Sit down when you shoot, if it is possible. There is no better position than an elbow on either knee; you can shoot fast and straight, and the position is high enough to carry your head and rifle above small inequalities of the ground. I let drive and missed; shot too far ahead, I fancy. Always shoot too far ahead rather than too far behind. Nine times out of ten a bullet plumped in front of running game will halt it for a moment; and so now it turned out. The leader reared up for an instant, and the instant's pause was fatal. The next bullet took him fair in the centre of the chest. He had just time to give his solicitous companion a wipe with his paw, that would have come near wiping out a strong man, when he rolled over.
Bear No. 2 concluded he had an engagement somewhere else, and was settling down to a business-like gait when he, too, came to grief. There they lay, not fifty yards apart, —two in one evening, not so bad, —though in honesty it must be confessed that such shots were more than ordinarily lucky. Skinning a tough hide is a very trying bit of work, but how willingly was it undertaken! What time we made down the mountain, tying first our trophies —heads left on —securely on the cow-saddles! What cannot a good broncho do when he wants to get back to the herd! For a couple of thousand feet we led the horses, and then fairly raced. What fun is a good scamper home when you have a stanch pony between your legs! The sure-footedness and hardiness of a well-trained pony are simply marvellous; give him his head, and if there is a ghost of a trail he will take it. Many an evening did we race home against time, determined to get over the three miles of twisted and fallen timber before the last glow vanished. Once out of the timber we could sober down, for all was plain sailing. Three or four miles more, —among old beaver-meadows, where every now and then we heard, loud almost as a pistol-shot, the beaver smite the water with his broad tail, as he went down into his own quiet, clear pool, —and the welcome blaze of the camp-fire promised rest, after refreshing and sufficient toil, as well as good companionship.
There is among Western men much controversy as to the various kinds of bears inhabiting our Western Alps; but the number of those who, from personal observation, are capable of forming an opinion, is very small. In the first place, for all the sanguinary talk around the stove, there are not a great many men who have made a practice of hunting bears at all. One such incident as that which occurred two years ago in the Big Horn scares a good many. A poor fellow there came on a bear, a small cinnamon, feeding on an elk he had killed. He fired and wounded it; the bear retreated, and he followed. Coming up with it, again he fired, when the bear charged him. Trying to re-load (he used, I heard, a single-shot Sharp rifle), the extractor came off the empty shell, and, of course, he was defenceless. He evidently drew his knife, and used it desperately; for when they found him the bear lay near him, dead, with many knife-wounds in it, but it had killed him first. In short, both on account of the danger, and by reason of the great difficulty of seeing them, it scarcely pays to hunt bears alone.
There are comparatively few men, I say, whose opinion is worth much; and some of these seem to have an idea that, for the credit of the mountain land they love so well, they are bound to people it with as many different species of bears as they can. Now, as a matter of fact, I believe that almost all the bears ranging in the Rocky Mountains occasionally breed together; certainly brown and black sometimes do. Our party once shot a black bear with a large brown cross extending from the tail to the back of the head and down each shoulder. Just as certainly the brown and grizzly on occasions intermarry. My hunter assures me he has shot gray cubs with a brown sow. I may be wrong; but I cannot myself see any difference sufficiently marked to warrant the idea that the cinnamon bear of the Rockies is not the coarser, larger brown bear, the result of some crossing between the grizzly and the brown.
Then, some men insist that among the gray bears there are no less than three distinct varieties, —silvertip, roachback, and grizzly. As I have said before, I cannot say anything about the California grizzly, though I do not think, from skins I have examined, he differs materially from his neighbor of the mountains; but as to these differences of color indicating a distinct variety, I cannot believe it. We shot three bears, feeding on one carcass, last fall, all three years old, and evidently of the same litter, and you could scarcely find greater varieties of color than those they represented. One was almost yellow, one a dark silvertip, and one almost brown. There is, among bears, a considerable variety in shape and outline sometimes; and back of the tusk, in the lower and upper jaws, some few grizzlies seem to have a lesser and second tusk instead of the usual molar; but this is a rarity, I fancy. I only found it twice, and our men could not remember having seen it before.
I will end this rambling paper as I began it. Why does this splendid Alpine region of ours, so rich in beauty and in all varieties of interest, attract so few? For a party of two or three, a trip of seven or eight weeks amid its solitudes need not cost each one more than many spend during a couple of months at some fashionable seaside resort.
To get competent guides is the chief difficulty. The men who can or will take an outfit through a mountainous country, where they have never been before, are few and far between; and the so-called certificated guides, numerous enough in the park, know little or nothing of the country beyond it. The charges, too, in the park for transport are excessive. Cooke City, Gallatin County, Montana, the mining-camp I have referred to, is the best place I know for securing men. A railway will soon connect it with the Northern Pacific; and meanwhile, from June till December, a stage runs three times a week to the Mammoth Hot Springs. But some good hunters are still to be found at Billings and Bozeman on the Northern Pacific Railroad. On one of the most successful trips I ever made we had no guides at all. I steered the party by such aid as the map afforded. So long as wc went slowly, sending one of the party forward, day by day, to hunt a trail, we did very well. We only got into one scrape that might have ended seriously, and that came from foolishly venturing down a canon none of us had ever explored. Go slow; and go nowhere unless you are sure you can, at the worst, retrace your steps, and you will enjoy your trip.