What I learned from my friend almost getting eaten by a bear

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The author

The plan is simple: I start climbing the mountain before sunrise, and my hunting partners Taylor and Micah join me in the evening after they get off work. There’s a nasty storm on the horizon as I begin the hike, and it doesn’t take long before it catches up to me and I’m layering up with raingear. It’s then that I remember how damaged my raingear is from a recent hunt in some very destructive terrain. The thorns of devil’s club and blackberries had perforated my Gore-Tex layers, making them almost useless.

After more time than I’ll admit, I arrive at the glassing point that we’ve used in the past with some success. All I want to do is drop my gear, light a fire and make myself a coffee, but my intuition forces me to quickly scan the surrounding terrain with my binoculars. It doesn’t take me more than a minute to count 10 mule deer—two confirmed bucks and two more I can’t identify through the rain-distorted lenses. It’s time to break out the spotting scope.

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Soaked to the bone, and getting wetter by the second, I pick apart the herd with the scope. There are four bucks. Suddenly, I’m not so concerned with how wet I am, and I neglect to take any action to improve the situation. At least I keep my non-hunting-related equipment dry, having set up the tent as a storage area. I don’t notice, however, that it’s on a faint game trail.

Now running light, with my rifle in hand and my pack carrying just water, game bags, tags, a few snacks and my knife, I make good time closing the distance to the deer. By the time I get into range, they have moved some distance in a small coulee that I would never have seen from the glassing point. Carefully, I sneak into position on a cliff above them as they feed in the open, feeling safe under the thick fog and rain clouds.

Glassing for deer

The wind is so strong blowing toward me, I feel I could yell at the deer and they still wouldn’t discover me. My target buck is no giant, just a young deer I think will make an excellent addition to my freezer. At 138 yards, I squeeze the trigger. My buck takes some slow and steady strides while the rest of the deer flee for cover in the opposite direction. I try to take aim for another shot, but my scope is useless because of the rain built up on the lens.

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Thankfully, the deer beds down. He is fatally hit, but he looks as though he might put up a fight before giving in to the lung damage. I sneak in to 10 yards, using the howling wind to cover any sound I might make, and hide behind a small rise. Now I’m able to finish off the buck, despite the distorted image through my wet scope.

I began to worry about my immediate future. Will I freeze to death or will a bear eat me in my sleep?

The rain continues to pour down while I dress the deer. I have accepted how wet I am, and push on with little care. Just shy of two hours after my first shot, I finally load the now deboned buck onto my pack for the steep hike back up to the glassing knob and the relative safety of my tent. By the time I gain the majority of the elevation, the reality of my situation starts to sink in: I’m soaking wet, without any dry layers to put on back at camp, and I’m covered in deer blood in known bear habitat. I begin to worry about my immediate future. Will I freeze to death, or will a bear eat me in my sleep?

Finally back in camp, I slog around in my waterlogged clothing looking for a suitable tree to hang the meat from so it’s out of reach of predators. I eventually find a tree I’m able to climb. It’s not as high as I would like, but it’s the best I have to work with and it’s far enough away from camp that I feel safe should any visitors arrive during the night.

Once I complete my chores, I try to be a good hunting partner and locate some more deer for the boys to hunt the next morning. Sitting still while soaking wet on a high mountain ridge is a quick way to get hypothermia, however, and I soon pack it in. With an hour of daylight left, I strip away all my wet layers and crawl into my tent, seeking the warmth of my down sleeping bag. The day’s activities catch up to me and soon I’m fast asleep.