My Forty Years Scribblin's
Just Killin' Time

An outfitting story written in 1997 and published the November-December 1997 issue of The Montana Journal. A grizzly claims Mildred's kill.

I wasn't really hunting, but I had time to kill, until my husband, "The Boss," would come back with the pack string load of supplies and a new party of hunters tomorrow. I'd had three days to get ready for them. The bunk tents were in order, a five-gallon can of cookies fresh-baked for the next ten days of lunches and coffee sessions, a pile of kindling behind the stove, and new clean sawdust covered the cook tent floor. The laundry was drying on the tent ropes—so now what to do? I couldn't go fishing; there was no one in camp but me to eat the finny favorites. Indian summer still lingered. The late October days were blue and bright, and darkness came early bringing a blanket of frost. Well, it was great weather for hiking the game trails that branched out in several directions from Chaffin's Outfitter's camp in The Bob Marshall Wilderness. As usual, when I took off by myself, I scribbled a note and weighed it down on the table so they'd know where to look for me if I didn't come back. And as usual, I would feel foolish when I reached camp safe and sound and tore it up, but you never know.

A pleasant silence lay over the land, the jingle of horse bells and the din of human voices were absent, since there was no one for miles around but me, I tied the tent flaps closed and took my rifle along—might meet up with a critter that I couldn't handle with a club! Soon I found myself watching a covey of little Fool Hens (Franklin Grouse) playing "follow the leader." Like a bunch of kids they paraded out from behind a bush, one by one, hopped up on a big rock, then down again still one by one, and disappeared into the bushes. I sat motionless on a rotted log not wanting to disturb them. What kind of wheels were turning inside their little, feathered heads? It was a performance worth remembering.

I meandered up the Cabin Creek trail, eyes on the ground and my mind somewhere else. I may have been humming a little tune, as I sometimes did, to warn wild things that there was something that didn't belong in their midst.

There came a sudden commotion, the crashing of heavy bodies in the timber, the thud of fast-departing hooves, I had blundered into a herd of elk, and they had seen me first. I came to with a jerk and mentally kicked myself for my inattentiveness. How our hunters would have liked that chance! Then, the slightest of movements—right over there. A cow elk stood staring at me! Should I shoot her? I didn't have a horse to pack her into camp—couldn't lift the quarters if I did have. But the men should be in fairly early tomorrow, and I'd send the first one back to pick up my elk. Might be my only chance to get one this season. So I pulled the trigger. She didn't go down—just crow-hopped out into the timber. Darn! I was so frustrated that I wanted to throw the gun as far as I could! But I would have to follow her and try to finish the job. I started out to find my wounded cow. A few yards off the trail I heard a thump. She must have jumped over a log. Then I caught up with her, and she was dead. Right under the tree. Only it wasn't a cow, it was a big calf. And the early long-legged calves stood almost as tall as their mothers by hunting season. I stood there looking at the calf, wishing I could give it back its life. Well, the deed was done. Now the work began. I had never had to dress one out alone, but I knew what had to be done, I even took the bandana off of my head and wiped it out clean. I made sure The Boss wouldn't have any room for fault-finding. I propped the cavity open with a stick and hung my jacket over it on a limb; the human scent would discourage any animals that might come near. It was only half an hour from camp, and I could come back in the morning and throw a canvas over it to keep the ravens from feeding on it.

Morning came, right on schedule. I swallowed my breakfast and went trudging up the trail to cover up my prize. Wouldn't that man of mine be surprised when he rode into camp to find out that I had a job for him? But the surprise turned out to be a two-way street. I stood horrified, looking at what was left of my winter's meat. A bear had found it, and regardless of the scent of my jacket, all he had left me was the hide and a little bit of round steak on both hind quarters. If I hadn't been so mad, I would have probably realized that the bruin was dangerously near, sleeping off his ample supper. I threw the canvas over it and went stomping back to my cook tent.

Our son and two other high school boys came in with the hunters, and I directed them to where I had made my kill. The Boss left with a pack horse, and the kids took a shortcut through the woods. When the kids got there, a good-sized grizzly was there too… come back to finish his banquet. Luckily, the bear ran. Three of those strange two-legged critters must have been too much for him.

I must have been walking around with my hand in the Lord's pocket, for I know now that even with a gun in my hand, I would have been no match for a grizzly bear bent on protecting what he considered his private property.