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“Bears Oh My” Montana Spring Bear Hunt 2024

The Spring of 24 was an exciting one for bears. After my mule deer hunt the previous fall in Montana, Sam, my guide and I talked about going on a spring bear hunt.  Both of us struggled to find hunting partners for bears.  We chatted over the winter and decided to make it happen in May.  

Sam picked the location in northern Montana in the Flathead Lake area near the Mission Mountains.  I started to e-scout and instantly gravitated to the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  My wife and I took the Peax Western Bear Hunting Tour in Boise Idaho in March, so I was pumped to implement the new skills I obtained.   I am ashamed to say how much time I spent scouting on multiple platforms.  But I had the lightbulb effect when I found “the spot”.  Avalanche shoots, low hunting pressure zone, creeks, snow, previous fire burns, slope, elevation, and south facing slopes.  I found other spots but this was calling to me.  After months and hours of planning, I made a video walkthrough on Google Earth Pro to get a better sense of the hike in and camping options.  I came across a wide creek… “It was a river.”  I tried to estimate the width of this aka “creek”.  It was 3-4x the size of the pine tree canopies.  Holy Crap this is 30-40+ feet wide.  So I freaked out.  “I guess that isn’t happening.”  So the sane person that I am, I decided to purchase an inflatable Alpacka Raft to get across the river.  Knowing that the water was snow melt, I wasn’t trying to get stopped or killed by a 50-60 foot wide river of raging ice water. 

Another speed pump I found was that we were going to be 8 hours from the airport and 2 hours from the closest town or ER.  I went from 10 spots for interest to realistically we can do 2-3 spots.  I also was surprised to find out our hikes were 4-6 miles taking 3-6 hours with 1000-2500’ of elevation gain.  A true backcountry experience.   

Feeling better with the raft purchase.  I followed the NOAA snow line right before I left.  According to the NOAA website we would be right on the edge of no snow and 18-50” of snow.  Luckily Sam lives in Montana and was able to scope out the snow and trailhead where we were going.  When he got back on the mountains there was very little to no snow.  I thought we were gonna get skunked because of the snow being too deep.  The adventure was on. 

Day 1

We got to the trailhead around 11ish in the morning… The mountains were beautiful on the way in… Steep with the rivers moving with snow melt.  Sam said that he hiked to the “creek” crossing and it was crossable without needing the raft.   “Sweet, we don't have to carry that 8 lbs.”  We hiked 2.5 miles and crossed a creek, walking across a down tree.  Then we hike another ½ mile to the “River”..  It was wide and we went up and down the stream to see where to cross.  We thought it was about 2-3 feet deep so we decided to take off our boots and ford the river.  When I got across the creek my feet were numb and felt like needles stabbing my toes, feet and ankles.  Sam had no issues crossing in his crocs, underware, and 70 lb pack. 

We proceeded another mile up the single track trail to where we wanted to camp.  The only problem was there was nothing flat and the river had a 50 foot cliff below us.  So we ended up having to walk back a mile to get camp water.  We finally made it to the spot.  We glassed that night and didn't see anything.  We slept hard in our tent. 

Day 2

That night the heavens opened up and it rained all night.  When I woke up I started thinking about the creek crossing.  “I hope we can get across it once it rises after this rain.”  I went through the scenario of I am gonna have to message my wife with my Garmin Inreach to get the forest service to rescue us because the river is too high. Oh well “lets go hunting” and we will figure it out later.  

So we got up and got our rain gear, packs and headed to “the glassing spot”.  We had a 3-4 mile hike with a 2000’ vertical climb the last mile.  We started seeing bear scat and tracks.  We were getting excited.  We came to another creek and we found a pair of 6-8 inch diameter logs parallel to each other about 3 feet apart.  So Sam goes across the wet slippery logs on his hands and shins sideways.  I proceeded to follow.  A breath of relief once on the other side. 

Now the climb.  I put on my micro-spikes and used my trekking poles and off we went bushwalking up a 35 degree slope for a mile.  After sweating and stopping a gazillion times.  We made it up to the top,  then came the downfall and snow.  We were doing obstacle boot camp over and under the logs.  Finally we get to an opening where we can see across to the other mountain where the avalanche shoots and burns were.  Sam said, let's make a fire to warm up because after sweating we will get cold once we sit and glass. I was gassed so Sam went up to the peak where there was a fire burn clearing to see if he had a better view.  He came back and said we can see better here.  So he started getting a fire going.  As he was cutting on a limb and I was eating lunch.  I got up to stoke the fire and heard a weird howl noise.  I thought it was a wolf.  I look over and about one hundred yards in the burn where Sam just came from I see a bear running down the hill.  It's a grizzly bear, brown and a hump on its back.  I yell to Sam “there's a grizzly bear near the snow”.  Sam comes over to get his pistol (44 mag.).  The bear turns 180 and runs back up to the top of the ridge.  Now we see a smaller grizzly 80 yards from us.  Both momma and cub run over the ridge into the pines.  We settled down, got the fire raging and ate lunch.  

Ten minutes later I see the Sow Grizzly sprinting full speed at us.  I yell to Sam, “She’s Running, here she comes”.  We both got our pistols out. I had bear spray in one hand and glock in the other.  Sam and I backed up to get behind a tree so we weren't out in the open.  There were some saplings and some down logs between us and the protective sow grizzly.  I thought if she makes it to the logs I am gonna spray first then start shooting.  About then she stops at the saplings and stands up on her back legs and checks us out.  I will never forget that round head staring at us.  Eventually she went back over the hill.  Sam was shaking.  He uncocked his revolver.  We just about got mauled.  We ranged it and she was 37 yards.  Needless to say our adrenaline was flowing pretty good. 

After looking constantly over our shoulders and eventually calming down.  We started glassing the other ridge.  Sam spotted a cinnamon black bear in an avalanche shoot grazing on balsamroot flowers and grass.  It was 1000 yards away.  With a momma grizzly behind us, we decided to go after him and headed down the mountain.  We kept tabs on him and then he went back into the pines.  We thought if we could get to the creek we would be closer to shoot.  We ended up wading across the creek and our boots got soaked.  The bear was nowhere to be found. So we hiked back to camp.  It was a 8.5 mile day and we were exhausted.  

Day 3

We decided to sleep in then head back to the truck after the bluff grizzly bear charge. It rained off and on and we were done.  We waded through the river-creek in bare feet and underwear again and finally made it to the truck.

Sam said he had a spot that was more open and had better visibility that he wanted to checkout.  So we headed to a new campsite and after setting up camp by the truck we headed out for another long hike up a steep mountain. As we started on the single track horse trail, we came across what looked like a coyote or wolf digging for mice.  We eventually saw bear tracks.  Definitely grizzly sized tracks.  So we moved cautiously up the trail and found fresh grizzly scat.  Now we were approaching every switchback on full alert.  Luckily we spotted a grizzly out about 750 yards from us.  Then we saw a cub with her, munching away.  We watched them and took pictures, video and decided to avoid them like the black bears would. We then went straight up on top of the ridge so we could look at the next basin.  When we got to the top it was windy, the snow patches had grizz and elk tracks in them.  We sat for an hour before sunset as it proceeded to snow.  We didn’t see anything so we went back to camp.  

Day 4

We dried out our boots, packs, and clothes with the hot tent, ate breakfast and came up with a game plan to head over to my second ideal spot.  So we drove to the trailhead and started hiking towards camp number 2.  This was a 3 mile hike with camp setup near a creek.  Originally I wanted to camp on a ridge but I had blisters on my heels and couldn't carry a heavy load up 5 miles.  We found a flat spot where we could set up our tent and camp with water.  Then we unloaded all we could and headed up the mountain.  It was steep.  I had my trekking poles and crampons helping me from sliding on the rocks and steep slopes.  We saw lots of bear scat, green grass, and balsamroot.  My blisters were killing me by the time we crested the top.  I walked like an old man the next mile to get to our glassing nob.  We finally made it and Sam spots a bear sleeping on a cliff.  He gets his spotter out and sees a cinnamon black bear passed out.  We watched him as he stretched, yawned and got more comfy.  So I kept my bino's on him and Sam found another set of grizzlies 2+ miles off.  

We watched the mating rituals of a large boar and a lightly colored sow.  Love was in the air.  We first thought it was another sow and a cub because of the difference in size between the two.  Nope he mounts her and goes to town.  It was a pretty cool experience and probably once-in-a-lifetime to see and get video of, as my wife calls it, “Grizzly Sex”.   

I noticed that the cliff cinnamon bear was now up and moving.  He was 1000 yds away.  He started flipping rocks and feeding.  We knew that we couldn’t get to him that day before dark. We eventually made our way down to camp and passed out that night.  

Day 5

I didn’t have it in me to climb that mountain to chase a bear on the other side of a creek on another mountain.  So we ended up crossing the creek by our camp and going halfway up the mountain to glass and see what we could see on the mountain where we saw the scat the previous day, going up to that ridge.  The sun was finally out and so were the mosquitoes.  We were hot but stayed covered to keep the mosquitoes off us.  We glassed for a few hours and l pulled the plug.  We packed up camp and hiked the three miles back to the truck.  I wanted to get a hotel in town before my flight the next morning after getting back to Bozeman.  So we drove to town and dropped off our bags and gear.  We got burgers at Dairy Queen and with some daylight left we decided to road hunt till dark.  We drove down a national forest road looking for an open hillside.  We came to a work sign that reads "slump in road ahead, trailers not advised”.   We proceed to offroad it over a crazy wash-out in the road.  The second wash-out we came to had a stream running down it.  Sam got out to assess the situation.  He comes back and says I think we can make it.  So we went driving up the stream to get back on the forest road.  We go a ¼ mile and there are two boulders blocking the road.  So that's where we stopped and glassed what we could till dark.  Going back we get stuck.  There is a log that the truck won’t go over. The rear tires slide so that there is a tree on Sam's bumper and the tire is buried.  Sam cuts the 8 in diameter aspen tree and I shovel gravel from the rear tire to the front tire.  It is getting dark and we are miles from the main road and miles from anyone or town.  Luckily he gets the truck over the log and we make it back to the hotel by 11pm.

I couldn't wait to shower.  As I am getting undressed I see ticks on me.  So I pull them off, one on my stomach and one on my leg and flush them down the toilet.  Just another day in the life of a hunter. We slept like babies that night.  Then headed back to Bozeman the next day.

What an adventure.  It is one I will never forget.  A bluff Grizzly charge, the creek from hell, the cinnamon bears, grizzly sex, and getting the truck stuck. Wow.  I can’t wait to do it again. We ended up not getting a bear but it was a once-in-lifetime experience.

Recap Stats:

40.3 miles hiked = 8.06 miles per day

11,400’ Vertical

6 Grizzly bears

2 Cinnamon Black Bears

Whitetail buck in velvet

A couple of mule deer (does/fawns)

Packs ranging from 50-80 lbs

3 Stream Crossings

Truck Stuck

Bluff charge by a Sow Grizzly with a cub


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