catlin killed three elk with an
8o-228-grain hollow ball. Each was killed by a
single shot at about a hundred yards. The ball
went through the first animal near the heart, two
splinters of lead being found in the heart. A
second was shot through the heart, and another
yearling bull was shot through the back of the
heart and lungs. The experiment with the hollow
ball and American powder with the proportion of
only i to 3.6, was very satisfactory.

The bear cub killed the night before had a full
set of teeth and could not have been a spring cub.
He must have been a year old. 54

May 1 6 we went out to look about. The day was
blustery, windy and disagreeable. We saw an old
bear track, but nothing more, but approached three
elk, which we did not disturb because they proved


Hunting at High Altitudes

to be cows. During the day we saw forty-four
black- and white-tail deer, most of them very tame,
fifteen elk and forty or fifty antelope. Watching
the black-tail bucks through the glasses, I saw that
the horns had grown to the length of six or seven
inches. The animals were all very unsuspicious.
On the evening of May 17, I went back four
miles to the mountain used as a lookout, when I
killed the two bears. From here I counted eighty-
four elk and a few deer. A bear had disturbed
one of the elk carcasses left by Catlin a few days
before, and I watched by the bait until nearly 7
o'clock. I was just about starting for camp, when
what appeared to be a good-sized black bear ap-
peared on the high bench in the rear, and a little
to the northeast. It appeared to be going around
the base of the mountains, and was a mile and a
half distant. We mounted at once and rode
rapidly, trying to overtake him, for there was not
much daylight left. Following the direction he
took, about half a mile beyond the point where we
had last seen him, we got a glimpse of him beyond
a deep gulch, and just before he entered some pine
timber. As he had the wind of us, if we followed
on his trail, we crossed the gulch, descended the
ridge and entered the little patch of timber on the
other side, in the hope that if he came through we


Memories of a Bear Hunter

might get a shot at him. Soon, however, it became
so dark that we could see nothing and returned to
camp. On the way in I shot an elk for meat, but
we did not find him until the next day. The day
after, Catlin climbed the mountains behind where
the bear was seen, and discovered that the animal,
probably frightened at my shot at the elk, had
gone back up the mountain. Catlin also reported
having seen three mountain goats or ibex. 55

On the following day we made an exploring
expedition up the north fork of Shield's River,
where we saw some elk and deer, but it is a cold
country with narrow valleys, walled in by rock and
precipitous mountains on the north. These moun-
tains seemed a good sheep country, and we saw a
band pretty low down. We shot at them, but
without effect. It was windy and squally, with
occasional showers of snow or rain, but by getting
in the timber we escaped a wetting. On the return,
when we were within three miles of camp, a year-
ling bear jumped out of a gulch on the left and ran
ahead of us. I dismounted and fired at him with a
102-350 cartridge at 140 yards, and hit him
through and about the head, the ball passing
through the point of the shoulder, shattering it.
No pieces of the ball could be found. He ran 115
yards and was dead when we reached him.


Hunting at High Altitudes

The next evening, while riding along the hill-
side, I saw a black-tail buck, which, like the
proverbial ostrich, hid his head behind a small
bush and thought that he was concealed, even
though his body was in full view. I rode up
within ten steps of him before he ran. He was
quite thin.

The next day, which was Saturday, I set out to
look for fat elk or bear, as meat was getting low.
I killed two young yearling elk, one a heifer with-
out a calf, and the other a bull with a spike four
inches long. These two animals were killed, one at
no yards and the other at 130 yards, with 102-
550 cartridges. They fell in their tracks. The
weather seemed to be getting constantly warmer,
and the elk were following up the grass, which
was growing green on the mountainside. The elk
seemed to* be separating into smaller bands. The
elk and the antelope would soon be dropping young.
From this time on, no bear sign was seen, and
though there was plenty of game, it was useless to
kill any of it unless we had some use for it. There-
fore, on May 26 I had a settlement with Catlin
and returned to Bozeman on the 3Oth.

Experience had taught me that the only way to
travel through the mountains was with a pack





Memories of a Bear Hunter

train, and on the 4th of July, I left Bozeman
for a trip to the Yellowstone Park, intending to go
up the valley of the West Gallatin to its head and
to return thence by whatever route should prove
most feasible. I had with me as packer and cook,
Joseph Cochran.

On the way in we camped for about a week on
the head of the West Gallatin, in order to secure
a supply of elk meat, which should last us for at
least a month. We expected to dry the meat,
which must be cut into thin strips and flakes and
exposed to the air or sun, a smoke being kept up
beneath it to keep the flies off. In order to look
out a route from the head of this stream it was
necessary to ascend one of the mountain peaks to
the east. From there it seemed evident that we
must go down into the valley of the Madison River
above the upper canon, and thence up one of its
tributaries, the Firehole, to the Upper and Lower
Geyser Basins. As I was going down from my
point of lookout, I followed a small creek with an
occasional patch of willows at its forks, and from
one of these a cow elk rose, followed by her calf.
The cow, not at all alarmed, stopped within fifty
yards of me, and the calf, overtaking her, began
to pull at its mother's udder. As I was wonder-
ing at their lack of suspicion, another cow rose


Hunting at High Altitudes

up, and then its calf, and joined the first cow, and
the second calf began to nurse. I stood and
watched them for fifteen minutes, and then rode
away, leaving them standing there quietly nourish-
ing their young. I never witnessed such a sight
before or since.

From about the 2Oth of July to the 25th of
August I took great pleasure in visiting and in-
specting all the wonders of nature in this wonder-
ful land. My mental attitude was very different
from my first trip through the Park, in the autumn
of 1877. Then, when not startled by the strange-
ness or the beauty of these wonders, one's thoughts
were occupied with forebodings of the next snow-
storm which might seriously delay the march, or
else by looking for hostile Indian signs, which were
almost everywhere to be seen. Now the climate
was delightful. There was plenty of food, no
known dangers and the frequent encounter of
pleasant companions on a mission similar to my

After a month of delightful sojourning here I
determined to leave the Park and end the season
by a hunt for bear on Clark's Fork, to go out to
the plains to the south of the Yellowstone River
and finally to return to winter quarters in Boze-
man. I passed out of the Park by way of the east


Memories of a Bear Hunter

fork of the Yellowstone, now known as Lamar
River, to Soda Butte Creek, and thence up that
stream to the divide between the east fork of
Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone. At Soda Butte
Lake we camped for a while, getting some splendid
trout, and here I killed the first bear seen on the
trip. Later we stopped at Lake Abundance, an
immense spring of unknown depth, which forms
the headwaters of Shell Creek, a tributary of the
Lamar River. Within five hundred yards of this
lake is the head of the Rosebud River, which runs
north to the Yellowstone. My second bear was
killed near this divide.

On the 25th of August, we crossed over the
divide to the Clark's Fork watershed, and for a
few days camped at a famous salt lake 56 used by

Online LibraryGeorge Bird GrinnellHunting at high altitudes: the book of the Boone and Crockett club → online text (page 7 of 27)