As seen in the March/April 2018 Issue of Bear Hunting Magazine!
It’s not every day that you get a chance to run a mountain Grizzly with dogs, so when Bart Lancaster offered up his services for my spring Grizzly hunt with Primitive Outfitting, I couldn’t say no. I’d run mountain lions several times with dogs, but the idea of running a grizzly was just fascinating to me. Having said that, I wasn’t sure how the hell I’d be able to make it happen with a bow, but if I was about to do something crazy, I couldn’t pick a better couple of dudes like Bart and Jeff.
When Bart first pulled into hunting camp with his truck, I was expecting the dog boxes to be filled with hounds, so when a bunch of Karelian bear dogs hopped out (I’d never heard of this breed), I had a few questions. After a few minutes of conversation with Bart, he informed me that he preferred 1 hound and 2-3 Karelians for running bears. He didn’t go into much detail, but he did say that tomorrow morning “you’ll see what I’m talking about”. Since this dude had basically pioneered this method and has killed countless Grizzly doing it, who was I to question anything? I was just a guy that wanted to kill a Grizzly bow and figured this was a once in a lifetime experience.
Release the Karelian’s
As we drove down the road that next morning, Bart had a watchful eye on the side of the road looking for tracks. It wasn’t long before he spotted a fresh track and at the same time the dogs went crazy as well. So, we got out of the truck, turned on the GPS tracking system and opened up the dog box his hound was currently residing in. The hound took off like a lightning bolt and was hauling tail into the dense forest. Being as green as grass at this, I asked Bart what would happen now? He said he’d be able to tell what to do next by the way the hound was barking and also what he was doing on the GPS unit. I was more than a bit intrigued by all of this and you could tell Bart was an expert at his craft. He looked back at me and said, “there’s not a lot of flat land here, so we may be sucking our thumbs by the end of the day”! I laughed a bit and said back to him “no worried brother, I’m a hiking fool”!
A few minutes later Bart was a couple hundred yards down the road from the truck, looking at his GPS, and speaking what I refer to now as “Houndsmen tongue”. I didn’t know what was going on exactly, but I knew him well enough to know that it was about to get real! A moment later he yelled back to me something that will be etched in my mind till the day I die… RELEASE THE KARELIANS!!
At this point in time the Karelians where going crazy and a blind man could see they were ready to do work! I grabbed the d-ring on the dog box latch, unclipped it and started to swing the door open. The door erupted like a volcano and Trigger out of the box like a bolt of lightning, hitting me in the chest and knocking me the ground. At 75 pounds this dog moved like a bolt of lightning and hit like a sledgehammer. I quickly got back my feet and let the other Karelian, Geo, out of the dog box. With all three dogs now on the trail, Bart sprinted back to the truck, laughing hysterically at me the whole time. When Bart and I jumped back in the truck he handed me the GPS unit and said, “the race is on my friend”!
Just a few steps behind
Bart hit the gas and gained speed rapidly, asking me every few moments if the dogs were still heading towards the next logging road. As we took a right on the logging road the dogs were heading towards, I told Bart that they were getting close. He slammed on the breaks and jumped out of the truck, looking at the terrain around the road and trying to guess where the bear may cross. Keep in mind that I had a bow in my hand, so I needed extremely close to the crossing point and at full draw as Bart said the Grizzly will normally stop for a few seconds when they hit the road.
As we stood in the road listing for the dogs, Bart said they would be crossing in one of two spots; one of those behind us 100 yards and the other a little over 100 yards in front of us. As bad luck would have it the bear choose the crossing in front of us and picked up speed as he approached. We took off on a dead sprint towards the small draw the bear was in and hoped we’d get there in time for a shot. Just before we arrived at the crossing, the grizz blew out of the timber and slowed his pace. We were 40 yards away, so I felt fine about the distance, but I needed the bear to stay still for a moment. That didn’t happen and as I went to full draw, he sprinted across the logging road, dogs trailing close behind. Bart and I were bot breathing heavy at this point, but he was able to get out a few words; that was a giant bear buddy and now things are going to get interesting!
That’s why they’re called mountain grizzly, dummy!
Being green as grass at this, I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen next. I knew the dogs were pushing the bear towards the mountains, but I had no idea if the bear would climb the steep cliffs I was now looking at. To keep this short, I’ll fast forward 2 hours and tell you that they a mountain grizzly will climb just about anything and to my surprise the GPS unit I was looking at was reading correctly! The dogs had pushed the bear to the top of the mountain and from what it looked like on the GPS they were about to go above tree-line. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted four black spots coming out of the trees and climbing fast. I looked at Bart and expressed my amazement on where the grizzly had ended up and that the dogs were still behind him. He quickly replied, “that’s why they’re called mountain Grizzly, dummy”! That made perfect sense to me, but I was still wondering how we would get the dogs back? Bart gave me a few possible scenarios, but we’re most likely to be climbing that mountain to go get the dogs. All I could think of was, wow, this running grizzly with dogs is way for physical than I thought it would be!
Knowing what we had in store if we ended up needing to climb the mountain, Bart headed back to base camp to gather some gear and charge of his GPS units. On the drive back I asked him the chances of the dogs coming back to the road. He laughed and said, there’s a chance, but I would count on it!
Big bear, big bear, big bear
After gathering what was needed at base camp, we headed back out to the area where we’d last seen the dogs. We’d only been on the road for about 20 minutes when the words, big bear, big bear, big bear came out of my mouth. It was a black bear that I’d spotted, and I had a black bear tag in my pocket too, so I figured I shouldn’t pass up an opportunity on a bear like this one!
I’d like to make up some type of elaborate and epic stalk, but in truth, we pretty much walked up and shot the black bear. I did low crawl a little and was obviously super silent. The wind was right, the bear was feeding away and for the most part it was uneventful. I did make a great shot on the big bruin and was super pumped to have him on the ground, but as bear hunting stories go, this one didn’t have a lot of story to it.
This was a good thing really, as the bear died about 15 yards from where the arrow passed through and we were able to get a few quick photos and hand it off to Jeff and the boys at base camp and head back out in search of the dogs. I would add that Jeff Lander of Primitive Outfitting did cook up one hell of a bear roast on the Trager grill that night and had all the meat cut up by the time we got back as well.
About the time we had gotten within 10 miles from where we’d last seen the dogs, Bart turned on the GPS unit and quickly jerked the truck back to the road. He looked at me with a big grin and said “you won’t believe this… they’re behind us! What do you mean behind us? They crossed back over the mountain and must be tracking another bear! So, they traveled that entire way back and are closer to base camp than they were before? Yep, we gotta turn around buddy, they’re only about a mile from the road and traveling fast!
When Bart got parallel with the dogs he pulled over and shut the truck off and sure enough you could hear Cole (he’s the hound) barking like crazy. Bart turned the truck back on and whipped around, trying to get far enough ahead of them so we could possibly cut them off.
As soon as he pulled to the side of the road, we grabbed our packs and took off up the mountain. Bart wasn’t sure if they were still on the same grizzly or a black bear, but we were both happy that they’d come back to us and were now at least in reaching distance. After gaining several hundred feet in elevation and a good bit of ground towards the dogs, Bart mentioned that the dogs may be stick in some cliffs. Obviously, the GPS was showing him this, so we headed in the direction of the cliffs and hoped for the best.
After a few more minutes of climbing it was becoming apparent to Bart that the dogs had lost the bear in those cliffs and from what I was seeing with my own eyes, I could see why! This was some aggressive terrain and something I was hoping we didn’t need to climb either. At this point the dogs were moving towards us, well, a couple of them anyway and they were less than 300 meters and closing. Just to be safe, Bart had me nock an arrow, as there was still a chance they were on/doing what Bart called a walking bay-up. This is when the bear is tired enough to stop running and the dogs and bear will basically walk in a file. We weren’t that lucky, and the dogs had lost the bear in those cliffs. We still needed to gather the remainder of the dogs, so Bart grabbed his rifle and fired a shot in the air. I was watching the GPS at this time and as soon as Bart fired the shot the dogs were on a B-line heading right for us. I looked over at Bart and mentioned how amazing these dogs of his were. Bart chuckled and said yep, I love these dogs like my family, but I’m loving we didn’t have to climb that mountain even more! I agreed and we headed back towards the truck, telling stories along the way.
The last evening
Bart spent a few more days with us, but the terrain we were dealing with didn’t give us enough room to get in front of the bears before the either climbed straight up a mountain or crossed a river, so he headed back home to guide bear hunters he’d already booked in his own area around Williams Lake. This was a little depressing, not because we didn’t have the dogs, but because Bart wasn’t around anymore to crack jokes. He’s a funny dude and one of the coolest guys you could ever have in hunting camp. No worries though, Jeff had a plan and he rivaled Bart in the talking category.
On the last evening of my hunt, Jeff had mentioned to me that chances of Grizzly hunting being banned in British Columbia were pretty much guaranteed. This was concerning as I’d already has my tail end handed to me last fall on a backpack bear hunt with my recurve in the same area. So, we talked for a few minutes and decided if something was in rifle range that it was probably a good idea that I pick of the boom stick and fire some rounds down range with that thing.
So here we were, sitting on the edge of a giant field, just off a trail that the grizzly bears frequented to enter this area. My hopes were starting to sink a bit as it was getting close to sundown. I hadn’t totally given up, but I figured it as a great time to at least get a sunset photo, so I reached down to grab my camera and out of my right eye caught movement…. mother of pearl, it was a grizzly. It was at a trot when it went by, so shooting it with my bow wasn’t going to happen. This bear was also smart, since it ran for a few hundred yards into the field before is started feeding! Hand me Bart’s gun! Bart was nice enough to leave me his lucky rifle when he headed home, just in case something like this happened.
So, I grabbed a couple extra shells, through them in my pocket and duck walked down the path in hopes to get a little closer. When I got about as close as I thought I could get away with I ranged the grizzly….429 yards! Dang, that’s a poke! I figured I should probably see what kind of caliber I was shooting to know my hold over, so I pulled a bullet out of my pocket and read three depressing numbers, 308! You’ve got to be kidding me, a 308 at this range! Good lord this thing is going to have some drop! So, I started using all my fingers and toes to come up with an educated guess for hold over and got down into the prone position.
Now I was dealing with problem #2, Bart must have arms like T-rex, because when I put the rifle up to my shoulder, the scope was back by my dang ear! With light fading fast I pulled my jacket off and stuffed it between the buttstock and my shoulder and hoped I wouldn’t scope myself to badly. Now I was dealing with problem #3, the scope Bart used on almost every rifle he owned was a 1.5×5 Leopold. A great scope no doubt, but not for this type of shot! I dialed her up to 5 and hoped for the best. The Grizzly looked a lot like a penny inside a basketball at this distance, but I had a good rest, a decent sight picture and felt comfortable with the shot.
It was now or never, so I put one upstairs, focused on my breathing and started to squeeze…. boom, the rifle went off AND my eye was bleeding profusely! I knew I’d made a good shot, but my vision wasn’t great as my eye was gushing blood. Jeff yelled down to me “nailed it buddy, it’s already down”! I was excited to say the least and quickly grabbed my stuff and headed back towards Jeff to give him a big man hug! Killing a mountain grizzly had been something a wanted to do for a long time and I couldn’t have picked a better guy to be with when it happened. Also, having Bart with me earlier in the week was awesome and the only thing I would’ve changed is having him with us as well.
The Grizzly ban
As it turns out it was a good thing that I picked up the rifle as the ban on grizzly hunting was announced a week after I got back to Colorado. This decision was something I really didn’t understand, as it had nothing to do with science or common sense, but more to do with human emotion. When you talk with long time British Columbia residents like Jeff Lander, Bart Lancaster and many other that spend time in the woods, you will quickly find out that the grizzly population is higher than ever and there’s no real scientific reason for this decision. I was lucky enough to go on a mountain goat hunt with Bart later in the year and the number of Grizzlies in the area we hunted were alarming. The goat hunt is for another time, but as an outsider that occasionally comes up to BC for a hunt, there’s a grizzly problem and it will be interesting to see what the future holds.