Dog and Bear Story
A long winter of record cold and snow had kept my dog Griz and I huddled around the wood stove and cable
television. When springs thaw finally came, we headed into the back country that we both loved, searching for
Turning off the main highway, we crossed a concrete bridge with a foaming river of muddy water ripping at its
supports. After parking at the designated parking area, we headed up Porcupine Creek. The creek was running
out of its banks trying to rid itself of winter’s masterpiece so Mother Nature’s landscape artisans could paint a new
Griz ran free and explored every cottontail promising burrow and hollowed log that might be worth investigating. I
seldom tried to harness her freedom as I explored myself. She would be off on her own adventure and leave me to
mine. But she never was gone more than five or ten minutes at a time before checking on my progress. I was
always pushing myself to cover more area, and envied her ability to cover so much ground. I always wanted to
smother one more ridge top or hillside with footsteps in search of elk, deer, and moose antlers. This obsession had
begun before I entered my teens. I couldn’t go often enough and while I was gone, I couldn’t cover enough
ground. It became a passion, addiction, and obsession all rolled into one that rivaled any that could be drug or
alcohol induced. Spring thaw brought out this craving that winter had tried to suppress.
Griz became a part of that passion and loved to go along to pursue her own interests while running free without
the restrictions of fenced yards, or leash laws. She was part of an antler trade I made when she was a pup. Six
large fresh elk sheds were traded for a pile of mixed elk and deer sheds and sets that a gentleman had in his yard.
My wife and daughters came along with me to make the trade and we came home with a pickup load of antlers and
one Border collie puppy.
I had on a backpack with rations enough to last two days. We had left the truck before the sunrise, allowing the
faint hints of dawn to guide our progress. I knew where we were headed and hurried along the snowmobile path,
now absent of snow. A moose in the creek bottom stared as we passed. Matted hair from her winter coat hung in
clumps as her belly swelled with the promise of a calf. Griz stayed close to me. She had been educated by a
mother moose before.
We had to cross the main creek while listening to its roar of warning as it tumbled through glacier discarded
boulders, remnants of a Petrified Forest, and more recent fallen fir and pine. One giant fir had been recently up
rooted by the creeks gouging and assaulting winds. I prided myself on my balancing act as I crossed the tree’s
rough barked surface. Griz followed, waging her tail while we both watched the frigid water churning below us.
After we had walked about three miles, it was time to leave the familiar trail, and venture into the unknown of
sage and forest. Snow had melted, but not that long ago because ground left baron had cobwebs matted to last
year’s leftovers. Taking a short cut, we made a winding course through waist high dead falls that no sane human
or animal would follow. This wasn’t a place to find sheds, but a good area to find a winter starved old bull. As we
came out of the timber where it gave way to the top of a windswept ridge, we found our first reward. Lying next to a
small pine was a six point elk antler still holding its light chocolate coloring before the sun could bleach it white and
small animals could gnaw on its points. Griz barked our discovery and sniffed it before running off for more
exploring. I picked up the treasure as I have a thousand others and admired it for its hardness and beauty. It
always gave me the same feeling as when I rode my first bike, drove my first car, or kissed my first girl.
I used the shed like the center of a target by going around and around it making bigger and bigger circles till I
found the shed’s mate. It was large enough that the other side should be close by. I had been doing this for over
twenty five years, and the thrill of the discovery had never depleted. It only fired my hunger to look for more.
I worked the ridge by crisscrossing it from the shadows of the timber to the sunniness of its southern exposure. I
found the mate and cuddled them both in my arms as I kept searching. In the edge of the timber, I found an elk
antler that I had missed from the previous year. The sun had turned the chocolate coloring to more of a caramel
and something had gnawed on one of the bark polished points.
As the sun rose and the day warmed, I took little notice because I was busy with my attention focused on the
ground. My biggest fear was that I would miss an ivory tip sticking up from behind a fallen log or buried among last
year’s scraps of needles or leaves. I had eight elk sheds by noon, and felt it was going to be a good day. Griz had
checked on me several times, and then was off on her own business. I jumped a cow elk and her last year’s calf.
They slowed to a walk looking back from time to time. Her ribs were showing through
I kept hunting for more shed antlers, and I had a total of sixteen at the end of the day. The sun had set and the
coming darkness was the only thing that kept me from continuing my search. I found a comfortable place by a
narrow stream that had finished with its exodus of snow and was running clear. I undid my pack and opened
cellophane wrapped baloney sandwiches, which I shared with Griz. There was no thought of building a fire as
coolness flooded around me in the star filled darkness. The matches I had brought were for emergencies, and fire
only took away from my experience. A moon rose to provide enough light for my needs. I rolled out the small piece
of tarp I had brought with a blanket rolled up inside. I traveled light with few comforts. The more I brought with me,
the more I would have to bring back, giving me less room and added weight when packing out antlers.
My body was begging for rest and even though it was early for bedtime, I welcomed its arrival. Griz curled up in
the canvas beside me, and we both drifted off to our own dreamland. The fullness of the moon caused coyotes to
howl off and on during the night. Griz would make little whines as her ears perked to the howling. I would wake, but
the tiny stream’s uninterrupted conversation would lull me back to restless dreams.
Morning came as it has for over three billion years, and I didn’t wake with the help of an alarm clock, but to a
predawn light bringing my surroundings into focus. I was a little stiff and sore from my hike the day before, and
from a bed that seemed to get harder by the hour during the night. The fog of my breath clouded around me as I
shook off the affects of a chill that threatened to creep into my bones. Griz was already sniffing around the
immediate area restless to get on with the day. I broke out a banquet breakfast of more baloney sandwiches to
I tied the antlers I had gathered the day before onto a World War Two surplus wooden frame and packed them
down to the main trail. I found a place to stash them in a grove of small fir trees where I could pick them up on the
way out in the evening. Bits of frost still whitened the shaded areas as Griz and I worked our way up the main
creek. There were lots of moose droppings and as I skirted the willows clinging to the creeks banks, I came across
a small moose shed. It was no trophy, but I was happy with the find. Even though searching the other side
produced nothing, I felt refreshed without the hundred pounds on my back. The hike today would be shorter
because I wanted to be back to the truck before sundown and on my way home. I had promised my wife that we
would have supper together.
I searched for another fallen bridge to get across the main stream, so I could hike up on the north side. I found a
lodge pole pine to serve the purpose, but it seemed much narrower than the giant fir I had crossed on the day
before. Griz announced her nervousness by pacing back and forth at the partially rooted end while giving dog
barks of concern. Water lapped and sprayed its intentions to make the crossing as treacherous as possible. I
found a pole to help me keep my balance and started my portage. Griz ran up and down the creek bank looking for
a better crossing while I inched my way across. The pole was a plus and twice it came in handy to help me keep my
balance as the distance between me and the opposite side closed. Griz finally abandoned her search and waited
for me to make the last four or five steps when the bark on the fallen lodge pole peeled off. As I was trying to catch
myself my other foot slipped off the other side, and I found myself straddling the log and in considerable pain. It
would have been comical if I had been watching it happen to someone else.
I hugged the log trying to get my eyes uncrossed as my feet dangled in the rushing water. Griz figured I was just
trying to let her pass so she proceeded to walk over my back stepping on the pack frame, and then the back of my
head as I was trying to get some oxygen back in my lungs. She sat patiently on the opposite bank tilting her head
as if asking if I was enjoying myself.
Finally my lungs filled with gasps of water sprayed oxygen as the creek tried to undress my feet by stealing my
boots. I didn’t want to move until the pain went away, but I knew I had to before the icy water froze me to the log.
Slowly I inched forward till I was able to slip off the log and step in shallow water. That’s when I noticed I still had the
moose shed clutched in one hand. After I crawled up the gutted bank, I laid in the dampness of the frosted shade
for several minutes. As I pictured the past events, I started laughing to myself. Griz was losing her patience, and
started licking my face which caused me to laugh louder. I wonder what that laughter would have sounded to
someone who was passing by thinking they were the only ones in the forest.
Bracing myself against another fallen tree, I was able to get to my feet and walk off the effects of my tree
straddled landing. Griz went on her way as if she was confident I was all right. My trip up the opposite mountain
side was a little slower than I had planned, but the sun was warm and drying out my clothes as the water squirted
out of my boots.
Within an hour I was almost back to normal while searching for antlers. I had picked up three when Griz came
back for her periodical check on my labored progress. While cradling the three antlers in my arms, I crested a
small rise. Matching ivory antler tips sticking up and at an angle promised a winterkill bull. After dropping the sheds
I was packing, I scrambled to examine my trophy. Griz was already there and getting ready to roll in the rotting of
the carcass when I yelled “no.” She gave me her killjoy look and begged with wags of her tail, but I was firm. I didn’
t want to ride home with a dog that smelled worse than I did after two days of sweating.
It was a nice bull with seven points on one side and six on the other. I couldn’t get my two hands around the
bases. Old age may have caused its demise, but that was only a guess because scavengers had begun to scatter
the evidents. Unsheathing my hunting knife, I cut through hide and what little meat was left till I was down to the
neck bone. Then I twisted the antlers till the neck snapped and the head was free of the carcass. I went back and
picked up the sheds I had discarded in my excitement and placed them with the set a little ways from the rest of the
dead. I would retrieve them on the way out later in the day.
I worked my way back and forth across more country and did pretty well in my gathering with another six elk
sheds and three deer sheds, but I wanted more. I had these six, the three with the winter kill, one moose plus five
deer sheds, and the sixteen I had stashed from yesterday. Looking at the sun I figured it was around three o’clock,
and I knew it was over five miles to the truck so I headed back to the winterkill. Taking a little different rout, I came
across a couple more elk sheds. One was down a steep mud slide bank and was almost buried except for a couple
of points. It took me a while to retrieve it.
As I approached the area where I had left the winterkill, Griz started acting a little strange. She barked a couple
of times, and then walked right next to me almost causing me to trip a couple of times. I asked her what her
problem was as if I was going to get an answer. We came down a finger ridge with a breeze at my back delivering
late afternoon. We came around the gnarled side of a huge fir that had been seared by lighting and had many of
its tree sized limbs amputated. I had used its uniqueness to mark where the winterkill and the three sheds were
located. I was a little surprised to see antlers I had stacked on the winterkill scattered around with broken pieces of
dead tree limbs. Griz started backing up and growling. I thought that was odd and immediately thought of
porcupines. Picking up one of the shed, I didn’t notice any gnawing. Something was different about the winterkill.
It had been drug back toward the rest of the dead elk. Grass, pine needles, and dead limbs had been raked over
the entire carcass as if thing was trying to bury it. Griz was still growling and wouldn’t go near the dead elk that she
tried to roll in earlier. She ran off a few yards whinnying for me to follow, and then she would bark and run off a few
more yards. A cold chill started at the back of my neck and creped down my spine as the word bear slapped me to
attention. Then the words grizzly bear slapped me even harder. A little bit of panic started to creep into the chill
that was playing a tune with my backbone. My mouth started to water as if I was going to throw up while all my
nerve endings began to tingle.
While trying to glance in every direction at once, I dropped the armload of elk sheds that I had been carrying.
With my heart pounding hard enough to bring on a stroke, I started figuring how long I had been gone. Then to
accelerate my panic, I wondered if the bear was tracking me. Griz moved off about fifty yards in the direction she
figured we would be headed because it was toward the truck.
I couldn’t leave the antlers. As scared as I was, I just couldn’t do it. I started tying them on the pack as fast as I
could. Then I carried the winterkill by standing between the antlers, faced the skull forward and picked it up by the
main beams. I was ready in a few minutes, but Griz kept her distance. No thought was given to picking up my stash
from yesterday, which was two miles away and almost three miles from the truck. Heading down the ridge I didn’t
notice the seventy or eighty pounds on my back. I cupped my hands under the main beams of the set and walked
with the stride of a man who wanted to put a lot of distance between him what might be following him. Only a
quarter of a mile or so, and I would be out of the scattered timber and in more open country. For some reason, I
thought that was a good thing. My leg muscles had found new energy in feeding off my fear.
My mouth felt like it had been stuffed with cotton balls, but what water was left in me was running into my eyes
and blurring my vision. I was propelled by fear, guided by instinct on a well-traveled game trail, and headed down
hill to give me momentum. Griz waited for me to reach her, and then she would trot ahead for about twenty yards.
She kept looking back as if wishing I would hurry. Finally her impatience got the best of her, and she dropped out
of my sight into a narrow draw that separated the ridge I was on and the one paralleling it. I was almost out of the
timber when I heard a frantic barking. Looking up, I couldn’t see Griz, so I headed for a little rise that would let me
view the draw and the hillside beyond.
With the head of the winterkill guiding me, I came over the crest allowing the narrow draw to come into view. Still
no Griz, but I could hear her whining. Taking a few more steps I could see all the way to the bottom of the draw.
There she was, crouched and still doing her half bark half whine. Setting the winterkill in front of me, I ran my
shirtsleeve across my face to wipe the sweat out of my eyes. My breathing was coming easier as I bent forward
trying to take some of the weight off my shoulders from the antlers tired firmly to my pack. After a deep breath, I
caught a movement on the hillside opposite me that a Christmas tree sized fir had been hiding. Bear registered
with the ring of an old time cash register, and then big bear echoed a more alarming warning. I don’t know how
long I held my breath, but I don’t remember letting it out.
The bear hadn’t noticed me because its attention was focused on Griz. I thought to myself “not good, this is not
good.” I looked from side to side and there was only sagebrush. I had walked out of the scattered timber about
fifty yards back. The bear was moving toward the dog, and Griz was holding her ground. But for how long? I froze
as a breeze shifted a bit, and my scent and the scent of the dead elk skull drifted toward the bear.
Within a heartbeat, I formed a plan. Maybe if I back up slowly about ten steps then I’d be out of sight. I could
drop straight off the side of the ridge, and high-tail it for the main creek and the snowmobile trail. By the next
heartbeat, I began to execute that plan. I took one step back then another, leaving the set of elk antlers. The bear
was almost to the dog when it reared up and looked in my direction with its nose testing the breeze. I froze again
and “not good” was all I could think of. I had to tell myself to breath. The distance between me and the bear was
less than a hundred feet, but it was a little downhill until the bear stood up on its hind legs. That put us at eye
level. The bear grunted a couple of times and tested the air again. I don’t think he knew what I was, but I think he
knew I was edible. The pack was getting heavier and the sun hotter. The sweat was running in my eyes again and
burning them as I tried to focus without moving a hair follicle. I tried to appear invisible in my statue like posturing
hoping the elk antlers tied to my pack frame would disguise me as a tree or bush, but I was shaking uncontrollably.
The bear dropped down to all fours, turned straight down to the bottom of the draw, and less toward Griz. I
thought of the 22 pistol my wife had gifted me so she could feel better about my hiking alone in bear country. She
always made sure I had it with me when I left the house and my conscious made sure I had it strapped to my waist
when I left the truck. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it would probably just irritate a charging bear even more
than he already was. I unsnapped the strap that secured it in the holster and thought I’d be better off shooting
myself with it than the bear.
Griz noticed the bear change direction and charged it while putting up more racket than a herd of crazed
squirrels. She snarled and barked while running right up to the bear’s face. The bear stopped and took a swat at
Griz almost connecting, but Griz was already behind the bear nipping at a hind leg. The bear reared up again and
turned his back to me as Griz was backing up the hill. I could hear the bear snapping its jaws and thought of the
power they possessed.
This was my chance for escape, but I couldn’t abandon Griz to an uncertain fate. I set back on my butt so I could
slip the straps of the pack off my shoulders. As they clattered to the ground the bear turned back in my direction
and roared after snapping his jaws. I just about wet myself. “Not good” came to mind again, but Griz took another
nip out of the front of the hind leg and the bear swung back toward her. Griz turned and ran up the opposite hill
with the bear dropping to all fours and chasing her for about twenty feet. Then the bear stopped and turned back
in my direction. I found a couple of baseball sized rocks at my feet and hurled one at the bear about the time Griz
nailed a hind leg again. My rock missed its mark as the bear turned toward Griz.
Griz became tangled in sagebrush as she tried to retreat, and the bear landed a paw that sent Griz head over
heels for about ten feet. I ran at the bear yelling “no, no, no,” at the top of my lungs and heaved the second rock
which smacked the bear on the rump. He let out a “woof” and I was amazed at its agility as it spun back in my
direction. By this time Griz had gained her feet and was in the bear’s face barking and snarling. I stopped within
the length of my living room from the bear and looked for another rock. Part of an old limb was all there was, so I
heaved that at the bear and it glanced off his side. The bear reared up again on his hide legs’ turning back to me
and then right back to Griz. For the first time I noticed how mangy he was. Clumps of winter hair were balled up
and hanging here and there. I started backing up the side hill I had just run down. I was almost in the bottom of the
draw and the bear and Griz were half way up the opposite side.
The bear finally gave up and dropped back to all fours. It headed up the draw with Griz barking her victory in
pursuit. I just collapsed. My knees were shaking so bad I couldn’t stand. Griz followed the bear for about fifty
yards and then looked back in my direction. The bear disappeared into some small pines, and I could see the tops
of them wave from side to side as he kept heading away from us.
Griz came back to me and licked my arms and face as I checked her over. I could only see a little patch of
missing hair and blood oozing from a small scratch where the bear had swatted her. There were no sign of broken
ribs as I felt her from head to paw. We both sprinted up to the winterkill and I set on the ground so I could get the
pack back on. With winterkill in hand, we headed on out. My pace could have set records as I headed for the elk
antlers stashed from yesterday. Griz never left my side. She would look back from where we had come once in a
while, but I never had the nerve. It was almost dark when we got to yesterday’s stash. I still had three miles to go,
and figured I would come back for them another time. I went on down the trail about a short distance and stopped.
There had been few times I had ever left antlers in the woods. I dropped off my pack and headed back with the
set. When I got to the stash, I ricked them around the set, stood in the middle and headed back to my pack. When
I got to the pack, I tied some I had ricked on the set to the pack and proceeded to the truck. I don’t know how much
weight I was carrying, but it had to be over two hundred pounds. It was way passed dark when I finally arrived at
the parking area. I just collapsed after setting down the elk set with the antlers on it. I slipped out of the pack frame
and just laid there in the dark for about ten minutes before I could stand up and load the antlers. Griz lay down
beside me. I still had fifty miles of driving before I would be home to a wife who was probably worried sick. As I
pulled onto the highway, I thought to myself “another bear to face.”