Rack Magazine

Tracks in the Mud

Tracks in the Mud

By David O’Farrell

With a noggin scoring 23 5⁄16 inches, Bruce Brown’s old boar was the largest grizzly taken in the Yukon in 2010.

The tracks in the mud were dimpled by the rain of a couple of days earlier, meaning we were at least three days too late.

We found them off the main river, on a gravel bar almost six miles up Lowel Creek, which drains some rugged country. Avalanche chutes, covered with the first spring grasses, come clear down to the shore there. The bear had probably been denning nearby.

It was boar, for sure. The front tracks measured a tad more than 7 inches across.

That was the last day of Bruce Brown’s 2009 hunt, and, after 14 days, he and I were tired of looking at tracks. We had covered more than 30 miles of river hunting for that bear, trying to catch it digging roots on a gravel bar.

The bear had visited most of them, but we were always a day or two behind him.

Bruce came back to hunt with Ceaser Lake Outfitters in 2010, and I was picked as his guide once again. We covered the same stretch of river, only instead of hunting the gravel bars for grizzly and the willows for moose, we were glassing the rugged peaks high above for goats.

Tracks and grizzly bears were long forgotten until day three. We woke that morning with a light rain pattering the cabin’s tin roof. The fog was halfway down the mountain above camp, not the best weather for goat hunters, but we went anyway.

We found a suitable Billy, too, bedded on a grassy knoll just under the fog. All we had to do was climb to a rocky ledge just above tree-line.

For three hours, we fought our way upward, constantly monitoring the wind. When we finally reached the rocky ledge above the trees, wet to the bone, the big Billy was gone.

Bruce and I sat there in the rain, feeling the cold seep into our bones. I kept glassing, hoping against all odds that I would find the Billy bedded somewhere in the basin. I didn’t find the goat, but I did see a sow grizzly coming out of the short willows where the Billy had been.

For all we knew, she might’ve killed the old Billy and dragged it in there with her. Whatever happened, the goats stopped using that mountain.

Days pass quickly in the mountains. Before we knew it, the hunt was almost done. Knowing our best chances lay downriver, the morning of day six found us drifting downstream.

An hour later, just as we came around a sweeping bend, I spotted a dark object on the bank far ahead. A quick look with my binoculars confirmed it was a grizzly.

Tracks in the MudFrom the moment I glassed it, I thought something was odd about it. As we drifted closer, I realized the bear was starving to death. His ribs were clearly visible at 200 yards. At 100, I could see the sharp outline of shoulder blade and backbone.

The bear’s condition fooled Bruce, at first. As we drifted closer with the outboard shut off, Bruce was still not sure if he wanted to shoot it.

I knew he’d better decide quickly, since old bears aren’t dumb. If it spotted us, it would no doubt melt back into the scrub.

When we were 25 yards from it, the bear heard the water splash against the boat. And I’ll never forget the look on that bear’s face as it stared at us.

It showed no fear whatsoever.

Its body went stiff, all senses locked on us instantly. I knew we were in big trouble.

My rifle, tucked in a case at the bottom of the boat, was useless. And we were so close, Bruce was only going to get one shot and at a moving target.

What happened next was so fast, it’s hard to describe. I heard the old boar hiss softly, and then it launched itself at us. I remember seeing water spray off its chest as it came and felt a sick dread fall over me as I realized its eyes were locked on me.

My peripheral vision caught Bruce’s movements as he brought up his rifle, followed instantly, it seemed, by the muffled boom of the shot.

It looked as if some invisible force had stopped the bear cold. Its head ploughed into the shallow water as it slid to a stop not 10 feet from our boat.

As we sat on the shore collecting our nerves and talking quietly about the preceding few minutes, I examined the bear. Its body, ravaged by starvation, was still impressive. Many years of hunting and fighting for possession of that river valley had left its huge head scarred and torn.

The boar’s teeth were worn; some were missing. The animal was long past its prime. His hunting days over, he’d been forced to subsist on vegetation.

His front pads were just over 7 inches across. We’d finally caught up with the leaver of those tracks in the mud.

Editor’s Note: For more info about Terry and Ruth Wilkinson’s hunting concession in the Yukon Territory, go to www.ceaserlake.com or call (867) 536-2174.

Hunter: Bruce Brown

— Photos Courtesy of Bruce Brown

This article was published in the November 2011 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

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