I worried about the heat; 80 and rising and four dogs in fur coats out in it. I worried about the back end of the old man, breaking down now after nine hard years of sweeping before my guns. I thought of a girl who has my eye these days and I thought about work. Anything but the activity before me, anything but the hunt. That’s not an easy admission. But I was distracted, off my feed.
At the toe of the mountain, up against the wilderness boundary, we followed, my thoughts and I, and we climbed through hip-deep grass and pushed through alder and chokecherry and aspen.
Then it happened. He was there. Five hundred pounds, I’m guessing. I’ve been close to grizzlies before, but never this close. Twenty yards. He burst from a chokecherry patch and bounded down the hill, stotting like a flushed mule deer in fresh alfalfa. But this was a bear. And there was no doubt: the hump, the roll of silver on his shoulders, the head, the small ears, and the claws. They looked like they were eight inches long, but probably were half that.
The dogs were out in front, beyond the bear, sniffing out grouse, and the grizz ran a perpendicular path faster than I can write this sentence and you can read it. I had enough time to yell: “Hey bear!!” and I had enough time to think about firing off a shot into the air, those meager seven and a halfs. And I had enough time to think: “No, if I fire a shot, the dogs will get excited, see the bear and then it will be on. Or over.” So I yelled. I may have hit a high note. And then he was gone.
All four dogs at heel now and heading to the truck. I thought about wild country and animals that can snap you out of your mundane bag of thoughts and re-energize, invigorate, and excite. May there always be a wild place of the hunt where something is bigger and meaner and has better judgment than I. Now, at last, I was back to being a hunter; next time would be a time of alertness and stepping light, of open eyes and focused energy. I would be fired up and ready. Charged.