A Daring Adventure
A DARING ADVENTURE
If hell has willows, devils club and huge fallen trees from now on I’m behaving myself. Due to the heavy snows the willows and trees were draped onto the road. We cut several fallen trees with an ax and saw and maneuvered under some giant leaning ones and Chris even jumped several trees up to 30” diameter with the 4 wheeler. On one such jump the hitch broke on the trailer which pulled the bolts out. Analyzing the situation and contemplating what we could use for washers Chris suddenly had an idea. With a grin she pulled out a can of beans which according to her had traveled in the 4 wheeler for the past ten years. She cut off each end and I punched a hole in the middle and there we had two washers large enough to cover the torn holes and off we went. We pushed through the willows with the 4 wheeler until they became so thick we had to cut our way forward. After battling our way 6 hours to travel 8 miles we arrived at the trailhead which had been cleared a couple years prior. We hiked as fast as possible our footsteps quietly echoing through the most beautiful and serene ancient forest of Cedars, Englewood spruce, Douglas Firs and Hemlock to the slides. Its 3pm and its been a long day already when we arrived to sit under two giant cedars in the hopes of a grizzly appearing from the tall vegetation. I was silently thinking how long we could wait before starting our arduous journey back to camp and already dreading the trip.
It’s been 30 minutes and Chris decides to hike a short distance downhill to glass the bottom end of the clearing when suddenly a grizzly appeared walking onto a snow bank 200 yards away and laid down. I frantically got her attention as she was getting ready to leave. With pounding heart I setup my shooting sticks and prepared for a shot if she gave me the ok to shoot.
It all began when I met Chris Franke of Mountain Spirit Outfitters at the Missoula, Montana outdoor show in March 2013. As the Executive Director of the Montana Wild Sheep Foundation I was manning a booth adjacent to her and for the next two days discussed her grizzly hunts, success rates and quality of animals in the Cariboo Region of British Columbia. I had been on 12 outfitted hunts on the North American and Asian continents including 4 trips to Alaska to hunt brown bears. My goal was for a 9’ plus boar and in the past have turned down sows and 9’ plus bears because they were rubbed.
I decided to hunt with Chris for grizzly and black bear in May of 2014. I have to admit I wondered how hunting with a female outfitter would compare to my previous hunts with all male outfits. She assured me she had plenty years of experience and would personally guide my hunt.
During the following year we corresponded by email planning the hunt dates and logistics for the upcoming hunt. It was suggested to be flexible with my dates as there had been record snowfall that winter and so I cleared my calendar for the better part of May up until the first half of June. I didn’t want to be embarrassed so I spent the winter and spring working out in order to get my 68 year old body in shape. I also noted each correspondence from Chris included the quote “Life is either a daring adventure…or nothing” by Helen Keller. What was I getting myself into?
The departure date arrived and I headed out driving the 770 miles to Likely, BC. The ice had just melted off Quesnel Lake the day before my arrival. Chris decided to travel up the lake to hunt black bears while the heavy snows melted providing better access to the slide areas. It took several hours in her tri-hull boat to the cabin which was fortunately still standing considering the effects of the heavy snows evident by the damages to the other cabins. As the lake was calm that morning I was able to enjoy the scenery which is spectacular, the snow capped peaks, the clear aquamarine glacier fed water and the warm sunshine on my face. It was great to be here. Upon our arrival it was discovered to her dismay the stove pipe had broken off due to the snow, but was still hanging in place. Not to be deterred she crawled into the small attic space. One and half hours later, after beating on the roof with every available tool to dislodge the old pipe she had a replacement pipe in place. With not much to work with she insulated the area around the pipe with aluminum foil to protect the roof and we had heat. I no longer wondered whether this lady was qualified to take care of clients in a remote environment. As a matter of fact she scared me a little.
Early mornings found us on the porch enjoying our coffee, chatting about world events, watching the world go by and trying not to get hit by low flying hummingbirds. Upon our arrival Chris had set out the feeders and it didn’t take long for them to find the sugar water. It’s interesting to watch them as there is always one bully who jealously guards the feeders. The location of the cabin is perfect for within sight and sound is the Mitchell River delta. The abundance of wildlife that can be seen roaming across is a wonderful sight. It’s also the calving ground for many moose and on occasion one can see a cow with a new born calf at her side. There are huge flocks of migratory birds landing along the shoreline and the noise they create is astounding. Every morning to watch the sun slowly rise turning the snowcapped peaks pink is so beautiful. What a paradise.
The next few days were spent accessing the log landings by boat. Although Chris had a 4 wheeler at one of the landings it was of limited use as the snow was too deep. Several days were spent hiking through snow looking for signs of black and grizzly bears. Each day we saw several bears but no griz. On one occasion we came across a smaller black bear which we decided to stalk for fun to see how close we could get. It was exciting and somewhat nerve racking as we managed to come within 15 feet before he decided that we weren’t the friendly sort and luckily left the other way. We proved the old saying that bear hunting is hours and hours of sheer boredom followed by 10 seconds of sheer terror. The days were spent hiking and glassing areas with new grass for bears to appear. I have spent the past 43 years hiking the mountains of Montana and set a fast pace. It was a pleasure hiking with Chris as she matched me step for step up and down the mountains.
After spending days stomping through snow it was decided to return to Likely and hunt another part of the area while the snow melted in the higher country. Hunting from Likely we saw many black bears and turned down one male grizzly at 120 yards that was deemed too small. Another day was spent travelling to the north end of her territory hoping the snow levels would at least allow a 4 wheeler access to her griz camp. We found only more snow. It was frustrating to say the least, however you can be rest assured, Chris always has a plan. She asked whether I wanted to return to Missoula while she guided her upcoming black bear hunt which would allow more time for the snow to melt. Agreeing it was a good idea I packed my things and made plans to return 10 days later to hunt until the end of the season.
Upon returning to Likely 10 days later we again boated to the cabin on Quesnel Lake as snow depths still precluded vehicle access to her griz camp. Most days we left the cabin about 9 am boating to the log landings and either walking or 4 wheeling the old logging roads looking for bears or sign. One evening we staked out a road junction when a black bear appeared on the road at 165 yards. One shot from my 338 magnum grounded the bear. Chris quickly and efficiently caped the bear, we grabbed our packs and headed for the boat as it was getting late. Our boat ride to the cabin was spent in the dark and it was good to get back, build a fire, eat one of her great meals and recap our day. The next day we hauled the bear hide to the top of a logging unit where I glassed for bears while she finished fleshing and turning the lips and ears. There is no lost time when she is in charge.
Afraid the bear would drop over the other side of the snow bank Chris told me to shoot upon the next opportunity. With a pounding heart I steadied my breathing and fired one shot. The bear stopped with no appearance of being hit. Quickly jacking in another shell I fired again and as the grizzly rolled down the bank towards us he let out a loud growl. We could see the vegetation moving as he moved downhill parallel to our position. I was able to get another shot at his back when he crossed an area with shorter vegetation. He let out a huge death growl and the vegetation stopped moving. We stayed in our spot for several minutes slowly calming our heart rates, watching and waiting to see whether there was any more movement. Aware that time was of the essence we crossed above the last known position and climbed the snow bank glassing the vegetation trying to locate the bear. We found a blood trail and soon located the dead bear. I stood there beaming as Chris did the jig of happiness laughing with delight. It was with surprise and pleasure when she pulled out a small flask and a Cuban cigar for us to toast the grizzly.
Then a few pictures, a quick caping and a forced march back over the huge downed logs quickly found us back at the 4 wheeler at dark. I was very impressed with her ability to cape, skin and then carry a very heavy pack back to the trailhead. The trip back down the road jumping the logs and deflecting the willows was a very tiring effort and we arrived at the pontoon boat shortly before midnight and used the moonlight to find the cabin.
Climbing the steps to the cabin deck I realized we had just experienced a fantastic daring adventure. The lake was dead calm, it was a warm evening and a perfect end to a great day of hunting. With a pleasurable sigh I dropped down into the easy chair and grinned from ear to ear.
Every hunt I have completed has left a lifetime of memories. This hunt certainly added to that list. Chris Franke is a very pleasant person, she knows her guide area, and is very resourceful when required in the field. I look forward to hunting with her again in the future.