Monday, September 21, 2015

In Search Of...

It was September 14th, and I found myself in between two ideas for the general season opener. I was coming up on a small window for an overnight scouting trip and the decision that had to be made was: Do I head up to the area where I know there's a good amount of bucks and bears or do I head into the backcountry? Is that even a question? Well, it really was to me, and I was having a hard time pinning down what I wanted to do. With the first option, I am fairly certain we could punch our deer tags with a week of hunting and possibly a bear tag as well, however, I really hate hunting the way you have to hunt it and I hate the fact that I would be surrounded by other hunters, who would be pounding the pavement and flinging bullets as they stepped out of their pickups... But there's deer there and bears too and if you hunt it right, you can be successful. You'd have to hunt it from a stand, and everything I have been doing for the past two years was geared to getting away from the road units and stand hunting, but here I was, unsure... at the moment. The backcountry yielded several unknowns, I had not a clue of a good route into this basin I had been looking at, I have never seen it with my own eyes and I really had no clue if there were any animals in it or not. So what did I do? I decided to give my buddy Keith a call to get his thoughts, as he was the only one who signed up to go on this scouting trip with me anyway. It wasn't a long conversation at all, and by the end of it, we were both feeling the backcountry option... And that's what we did.

We left our community around 5:00 am, and the sun was barely up as we pulled into our parking spot at the base of the mountain. Looking at a map, I thought I knew the best route to get to where I wanted to be, we found out shortly into the hike, I was severely wrong. Every where we tried to gain altitude, we got choked out with manzanita, and not the young, close to the ground kind... it was old, strong, and tall and you couldn't see through it. This went on for awhile, up then down trying to get around it, until we had no more options. Sheer rock wall to our left, impassable, and then straight up the mountain, straight through the manzanita to our right. We went to the right... 1.58 miles, straight up, right through the manzanita, it took us 1 hour and 47 minutes, and it took a whole lot more than that from our bodies, but we made it over the worst of it and then it was about another 3/4 of a mile to get to where I wanted to be. By this time, it was starting to warm up at a fairly quick rate and I knew we were in for a relaxing afternoon, while we waited for the sun to go down... got our camp set up, went out and glassed the basin for a short while and then went back to camp to rest and wait. This is where the hard part comes in for me, the wait. We were right where I wanted to be, huge basin, perfect for glassing, but yet, there's still the question of, "what's on the other side?" Keith and I actually had a discussion about this while were "waiting" not very patiently, at least I wasn't. I think I put it to Keith this way, I told him, I never just go to an area and let my eyes and the scopes do the work, I'm always pushing on and I feel like I miss so much when I do that, so we're committing to this basin... we're all in. It's hard to do, it's hard to just sell out for an area, especially if you have no idea if there are animals there or not, but I was determined to give this area my best shot and then pick up the pieces after we took all we could from it.


The evening comes, well, not really... we were a bit ahead of schedule... it was 3:00pm and we were pulling out the spotting scopes. We glassed for hours, as a matter of fact, we glassed for about 3.5 hours without seeing anything. However, around this time, I started to hear movement to the left on the mountain across from us. I couldn't see that side from where I was, but the sound, it just sounded like it was an animal, a fairly big one too... I kept to my position and then I heard more, and then curiosity got the best of me. I abandoned my post, stood up and moved around the outlook to the left to see if I could put eyes on what I thought I was hearing. My eyes were immediately drawn to a huge dark spot amongst the manzanita... there was no question, I knew exactly what it was, I had scoped every inch of the mountain... I knew all the other dark spots, grey spots and brown spots... every crevice, every opening, I could draw that basin from memory alone... but this, I hadn't seen before and my heart got to pounding. I crept around a little more to see if I could locate Keith, and when I did, I said... fairly quietly, "BEAR! Big Bear, right across from us!"


Big, I'd say so... I'd also say that he was the biggest living bear in California, that I got to see with my own eyes. I'm sure there's bigger bears, but this guy, he's definitely the biggest to me. We sat there watching him for about an hour so... he ended up feeding down towards us and at one point in time, he was around 125-150 yards from us, then the wind shifted a bit and he decided to push away, but definitely in no hurry. During all of this, I'd like to think of Keith and I as if we were two children, perhaps seeing a bunch of Christmas presents around the tree early in the morning before your parents are awake... I'm not sure how many times we told ourselves how amazing this was, how awesome it was, to be there, just the two of us and this massive, gorgeous creature doing something he's done a thousand times, and we got to live it. It was exciting, I felt honored and thankful. He moved back up the mountain, in the same direction he came down... we decided to get a head start on dinner, at that moment, I had seen everything I needed to see. Oh yeah, I felt like the bear needed a name, on his chest is the perfect, absolutely perfect, I couldn't draw it better... anyway, a perfect white patch that is in the shape of a "V"... We'll refer to him from here on out as, Mr. V.

Back at camp, it was getting dark... I popped a melatonin, I wanted to get a good night's sleep, so I could be ready to wake up early for some more scouting. Anyway, Keith and I are both big fans of music, and I know it's not typical to play tunes while you're in the backcountry, but we put some music on softly and sat out there in the open under the stars discussing music, life and some religion too. I was fading pretty quick from the melatonin, but that night made me really appreciate the friendship's I have and especially the friendship I have with Keith, and I was happy he was willing to hike in there with me. I enjoy sharing the outdoors with good friends and family, it just makes the experience so much better, in my opinion.

Morning comes, and I am back on the outlook, slightly before Keith... warmed up some coffee and got my breakfast together and then punched the clock and went back to work. Never saw a single deer in the basin, but after an hour so... we heard more movement from the same direction as the night before and sure enough, there he was again... Mr. V, not alone this time though... there was a much darker bear, slightly smaller than him, but she was cruising near him, but not like they were together, just like there was two bears in the same area. Through the glass, this second bear looked like an old female to me. Grey in the face and a super saggy belly. She seemed like she was in a hurry and Mr. V was doing his thing, but still moving in her direction. They didn't stick around for long this time, but it definitely made me feel better to see the same bear we saw the night before... I now had a lot more hope. Saturday is the general season opener for deer and bear, I never thought my initial plan, would be a bear hunt on the opening of deer season... but, I want that experience. I found what I was searching for... 

Shortly after both bears disappeared, we decided to hike out. With the goal to find an easier route in, which we did, though it is still not ideal, I have one other route in mind and we will give it a go Saturday morning. Counting down the days...

Keith showed me this picture after we got home, the words below just seemed fitting:
"I'm most comfortable here, amongst the things forgotten. Observing a world where I mean nothing, and I try not to... Yet, there I am. To be, only what I was meant to be."

I couldn't live a life, without the wild.


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