Spring Bear… and Spring Snakes?
It had been several years since I had hunted spring bear, and I was especially excited for this trip. Not only would I be hunting with Tom for the first time in a few years, but the location we chose had me intrigued. Hells Canyon is a special place for most everyone in our family, especially dad who has hunted elk on the Oregon side for many years. I was really interested to see what the Idaho side of Hells Canyon was like.
one of the many fingers going down into Hells Canyon, on Idaho side
As we talked over details of the trip, Tom mentioned his concern for possible rattlesnake encounters, as Hells Canyon is notorious for these nasty fanged serpents, especially in the spring time. Little did we know how prophetic his concerns were at the time, and I even went so far as to give him a little grief about being a wimp for being scared of a little ol’ snake.
On arrival at our camp spot, our optimism soared. We were camped on a ridge top located between two of the best looking brushy draws you could imagine for bear habitat. The first evening I glassed the near hillsides while Tom hiked down to a spot he had been looking at on google earth. Whitetail deer and elk were in abundance, and the scenery was unbelievable. Uneventful as the first evening was, our confidence was unwavering, knowing we were in a prime spot.
The next morning I begrudgingly followed Tom down to the spot he had gone the previous evening. We had agreed to hunt together being unfamiliar with the country and the threat of rattlers. I had a notion about the canyon right next to camp, but Tom had his heart set on a good looking brushy bowl further down, and one canyon over. As we had a snack and looked across the steep canyon between us and Tom’s brushy bowl, I managed to change his mind about pursuing a bear that far away when the hunting looked good all around us. We decided we would side-hill up the canyon and glass the opposite hillside along the way. Making our way across the rocky outcroppings that littered the south facing hill side, I was completely oblivious to anything other than locating a bear. Suddenly, a quick movement in the grass right next to my foot followed by the unmistakable rattle of a diamondback instantly put the fear of snakes in me! I leaped backward nearly knocking Tom over, my heart racing. Now we were both on edge, warily creeping along the hillside trying to avoid the rocky outcroppings, yet only fifty yards later we spotted our second rattler. It was a small snake, but two snakes in that short of distance probably means a den is close by, and we’d had enough. We high tailed it (very carefully that is) up over the top of the ridge where we heard yet another agitated buzz of a rattler, and into the relative safety of the cool, timbered side of the hill.
Looking back into “Rattlesnake Canyon”
Spent from adrenaline, and thankful to be away from immediate danger, we regrouped and vowed to never enter “rattlesnake canyon” again. The day did not net us any bear sightings, but we did find some fresh grassy scat and even found an old bait barrel in the canyon next to camp, so we decided to hit that canyon hard the next day.
The next morning we had hiked only about 3/4 mile down to glass into the open areas of timber on the opposite hill side, and I casually brought my binoculars up to look at what I was sure was going to be yet another burnt stump. Before I could get my binoculars to my eyes, the stump moved, and I instantly dropped down and hissed at Tom. The bear momentarily disappeared in the timber, but then backtracked to nibble on some green grass he had passed up. Tom ranged him at 220 yards, a makeable shot for sure, had he not been in tangled brush with tree limbs all around. As I eased into shooting position and put my scope on him, I was surprised to see what looked like a clear shot. I knew if he moved a foot either way I would lose my shot opportunity, so it was now or never time. I calmly squeezed the shot off, and saw the bear slump down immediately. I was sure he was down for good, and five seconds later we heard his last raspy growls, sometimes referred to as the death moan. It happened so quick it took a while to sink in, and then we were all smiles and high fives.
As we approached him, we instantly knew it was a good sized boar with a nice thick coat, and huge head and paws. That was the only bear we saw on the trip, but we went home happy, and with a new spring bear hunting destination for future years. The next time we hunt there you can bet we will be avoiding “rattlesnake canyon”.
The skull had an unofficial score of 19″ and 2/16th, missing trophy book by 7/8 th