It was a long day of hiking, calling and stalking to no avail in the Pintlar Mountains of South Western Montana. Our hunting party sat over a warm plate of beef stew, as my weary mind kept wandering to the solitude of the warm sleeping bag which awaited mere yards away. Tales of the day's adventures, close encounters and plans for the next morning were entertaining, but I was done. I made my way to the canvas tent, stripped down, and settled into my cot. The cool mountain air pooled with the slight smell of kerosene and canvas to kiss my face as I nodded off for a well deserved slumber.
"MARK! MARK! BEAR!!" Blood curdling shrieks rang out in the black of night. Instantly, I awoke and grabbed my 12 gauge. The unmistakable sound of a slug chambering rang out through camp as I headed toward my mid-night alarm clock. Of course, all of this drama was in vane. Our curious camp visitor skedaddled probably after the first scream.
Every hunt begins with a dream, a goal to attain success, but more often than not it is the encounters that we do not anticipate or the mere occurrences which tend to be remembered. It is not tales of the trophies taken which garner center stage around the campfire. It is the compilation of unexpected events which occur in the field that stir our souls, make us laugh and seem to last forever. Through the years, I have hosted literally hundreds of hunters on their individual quests to harvest a trophy. When I dig into my mental archives I can't recall exactly how big that bull was, nor even count the number of animals harvested. But, I do vividly remember the image of that ermine killing a rabbit five yards in front of me, the juvenile mountain lion that curiously got way too close for comfort, and the bull elk that thought my archer was a bush for rubbing as he came aggressively to the call. When limited vision combines with paranoia in the late evening hours, these startling encounters take on a completely different light and hilarity.
Several years ago my camp was honored to host the Baldwin Brothers for an archery elk hunt. No not those Baldwins, but rather Matt and Greg Baldwin from Erie, Pennsylvania. We had a full camp and our hunt started out like any other. One evening as we all retired to our canvas quarters and turned down the lights, a huge commotion arose from Greg's tent. The guides rushed to investigate and found Greg head-over-tea-kettles with his cot turned over on top of him. He was startled, but not from falling out of the cot. Greg told a tale of a smallish, round creature, possibly a raccoon, pushing through the zippered door amidst the darkness. As uncertainty and bravery took over, Greg assaulted the intruder with a barrage of blows from the only weapon he had available, his feather pillow. The intruder was successfully thwarted, but a mystery had just been revealed, as there were no raccoon sized creatures at this elevation.
The next day and evening left us all perplexed as we tried to unveil the identity of our camp spook. We checked for tracks, and scoured the area for any sign which might give us some clue, to no avail. Sleep that next evening was restless as all ears scoured the evening for snapping twigs, but to our surprise it was not the slight sound of foot steps which arose from the night, but rather loud growls, snarls and breaking branches. Two boar bears had crossed paths not more than 100 yards from camp and were in a battle royal which seemed endless. Finally a winner was declared and all was still. Hunters and guides alike seemed paralyzed in their cots as they listened to the silence.
Then it came. First, the snap of twigs and pine needles followed by the heavy breathing and huffing of one very agitated black bear. As he entered camp, his leg caught on the guide wire of a tent creating a very unsettling sound. We all laid there, just listening as he worked his way toward the client tents and then on down to the stream to sooth his wounds in the cold water. It had been a rough week for that bear. He had met his match in a contest of wills that evening; however, last night he was maliciously assaulted with a pillow by one Gregory Baldwin. Yes, it was a bear's head that had worked its way through the zipper of Greg's tent, and hence the legendary feats of Gregory Baldwin and his feathery bludgeon live on in infamy along the banks of Ten Mile Creek.
Gregory Baldwin's gallantry, though impressive and comical does not stand alone around the campfire. There are tales of bears taken by the camp cook, herds of elk feeding through camp while the hunters were miles away and of course the camp skunk of '09. Curious camp visitors come in all shapes and sizes.
"Good Boy", a hunter exclaimed from the cook tent. Befuddled, I stepped to the kitchen to take a look. There eating a recently dropped piece of food stood a black and white menace. I raced to my tent, grabbed my faithful camp protector and took careful aim. Noticing the proximity of my target in front of the propane tanks, I thought better of my premature strategy. The new plan was to wait out the perpetrator and catch him on his way out. In a camp full of blood thirsty elk hunters, I never would have guessed what came next.
I waited anxiously for the skunk to come out of the tent from his last free meal, but the very people I was protecting turned on me. Like a PETA protest, my hunters chased off my prey and foiled my advances at every turn to rid camp of this freeloader. The crew adopted this menace as their camp mascot and its safety and protection were their greatest concern through out the week. Each night it was the same story, me on the hunt and my foe with 6 accomplices working adamantly against me. Finally I gave in to the skunk lovers' desires and gave up the chase. This was beyond difficult due to my previous experiences in Camp with another legendary weasel.
In the dark of night, even the smallest of creatures can raise havoc. There was a mouse in the guide tent. We could all hear it, "scratch, scratch, scratch, squeak, squeak, squeak". Though nothing to be alarmed about, the sound grated like fingernails on a chalk board. We turned that tent inside out searching for the irritant, but could not find anything. Then we tried to settle back down for some rest. The mouse persisted, "scratch, scratch, scratch, squeak, squeak, squeak." After listening a bit, we determined the source of the sound was coming from outside the tent down toward the creek. I recommended that we ignore it and go to sleep, but after a few more minutes, enough was enough. I jumped out of bed, slid on my boots and headed toward the sound with flashlight in hand. Behind me came the others with a loaded .30-30 just in case.
We eased as a group ever so slowly toward the sound and then all at once there were two beady little red eyes staring back at us through the beam. An inexplicable scream came from the eyes. I yelled next to me, "Take it, shoot it!!", but to my surprise there was no one there. I stood alone in nothing but my boxers and boots with an unknown red-eyed creature charging ever closer to the source of the light. I put those boots to good use as I too high tailed it back to the safety of the tent to find my two "heroic" marksmen stricken with panic as the screaming followed right behind me. This unidentified creature then began to circle our tent screaming. He had us right where he wanted us and the sound of his anger was deafening. Confusion spread through the entire camp. Finally, we mustered up the courage to make one more valiant attempt to rid ourselves of this satanic mouse. We cleared the tent with lights and guns ready for action, just in time to see that our meddlesome mouse was in fact one very angry wolverine. We had interrupted his meal and he was none too pleased with us, but thankfully was satisfied with the statement that he had made and returned to his evening routine with out further incident.
Sportsmen spend countless hours, weeks and even months in the field, all for a 3 - second opportunity to squeeze that trigger. The trophies scored and mounted are to be revered, but they provide each hunter with something much more powerful than the pride of accomplishment. They serve as a catalyst which jars our memory banks not necessarily of the kill, but the challenges overcome, the once in a lifetime events, and mere unique circumstances. As you enter the woods this fall, appreciate the trophy, but cherish those unexpected encounters. For it are those encounters which fill our hearts with wonder; make us laugh and live on as legend.
Great story Mark. You're right, unless it's a real monster, what we talk about are the other stories and experiences we've had with friends and family on those days in the woods or on the water. Memories forever!
Really great, Mark. I remember missing a wolf in Alaska as much as killing a bear a few days later. You hit the nail on the head!
Great job! I'm dropping some magazine subscriptions!
Awesome story...can't wait to read more from you, Mark.
Great story, Mark!
Awesome writing and pictures. Great job. Only true outfitters can understand this. Congrats
Great story Mark! The ins & outs of a year guiding are always full of adventure. Funny thing is, some of the best stories have nothing to do with hunting. Good luck this year.