Voices in the Wilderness – Ray Miller

The Grizzly Ate My Lunch

My brothers and I do a good deal of elk hunting in the pockets above Blue Creek between Scotchman Peak and Scotchman Two. We usually hike up the ridge to a base camp and then move to a spike camp we have further back. While I was hunting there a few years back, I had a rather disquieting experience.

Because of a recent snowfall making the bear grass very slippery, we went in along the creek and then turned uphill to the pockets. I took my time hiking up to base camp, hoping I would find my bull and have an easy pack out. Once I got to base camp, I resigned myself that I would have to work for this elk also. The snow made for slow going and I got to the spike camp about noon. We had food and camping supplies stashed here and I was looking forward to a hot lunch. As I approached the camp, I could see one of the blue tarps spread over the area. On closer inspection, about four feet of one of the corners was chewed off. Most of the camp supplies were spread over several hundred feet. Many cans of food were lying about; all had huge teeth marks and were sucked empty. So much for the beef stew I had planned for lunch.

It was obvious that this was a grizzly bear as the claw prints were readily visible in the snow, not to mention very large. Then I noticed the right fore paw was bleeding. Everywhere the animal stepped, there was a blood spot in the print. Over by the barrel that we thought was bear proof was a stew can that was literally ripped apart with jagged edges. This must be what cut his paw. I figured he was pretty mad; maybe that’s why he chewed up the tarp. Blue tarp cannot possibly taste better than beef stew.

For lunch I had to settle for the smoky I had in my pack, and a can of peaches missed by the bear. I wondered if I had scared it off and just how far away it might be. After cleaning up the mess and re-stashing the equipment, I continued hunting without success. The snow became more intense so I hiked back down to the creek. Here it was raining but warmer and the trees provided good cover from the rain. I told my story to my brothers telling them how I had to clean up the mess and forgo a hot lunch. There was little sympathy.

The next morning, the rain and snow had stopped but a dense fog was setting in. I had some oatmeal and then headed back up the hill. About four inches of new snow had fallen and that made even slower going. If I did find an elk, I sure wasn’t going to run it down. After about an hour of hunting, I saw the bear track again and there was the blood spot. At first it didn’t dawn on me, but about a quarter mile down the path it sunk in.

“Wait a minute!” I said to myself, “That’s not yesterday’s track. It snowed last night. He’s still bleeding, he’s still here, and I’m guessing pretty mad.”

The fog was getting thicker and I was beginning to notice some vertigo so I decided to retrace my tracks, as I couldn’t see more than several feet. That’s when I looked down and saw my boot print; over it was a bear print with a blood spot. That bear could be ten feet away from me and I wouldn’t even see it. I took my rifle off my shoulder and held it at the ready. Thank goodness I hadn’t brought the muzzleloader. I didn’t time myself but I think I set a record getting back down to the creek. That bear might still be around, but at least out of the fog I’ll be able to see it. I hoped my brothers wouldn’t run into the grizzly, I didn’t want to have to pack all this stuff by myself.

As we were packing up getting ready to head home, I was wondering, just who is the endangered species here?

This story, written by Ray Miller, was originally published in our March/April 2007 Peak Experience Newsletter, Vol. 3 No. 2

Ray Miller was a chemistry teacher at Sandpoint High School for 30 years, sat on the Sandpoint City Council from 1982-2002, and then held the office mayor of the city of Sandpoint from 2002-2008. 

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