By Brad Houser, Eagle, Idaho
My two friends and I decided to try a new elk hunting location in our home state of Idaho last year. We always wanted to hunt near Yellowstone National Park by the Idaho-Montana border, so we decided to make a summer scouting and fly fishing trip to check out the area. We covered a lot of ground and saw a decent amount of elk within several hours of the border. We had a blast fishing for trout in the many rivers and streams around Island Park, Idaho. Most of the places we liked were more than an hour’s drive from the park boundary, so we were definitely into wild elk.
During our scouting trip we saw a lot of bear sign, some right behind my tent, which I only noticed after I set it up, of course. We spoke to a national forest ranger who informed us that some problem grizzly bears had been transported from Yellowstone to our neck of the woods to remove them from the park. I always carry a sidearm while archery hunting and scouting, but had decided to get some bear spray, too. While I figured I was more likely to spray into the wind and get it in my own face instead of the face of a charging bear, I decided I’d try the bear spray first if need be.
One night we ended up arriving at our remote, primitive campsite right before dark. We quickly set up our tents and hit the river. The fishing was fantastic, and we had fish caught and dinner cooked up in short order. The idea of cooking and cleaning fish right in camp before going to sleep in our tents while in grizzly country was a little concerning.
Right before getting into my tent for the night, I discovered a big pile of fresh bear scat within 15 yards of my sleeping quarters. It was dark outside, and although I had a flashlight, I didn’t notice the heap of bear dung until I felt a muddy sensation through the open toes of my sandals. Not good. After cleaning my foot, I hesitantly climbed into my sleeping bag and made careful note of where I put my flashlight, bear spray and large-caliber handgun.
The night was uneventful, but in the dawn’s early light I heard something scratching at the dirt by the corner of my tent, inches away from my head. I was zipped up in my sleeping bag like a Tootsie Roll waiting to be opened by a kid on Halloween. I had recently seen the movie “The Revenant,” and the images of Leonardo Dicaprio being mauled by the huge grizzly sow immediately came to mind. I took a deep breath and contemplated if I should yell out or just stay quiet.
The digging and scratching grew louder. I grabbed my handgun and decided to unzip the door and sprint to my truck. I felt lucky to be alive. Sitting in my truck for several minutes, I had my camera ready to get some great pictures of what I knew had to be a huge grizzly bear trying to get into my tent.
After several minutes of not seeing anything, I was going to honk my truck’s horn, then realized it would wake up my two friends who were still sleeping soundly 20 yards away. I didn’t want them to come out of their tent and into the waiting arms of a grizzly, as they had neither bear spray nor a firearm with them. After several more minutes, I got out of the truck and looked for the grizzly bear tracks, as I was sure the bear had wandered off.
I exited my truck with the .44 Mag. in one hand and my bear spray in the other and cautiously approached my fabric abode. I didn’t know if I was being brave or foolish. Quietly, I examined the soft dirt where I’d heard the scratching noises. Upon inspection, I didn’t see bear tracks, but instead saw a 6-inch field mouse burrowing a new hole at the base of my tent, right where my head was a short time before. I had not heard a 1,000-pound grizzly bear, but 6-ounce mouse!
It was at this point in time, as luck would have it, that my buddy happened to be exiting his tent and saw me in only my boxers and sweatshirt, with bear spray in one hand and a huge handgun in the other.
“Bear?” he asked.
“No. Mouse,” I replied.
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