It was on the head of Wind River that I secured my largest head. The regularity of the points was somewhat marred, as the bull had evidently been fighting only a short time before I killed him. These horns were not very massive; but the length, measured along the outside curve, is sixty-three and seven-eighths inches. The circumference between bay and tray is from seven and one-half to eight inches, and the greatest spread between antlers is forty-nine inches.
Probably more horrible lies have been told by bear-hunters than by any other class of men, except, perhaps, fishermen, who are renowned for their yarns. However, I trust that in the case of the few instances I have to give of my experience I can keep fairly within the bounds of truth.
Bear-hunting, as a general rule, I do not think would appeal to most sportsmen. It is rather slow work, and one is often very inadequately rewarded for the amount of time and trouble spent in hunting up bruin. There is hardly a portion of the mountains where there are not evidences of bears, but I do not believe that in any locality they are especially abundant. They have been hunted and trapped so long that those who survive are extremely cautious. In my experience there is no animal gifted with a greater amount of intelligence; and in this region the hunter's chief virtue, patience to wait and stay in one spot, is sure to be rewarded sooner or later with a good shot.
Let me say now that the danger and ferocity of the bear are, I think, very much overstated; yet there is just enough element of danger to make the pursuit of this animal exciting. Naturalists do not now apparently recognize more than two varieties of bear in the Rocky Mountains. That is, they class the cinnamon, silver-tip, and grizzly as grizzly bears. The other variety, of course, is the black bear. I am by no means sure that the grizzly bear will not be further subdivided after careful comparisons of collections of skulls.
Much has been said and written about the size and weight of the grizzly bear, and in most instances this has been mere guesswork. Lewis and Clark made frequent mention of this animal, and yet their estimate of the weight falls far below that of other writers. Only a few instances have come to my knowledge where the weight has been ascertained absolutely. A good-sized grizzly killed in Yellowstone Park last summer by Wilson, the government scout, weighed six hundred pounds. Colonel Pickett, who has a neighboring ranch to mine, and who has killed more bears than any man I know of, weighed his largest, which, if I remember rightly, weighed eight hundred pounds. One will, of course, occasionally see a very large skin; and from its size it would seem impossible that the animal that once filled it out, if in good condition, could have weighed less than twelve hundred pounds. But I think it may be safely set down that the average weight of most specimens that one will get in the mountains will be under, rather than over, five hundred pounds.
To me, bear-hunting possesses a great fascination, and for years I have hunted nothing else. Personally I prefer to go after them in the spring. Their skins are then in their prime, the hair long and soft, and their claws (if valued as they should be) are long and sharp from disuse. Bears seek their winter quarters in Bad Lands and in the mountains. Those that adopt the former come out much earlier; consequently, if the hunter is on the ground soon enough, he may, by beginning in the lower lands first, and working toward the mountains, be reasonably sure of securing good skins as late as June. In the spring, too, bears are much more in the open, and travel incessantly in search of food.
It is highly interesting to watch them, when one has the chance, turning over stones, tearing open fallen trees, or rooting like a pig in some favorite spot. Acres upon acres even of hard, stony ground they will turn up, and in other places it would be difficult to find a stone or rock they had not displaced. They will undermine and dig out great stumps. Ant-hills you will find levelled; and the thrifty squirrels, who have labored all the previous fall to make a cache of pine-nuts, are robbed on sight.
One spring, the work on the ranch being done, Woody and I took our pack-horses and proceeded to the mountains after bears. I had no sooner picked out a good camping-ground than it began to snow, and for four days we could not stir from camp. However, it finally cleared off, the sun came out bright and warm, and the little stream that we were on began boiling, tearing, and rushing along, full to the banks, causing us to move our camp back to higher ground. After breakfast, as we proposed to take a long day's trip, we took our horses with us. Riding up to the head of the stream we were on, looking for bears, no signs were to be seen, though plenty of sheep were in sight all the time. Riding on away above the canon some six or eight miles, we could see some elk. We closely scanned the neighboring heights, but still no sign of bears. Finally we turned off, and worked our way clear up on top of the mountain, determined to see the country anyway. Slowly we climbed upward, skyward, dragging our weary horses after us, until at noon we were nearly up, and concluded to lunch at the little rill of melted snow that came from a big drift on the mountain side.
To get to it, though, made necessary crossing the drift, and Woody led the way, with his favorite horse, old Rock, in tow; and here was where my laugh came in, to see those two floundering through that drift. At times all I could see of Rock were the tips of his ears. The crust was just strong enough to hold Woody up if he went "easy;" but he could not go easy with the horse plunging on top of him, and they would both break through. However, they had to go ahead in spite of themselves ; and they were finally landed, half drowned and smothered, on dry ground. Of course, profiting by this experience, I circumnavigated this drift; and we sat down to our dry bread and bacon, washed down by a long pull from the handy snow-water. Ten minutes and a pipe were all that we allowed ourselves before resuming our toil (for that is really the way to designate the ascent of these mountains).