Search for High Cascades Black Bear

I had Friday off so I got up early (4 am) and headed out to look for a bear. Back up to the high Cascades because that’s where my tag is for.

I was on the trail by 5:30, just as it was getting light enough to shoot if I saw anything. I wanted to check out a meadow that is about a mile and a half back in the far end of a canyon. Tony, Ed and I have seen bear sign in that meadow in the fall so I wanted to check it out. So I put my pack on and headed into the canyon. I also wanted to check out a “clear cut” of sorts that is across the canyon on the way in.

In the photo below you can see the clear cut area toward the left of the screen. The end of the canyon where the meadow is sits just below the snowy V right in the center of the photo, behind the hill with the clear cut area.

As I hiked in I was on a closed road that peters out after about a mile. The first part of the road is easy walking, but there was still quite a bit of snow on it. Here’s a photo of the road into the canyon.

There were areas where the snow was completely gone in patches. I was seeing elk sign all over the place. Tracks in the mud and snow, droppings that were incredibly fresh. I think a herd of elk had been through there during the night. The sign was so fresh I half expected to jump some elk at every turn in the road.
I should mention that 30 yards off to my left was a creek that is running pretty hard this time of year, so there was plenty of cover noise. You could have almost ridden a quad in there and there was enough noise from running water to cover the sound of it.

As I came around a bend in the road I saw something laying right in the middle of the road, in a spot where the sun was coming through the trees. At first I couldn’t tell what it was. It was laying down with its head up, looking down the road away from me. I was standing about 40 yards behind it and it had no idea I was even there. But I couldn’t figure out what it was. It looked like it was about as long as my truck bed is wide and it was gray and black, with lots of thick fur. I pulled my binos up and got a very close look. Then I realized what I was seeing. It was a wolf laying there in the sun. It soon became aware of my presence and to my dismay seemed to show absolutely no fear of me. In fact it walked across the snow until it was about 20 yards from me. That’s all I can put in this e-mail on this subject. I did take a photo of his tracks in the snow. It’s a little hard to tell from this photo but his tracks are almost as wide as my boot which is visible in the bottom of the photo.

After that encounter I headed further into the canyon. The further back I got the more snow there was. After the road died out I was bushwacking it from there and the snow at the meadow end of the canyon was still about 3 feet deep. I got close enough to see that there isn’t a meadow yet. Way too much snow. But I did see one set of bear tracks. A sow with a cub. The cub tracks were tiny but very clear in the snow.

After finding that there was no meadow I headed back to go check out the clear cut area. That meant going down through the bottom of the canyon, crossing two creeks, and back up the other side. Fortunately, as you can see from the photo, it’s not a particularly deep canyon.

Once I got down to the bottom, in the area between the two creeks, I started seeing even more elk sign. I am convinced that a herd is living in that canyon. Some of the tracks from those big Roosevelt elk were huge. Here’s a photo of one of the creeks at the bottom.

There is a lot of water coming down that canyon right now. And it was crystal clear and ice cold. I used my Steri-pen to drink a couple canteens of it. It sure tasted good. As I came out of the bottom here is the view I had of the clear cut area.

This looked like the perfect place for a bear to be grazing. Lots of green stuff coming up, lots of water at the bottom of the canyon, and miles of cover on every side of this clearing. I glassed it for almost 2 hours, looking behind every tree and bush but couldn’t find a single bear. I was even spraying myself down with bear attractant. (Which you have to do in Oregon to be legal. If you spray it anywhere but on yourself you’re baiting.)   After having some lunch I headed back out of the canyon to my truck to go check out the area where Ed and I saw the elk last week. My hope was that maybe by now a bear had moved into the area as the elk begin calving.

I drove over to that area and hiked in the same trail Ed and I took. Last week that trail had been covered with lots of fresh elk sign. This week it was covered with lots of fresh coyote droppings. I was encouraged as this meant there were at least some predators using the area now.

As I rounded a corner in the trail I came right up on some elk in the grass about a hundred yards from me. So I dropped to the ground and crawled behind a large fallen tree. I could peak up and over the tree and see the elk, and fortunately they were not aware of my presence. It was fun to watch them for a while. There were also about 4 times as many geese in the field this week. And a huge golden eagle was soaring low over the meadow. There were also some large crane-like birds that made a sound like the velociraptors in the Jurassic Park movie. It was a strange screech to hear in the wild.

After just watching the nature show for about an hour, the elk suddenly all took off at a run to the middle of the meadow. Here’s a photo of them.

You can probably see from the photo that they are all looking at the far corner of the meadow. This got me excited as it meant a predator of some kind was either coming into the meadow, or was already in the meadow. A moment later the elk all ran into the trees on the far side of the meadow, so I worked my way around the fallen tree to get a view of the end of the meadow they were all looking at. Here is what I saw.

Just more meadow. I layed there and glassed for an hour trying to see what had spooked the elk herd. I never saw anything come out of the trees. I know a coyote wouldn’t have spooked a whole herd like that, so I was really hoping a bear had come to the meadow. If one did, it never came out of the trees so I could see it. I don’t think it was a human as the brush around this meadow is incredibly thick and if a human had made their way to the meadow from that side, they surely would have walked along the tree line where I could have seen them.

I waited another hour, just relaxing and watching. The elk didn’t come back, and no predator ever came into view, so I packed up and headed back to my truck.
Overall I put about 6 miles on the boots. My legs were actually pretty tired yesterday from climbing up and down in that canyon. Still no spring bear though. But I had a very good day in the outdoors.

About the Author

Tory Allman

Tory Allman

Tory Allman is General Manager at Cent-Wise Sporting Goods & Hardware in Redmond, Oregon.