That one bear came late on the second day, when my feet were tired and it was hard to see for all the snow. At first it was a distinctly not-elk shaped lump swimming the river, and when it emerged on the bank it instantly became a griz. No mistaking the leading shoulder hump and casual walk of a big adult.
Thanks to that snow, the photos are nonexistent from day two, but day one provided more wildlife gawking than I’ve had perhaps ever. The drumming of male dusky (below) and ruffed grouse echoed almost constantly, no matter where I went. I saw sheep, plenty of whitetails, and several hundred elk.
There were satellite groups of 3-10 elk in many places, including the burned ridge above my camp, visible as they were against the haze of both dawn and dusk. They stared at what must have been my vague form as I moved through the trees gathering firewood and making coffee. There was also the herd.
At first I saw them up on, and then bumped them off, a big grassy knob. I later bumped them again when I caught back up at a swampy meadow in the middle of the forest. Lastly, just as the snow was rising on the air in early evening, I saw the same group of ~100 moving at a steady 3mph north along a chain of small meadows. The majority of the herd was always walking, and a strong minority was always eating grass, and their collective rate of travel was inexorable. I lost them to too much snow in the air and a stand of dense evergreeens around the same time.
Four thoughts about hunting rarely leave my head these days:
-I’ll never be able to look at the woods and take trips there quite the same.
-My desire to walk a lot for enjoyment and in training for other things results in an approach which is at times less than optimally efficient.
-The parallels between hunting trips like this one, and the point-less ramblings of my youth, investigating backyard corners of tiny midwestern woodlots and creek bottoms, is strong and satisfying to contemplate.
-It took age to find the patience to sit in the cold and look through optics for long periods, though I still have a ways to go here (see #2).
Because they are so few and far between, bear hunting is a very good excuse for wandering around seldom seen places. Which I like.