Waste No Opportunity By Jeff Ament

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[singlepic id=942 w=420 h=340 mode=watermark float=] Waste No Opportunity By Jeff Ament   Opportunity is the most important element in any successful hunting trip.  This spring I set out to Idaho for my first ever spring black bear hunt.  Raised as a midwestern white tail hunter, black bear hunting was something foreign to me.  I was determined to be successful so I spent the extra money to buy tags in Idaho instead of here is Washington where I currently reside.  The reason for Idaho over Washington was simple to me, Idaho lets you bait and Washington does not.  This one little feature had me driving an extra 6 hours each way and spending an extra $400 on tags; in my mind bait would make all the difference in a successful first hunt.  Hindsight would tell me that bait would not be the difference maker.   I spent the few weeks leading up to bear season talking with people at work who own property in Idaho.  Fellow hunters helped me in getting some “spot” ideas as well as looking over Google maps and earth for spots of my own.  While all of this was going on, I found out I needed to have surgery on one of my feet.  A decision had to be made as whether to put the surgery off until after the fall hunting season, or handle it now so as not to jeopardize the fall hunt.  After talking with my family and hunting partners, I knew the better choice was to have the surgery now so I would be ready to go when the fall came around.  This also meant that I would only have one crack at the spring bear chase.  Pressure to get it right was mounting.   The time leading up to the hunt came and went quickly.  I had narrowed my spots down to 3 places outside of Coeur d’Alene and was feeling pretty confident.  I loaded the truck, kissed the family goodbye and was off for my 4 days of glory.  It was a perfect day, they sun was shining (which is a big deal here in Washington) the air was warm and the 4 day forecast showed no rain.  What more could I ask for?  It took me about 5 hours to reach the Idaho border, I was immediately impressed with the difference in the terrain from what I had been use to hunting in western Washington.  Idaho has more of a white pine forest with actual spacing in between trees.  To many of you this sounds normal but in western Washington, we are more of a fir forest and the terrain is thick.  Idaho looked to be a western hunters dream!  I kept my eyes on the hills and headed down the road in a hurry to get to the spot I thought I would spend my 4 days.   A guy from work pointed out 2 spots on Google earth for me that he always sees bear.  This guy has a reputation for killing about everything under the sun so I trusted the spots he showed me.  They became my 2 priority spots and I kept a 3rd marked on my gps just incase someone was already hunting in the spots he showed me.  Upon arrival to spot one, I was a little concerned.  There was a house at the entrance to the spur road that would take me down to the lakeside hunting area.  As I drove the 5 miles of winding lake road, more and more small ranches peeked out of the hill, all with no hunting signs.  I reached spot 1 to find it was a no go. 50yrds from the spot marked on my map was a small shack, fences and no trespassing signs.  Spot 2 was about 5 miles down the road so I continued on.  About a mile down the road the hopes for spot 2 faded.  The road was gated with a private property no hunting sign.  Lucky for me, I marked 3 spots on my gps.  Frustrated, I turned my truck around and headed back to the main road.  Spot 3 was about 40 miles down the road but it was in a heavily logged area that had a lot of promise.   The drive down to spot 3 was beautiful; Idaho definitely had gotten my attention.  Teal rivers, deep canyons and forests spaced ideally for elk had me dreaming of crisp fall afternoons.  Arriving at spot 3 to find a gate 5 miles from where I planned to hunt now had me in a panic.  The gate was not as much of a problem as the terrain.  There were logging roads everywhere; they were just inaccessible without a motorcycle.  Each log road I came to would have a 10 foot drive way off the main road, then a gate and the road on the other side of the gate went virtually straight up.  There was literally NO place to set up a tent and park a truck.  Not knowing what to do, I headed back to the area around spots 1 and 2 because I saw a lot of nice looking log roads there.  Next thing I know, I have been driving for 5 hours…freaking out!  Each and every time I come to what looks like an entrance to the promise land, there is a gate or a no hunting sign.  After 10 hours in the truck, I finally catch a break.  I find forest service truck empting trashcans.  I stop and talk with the forest service guys, let them know what is going on and what I am looking for to see if they can help a guy out.  Unfortunately, these 2 did not know much about bear hunting, but they did tell me to go 3 exits down and head north.  If I did that I would reach the national forest lands and that there would at least be public access.  At this point, anything was better than the prospect of sleeping in my truck with no land to hunt.  I was desperate.   I drove down 3 exits, headed north just as I was told and quickly entered the forest.  It was a new exciting road chasing the Coeur d’ Alene River down a canyon flanked in big logged hills on each side.  Still, each entrance to the hills came with a gate.  What seemed like 30 miles passed when I finally found a gate that was open.  I stepped on the breaks a little harder than expected as I skidded to a stop but had finally found my gate into the hills.  The road seemed to go straight up and there were not really any flat spots for camp.  I passed may spur roads, half with gates the other half seemed to be quad roads.  I found one such quad road about 2 miles in.  I got out, walked the road and decided it was not a road that could be traveled with a truck so I backed in and set camp right in the middle of the road.   Finally I could get my mind back on why I was here, bears!  After setting camp, I got back in the truck and went scouting for a place I could set my bait station up before I went to bed.  After an hour or so of driving around and getting myself acquainted with this new forest, I found a spur road that had the entrance dug out so no vehicles could come down it.  The road hugged the hills in an area that had been replanted over the last few years.  This seemed to be a perfect spot so I set my station up put my trail cam up over the bait and headed back to camp.  The hunt had officially begun.   As I drove back to camp I could not help but notice all of the elk droppings.  This mountainside I was on seemed to be elk heaven.  The forest service had come through and thinned out the forest over much of the hill and the elk seemed to be thriving!  The roads looked like a rabbit farm with pellets littered everywhere.  When I got back to camp, I pulled some more of the stuff out of the truck and started setting up for the night.  That’s when I noticed right by my tent was moose poop!  MOOSE!  After camp was set, I grabbed an adult beverage, my pistol and a headlamp and went for a walk.  I wanted to see where my spur road went to and get a feel of what was around camp.  Of all the places I would walk on this mountain, my spur road had more elk and moose droppings than anywhere else I would walk over the next 3 days.  This hill was incredible!  2 miles down the spur road, looking down the hill toward the river, I noticed a rooftop.  As I continued on, there were 2 more.  I decided I had gone far enough, so I turned around.  My bait station was still up the mountain so the proximity of the houses did not concern me all that much.  I was happy with my dumb luck hunting site discovery.   I woke to a brisk morning.  Grabbed a coffee drink, a protein bar, dressed quickly and headed off to my bait.  As I crept up to my station I was sure that half the bait would be gone, to my surprise it had not been touched.  Remembering many of the articles I had read in previous months, I knew that it could take a day or 2 for the bears to really heat up on the site.  I pulled out my Wicked Tree Saw and proceeded to build myself a quick ground blind and set in for the morning hunt.  The morning came and went with no motion.  I quietly snuck out and headed back to camp for some lunch.  I decided before heading back to the bait I would drive a little more of the mountain.  The quad only spur roads walk only spur roads and then just main roads spread over this property like a spider web.  Coupled with the fact that the whole hill had been thinned made this a truly exceptional property.   I reached the top of one of the main mountains; I was above the snow line and could see forever.  I could see the web of roads, the river below and the vast network of roads on the other side of the canyon.  This is a place I could see myself returning to.  As I drove back to what would be a night of uneventful hunting, I begin to take notice that I have seen absolutely no bear sign.  On Mt St. Helen’s where I elk hunt in Washington, it seems like every other tree I walk by has been shredded by bear claws.  Here in Idaho, I have not seen a single tree that has been clawed.  This is the first time I start to realize that I might not be in the right place. [nggallery id=17] As I drove back to camp that night, I really start to look for bear sign.  Nothing.  I again grab a beverage and my pistol and take off down a spur road.  Elk, moose, deer poop even wolf tracks but no signs of bear at all.  I begin to feel as if I have wasted a trip.  This land was beautiful but I was here for bear. The next morning came and went the same way.  No bear and no action at the bait site.  That night was to be my last night on the mountain and I decided I should make the most of my time in the woods.  If I truly am in the wrong place, I might as well find out as much as I can about the place in case I come back for elk one day.  Scouting is the most important thing you can do for your hunt….this failing hunt again proves the point.  So might as well do some scouting for future elk hunts while I have the opportunity to be in the woods of Idaho.   Rain started to fall and this was the time to get out and look around.  I had already put about 10 miles of tracks on the gps here on this hill so I decided to get back down to the main highway and head deeper into the forest.  I found another 4 or 5 roads on this side of the canyon that had some promise.  Then an opportunity to cross the river came.  As I traveled the other side of the canyon back toward camp I found many additional log roads that were accessible to some prime elk habitat.  I was really starting to get excited about the time I had been granted in Id.  When I got parallel to my camp from the other side of the canyon I could see just how extensive the thinning was on that particular part of the mountain.    I could see that the thinning also worked its way into about a 10-mile stretch of logging area.  This was really something special. The last night hunting was quiet.   I broke down my stand and headed back to camp.  As I changed out of my camo and into my camp clothes, the quiet evening was broken up with the sound of a quad coming up the road, up my spur road.  From around the bend, and older gentleman appeared on his quad and came to a stop near my truck where I had the road blocked off.  He seemed almost as surprised to see me as I did him.  Looking back at it, we never exchanged names yet now he seems like an old friend.  I have had this experience many times in the woods.  I meet some stranger and we end up talking for an hour or so like we have known each other for a lifetime.  I don’t know if it is a bond that is shared between outdoorsmen or just kindred spirits but it is a reoccurring theme I keep finding in the outdoors.  Turns out the man owns one of the properties down the spur road and that the lower part of the mountain is actually private property.  All of the thinning I had been gushing about, he and his neighbors paid to have done.  I couldn’t help complimenting him over and over again about the work they had done.  The habitat improvements for the elk were amazing!  We talked about the moose on the property, the abundant elk, about hunting pressure in the fall and the lack of bear.  He also gave me a few ideas about where to hunt if I did indeed return to Idaho.  We carried on for a while longer and then he elected to let me get back to cooking my dinner, wished me well and he was off. My spring bear hunt had come to an unsuccessful ending, but had it?  Even though I left without what I ultimately came for, I returned with knowledge that I could only gain by getting out there.  Once I realized I was in the wrong area for what I was there to do, I could have just packed up and headed home.  Instead, I used and unexpected opportunity to put in some priceless scouting for a future elk hunt.  By changing my perspective about the failed bear hunt into something positive, I was able to capitalize on the opportunity at hand.