A Bear for Jessica
Huntin' Fool Article
I first met Jessica when she picked me up at the airport in Idaho Falls. I was there to film bear hunting with Little Lost Outfitters, which she and her husband Corey own along with Corey’s parents, Gary and Pam. My wife, Ruth, took a beautiful cinnamon-colored bear with Corey the year before. Jessica was in Illinois with her family at the time but now I was to meet the young lady that Corey so often talked about.
“Are you Sam?” were the first words I heard as I entered the baggage claim area. One look told me that I was glad that I was. Corey had given me an excellent description! As per custom, my luggage would arrive on the next plane. Quite hungry after my long flight from Vermont, we decided to grab a quick meal.
I learned that in addition to Corey, Jessica loved Idaho, horses, hound dogs, and helping Corey with the outfitting. I could tell that she was one of those special people blessed with warmth and substance.
The drive to camp was about three hours. I was not much of a companion because I slept a good share of the way. We arrived at 3:15 A.M. I crawled into my sleeping bag, blue jeans and all. I heard people rising around 5:30 and slowly eased out of my cot.
Corey had booked Dave Punzel, a hunter and houndsman from Wisconsin. Dave had brought some of his own hounds and he loved the thrill of the chase like the rest of us gathered in camp. His goal was to shoot a nice black bear with a distinctive white patch on his chest. He did not have to wait long. The dogs struck early and hard. We had Dave’s bear on the ground by nine o’clock the first morning. It was a beautiful boar with the white chest markings Dave had hoped for. There were two prayers answered that morning, Dave’s for his bear and mine for a short run on the first day!
Jessica would be the next hunter for it was the last week of the season and Dave was the last hunter booked. It was June 11 and Corey awoke with a good feeling. We were going after a bear that had given him and his dogs a slip on two previous occasions. The bear was a runner, a big boar that would not tree. Corey had seen him, a dark cinnamon, but no one had been able to close the distance for a shot. Today would be different, or so he thought.
Upon reaching the big boar’s area, the dogs struck almost immediately. Corey had placed bait on a heavily used trail that led to a bubbling spring. Several bears called the huge unnamed basin home, as evidenced by the countless trails weaving in and out through the dark timber. We all wondered if the dogs had encountered the big cinnamon as we listened to the chorus of eager hounds race into another canyon.
The bear had grown crafty with age and he led the hounds over rock slides, trying to lose his tormentors. Jessica rushed with her 30-30 and I with my camera trying to keep up with Corey who was now convinced we were on the cinnamon. My lungs were heaving for more air and my heart beat wildly. I prayed for strength but feared I would not be there when it was time to shoot.
About that time the bear turned and was coming at us through some thick cover called mountain mahogany. The excitement was unreal as the hounds bore straight at us. Jessica held her rifle in the ready position and I was hoping to be able to react quickly enough to capture it on camera. “There he is,” Corey shouted as the bear crashed through the thicket at less than fifty yards! Jessica could see glimpses of the bear but there was no time to pull off a killing shot.
Up the side of the mountain we went, trying to keep close to the dogs in case a ground battle occurred. The big cinnamon was defiant and had no fear of the dogs. They had brought him to bay several times but now as the dogs wore down he just walked in front of them, daring and perhaps hoping that they would get too close. On two more occasions we could see him but could not settle in for a shot. It was the toughest bear race I have ever been on and it lasted several torturous hours. The dogs were beat up by the rocks, the mountains, the endless chase, and so were we. The cinnamon had won another round. Jessica thought it was “her luck.” She had heard stories of short runs and easy hunts like Dave’s but with “her luck,” it had not happened.
It would be two days before we would venture back after Jessica’s bear. We had run a big black in the meantime and Jessica had been riding her horse, trying to save her knee that was still hurting from clamoring around on the rock slides. Her goal was now the cinnamon. A black just would not do.
Dave, who had stayed on to run his hounds and enjoy the races, and I shared a tent. We had experienced similar events in life that filled us with a deep routed faith. We agreed to pray for a special blessing on the morning’s hunt.
Corey had us up early. There was a bear to chase, Jessica’s bear. It was a perfect morning to run and the dogs were anxious for another try. Our movements were less labored and we were filled with anticipation. We all hoped the cinnamon would still be in the area.
The plan was for Jessica and me to go into the basin where the bruin had led the hounds previously. We would try to cut him off and end his life without dogs or humans getting hurt. The instructions were given. “If he is running past you, lead and shoot at the base of his nose which will result in a neck or shoulder hit. If he is coming straight on, then take him in the head.
I was thinking: how is she going to hold together? I have been hunting since I was 10 and I would not want to be in her position. Life and limb for men and hounds depended on her ability to make a clean kill!
Jessica and I had climbed the trail to a position where we felt we could best intercept the bear. We were both winded and shaking from an overdose of adrenaline when Corey’s voice echoed over the radio. “The race is on and they are headed your way.” We heard the hounds before he could finish his words. I did not need to ask Jessica what she was thinking: the look on her face was self-explanatory. Both of us watched and waited for the bear to break out into our clearing. The tension was mounting as the chopping of the hounds got louder and louder. Jessica had the secondary safety off on the 30-30 and only had to pull the hammer back to fire. We were about to burst from the stress when the hounds turned and headed back toward Corey and Dave. We breathed for the first time in what seemed like several minutes when Corey’s voice again crackled over the radio. “The dogs have him treed up at the head of our canyon. Get over here as fast as you can!”
Corey and Dave had a much shorter route, and without hesitation, they headed for the bear. Jessica and I would need to hike from our canyon to theirs. We moved as quickly as possible but half expected the bear would jump the tree and meet us head-on. The old growth forest was covered with bear trails. No one knew yet if we had the cinnamon treed but we all felt it was.
Jessica and I could hear the hounds now and we pressed harder. Once more, Corey got back onto the radio. This time the news was good. He and Dave had gotten to the tree and it was the cinnamon. The bear was only about 12 feet off of the ground and was acting nervous and agitated. Corey and Dave quickly hid, hoping the bear would not jump the tree.
We had our orders. “Get here as fast as you can. Stay in the timber and heavy brush. Do not go out on the rock slide. If the bear sees you he will jump and run!” We removed our outer layers and I shared some Gatorade with Jessica. The hounds were doing their job. Their cries of excitement echoed off the canyon walls and for a moment had us going in the wrong direction. We soon found ourselves on the same trail that the hounds and bear had taken. If it were possible, I would say that they were going vertically skyward but there must have been a little angle because we were gaining ground. Adrenaline and prayer kept us charging onward.
The sound of the hounds was now deafening. We could see Corey and Dave huddled under a large rock outcropping. We had made it to within yards of the tree. While Jessica and I gained our composure, Corey began anew with explicit instructions. “We cannot tie the hounds. He will jump if he sees us. You will have to make a killing shot. Shoot him in the neck or head and I will back you with my .44 Mag. We will slide into place up around this rock. Be as quiet as possible and shoot him before he knows we are here.”
Jessica edged into position and Corey readied his handgun. Because I was filming, it was up to me to give the order to shoot. “Now, anytime,” I whispered. Jessica’s 30-30 roared and the bear crashed from the tree. The hounds were on him and bear and hounds went tumbling down the hill. Pandemonium was taking place but the cinnamon bear, Jessica’s bear, was down.
His color was a combination of cinnamon and chocolate, a beautiful specimen; truly a bear of a lifetime. We had pushed ourselves to the extreme and met the challenge of the mountains. At the end of our trek, we were blessed with a bear for Jessica. “Her luck” had finally changed. And yes, so had the cinnamon boar’s.
Ever since my wife, Jennifer, gave me a membership to The Huntin’ Fool for my birthday last fall, I have read every issue front to back multiple times. I wanted to be one of those successful hunters writing a story and giving tips to those who may experience the same thrilling hunt. I have been out West numerous times on deer hunts, but certainly do not consider myself “well schooled” on the subject. I live in the farm country of Wisconsin and have always dreamt of elk hunting in the mountains. In the fall of 2006 I finally got my chance.
I followed the advice from Carter’s and applied, applied, applied. My first year of applications resulted in 99% failure. I did not receive any of those elk permits and of course, no sheep tags either. I did not have my hopes too high since this was my first year applying for multiple states and draws. I did, however, take advantage of all the statistical information in the magazine. I did not apply for any of the trophy units but focused more on areas that had better chances of draws.
Well, I did not have an elk tag but still wanted to go. Through all of my reading, I did recall that I could still buy an over-the-counter tag in Idaho to hunt elk with my bow. I called about a dozen outfitters from Idaho who advertised elk hunts and asked a ton of questions. Most of my questions were regarding what kind of terrain they had in their area and how they hunt it. I was not sure yet if I would be trying a do-it-yourself hunt or if I was going to hire a guide. My wife quickly decided this for me after I accidentally mentioned how many large predators there were in that state.
Since I had already spoken with many outfitters in Idaho, I had a pretty good feeling as to which one I would be interested in now that I was looking to hire one. Corey Dailey who is the owner/operator of Little Lost Outfitters in Howe, Idaho, had come across as the guy who was on my level. He asked me what my expectations were in the size of animal, how I wanted to hunt, and what, if any, were my physical limitations. I told him I wanted to kill a bull with a bow, if it was a great bull, even better. I had always wanted to be on a horseback hunt and he said that was no problem. As for limitations, well, I come from Wisconsin. 900 feet of elevation is a big hill here, so even though I am in fairly good shape, it may take a couple of days for me to get use to 9,000 feet and then thin air up there! Corey just laughed and said that he could get me within range of decent bulls and that there were a few great bulls out there but not behind every spruce. I will take honesty over big promises any day, so I hired my guide.
We would be hunting the Challis National Forest in eastern Idaho, unit 51, during the peak of the rut. I cannot tell you how excited I was that I might get to hear bugling bulls while gasping for air on a mountainside. When I rolled into Howe on September 14th, I think it was the beautiful scenery instead of the elevation that took my breath away. After I was just a few miles out of town I was surrounded by high snow-covered peaks and endless western sky. I had a big smile on my face when I introduced myself to Corey, his wife Jessica, and the wrangler/guide, Brian. I had arrived a day early so that I could give my lungs time to adjust to the thin air. The next day, Corey took me out and showed me some elk on the hillsides. I was pumped and could not wait until my first morning of elk hunting.
That night two other hunters that would be in camp with me joined us at the house. Corey and Brian took us out to the camp which was all set up and ready to go. Brian would be tending three different camps all week, so there was another guide, Scott, already in camp waiting for us. After settling in, claiming our cots, and stoking the stoves, we ate a great meal prepared by Scott, who would also be cooking for us all week. When I crawled into my sleeping bag I could hear the bulls bugling down in the meadow below camp.
Our guides woke us about 4:30 AM and told us breakfast was waiting. I walked out of the wall tent into 2” of fresh snow. Back home, snow usually makes for better deer hunting, so I was optimistic that the same held true here. We left camp as a group of five. We were going to drop off Sam, one of the other hunters, at a site Corey had set up days before. While the guides went up the hill to do that, Sal and I waited on the trail. A few moments later Corey and Scott came down the hill and Corey asked me if I was up for a run. Scott said that while they were getting Sam situated that they could see across the valley and saw a herd of elk out in the sage hills with a good bull. Corey thought that if we hurried, we could get above and in front of where they were headed to bed in the dark timber. We went back down the way we came and crossed the valley floor. I was a bit surprised that I was keeping up with my guide, but that quickly changed when we started going straight up. Corey was weaving in and out of 4-foot spruce trees and deadfalls and I was doing everything I could to keep up. Once in a while Corey would stop and say, “Take a quick break.” I think he could tell just by the sound of my breathing that it would be a good idea to stop for a second. We would rest for 30 seconds to a minute and then be off. he never looked disgusted or impatient, but I could tell that he wanted to cover as much ground as quickly as we could.
We were about 3/4 of the way up the mountain and stopped to try and locate the herd. Corey let out a bugle and it was answered a few moments later by a weak bugle from down below. It sounded as though the elk were near the bottom edge of the mountain, still out in the sage. We moved across the hill and after a while the bull bugled and is sounded much closer. Corey told me to set up and we would try and bring him in to this small opening in the timber. I knelt down next to a deadfall and readied for a shot, constantly checking all those little things that come to mind when you start to get nervous. WE waited for what seemed like forever with no indication that the herd was coming our way. The bull had become quiet.
With nothing happening, Corey came down to me and said that we should move ahead, still cutting across the side of the mountain. We ran another 100 yards or so and found fresh tracks that had been coming at us. The tracks were large and also showed that the animal had spun around and ran the opposite direction. The wind would swirl every now and then, so it was possible that the whole herd had winded us. We checked the wind direction quickly and determined that the best strategy was to head right at them. We took off hiking ahead and had gone another 100 yards when the bull let out a great bugle. Corey instantly looked at me and with a lot of urgency and said, “Get ready, now!” I ran a short distance to a small depression and knelt down while knocking an arrow. I had just attached my release to the string and looked over at Corey who was in the wide open trying to hide behind his decoy. He looked back at me and whispered, “Shoot him.” At that moment I did not know what he was talking about. I could not see any elk. Corey was looking straight ahead with wide eyes, so I figured that the bull must be right in front of him. I pulled my bow back and rose up just as the bull let out an awesome bugle. Talk about unnerving! Seeing this animal screaming in your face with his eyes rolled back and snot flying from his nose was incredible.
I settled the sight pin just behind his shoulder and waited for him to turn. The bull paused for a moment and looked around. Just as he started to spin away I squeezed the trigger on my release and heard the “whack” of the broadhead connecting. As the bull ran off, I could see the arrow fletching and thought That and thought that I had hit him a little higher than intended. The bull stopped uphill about 80 yards away, and I ran ahead trying to get close enough to put a second arrow in him. I could see his rack turning behind a small tree, so I jumped up on a large boulder and prepared for a shot. When I looked back toward the bull, he was gone. I could see the rest of the herd just outside of the timber running up along the old burn, but the bull was not with his cows. Corey had stayed below me but had run ahead to keep an eye on where the bull had gone. When I told him the shot was high, he told me not to worry and that we had blood on the snow. I was still on the rock looking around for my bull when I heard Corey say that he thought he could see the bull out ahead of him. I started to climb down but before I was off the boulder Corey was shouting, “I think he just went down! He’s rolling down the hill!” All of a sudden my guide was running up a rock pile with a huge smile on his face telling me I had just killed my first bull and bringing high-fives and handshakes with him.
I got down and headed over to where Corey had seen the bull fall. On my way over there it was hard not to notice the 2-foot wide crimson colored trail in the snow. When I got to the edge of the timber, I could see the bull lying on the side of the hill. Corey came up and renewed the celebration and reminded me that it was only 2 hours and 45 minutes into my hunt. We went over and admired our bull, which was a heavy 6x6 with character. Corey was a good sport and never once complained that I made him take over 90 pictures with my digital camera.
Not only were we done, but we lucked out and there was a logging road down at the bottom of the steep hillside we were on. Along with the snow and steep angle, sliding the bull down to where we could get at him with a truck was not too difficult. Corey headed back to camp to get the truck and I stayed with the bull. When Corey got back I made him take another 50 pictures, just in case. We broke a bit of a sweat putting that big critter in the truck whole!
I had the time of my life in Idaho on this hunt. Corey runs a top-notch outfit and has excellent help in camp with him. Everybody I met became a new friend. Brian skilled and quartered my elk back in camp along with taking care of the horses. I learned that you pay these people for a reason. They know how to hunt these animals in their land. If any of you are new to guided hunts, listen to what your guide tells you. You must be up front about any limitations that you have. Tell your guide, because he probably can accommodate your needs if he knows about them.
The area I was in was full of game. I saw moose, antelope, elk, and many Mule deer within a quarter mile of camp. I was lucky enough to come home with a good bull. He probably does not fit the trophy category for many hunters, but to this day it is my greatest hunting accomplishment.
I would like to thank everybody involved in my hunt. This includes all of the staff at Little Lost Outfitters, Carter’s for answering questions when I called and all their great information, and last but never least, my wife Jennifer.
I mentioned that my first year of applications resulted in 99% failure. Well thanks to that 1% that was not a failure I will be hunting in Oryx this spring in New Mexico! So apply, apply, apply, and you might get lucky, too!