Walking the Grizzly’s Path

Today’s story just so happens to be true.

Back thirty years ago or so, my friend Darrel and I were required to take the Conservation Outdoor Recreation Education (CORE) course in order for us to legally hunt in British Columbia.

Funny at the time because Darrel’s family hunted for years, past along from generation to generation within his Norwegian heritage in Prince George, B.C. But now any one who wanted to hunt was required to take this Provincial Hunters Course, which is totally understandable.

To fully understand the whole story I’ll begin by me meeting Darrel during the first days of class at Fulton Jr. High School in Vernon, B.C.
His dad had just relocated to the small town, working as a Provincial Scaling Officer. Our friendship hit it off from the get-go when it became clear we both enjoyed the outdoors. We spent most of our time hiking and fishing throughout the Okanagan and Kootenays.

After passing CORE, Darrel’s dad invited us up to his yearly hunting party deep within the Chilcotin Region of British Columbia. The group of hunters consisted a mix of old friends, relatives and new friends, like myself.

If you ever hiked in the Chilcotin, you know what I mean when I say your in the heart of B.C.’s wild wilderness carved by raging turquoise rivers and mountains featuring a variety of dense white spruce and lodgepole pine.

Our camp location was approximately an hour away from Williams Lake, with the Chilcotin River dividing us from the protected Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park. On one side you could see Big Horn Sheep grazing on the mountainous grasslands while our terrain featured eroded gullies masked in a deep green forest.

I was the proud owner of my very first rifle, a brand new semi-automatic Browning 30-06 featuring a high powered scope. Needless to say this kind of weapon requires your full attention and respect. It felt good to have learned how to operate and care for your rifle during our hunting course in Vernon. But little did I understand the experience of hunting until my trip into the Chilcotin, an experience I will never forget.

The first few days a group of us younger hunters ventured into the wilderness stocking our prey, tagged for deer or moose. With Darrel’s previous experience I was in good hands, knowingly this green horn would soon learn the skills about hunting.

Throughout the week the older hunters had their cache of deer and moose while Darrel and I were still hopeful to bring some wild meat to our families table. Early one morning, around 4:30 am, Darrel and I hop into his shiny new Toyota mid-size truck heading down one of the many whining dirt roads, eager to start our day.

We thought to check out the area where Darrel’s dad showed me the day before. Mr Colin’s was a skilled hunter surveying his terrain using his finely tune senses. It was then he pointed out to me the largest paw print I’ve ever seen reviling the unmistakable signs of a Grizzly. What made it even more dramatic then I expected, a puddly of water had just finish oozing from the indentation. Mr Colin’s nodded, looking around, never keeping his eye off from the deep forest throughout, he said,” Do you know what this means?”

I looked down taking careful note, but wasn’t really sure of its immediate threat,” Not really,” I said.

Mr. Colin’s was stern, not filching a muscle, fully armed and ready for action. Of course, there’s me, nonchalant with little worry in the whole world, not realizing the impact of the situation.

Mr Colin said in a low monotone voice,” This means this grizzly is very close and most probably watching us right now.”

Suddenly it was as if a light bulb went off in my head, my heart raced quick thoughts of, who’s the prey now? I immediately said,” Are we ok?”

Mr Colin’s calmly said,” That depends?”

“Depends on what?” Now more nervous than ever.

” Are you ready?” Mr. Colin’s grinned.

” Huh. Ready? Ready for what?” Beads of sweat began dripping from my brow.

“It’s ok. The Griz is gone. You can relax,” Mr Colin’s chuckled.

That’s when I quickly learned the importance of knowing your surroundings, keeping alert and vigil at all times. I learn later he had spotted the Grizzly in the distance, taking note of our presence and then wandering back into the cover of the forest.

The chilly morning in November left a light snow fall the night before, guiding us easy access to any visible tracks of wildlife. Darrel and I began our deer hunt, with me keeping in mind what I saw the day before. The frozen dark forest sent chills through me, even though I was properly bundled up in my red coat with the green and white crest showcasing my achievement in the Hunters course.

Drudging up and down the countless valleys on the mountain side we decided to taken a quick break, parking ourselves on an old fallen tree braced at the right height for me to dangle my feet. I removed the fresh fallen snow with my mitts and sat comfortably. We had fashioned up some gourmet peanut butter sandwiches the night before, which we gladly consumed in minutes.

It wasn’t long after we continued on our way, with me not paying too much attention to where we were. But, I knew Darrel must surely know the way out. I figure it was mid morning when Darrel quickly stopped to look at the terrain ahead. With my head down, thinking how tired I was from the early start, I nearly ploughed into him.

I said,” What’s up?”

“Oh nothing,” Darrel claimed,” I was just thinking we should do a loop around this old mountain. You go one way, I’ll go the other,and we will meet up on the other side.”

Thinking not too much of it, I said,” Yeah. Sure. I think I can do that.”

And if I had realized what was about to happen I think I should have said,” No. Not a good idea.”

Instead we went off in our separate way intent on meeting up just on the other side. I was soon to learn how quickly the forest can play tricks on you when one is not familiar with its surroundings. If you’ve ever walked in the wilderness by yourself, you know what I mean by the eerie quietness, with the only sound coming from your boot making contact on the snow-filled forest floor.

Resting for a minute, taking in a deep breathe, it was then in horror, I realized I wasn’t the only one on this side of the mountain. Four striding Grizzly paw tracks became all too clear, sending an immediate rush of panic into my senses. Carefully I scouted the area best to my knowledge, not seeing anything.

But that didn’t seem to matter, because for some strange reason I started to run with my firearm in hand, racing aimlessly through the forest. Running out of breath I stopped, thinking to myself,”What am I doing! I should know better then to panic. After all, didn’t I just take that damn course telling me exactly what NOT to do? ”

Off to the corner of my eye I noticed a couple of hunters off in the distance.

” Oh, is that Darrel up there? Who’s he with?”

Ok. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason I headed their way to catch up with them. Not realizing all this time I’m headed in a totally new different direction.

And guess what happened next?

Yup. I lost them. They disappear into the thick woods without any trace or sound. To this day I wonder if I really did see them or not? Was it possibly a mirage?

Once again I ran aimlessly into the depth of the what now seemed like a monster, than a friendly forest. Tired and fed-up carrying my now heavy rifle, it made sense to swing it over my back with the straps provided.

“Oh great!,” yelling with such force I’m sure someone is sure to hear me. I stopped to listen. Nothing, not even a squire chirping. Starting the way back, it was crystal clear I’m officially lost. Checking the time, it dawns on me I’ve been running around the wilderness for over two hours. It’s cold and becoming dark.

So, now what?

Do I swallow my pride and let the whole world know I’m actually lost? During the hunters course they taught you what to do next. Slowly retrieving my rifle, loading it with three bullets, I took a deep breathe, aimed my Browning 30-06 into the air. Squeezed the trigger and shot off three warning shots. Three warning shots alerts anyone nearby that someone is either in distressed, injured or lost. If anything I was embarrassed, even with no one around.

Here I am, Big White Hunter…lost! I lowered my head in discuss.

Placing the butt of the rifle down into the snow I lifted my head to see a huge Grizzly starring directly at me, not moving a muscle, only six feet away. I’m not sure who was the scariest, me or him.

I couldn’t move. Completely frozen.

The old Griz could have charged me and still it wouldn’t matter. Didn’t dare lift my firearm in fear it may retaliate, tearing me limb by limb into fresh hamburger. My heart felt as if it was in my throat. It seemed like hours have past before the Grizzly raised onto his two feet, sniffed the air and settled back down on all fours. The huge beast began to walk away in a slumber stance. It would have been funny if I wasn’t so scared, because it reminded me of Yogi Bear walking away from his finished picnic basket.

Thank God I wasn’t his meal for the day.

Still shaking uncontrollable by either fear or possible a sign of hyperthermia, I was determined to find my way out of here. It was then, I realized the best way to see where I am is by climbing to the top of the mountain so I can oversee the trees. The light was slowing disappearing into the shadows of a very cold night. This was my last chance before nightfall.

Valuable time had past before reaching the top, but it was like setting a new Olympic record when I could barely see the overall terrain beneath me. It was then my eyes caught the most welcoming sign of them all, a dirt road leading somewhere. Even though not knowing where this road would lead me, I knew this would be my best option. With all the hunters in this region someone is sure to find me.

Running frantically down the mountain with my firearm slung over my back, I headed directly to the lonely dirt road. Must of been a good twenty meters away when the welcoming signs of lights beamed in the darkness. Quickly aiming my rifle into the air, exploding off three shots in a row. Suddenly the vehicle stopped dead in the middle of the road. Wasn’t going to wait, I ran as fast as my feet would carry me towards that vehicle. Crashing through the woods it was clear to everyone, someone or something was coming down to meet them. The closer to my arrival I heard their inviting voices in the cold night air.

It was a hunting party of three who were finish for the day heading to their designated campsite. After a series of questions, they covered me with a blanket and squeezed me into their small cab only meant for two. But I didn’t care, the warmth of that cab was like reaching heaven. It wasn’t long and they dropped me off at my base camp, where the only person there was Mr. Colin’s. His worried look greeted me with open arms. He told me it’s standard practice for one person to stay close to the camp while everyone else formed a search party, looking for me. Apparently they even set up huge bonfires on skid landings in an effort that I would see them. Little did they know at the time I was a good ten kilometres away, completely in the wrong direction.

To this day I’m referred to as the little great white hunter that found his way out of the bush with his trusty Browning 30-06.

Of course I told them of the Grizzly Bear, but not one believes it to this day. Believe you me, if it was up to the Griz, this story may have ended badly on front of Newspapers or headlines for the evening news. Maybe it was the act of God that saved me, but whatever the reason I have the deepest respect for Grizzly Bears and wildlife all together.

I was lost for over ten hours.

Written by Bari Demers

Bari is a screenwriter for Black Angels of Sirus 5

The photo below was taken by my daughter Tianndra