It was the second day of our Idaho bear hunt and our guide asks “who wants to go all the way to the top and who wants to go to the stand about 2/3 of the way up?” As Jason, my buddy and I were playing pool, we began to put a wager on the game for who would get to pick which stand would get first dibs. In the back of my head, all I was thinking was “I hope he picks the higher hike” because my legs were toast from the 6 or 7 miles we hiked in the mountains the day before on a sheer sideways cliff. The last thing I wanted to do was hike my butt all the way to the top of the mountain and have such a difficult time making it up there that it would be an embarrassment. Jason ended up winning the game of pool and ended up choosing to hike all the way to the top. He’s super fit and is a very fast hiker. I’d say I am fit but I wasn’t in the sheep shape he is in.
The morning came and we set out to load our gear up onto a jet boat so we could float up the salmon river. I asked for us to stop on the side of the river, a bit down from camp so I could shoot my 300 Win Mag since I slipped and knocked my scope the day before. We ended up stopping and I got a shot off at roughly 80 yards right on the target so needless to say, I was still sighted in. We then continued down to get across the river and embark on our tough hike. I kept wondering what it would be like since the mountains of Idaho are lush, thick and green compared to other mountainous places I have hunted. Our guide, Jason and I all grabbed our gear and started up the switchbacks. All I could think about was how high Jason would be going and how I would feel. We were hiking at 3,000-4,000 ft which is nothing compared to the 10K plus I’ve hunted in Colorado in top condition. I thought this trip wouldn’t be bad due to the altitude but how wrong I was!
We ended up pacing ourselves by hiking for 3 minutes and then stopping to glass but my heart rate was shooting through the roof. I checked my heart rate monitor and I was in the 170’s while we were stopped. As I took a swig of water from my camelback, I just said to myself “you should have trained harder and this won’t happen again.” I knew I needed to survive this hunt, make it successful and then get ready for my Colorado Elk hunt which was in October. This hunt was in May so 5-6 months would show to be plenty of time.
Along we went, up this mountain, left and right, switchback after switchback as it seriously was a straight up shot this mountain in pretty thick greenery. We finally reached an opening and I was shown where the stand would be for me. It was on the ground about 50 yards off the main trail in a small ravine. I was to sit in a downed tree as I watch a bear bait from 40 yards away. I could see the other side of the mountain which was great and all I could foresee happening was a bear coming down from the other side of the mountain and it would have been a clear shot from my stand.
I was left there as Jason and our guide continued to hike up the mountain for an unknown amount of time. I couldn’t wait to hear about the day from him before I even sat down and the stories we would have had. About 30 minutes from the time Jason left, I heard a gunshot and another one shortly after. I knew it was Jason and that he must have shot his bear. He really wanted a color phase since that was all he talked about the prior 2 days in camp. 7 or so hours went by with no action in my stand but some marmots robbing bread from the bin back and forth. I was in the mindsets of wanting to take out some small game but I didn’t want to blow out the area. Around 6pm, I saw Jason and the guide head back with a big ole bear and a story to follow. It was a color phase but I found out that the first bear jason shot was wounded and shortly after, the color phase was right off the trail and he took him down.
The bear was beautiful and exactly what we expected to harvest being in Idaho. As the hunt went on, I actually ended up hunting the high stand the following day and it was a great hike that was very difficult but I didn’t end up harvesting my bear. It was an amazing sight to hike, nevertheless because when I got to the top, I was in the clouds. It was breathtaking and a true reason for why I hunt. Something only the few that have hiked up there will ever witness in their lifetime.
Now, being that I take responsibility for my own mistakes, I learned 2 things on this trip.
- I should have worked out harder and trained better for this hunt because had I had more leg endurance, we both could have hiked our butts up there and shot both of those bears.
- Don’t under estimate the altitude, even though it’s less than something you have done before. 3k or 10k in the mountains, still sucks if not prepared.
I had a mission after this hunt to prove I could do better when I went to Colorado and hike with preparation and rock it out!
I ran more, lifted more, I had a backpack with weights on an incline or stairmasters to manipulate the similar variables I would see in the mountains and I took more supplements to increase my oxygen intake. I dropped 22 more pounds and overall, I felt prepared!
The hunt was much better with more success in Colorado and I give all the credit to the lessons learned in Idaho due to my poor mistakes. A wise quote a once received from a family member was ” every school costs some money.” To me, that means I learned a valuable lesson by paying for a trip that wasn’t a success in order to be successful in the future.
I hope everyone takes this and thinks about their next hunt, whether in the tree stand or in the mountains. Your health is everything and without it, you cannot hunt. Take care of yourself and you will enjoy the hunt even more!
Scout, Hunt, Repeat