My wrangler and I split up to cover more ground one afternoon in the hopes of finding a group of horses that were out grazing.
We were both riding our saddle horses. It was a sunny hot afternoon on a river bar in the Yukon.
The river bar was a maze of willow , brush and tree patches , meandering water , sand , gravel , and miles and miles of it all in every direction.
We had been riding for a couple hours when we decided to split up in the hopes of cutting a fresh horse track.
The rule was if we came across the horses we would trail them back to the base camp regardless of where the other rider was.
It was big country. And daylight was burning. In the back of my mind I figured we’d have just enough time to make it back before dark because we were still going the other way from camp.
Then, it happened.
In a thicket of willow patches with narrow sandy trails, I heard the wrangler yelling off in the distance.
Then it was more like screaming. But the wind was blowing a bit and the tree leaves rustled making it hard to hear clearly.
I stopped my horse. And watched his ears to see if he could pick out the exact direction of the sounds.
Yup. To our left. A couple hundred yards maybe?
I turned my horse down the closest trail heading in that direction. I kicked him into a gallop as we dodged trees and brush running towards the shouts which were getting louder and louder.
Before I knew it, the shouts were just on the other side of some thick willow bushes.
I couldn’t see through them, but there was a narrow strip that looked passable so I pointed my horse into it and we rode through towards the other side. I had no clue what was going on but something was wrong.
My horse and I burst through the willows into the other side and we stopped dead in our tracks.
We had ridden into an opening maybe 70 yards across. All sand.
My wrangler was on the far side waving his arms and yelling ....at two big grizzly bears.
Both bears were facing him ... and I just rode up behind the bears .... maybe 20 yards behind them.
Time stood still for an instant.
I remember the sunlight and the colour of the bear’s fur. Both a medium brown. I figured one was the Sow and the other was it’s grown cub. Not quite as big as the sow but it looked pretty darn big from where I was sitting. It was at least two years old. And they were so close, and still looking at my wrangler who had now stopped yelling as he stood there, without a horse (I didn’t know where his horse was at the time) staring back at me.
As cool as it always was to see grizzlies in the wild, this was too close for me. Too much could go wrong now.
The bears were sandwiched between us, and I was now imagining my horse having a psychological melt down. Thankfully he didn’t quite know what was going on either.
But there wasn’t much point waiting for my horse to figure things out. Time no longer stood still.
I wheeled my horse around to at least get his eyes off the bears and that’s when the bears noticed me.
“Woof”, was all I heard. Then willow branches started breaking.
My horse heard it too and leaped into the willows to get out of there. His melt down was startling. I hung on as I heard more trees and willows breaking but it was the bears making a run for it now.
Their sounds got farther away.
We had all surprised each other in that opening but thankfully we all got out of there just as fast.
I got my horse turned around and rode back in towards my wrangler. First thing I asked him was if he saw any horses.
He replied, “Just yours.”
Later on the trail back to camp with the horses, he, what we were gonna do tomorrow?
My reply was quick.
“Look for more horses ......”