Death On A River
Tonight I feel lucky, but unnerved by the events of the day. There is no fishing to record in the journal, but there was an experience that will leave a lasting impression.
Weeks before my arrival Kathy Larson had told me that again this year there were bears in the area and that a sow grizzly and two cubs had become regular visitors to their farm. She encouraged me to bring pepper spray for insurance, but not to be concerned because the bears had been in the vicinity for almost a year without incident.
The day began with low expectations. The rain that began falling yesterday afternoon intensified and hammered on the roof all night. There was little chance that the river would be fishable. This was especially regrettable because Leon Rollin had come north from Smithers to join me for a day.
After introducing Leon to the Larsons and enjoying another sumptuous breakfast, we decided to don our fishing gear, walk to the river and see just how bad conditions were. Our walk through the pasture to the river was full of conversation. Leon had been fishing the Bulkley for almost two weeks and we were anxious to compare notes. When we cleared the woods that border the pasture, we came upon a river that could only be labeled as dangerous. The river was up several feet, had zero visibility, was full of trees and debris and appeared to be still rising.
We discussed our options and decided to go to the Bulkley River in the hope that we could get in several hours of fishing on the lower reaches of that river before it also went out. We hustled back across the pasture, but just as we passed under the electric fence that keeps the cattle, sheep and horses away from the house and garden we heard an eerie animal sound that caused us to look at each other with concern and hasten our pace back to the porch of the farmhouse.
Within seconds Dave Larson came running out of the house with his 30-06 rifle, jumped in his pick-up truck and headed across the pasture to the woods we had just left. Before he got through the electric gate, there was a blood-curdling cry. Kathy was on the porch with us and knew immediately what had happened. A bear had taken down a cow and the second cry was the final fatal wail.
We stood on the porch, watched and waited. Our concern grew when we neither heard shots nor saw Dave reappear. Dave was searching the thick growth of the river bottom and finally after about thirty minutes we saw him emerge from the woods, jump into his pick-up and return to the house. He found the tracks of the three bears, the area where the bear attacked the cow, but no blood or cow. He then returned to the pasture, counted his herd and determined that number 32 was the victim, a healthy two year-old heifer that would have been calving in the coming year and a bitter loss of approximately fifteen hundred dollars to a hard-working frontier ranch family.
We asked Dave why he did not find blood or a carcass. He told us that when a grizzly kills an animal such as a moose, deer or cow, it pins its prey to the ground, climbs on its back and snaps the neck with its powerful jaws. The bear then hoists the prey over its shoulder onto its back and carries it off to a secure area where it will eat until it is satisfied. It then buries the remains and returns repeatedly until the carcass has been consumed.
Only two weeks prior to my arrival, a wolf had killed a lamb from the ranch's small herd of sheep that is an integral part of the operation. Unlike the tidy bear that removes his prey to private quarters, the wolf kills, and then eats immediately, anxious to savor a hard-earned meal. Unlike the bears that escaped with their kill, Dave shot the wolf and prevented further damage to his stock. We were learning lessons about the realities of ranching on the fringes of wilderness that were exciting and very sobering. ...