The bear was dead. It had died on the trail where the horse had reared up. Nick had leaned forward as far as he could to keep from falling off. I, on the other hand, kept my rear on the back of the horse with a rush of adrenalin that clamped my knees and everything else, if you get my drift.
The previous night we had shot the bear when it came to close to camp. Because we were concerned about entering the trees in pursuit of a wounded meat eater, horses were posted next to the tent. Rifles, pistols and knives were kept within reach or maybe I should say finger cocked on hair trigger and teeth on sharpened steel.
At timberline, it would take a full day’s ride to return to a civilization but due to the law of the land, we had to return the claws and head to the Fish and Game.
Nick had the best understanding on how to skin a brown bear. Gutting and skinning didn’t take very long but the claws took some time to separate the bones from the pads and hide. The hide was a special prize that would look magnificent on the wall. Although my wife had second thoughts once it was home and had a whiff of the woods. We left the head and claws attached to the hide.
We had limited resources to get a bear back to Soldotna, Alaska. We were limited because a horse doesn’t relax and just walk along with a bear on its back. We tried several ideas that only had hoofs flying and horse’s heads twice the usual height. Finally, we pulled the noses and eyes of the pack animals into a small stands of trees and placed our coats over their heads. Our scent of several days in the woods without a bath distracted them from our task.
The bear hide was placed in canvas, wrapped and tied; then lifted up over the haunches and placed it on the pack saddle. Nick started back toward Soldotna with the bear hide in tow and I followed with my pack animal close behind. At timberline, trees are close together and small. Game trails were not of much use. We were heading down the mountain side while the game trails followed the contours. We had to enter groups of trees occasionally which rubbed against our legs, the horses and the pack animals.
Then it happened. As the pack animal tried to wiggle through a clump of trees, a branch caught the canvas. As the branch tugged on the canvas, the pack animal was pulled to the side and made a slight turn. At the same time, the canvas tore open and the bear’s head rolled out. The horse and bear came face to face.
As far as the pack animal was concerned, the bear was on his back and was not letting go. Nick was holding on to the halter rope. His gloves saved his hand as the pack animal bucked and kicked trying to get away. The rope ripped free from Nick but quickly rapped itself around branches and small trees. They were quickly extracted out of the ground until the halter was torn from the pack animal. The pack saddle, contents and ropes hooked on small trees and were torn off in a split second. The pack animal disappeared through the remaining trees then over a small rise and out of sight.
Now what? Nick volunteered to go look for the pack animal, which left me to pick up the mess. Thanks. I did the best under the circumstances. The canvas allowed me to drop pieces of the saddle, halter, straps and other torn and broken items as a dragged it behind me like a cotton sack.
Nick found the pack animal and got a rope around him but there was no way we were going to get the bear on its back even if we could repair the saddle. I was elected to walk so we could use my horse to carry the bear. We rigged up a pack saddle on my riding saddle, stuffed the horse into the trees like we did before and started off once more.
It was a long walk but we made it without any more big problems. When we arrived, Nick took the bear hide, head and claws to Fish and Game and they promised to return the hide when they were done. In a few days they called and were very anxious to talk to us. It appeared that the bear had a history.
A couple of years earlier the bear had enter a couple’s camp and mauled them. The bear that mauled the couple was missing a left canine tooth. Our bear was missing a left canine tooth. Before the couple was mauled, Fish and Game ranger was in the same area and was mauled by a bear; again, that bear had was missing a left canine tooth. The Fish and Game was sure that our bear was the rouge.
We were lucky.