On the last full weekend of spring bear season, my husband, Todd, our son, Wyatt and I loaded up the truck to head to the Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon to meet with our dear friend, Mark, in hunting camp. Mark’s daughter was supposed to join us, but school obligations kept her away, leaving me as the only woman in the group. Among everyone in camp, we would have 2 bear tags, a cougar tag and several turkey tags to fill. The odds stacked in our favor that we would not be coming home empty handed. Or, so we hoped.
Driving to camp, we became disappointed when temperatures soared into the low 90s. The weather certainly did not appear to want to cooperate, and I feared that it would be much too hot for a successful or fun hunt. Our spirits dropped a bit further when we arrived at camp to find a group of local middle school kids camped just a few hundred yards down the road. Fortunately, this location served as our base camp, and our hunting would take us farther up the mountain each day. Seventy loud middle-schoolers as neighbors did not bode well. We were happy to see so many kids enjoying the outdoors, but selfishly, we would have preferred a much more quiet environment.
As Todd and I finished setting up camp, Mark glassed the nearby hillsides. The songs of the middle-schoolers greeted us as they took an evening hike down the road. Just as they were passing by camp, Mark began to yell, “Bear! Bear!” Sure enough, he had spotted a beautiful blond bruin just a few hundred yards up the hillside. Sadly, as the group of students walked by, none of them or their instructors took interest in or became concerned with the bear. Just out of shooting range, and with dusk fast approaching, we were not able to put on a stalk, so we enjoyed our time watching it wander in an open meadow. It also gave me the perfect opportunity for me to put my new Hawke Sport Optics Sapphire ED binocular ($529.99) to the test. After watching the bear for a while, we felt optimistic about our hunt, knowing that neither the warm temperatures, nor the loud noises, seemed to keep the bears at bay. We fell asleep that night to sweet dreams of our adventures to come.
The following morning we woke at daybreak. I loaded up my Badlands Kali Pack ($159.95) and we began our trek up the mountain and into the wilderness. I had concerns with how well my 9-year-old son would fair during a hike that proved much more strenuous than any of us had anticipated. The first 2 miles of the trail went straight up — gaining more than 1,800 feet in elevation. The thick, green forest of the valley floor opened to fragrant flower-covered meadows and ridge-top vistas with views so stunning they took my breath away.
Wyatt’s patience grew thin as we hiked along and the temperature began to rise. That first morning we saw very little wildlife. Physically, we all grew tired, but mentally, Wyatt became exhausted and bored. After a nice rest mid-day, we turned our hike into a treasure hunt and keep him engaged. It didn’t take long before Wyatt lost himself in the world of birds, bugs and butterflies around us, and began seeking out the smaller creatures on the trailside, like a small fence lizard that called the ecosystem home. Unfortunately, the closer we looked, we started to find more undesirable creatures, like ticks. My worst enemies!
As we neared the trail’s peak, several hours and many miles into the day, an unpredicted wind and rainstorm began to bear down on us. Todd returned to camp with Wyatt to keep him out of the elements, while Mark and I hiked a bit further, hopeful the change of weather and cooler temperatures would encourage the larger game on the mountain to begin to move. To our disappointment, everything stayed hunkered down. Mark and I made our way back to camp. Thanks to my Próis Pro-Edition Vest ($179.99) and its windstopping water-resistant shell my core stayed warm and dry. Without it, I would have been completely soaked by the time I finally crawled into my tent that night.
The next morning, we decided to pick up and move our base camp. Although, we had seen the bear near camp, we were not seeing as much sign as we would have liked. Within a few hours, we found our new home, several miles farther up the mountain range.We had a little slice of hunting heaven at our new camp. Bear and cougar sign littered the secluded road, and we heard the sound of grouse around us, drumming on nearby logs as we fell asleep at night and woke the next morning. If you have never heard a grouse drum, you are missing out. The beat of their wings produces a beautiful pulsing sound that reverberates through your soul.
After setting up our new camp, we ventured back into the woods. I encouraged Wyatt to continue with our wild treasure hunt. As with all hunts, the more you look, the more you seek, the more you will find. It did not take Wyatt long before he spotted bear scat, cougar scat, elk rubs and elk tracks. It also did not take long before Wyatt spotted his first Morel mushroom. During mid-day, when temperatures peaked, we put our bear and cougar hunt on hold and changed our goal to collecting mushrooms. Within just a few hours, we had hunted down almost 5 gallons of delicious, earthy Morels and Calf’s Brain mushrooms. Although we saved most of our harvest for home, we made certain to enjoy a few sautéed over our open campfire that night.
Our new camp proved to be a hot spot of wildlife activity. Over the next few days, we began to see countless cow elk and a few newborn calves. We also began to see bear! Sadly, the majority of the bear we saw were sows with cubs, or simply too far to warrant a stalk. We never saw a cougar, nor did we hear a single turkey gobble.
As the sun set on the final day of our hunt, all of our tags remained unfilled. We did not, though, come home empty-handed. We returned with a bucket full of mushrooms, a camera full of pictures and memories to last a lifetime. I came home knowing my son deepened his love and appreciation for the great outdoors and could handle being pushed to his limits in the field. I also came home knowing that I cannot wait until next year when I can return to the Blues with my boys in search of bear.
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