Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

Big Game in the Rockies by Archibald Rogers

 

Some eight or ten years ago it was by no means difficult, for one who knew where to go and how to hunt, to get excellent shooting in northwestern Wyoming. Large game was then moderately abundant, with the exception of buffalo. The latter had just been exterminated, but, bleaching in the sun, the ghastly evidences of man's sordid and selfish policy lay exposed at every step.

Indian troubles of a very formidable character did a great deal toward keeping the game intact in this portion of the country by keeping the white man out, and while other parts of Wyoming grew, and towns sprang up with rapid growth to become in an incredibly short time cities, involving in destruction, as the past sad history shows, the wild animals in their vicinity, this Northwestern portion remained unsettled, and acted as an asylum to receive within its rocky mountain-ranges and vast sheltering forests the scattering bands of elk and deer fleeing from annihilation and the encroaching haunts of men. As soon as it was safe then, and in some instances unquestionably before, cattlemen, not inaptly styled pioneers of civilization, began to drift down along the valley of the Big Horn, and, like the patriarchs of old, "brought their flocks with them," settling here and there, wherever they could find advantageous sites for their ranches.

On the Heights.
From Scribner's Magazine.

And now, as I propose to give some hunting experiences of those days, if you will accompany me to Billings, on the Northern Pacific Railway, the nearest town to my ranch and the Mecca to which the devout cattleman drives his wagon for supplies, I will introduce you to the foot-hills and mountains, and some of the adventures therein.

After four days on a sleeping-car, it is a delightful release to tumble out on a frosty September morning, and, being guided to where the ranch-wagon and crew are bivouacked just outside the limits of the rapidly growing town, to get one's breakfast on terra firma. No time is now to be wasted; the mules are hitched up; the little band of horses are rounded together, and when we have jumped into our saddles, the cook, who always handles the reins, gives a crack of his whip, and we take our departure from civilization. A couple of miles brings us to a primitive wire-rope ferry, where we cross the Yellowstone River, which at this season of the year is low and clear; in a few minutes we are over, and, ascending the bluffs on the other side, take our last look at the beautiful valley we are leaving behind.

By night we reach Pryor's Creek, and picking out as good a camping-place as possible, the mules are soon unhitched and with the horses turned loose to graze. While the cook is preparing the evening meal, I bag a few prairie-chickens to give variety to the fare. Breakfasting at daylight the next morning, we are soon under way again, with Pryor's Mountains in the distance as our goal for this day's journey. Toward evening the white tepees of an Indian camp are visible clustered in a picturesque group close to Pryor's Mountains. Passing them, not without paying a slight tribute in the way of tobacco and such other gifts as our copper-colored friends generally demand, we fairly enter Pryor's Gap, and there, in a beautiful amphitheater, we again make camp. This evening we must have trout for supper, so all hands go to work, and we are soon rewarded with a fine mess of trout from the head waters of Pryor's Creek.

The next day, as we reach the summit of the gap, one of the most beautiful views in the country opens out. The great main range of the Rocky Mountains stretches before us, its rugged, snow-capped peaks glistening in the morning sun, and we long to be there, but many a long mile still intervenes, and forty-four miles of desert has to be crossed to-day. This is always an arduous undertaking. It is monotonous in the extreme, and men and animals are sure to suffer for want of good water, for after leaving Sage Creek on the other side of the gap, there is no water to be had until Stinking Water River[A] is reached. But all things must have an end, and at last, late in the evening, we find ourselves encamped on the banks of that stream, beautiful despite its unfortunate name.

[A] Bancroft, in his account of the early explorations of Wyoming, refers to this river as follows: "It is a slander to use this non-descriptive name for an inoffensive stream. The early trappers took it from the Indians, who, in their peculiar fashion, called it 'the river that ran by the stinking water,' referring to bad-smelling hot springs on its banks."

Fording the river the next morning, not a very terrifying operation in its present low stage, we climb the steep bank and soon begin our long ascent of the divide that separates us from our ranch and Greybull River. Accompanied by an immense amount of expletives, and very bad language, the mules are finally induced to gain the summit. Here even the most casual observer could not fail to be impressed with the magnificent and apparently indefinite expanse of mountain scenery, that, turn which way he will, meets his view. However, we have no time to linger, and picking our way among the countless buffalo wallows which indent the level surface of the summit, the wagon, with its wheels double locked, is soon groaning and creaking down the descent, which leads to the merrily rushing Meeteetse, following which, down to its junction with Greybull, we are soon inside our own fence, and are joyously welcomed by the dogs. Here, too, I find my trusty friend and companion of all my hunting trips, Tazwell Woody, a grizzled veteran of the mountains, who once long ago claimed Missouri as his home. From the ranch to the mountains is a comparatively short trip, for one day's travel to the westward would place you well up on their slopes.

Let me say of this portion of the range that it is the most rugged, broken, and precipitous of its whole extent, and the charm of overcoming its apparent inaccessibility can only be appreciated by one who has toiled and sweated in surmounting the difficulties of mountain travel from a pure love of nature in its wildest and grandest form.


Experience having taught me long ago that it was well nigh impossible to get good specimens of all the different varieties of big game on any one trip, I made up my mind to devote a certain amount of time each year to one variety. By this means their habits could be studied more closely, and the main point never lost sight of. In a short paper like this I may best take up the chief of these varieties one by one, and, without regard to the time of their occurrence, tell something of my experiences with each. And first, as to perhaps the shyest, the Rocky Mountain sheep.


In the pursuit of Rocky Mountain sheep, the hunter, to be successful, must have a fondness for the mountains, a sure foot, good wind, and a head which no height will turn. These requisites, with patience and perseverance, will, sooner or later, as the hunter gains experience, reward him with ample returns. Sometimes, however, the unexpected will happen, and the following tale may serve as an example.

We were camping well up in the mountains, and almost any hour of the day sheep could be seen with the glasses. I was after sheep; it was my intent, business, and purpose to get some if possible, and all my energies were concentrated in that direction.

There were two fine rams in particular that we could see about a mile and a half from camp occupying the slope of a rocky point or promontory that jutted out from a spur of the range. These two had a commanding position, for, while it seemed impossible to get to them from above, they could see every movement from below or on each side of them. However, after studying the country for two days, I found that by ascending the mountain behind them and coming down again I could still keep above them, though there was a very narrow ledge of rocks, rather a hazardous place, that had to be crossed to get to the point they were on. This narrow ledge they had to come back on to get to the main part of the mountain; so, stationing my companion there, and taking off my shoes, and putting on an extra pair of heavy stockings, I proceeded to crawl toward the sheep.

With due care, and not making a sound, I made a most successful stalk. Peering over the ledge, I raised my head just enough to be sure my game was still there. They were there, sure enough, within seventy-five yards of me, totally unconscious of danger, when all of a sudden they sprang to their feet and dashed away from below me as though possessed of a devil. I fired hastily, but of course missed, and turning, tried to run back to head them off, wondering what had started them, as I knew I had made no noise. But running over broken rock in one's stocking feet is a very different thing from the slow, deliberate movements that brought me there, and besides, in a few seconds I had the mortification of seeing my would-be victims bounding across the narrow ledge that separated them from the mountain. However, I thought with satisfaction that at least one would meet its death from my companion in hiding; but, alas! although the rams almost knocked him down, his cartridge missed fire, and the game ran safely by.

Regaining my shoes, which was a great relief, I soon joined my companion, and then discovered the curious adventure I had been made the subject of. It seems that when I had reached a point well down on the promontory I must have disturbed a cougar, which was evidently there for the same purpose I was, and which had stealthily followed me as I proceeded toward the sheep. Old Woody described it as highly amusing—I sneaking down after the rams, and the panther sneaking down upon me. As soon as the beast got an opportunity, it turned off, and, making the descent, alarmed the rams and thus made my hunt a failure.

Stalking the Stalker.
From Scribner's Magazine.

For several days I watched this point, but those rams never came back to it again. However, not long after this I was amply rewarded, and secured a fine specimen. From one of the high ledges I was looking down into a sort of amphitheater shut in by massive rocky heights. In this secluded retreat a little band of ewes, with one grand old patriarch as their master, could be seen every day disporting themselves with many a curious gambol. After many unsuccessful attempts, I was enabled to get a shot, and great was my delight at depriving the little band of their supercilious protector. Upon another occasion I was camping away back up in the mountains, where there were about eighteen inches of snow on the ground. The weather had been villainous; there was no meat in the camp, and I determined to see if I could not get a deer. The prospect was not very cheering, for shortly after starting a heavy fog shut down, hiding all objects from view. I had not proceeded far, however, when I struck the fresh track of a ram, and, following it cautiously for about a mile through the open, it led into a dense patch of pine on the side of the mountain. Proceeding very carefully now, I soon made out the outline of a fine old ram that had wandered off here in the timber to be by himself. Giving him no time to run, for I was close upon him, certainly not farther than twenty-five yards, I planted a shot just back of the shoulder, but he did not seem to mind it. I gave him another when he started to walk slowly off. One more shot in the same place, and down he came. Even then he died hard. Such is the vitality of an old ram; for upon examining him I found his heart all torn to pieces. This was a good head of nearly sixteen inches circumference of horns, and the girth of chest was forty-six inches. In returning to camp for horses to pack him on, I jumped five more sheep, but having done well enough, they were allowed to disappear in safety.

Sheep have a wonderfully keen vision, and it is absolutely useless to try to get to them if they once see you, unless you happen to be above them and on their favorite runway; then they huddle together and try to break back past you. The only safe rule is to travel high and keep working up above their feeding-grounds. In the spring of the year they are much easier to kill than in the fall, for then the heavy winter snows have driven them out of the mountains, and they come low down after the fresh green grass. The rams are then in bands, having laid aside the hostility that later in the year seems to possess each and every one of them.

I was much interested once in watching a band of eight rams, all of them old fellows. They would feed early in the morning and then betake themselves to a large rock which stood on a grassy slope, where they would play for hours. One of them would jump on the rock and challenge the others to butt him off. Two or three would then jump up, and their horns would come together with a clash that I could hear from my position, which was fully a quarter of a mile away. On one occasion I saw them suddenly stop their play and each ram became fixed; there the little band stood as though carved out of stone. They remained that way for quite half an hour without a movement. I could not detect with the glasses the slightest motion, when, presently, three strange rams made their appearance. Here was the explanation that I was looking for. They had seen them long before I had. The three visitors were not very well received, but were compelled to beat an ignominious and hasty retreat up the mountain side.


As summer draws near, and the winter snow begins to disappear, bands of elk may be seen migrating toward their favorite ranges. The bulls are now together in bands of greater or less extent. Their horns are well grown out, but are soft and in the velvet. The cows and calves stick closely to the thick timber. As the season advances and the flies become troublesome, the bulls will get up as high as they can climb and seem to delight in standing on the brink of some mountain precipice. I have often wondered, in seeing them standing thus, whether they were insensible of the magnificent scenery that surrounded them.

Reader, what would you have given to have seen, as I have, a band of two hundred and fifty bull-elk collected together on a beautiful piece of green grassy turf at an elevation of nine thousand feet? Here was a sight to make a man's nerves tingle. This was the largest band of bulls, by actual count, that I have ever seen, though my cousin and partner once saw in the fall of the year, including bulls, cows, and calves, fifteen hundred. This was on the memorable occasion when the only elk ever killed by any of my men gave up his life, and we have all concluded that this particular elk was frightened to death; for though three men shot at him and each was confident he hit him, they always asserted afterward that no bullet-mark could be found on him.

Generally, in August, in each band of bulls there will be found one or two barren cows. About the end of August, after the bulls have rubbed the velvet off their antlers, they will come back to the vicinity of the bands of cows. I have seen bulls as late as September 4 peaceably feeding or resting among the bands of cows. Usually, in a band of fifty cows, there would be three or four males, including, possibly, one or two spike-bulls.[A] I have seen these spike-bulls in the velvet as late as September 4, though by that time the older bulls had mostly rubbed the velvet off. A little later, about September 7, the bulls begin to challenge each other,—in hunting parlance, "to whistle." This, on a clear, frosty night, is sometimes extremely melodious, and it is one of the most impossible sounds to imitate. Hunting elk, if I may be pardoned for saying it, I do not consider very exciting sport to a man thoroughly versed in the woods. They are far too noble an animal to kill unnecessarily, and if one hunts them in September, when they are whistling, it is a very easy matter, guided by the sound, to stalk them successfully.

[A] A spike-bull is a young elk carrying his first or dag antlers. These are single-tined, though in rare instances they are bifurcated.
Studying the Strangers.
From Scribner's Magazine.

Elk, like the rest of the deer family, are excessively fond of saline matter. Their trails may be seen leading from every direction to the great alkaline licks that abound in certain parts of their mountain-ranges. Among other favorite resorts are springs, which make, on steep wooded slopes, delightful, boggy wallowing places. The bulls revel in these from August to the middle of September. It is not an uncommon thing to kill them just as they emerge from their viscous bath coated with mud. The elk has a great deal of natural curiosity, and I have seen extraordinary instances of this where they had been but little hunted or alarmed. My friend Phillips, of Washington, who was with me, will vouch for the veracity of this story, which I give as an example: We were wandering along the top of the mountain, some nine thousand feet up, trying to stalk some elk, not to shoot them, but to photograph them. We jumped a small band of bulls, numbering about sixteen. They trotted off slowly, frequently stopping to look back, until all but two large bulls had disappeared. These walked slowly back to within fifty yards of where we were standing, and stopped, facing us.

It was truly one of the most charming sights one could have wished for, to have those graceful, sleek creatures almost close enough to caress. Presently, with a defiant snort, and with a succession of short barks, they would move away and come back again, repeating these manœuvers over and over again, until we got tired of trying to look like a brace of marble posts and sat down. We thought this would frighten them, but it did not, and once I thought they were going to proceed from curiosity to more offensive operations, so close did they come to us. Even my caterwauling, as my friend unfeelingly characterized my attempt to imitate their challenges, did not seem to alarm them, and not until a full half-hour had elapsed did this pair of inquisitive worthies at length jog off.

Elk are vigorous fighters, and while it seems that their combats seldom terminate fatally, the broken points of their antlers, and their scarred and bruised bodies, bear testimony to the severity of their encounters. A full-grown elk stands about sixteen hands high, is about eight feet two inches long from nose to tip of tail, and with a girth around the chest of about six feet.

It was on the head of Wind River that I secured my largest head. The regularity of the points was somewhat marred, as the bull had evidently been fighting only a short time before I killed him. These horns were not very massive, but the length, measured along the outside curve, is sixty-three and seven eighths inches. The circumference between bay and tray is from seven and one half to eight inches, and the greatest spread between antlers is forty-nine inches.


Probably more horrible lies have been told by bear-hunters than any other class of men, except, perhaps, fishermen, who are renowned for their yarns. However, I trust that in the case of the few instances I have to give of my experience I can keep fairly within the bounds of truth and not try the reader's credulity.

Bear-hunting, as a general rule, I do not think would appeal to most sportsmen. It is rather slow work, and one is often very inadequately rewarded for the amount of time and trouble spent in hunting up Bruin. There is hardly a portion of the mountains where there are not evidences of bears, but I do not believe that in any locality they are especially abundant. They have been hunted and trapped so long that those which survive are extremely cautious. In my experience there is no animal gifted with a greater amount of intelligence, and, in this region, the hunter's chief virtue, patience to wait and stay in one spot, is sure to be rewarded, sooner or later, with a good shot which should mean success.

Let me say that the danger and ferocity of the bear is, I think, very much over-stated, yet there is just enough of the element of danger to make the pursuit of this animal exciting. Naturalists do not now apparently recognize more than two varieties of bear in the Rocky Mountains; that is, they class the cinnamon, silver-tip, and grizzly as grizzly bear. The other variety, of course, is the black bear. I am by no means sure that the grizzly bear will not be further subdivided after careful comparisons of collections of skulls.

Much has been said and written about the size and weight of the grizzly bear, and in most instances this has been mere guesswork. Lewis and Clark made frequent mention of this animal, and yet their estimates of the weight fall far below that of other writers. Only a few instances have come to my knowledge where the weight has been ascertained absolutely. A good-sized grizzly killed in Yellowstone Park one summer by Wilson, the Government scout, weighed six hundred pounds. Colonel Pickett, who has a neighboring ranch to mine, and who has killed more bears than any man I know of, weighed his largest, which, if I remember rightly, weighed eight hundred pounds. One will, of course, occasionally see a very large skin, and from its size it would seem impossible that the animal that once filled it out, if in good condition, could have weighed less than twelve hundred pounds. But I think it may be safely set down that the average weight of most specimens that one will get in the mountains will be under, rather than over, five hundred pounds.

To me, bear-hunting possesses a great fascination, and for years I have hunted nothing else. Personally I prefer to go after them in the spring. Their skins are then in their prime, the hair long and soft, and their claws (if valued as they should be) are long and sharp from disuse. Bears seek their winter quarters in Bad Lands and in the mountains. Those that adopt the former come out much earlier; consequently if the hunter is on the ground soon enough, by beginning first in the lower lands and working toward the mountains, he may be reasonably sure of securing good skins as late as June. In the spring, too, bears are much more in the open, and travel incessantly in search of food.

It is highly interesting to watch them, when one has the chance, turning over stones, tearing open fallen trees, or rooting like a pig in some favorite spot. Acres upon acres even of hard, stony ground they will turn up, and in other places it would be difficult to find a stone or rock they had not displaced. They will undermine and dig out great stumps. Ant-hills you will find leveled, and the thrifty squirrels, who have labored all the previous fall to make a cache of pine nuts, are robbed on sight.


One spring, the work on the ranch being done, Woody and I took our pack-horses and proceeded to the mountains after bears. I had no sooner picked out a good camping-ground than it began to snow, and for four days we could not stir from camp. However, it finally cleared off, the sun came out bright and warm, and the little stream that we were on began boiling, tearing, and rushing along, full to the banks, causing us to move our camp back to higher ground. After breakfast, as we proposed to take a long day's trip, we took our horses with us. Riding up to the head of the stream we were on, looking for bears, no signs were to be seen, though plenty of sheep were in sight all the time. Riding on, away above the caƱon some six or eight miles we could see some elk. We closely scanned the neighboring heights, but still no sign of bears. Finally, we turned off and worked our way clear up on top of the mountain, determined to see the country anyway. Slowly we climbed upward, skyward, dragging our weary horses after us, until at noon we were nearly up and concluded to lunch at the little rill of melted snow that came from a big drift on the mountain-side.

To get to it, though, we were obliged to cross the drift, and Woody led the way with his favorite horse, old Rock, in tow; and here was where my laugh came in, to see those two floundering through that drift. At times, all I could see of Rock was the tips of his ears. The crust was just strong enough to hold Woody up if he went "easy," but he could not go easy with the horse plunging on top of him, and they would both break through. However, they had to go ahead in spite of themselves, and they were finally landed half-drowned and smothered on dry ground. Of course, profiting by this experience, I circumnavigated the drift, and we sat down to our dry bread and bacon, washed down by a long pull from the handy snow-water. Ten minutes and a pipe was all that we allowed ourselves before resuming our toil—for that is really the way to designate the ascent of these mountains.

We saw six fine rams which did not seem to regard us with any uneasiness, permitting us to get within murderous distance, and I looked at their leader with some longing. He had such a noble head of curling, graceful, well-rounded horns. He must have been a powerful adversary when it came to butting. Stifling the desire, I passed by without disturbing them, and at last reached the top of the divide, and was repaid by a glorious and most extended view.

At that time Nature was not in her most smiling garb. It had been steadily growing colder, ominous clouds were gathering in the west, and an ugly rolling of thunder warned us that no genial spring day with shirt-sleeve accompaniment was to gladden and cheer us. Still we must look for bears; so buttoning up our coats and turning up our collars we surveyed the country. At the same time it was impossible to forego a study of the grandeur of the view displayed before us.

Those who have seen the mountains and foot-hills only in the fall of the year, when every blade of grass is parched and brown and dry, can form no adequate idea of the change that presents itself in the spring. Especially is one surprised when, standing on the top of some mountain height surrounded by everlasting snow, he looks down over the valleys and sees the richness and vividness of the green growing grasses which seem to roll up almost to his feet. As we stood there we had a glorious panorama. The vast gathering cloud was behind us, and the sun, though not shining for us, was lighting up the broad valley below. Greybull River stretched away until it joined the Big Horn beyond. The whole range of the Big Horn Mountains was visible, their snow-tops glistening like a bank of silver clouds, and the main range we were standing on was brought out in all its dazzling grandeur. Snow-drift upon snow-drift, with gracefully curling crests, stretched away as far as the eye could reach, for miles and miles. Still we saw no bears, and while we were enjoying all this wonderful scenery we neglected the storm, and were soon enveloped in a raging tempest of wind and snow with a demoniacal accompaniment of lightning and crashing thunder.

We hunched up our backs and stumbled along the ridge before the blast, and were soon brought up by a drift. However, here was luck for once. We saw the print of two fresh bear-tracks crossing the drift. All thoughts of the storm were lost in our delight at the vicinity of bears, for the sign was very fresh. Alas, though, we lost the tracks after crossing the drift, and could not find them again upon the rugged soil of these ridges where the wind had blown the snow off. We circled round and round, studying every patch of snow, and my companion, Woody, looked and spoke doubtfully. At last I caught the trail again. Only a half-dozen tracks, but enough to show the right direction, and as we ascended the ridge the tracks were on, I saw the two rascals across the gulch on an enormous snow-drift, tearing and chewing at something, I could not make out what.

Crossing a Drift.
From Scribner's Magazine.

It was still snowing hard, but it was only a squall and nearly over. The wind was wrong; it unfortunately blew toward the bears and the only direction in which we could stalk them. Still an attempt had to be made. We took the bridles from our horses and let down our hacamores, to let them feed comfortably and out of sight, while we crawled up the ridge to where it joined the one the bears were on. We had to creep up a beastly snow-drift, which was soft and no telling how deep.

It was deep enough, for we went through sometimes to our armpits. But what mattered it when we were at concert-pitch, and bears for the tune? We were now on the same ridge as the bears. Cautiously, with the wind just a little aslant, we crawled down toward our prey, crossing another miserable snow-drift, into which we went up to our necks, where we brought up, our feet having touched bottom. We floundered out behind a small rock, and then looked up over at the bears. Too far to shoot with any certainty, and I said to Woody, "I must get closer." And so back we crawled.

Making a little detour we bobbed up again, not serenely, for the wind was blowing on the backs of our necks straight as an arrow to where the bears were. But we were a little higher up on the ridge than they and our taint must have gone over them, for when I looked up again one of them was chewing a savory morsel, and the other was on his hind legs blinking at the sun, which was just breaking through the clouds. Wiping the snow and drops of water and slush from our rifles and sights, and with a whispered advice from Woody not to be in a hurry if they came toward us, but to reserve fire in order to make sure work,—for no sheltering tree awaited us as a safe retreat, nothing but snowy ridges for miles,—I opened the ball with the young lady who was sitting down.

Two Pairs.
From Scribner's Magazine.

She dropped her bone, clapped one of her paws to her ribs, and to my happiness waltzed down the snow-bank. As she now seemed to be out of the dance, I turned to her brother, for such I afterward judged him to be, who, with great affection, had gone down with her until she stuck her head in the snow. Not understanding this, he smelled around his fallen relative, when a hollow three-hundred-and-thirty-grain chunk of lead nearly severed one hip and smashed the other. He did not stop to reason, but promptly jumped on his relative, and then and there occurred a lively bit of a scrimmage. Over and over they rolled, slapping, biting, and making the best fight of it they could, considering the plight they were in. Each probably accused the other of the mishap.

The snow was dyed a crimson hue. It was like the scene of a bloody battle-ground. At last the lady first aggrieved gave up, and plunged her head back into the snow, while her brother, not having any one to fight with, went off a short distance and lay down. We cautiously approached, bearing in mind that a snow-drift is a hard thing for pedestrians in a hurry to travel on, and when we got about ten feet from the first bear, I told my companion to snowball her and see what effect that would have, for she looked too innocent to be finished for and dead.

But instead of doing so, he discarded his rifle and reached for her tail. Ah, I thought so! for, as he gave a yank, up came her head, her jaws flew open like clockwork, and a snort came forth. But right between the eyes went the deadly messenger, smashing her skull and ending any prolonged suffering for any of us. Her end accomplished, we turned to the other partner. He had been taking it all in, and was ready for a fight. He seemed pretty fit, too. Fortunately, he could not come up to us; the snow-drift was too steep, and he had only two serviceable legs to travel with. Still he had true grit, and faced us; but it was an unequal battle.

Again the bullet reached its victim, and brother ba'r lay quietly on his back with his legs in the air. No need to trifle with this bear's tail, as any fool could see that he was dead. However, we pelted him with a lot of snowballs, and then Woody went around to his stump of a tail and pulled it while I stood guard at his head. We took off our coats, and soon had the skins off the pair of them. These skins proved to be in the finest condition, though the bears themselves were poor. I should judge one was a three-year-old and the other a two-year-old. Still they were good-sized grizzlies.

Those skins seemed to grow in size and weight as each of us lugged one up the side of the mountain over shelving rock, snow, and loose gravel to where we left our horses. Of course they were not there, and we had to go on, carrying the skins, which were growing heavier and heavier every minute, until we tracked our horses to where they were feeding, and, in Western vernacular, "we had a circus" packing those skins on my horse. It was done at last, though, and to stay, by means of blindfolding him with a coat; and after a little while he settled down to work as though he had carried bears all his many years of service. I had a very nasty time in getting down the mountain after my horse slipped and fell down a gap in the crown rock. We could not get the other down, so I took charge of my horse and skins and made the rest of the descent in safety, though it looked squally for a bit when the old rascal's feet slid out from under him, knocking me down in the snow, and he on top, and I could feel that even with the fleecy covering the rocks were still very hard.

However, it was deep enough for me to crawl out, more scared than hurt, and soon we had sage-brush and grass under our feet, with an easy trail to camp, where a square meal inside of a stomach that sorely needed it soon made amends for all hardships. Wondering what those bears had been at work at, I went back the next day and found that they had been tearing up a sheep that had died of scab, a disease that wild sheep are subject to.

To a thorough sportsman, killing bear after a successful stalk is by long odds the best and most exciting method, but the country must be such as permits of this,—as, for instance, when there are long stretches of high mountains, plateaus or ridges above, or devoid of, timber, where the bears resort to root, and where the hunter from some elevated post can look over a large area with the aid of glasses. The general procedure, though, is to put out bait—that is, to have the carcass of some animal to attract the bear, and many a noble elk or timorous deer has been thus sacrificed. To avoid this needless destruction it has been my custom to take along on my hunting-trips aged and worn-out horses, which answer admirably when it comes to drawing bears to a carcass. Of course, this is not always a sure way, for the bear, if alarmed or disturbed, will only visit the carcass at night, and then, if the hunter is persistent and determined to get a shot, he may expect many weary hours of watching from a friendly pine.

I think I hear the reader say, "What's the fun in shooting a bear from a tree?—there is no risk in that." True, there is not; but it is when you come down from your perch that you may not feel quite so safe, as with limbs benumbed from cold and lack of circulation you climb down, knowing that perhaps several pairs of watchful eyes or cunning nostrils are studying your movements. Involuntarily your thoughts travel in the vein of your gloomy surroundings as you go stumbling on your way to camp: what if the bear should prefer live goose-flesh to dead horse?

One spring morning I was knocking around under the base of the mountains and found myself, about dinner-time, so close to Colonel Pickett's cozy log-cabin that I determined to pay him a long-postponed visit. After an ample repast, including some delicious home-made butter, which I had not tasted for a month, Woody and I, with our little pack-train, regretfully filed off, and, fording the river, took up our wanderings, not expecting to see our cheery host again for a year.

We had not proceeded far, though, when we met an excited "cow-puncher," who evidently had news to tell. He had been up on the side of the mountain, which was here a long grassy slope as smooth as any of our well-tended lawns, extending upward to where it joined the dense pine-forest which covered the upper portion of the mountain. Our friend was the horse-wrangler for a neighboring ranch, and was out looking for horses. Did any one ever see a horse-wrangler who was not looking for missing stock?

When skirting the timber he surprised, or was surprised by, a good-sized grizzly, which promptly chased him downward and homeward, and evidently for a short distance was well up in the race. Gathering from his description that the bear had been at work on the carcass of a steer that had died from eating poison-weed, I determined to go back and camp, and see if another skin could not be added to the score. It did not take long to pick out an ideal camping-spot, well sheltered, with plenty of dry wood, and trout from the little stream almost jumping into the frying-pan.

Our horses had been having pretty rough times lately, and they lost no time in storing away as much of the rich grass as they could hold. They had plenty of society, too, for the slope was dotted here and there with bunches of range cattle and bands of horses, not to mention the recent additions to the families of each in the shape of frolicsome calves and frisky foals, all busily at work. Bruin seemed rather out of place in such a pastoral scene, and yet, as one looked higher beyond the somber heights of the forest toward the frowning crown rock that resembled some mighty fortress forbidding further progress, or the everlasting snow-peaks above, one could well fancy that wild animals must be up there somewhere, either in the dense woods or in the still higher and safer retreats.

We at once examined the ground, and found the carcasses of two steers, one of which was untouched, but the other was very nearly devoured. All the signs pointed to more than one bear, and the ground was fairly padded down round the carcass they were using. Unfortunately, though, there seemed to be no place to watch from,—not a bush or rock to screen one while awaiting a shot. To cut a long story short, I watched that bait every afternoon and evening for a week, and though it was visited every night I never got a sight of the prowlers. Bears will very often, when going to a carcass, take the same trail, but when leaving, wander off in almost any direction. Taking advantage of this, and being satisfied that they were up in the timber through the day, we hunted for their trail, and found it on an old wood-road that led through the timber. To make sure, we placed the hind quarters of one of the steers just on the edge of the forest, and awaited developments. That night the bears found it, and, dragging it off, carefully cached it; so we determined to watch here.

As the daylight faded that night I was much disappointed to find that if I was to get a shot it would have to be in the dark; so as soon as I found I could not see to shoot with any degree of safety, I got up in a pine-tree that commanded the road and was just over the bait. It was weary work watching, and to make it still more uncomfortable, a heavy thunder-storm swept by, first pelting one with hail, then with a deluge of rain and snow.

It was pitch-dark, except when the black recesses of the forest seemed to be rent asunder during the vivid lightning. The whole effect was weird and uncanny, and I wished myself back under my soft, warm blankets. I could not well repress thinking of the early admonition of "Never go under a tree during a thunder-storm."—But what's that? One swift surge of blood to the heart, an involuntary tightening of the muscles that strongly gripped the rifle. I seemed to feel, rather than see, the presence of three strange objects that appeared to have sprung from the ground under me.

I had not heard a sound; not a twig had snapped, and yet, as I strained my eyes to penetrate the gloom, there, right at my feet, almost touching them in fact, I made out the indistinct forms of three bears all standing on their hind legs. Oh, what a chance it was if it had not been so dark! I could not even see the end of my rifle; but I knew I could hit them, they were so close. But to hit fatally? Well, there is no use thinking about it now the bears are here. Trust to luck and shoot!

Hardly daring to breathe, I fired; the scuffling on the ground, and the short, sharp snorting, told me I had not missed; but I could see nothing, and could only hear the bear rolling over and over and growling angrily. Presently there was quiet, and then with angry, furious champing of jaws the wounded animal charged back directly under me; but I could not see to shoot again, worse luck. From sundry sounds I gathered the bear was not far off, but had lain down in a thicket which was about one hundred yards from my tree. I could hear an occasional growl, and the snap of dead branches, broken as she turned uneasily. I did not know exactly what to do. To descend was awkward, and to stay where I was, wet and chilled to the bone, seemed impossible. It was most unlikely the other bears would come back; however, thinking it would be prudent to stay aloft a little while longer, I made up my mind to stick it out another half hour. During this wait I fancied I could see shadowy forms moving about, and I could surely hear a cub squalling. The light was now a little better, and the darkness, though still very black, was not so intense.

Just as I had screwed up courage to descend, another bear came up under the tree and reared up. This time I made no mistake, and almost simultaneously with the rifle's report a hoarse bawl proved to me that I had conquered. Glad at almost any cost to get out of my cramped position I sung out to Woody to lend a hand, as I proposed descending, and as he came up I came down, and then we discussed the situation. The proximity of the wounded bear was not pleasant, but then the dead one must be opened in order to save the skin. But what if the latter were not dead? Hang this night-work! why can't the bears stick to daylight! But to work,—there was the motionless form to be operated on. Inch by inch we crept up with our rifles at full-cock stuck out ahead of us until they gently touched the inanimate mass. It was all right, for the bear was stone-dead. Hastily feeling in the dark, as neatly as possible the necessary operations were nearly concluded when simultaneously we both dropped our knives and made for the open.... It makes me perspire even now when I think of that midnight stampede from an enraged and wounded grizzly.

Archibald Rogers.