Eddie was 12 years old and a bear hunt didn’t seem like too much. Not for him. As a matter of fact he’d told his father he wanted to hunt bear more than anything. His father, Greg, considered that awhile. Eddie had been shooting his rifle a lot. Shooting pretty well, too. Eddie could make the metal plate at 300 yards go clang every time. Eddie had hunted a good bit already. Shot deer and hogs and small game as a matter of fact. Maybe he was ready.
Even so, Greg couldn’t take his son just anywhere. This needed to be just the right experience, a kind of controlled rite of passage. He didn’t want some over-macho guide belittling his son. Not now, not when he’s just getting started. Nor did he want his son in a crusty bear camp with men he didn’t know all having a raucous time telling over-the-top tales of backcountry hunts gone awry.
He wanted his son to have a chance to persevere and succeed and to thereby walk out of the forest a stronger, better young man. This was a coming-of-age adventure and he didn’t want anything to step on that.
There weren’t any bears on his family ranch in Oklahoma, so after considering places from Alaska and Saskatchewan, Greg put his finger on Idaho. The Flying B Ranch would be perfect for Eddie. The accommodations the ranch offers for a spring bear hunt in the Rocky Mountain wilderness are just the right mix of adventure and comfort. The people are professionals. And they have lots of bears. This would be the perfect bear hunt for Eddie.
Greg knows all this because he has spent his career helping hunters choose just the right experiences. In fact, his reputation for finding clients dream trips is so good the NRA recently signed an agreement with him to start NRA Outdoors. NRA Outdoors is an outfitting service that gives deals to NRA members. Even better, it’s a service that has a proven list of more than 300 quality outfitters from around the world. Just log on to NRAOutdoors.com and select a species and/or a location and you’ll get a list of quality trips for everything from elk to brown bear to Cape buffalo to marlin. When you have a good idea of where you want to go and what you want to hunt and/or fish for, contact Greg’s team. They’ll book your adventure and give you detailed advice.
If you’re unsure of what adventure to chose, no problem: They’ll get you advice from the sources. They’ll tell you how the elk population is in a specific unit or how the pheasant hatch was the previous spring. They’ve likely been there; if not, they’ll put you in touch with someone who has. They’ll even send you a list of recommended gear. And they’ll offer you deals on the gear you’ll need.
The best thing is they don’t just check on outfitters once and then put them on their list. They continually make sure their outfitters have excellent hunts and good camps staffed with trustworthy people. If outfitters falter, they’re off the list. This is how you can go on a hunt in the backcountry with a 12-year-old with confidence that you’ll have a positive experience and a quality hunt.
After choosing the right outfitter, Greg bought his son a pair of hunting boots. “Here,” he said, handing the boots to Eddie, “you’ll need to break these in because we’re going on that bear hunt.”
Eddie wore the boots everywhere, even to school. When people asked why he was wearing big, camouflage boots, he said, “’Cause I need to break them in for my bear hunt in Idaho—duh!”
Into Bear Camp
Greg watches Eddie step his right boot into a stirrup. He almost speaks up, but holds his tongue as Jeremy, a guide with the Flying B, says, “Not with your right foot … not unless you want to ride backwards Eddie.”
Eddie smiles, switches to his left foot and swings his right foot over the saddle. Jeremy shortens the stirrups to Eddie’s boots. They sure are worn in and now they’re in stirrups ready to ride into bear camp.
The horses start single file up a trail beside the Selway River, which is high with whitewater in places from melting snow. We’re going 15 miles into Idaho’s backcountry and Eddie can’t sit still, not even on the horse. He’s bouncing in the saddle as we ride beneath pine-shaded mountains all greening in April sunshine.
Everything new is an adventure to Eddie. He has the look of a young pup, unbridled enthusiasm and legs too long for his still-growing body. Soon Eddie’s mood and manner bring out the boy in everyone as the horses follow the cool path into the wilderness. Somewhere along the trail one of the hunters finds out Eddie has a girlfriend. Oh, the teasing sure starts then. By the time the horses stop under pines near three white wall tents, Eddie is blushing and fending off jabs from all the men.
Eddie’s already learning a little about being a man in hunting camp. Never give the others an edge. Never tell them anything they can rib you about. Always be ready to give it right back, but not too much, just enough. But Eddie is laughing and enjoying the attention. Then none of us can believe what they have in store for us.
Greg chose well. This sure isn’t some rough bear camp with men in five-day sweat poking a stick into mystery stew. The Flying B sent in a chef. “The eggs made it,” says the chef as he unbuckles a bag that rode in on a mule’s hairy back.
“They spooked once and one of the mules went down the embankment,” says a guide, “but he didn’t land in the Selway so we have eggs.”
In the wall tents are cots and lanterns and wood stoves. After salmon for dinner and a lot of campfire banter everyone sleeps immediately in the cool mountain air and then we find out something else about bear camp. You get to sleep in.
“No point marching out in the dark,” says Arby, our guide. “The bear hunting doesn’t get good until mid-morning. The best time of the day is late afternoon.”
So the bears sleep in. Sensible creatures, we all decide. They crawl out of their dens in these Idaho mountains sometime in April, but for a few weeks or so don’t get too far from their cozy dens. They sleep in mornings before meandering out onto open hillsides looking for the spring’s first green grasses. If the day is overcast and cool they may stay out. More likely they’ll have a midday siesta and pop out later in the afternoon when hillsides succumb to shadows—smart bears.
Eddie takes a bite of bacon and drops his fork. He’s looking at his dad. “These are good,” he says, “way better than the turkey bacon you use back home. You need to make real bacon, Dad.”
Greg smiles, knowing the food might not be Spartan, but the hike will soon build character.
The Search and the Shot
I ask Greg what happened to his knee and he says, “A Jeep hit me in my kitchen.”
“In your what?”
He tosses his head and explains, “The driver was a young girl running from the police. She lost control in our residential neighborhood and the next thing I know I’m under this Jeep on my kitchen floor.”
Eddie had just left the kitchen and Greg was thankful for that. Now he’s wearing a knee brace and is here against doctor’s advice, but is optimistic and jovial about the whole thing.
As we stop to glass openings between pines above I’m thinking you just can’t count on anything. You can even get run over by a Jeep in your kitchen. But you can have a say in how you take it. Greg is rolling with the punches. He has just the right level of realistic optimism to adjust and still take his boy on a father-and-son hunt in the wilderness—something neither will ever forget.