LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS, OH. WAIT, WOLVES, NOT TIGERS. When I was 14 years old, my Uncle and I encountered a mountain lion on our way back to our camp. It was traveling in the same direction we were, on a logging road, and we were behind it. It was a massive cat. I will never forget the feeling I had when we rounded the next bend toward a straight-away and the cat was gone, nowhere to be seen and we still had about a mile back to camp. Maybe it was in a tree watching us, maybe it doubled back and was stalking us. Who knows? This was one of the first experiences I had where I wanted to be carrying a sidearm, as I had already filled my turkey tag for the spring season. These days, I always carry a sidearm in the woods.
A few months ago, at the same camp, I was tending to the fire while my wife was getting our kids to bed in the camper (since having two little ones, I much prefer the camper to a tent, at least until they are older). I started to hear the low, lonesome howl of some wolves that were in the area. At first I wasn't sure I wasn't hearing things. I had to walk away from the light of the fire and the noises of the kids in the camper to be sure. I was soon sure, they were not more than a two hundred yards away. I have seen a lot of wolves up there but had never heard them howl like that before. Wolves are often around the camp at the start of turkey season. One year there was a snow drift on the road and I could not drive the truck to our camp. I parked and decided to scout the road a bit further on foot. I didn't make it 20 yards up the road before I saw a big white wolf, maybe 20 yards from me. After it ran off, I continued up the road and less than 5 minutes later I saw another, this time a dark grey wolf right on the road, maybe 40 yards from where I stood.
In 2014 we had an unsuccessful year hunting turkeys. We saw some birds. We had a good time, but we did not manage to fill our tags that year. We did, however, see 7 black bears in less than 4 days of hunting. In one instance my Uncle called me on the radio and explained that he had gotten himself into a pickle. He had a BIG blonde black bear less than 15 yards from him, grazing on some grass, right where my Uncle intended to put his decoys. He had also left his shotgun at the tree he was using as a blind and did not have a sidearm or bear spray. I was not far from where he was hunting so I headed that way. That bear just kept grazing down this meadow. I managed to get some video of it. I have applied for a spring tag in the area each year since then. Hopefully one of these days I will draw it...
That same year, I called a black bear right to me not far from where we saw the blonde one. I have been calling turkeys with my voice for a few years now. That year the turkey hunting was so bleak that when I spotted a black bear down in a draw, and my Uncle didn't believe that it was indeed a bear, in order to prove it to him, I decided to try my hand at some predator calling. This was the first time I had experimented with this, but after only seconds of trying to sound like an animal in distress, this bear got up and started heading our way (note to self: have a tag next time dumbass). Of course I left my camera back at camp on this hunt... It wandered up toward us a while and I, not wanting it to get too close, quit calling. It then went back down into the draw. I figured that was the end of it. We sat for a few minutes discussing our evening hunting plans and then, before getting ready to leave, my Uncle suggested that I walk over to where I could see the draw and determine which way the bear went "for educational purposes". I didn't walk 10 yards. The damn thing had triangulated us and was about 25 yards from me. As soon as it saw me, it stood up on its hind legs, standing at about 6 feet tall and 250+ lbs. As soon as I saw it, I drew my sidearm and watched it for a second standing upright, then yelled at it to get out of there. It put its ears back like a whipped dog and ran back down in the draw.
Spend enough time in Idaho's backcountry, or most of the Northwestern US really, and one is going to see some predators. I'm not an expert on this topic, I haven't hunted predators, I have never shot one while hunting in self defense, though I have fired a few warning shots. I have had many experiences with predators in the wild and this post is the first in a series of posts about what I carry for a sidearm in the woods here in Idaho and why. Next week, I'll discuss bear spray vs sidearms, and why I and many hunters choose to carry two firearms. The following week I will get into my choice of sidearm, some ballistics and semi-auto vs revolver.
Stay Tuned. Good Luck. Be Safe.
Video of the blonde black bear my Uncle encountered.