O Brother Bear Where Art Thou?

Every other year, we are able to draw eastern Oregon spring bear tags and this year, we hunted five days in the mountains. Once we left the truck at the trail head, we never saw another human and that’s exactly the way I like it. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that we did not put a bear in the freezer on this trip, but we had a good hunt and a good time. There are several things that we can count on during a trip like this: finding shed antlers, extreme weather, and goat shenanigans. We had all three on this trip and then some.
Spring flowers
Of course, the scenery was awesome and the spring flowers were in full bloom. I love seeing this country when it’s lush and green. Unlike previous years when we’ve endured snow, it was warm during this hunt with the exception of a passing hail storm. Niceties aside, let’s get down to the real reason I write this blog: to tell stupid human stories.

We hiked in, setup camp, then moved camp the next day. The first night, we setup three tarp shelters for the goats, but the second night we got lazy. The weather seemed good, so we only setup one tarp and figured the goats could use the trees for shelter if they needed to. DSC03151 Okay, we’ve done these trips a lot and I guess we’re either optimists or just plain dumb, because as soon as the sun went down, a monster rain storm blew in and all ten goats tried to take cover under the one tarp we put up. And of course, we put up that tarp right in front of the door to my Kifaru tipi.

Ten goats didn’t fit under the tarp, so their solution was to have a goat rodeo shoving match, whereby the goats in the back trampled on the tipi while the goats in front tried to get out of the rain. Being the smart guy that I am, I was outside the tipi (without my rain gear), unable to open the tipi to get inside due to a swarm of not-too-happy goats invading my space.

Let’s just say there was some cussing. Loud, fairly incessant cussing. I believe there was a lot of use of a word that contains both the letters M and F. I kept pulling the goats off the tipi, fearing they would rip the fabric, and they kept shoving their way onto it as the rain poured about as hard as rain ever pours. The wind was howling. There was hail. After about five minutes, Brandon (who apparently is smarter than I am because he was in his tent), heard enough cussing to figure out that something was wrong, so he came out to help me put up two additional tarps for the goats. About the time we got them up, the worst of the rain was over (of course), so I finally made it into the tipi and lit a fire to try and dry out. Luckily, the goats did not destroy my shelter. Had that happened, this blog entry might have included recipes for goat barbeque.

DSC03133 One of the best things I ever did was buy a Kifaru stove. It comes apart and folds down to the size of a phone book (including the stove pipe) and when fully assembled, puts out a lot of heat. It sure helps turn around my attitude after a rain/hail/goat storm.

Goat tracksThe next morning, we rose to find a beautiful day and…..no goats. We didn’t tie any of them to a highline the night before since the weather was nasty and now they were not in camp. I grabbed my gear and set out to find and bring them back. They weren’t hard to follow. There were fresh goat tracks on the trail leading out of camp. After a while, it became obvious that they were retracing our route from the day before, led by my oldest alpha goat, Chewy. It’s never been clear if Chewy genuinely hates me, thinks it’s funny to torture me, or is just a pain-in-the-ass and is indifferent to the human condition. There was no doubt, this was his doing. He woke up in the morning, looked around and didn’t see any humans, so he figured we’d left him so he was going to find us. An hour later, I tracked down him and his buddies, milling around at a trail intersection where we’d been the day before. Wandered off... I have long since given up trying to understand the working of the goat mind, but I’ve deduced that it has three main courses of thought: break something, eat something, harass humans. Chewy is a master of all three. So I rounded up the goats, and spent another hour hiking back to camp. So much for a morning bear hunt. That’s just one of those adventures that gives these trips such spice.

It took a lot of glassing, and eventually we did find some bears. I spotted a bear feeding on a hillside about 600 yards away. I put the sneak on him and managed to get within about 50 yards before the mountain wind swirled and gave me away. Because of the way the hillside curved, I couldn’t see the bear at 50 yards, but I knew he was right there and it was a heart thumper to get that close! I saw the brush move slightly as he sauntered off and then caught a glimpse of his black legs and brown fur as he moved through the timber beyond. It was exciting and worth the whole trip.

As luck would have it, this area was also littered with shed deer and elk antlers.

Mule deer antler

Mule deer antler

In fact, I found antlers every day. Some were chewed up, but the big six point elk antler was in great shape. As it happened, all the rain brought up the morel mushrooms too.
Morel mushroom

Morel mushroom

Gotta love fresh morels for dinner!

Most days, we didn’t see any bears and then on the last evening hunt of the trip, Brandon found a monster bear. After dropping his pack and running to the next ridge (no small feat when the hunt is at 6,000 feet and we live at 250 feet), he couldn’t quite put it together. We needed one more day, but staying longer just wasn’t an option. We’ll be thinking about that bear until we draw those spring bear tags and can return again.

Brandon's oldest goat, Mocha.  He's tougher than all of us combined.

Brandon’s oldest goat, Mocha. He’s tougher than all of us combined.

Brandon: what is that in my cooking pot?

Brandon: what is that in my cooking pot?

Track of the elusive ursus americanis.

Track of the elusive ursus americanis.

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