By Troy Paulson
Big Sky Weekly Contributor

When I was 16, my dad and I
drove west to Montana from South
Dakota to meet my uncles and elk
hunt for a week in the Beartooth
Mountains.
This was my first ever elk tag. I was
a South Dakota resident, but my
family was from Montana. My dad’s
cousin was from Belgrade, and he
went into the Beartooths every year
for the early season September rifle
hunt.
Before we left, we’d heard about a
grizzly that mauled a hunter in a
camper, so we were on edge. I know
a lot more about grizzlies now, but
back then (1996) I had no idea. We
didn’t have bear spray.
My dad’s cousin had been in a few
weeks prior to set up camp up over
Daisy Pass. He’d hung some horse
feed from a tree, and put up a wall
tent. The day we went in, we rode
15 or 20 miles. Going down a steep
pass like Daisy was terrifying because
I’d never ridden horses in the
mountains before.
My dad had borrowed two horses
from my mom’s brother. My dad
rode a small horse named Three
Docks, and I was riding a big
powerful bay called George. At the
end of our ride, we had to go up
this really steep hill. My dad had
to get off and walk Three Docks
up the hill. The other horses were
switch-backing, but George decided
he didn’t need to switchback and
just went straight up. My uncle had
been telling me how to ride a horse,
saying to lean forward going uphill,
but I just sat back and held on.
As we got closer to camp, we
started noticing piles of bear scat.
Then, mixed in with the scat was
horse feed. Pretty soon the piles
turned just to horse feed. We got
to camp, and found claw marks on
the tree where the feed had been.
We realized rain had weighted the
feed down so much a black bear was
able to reach it. The bear had likely
gorged on it until it’d overstuffed
itself.
That first night we set up camp,
put up the electric fence up for the
horses, had dinner, and went to bed.
My dad’s a diabetic, and in the
middle of the night he had a low
blood sugar attack and woke me up.
When my dad has an attack, he’s a
little disoriented. Plus it was the
middle of the night.
“Troy, there’s a grizzly bear outside,”
he said.
I heard a growling noise outside of
our tent.
Dad had brought his 45 pistol along,
and he was getting it out, ready for
the bear to come through the door.
Listening to this bear sound, I
opened the door and peeked my
head out. The moon was bright,
and I could see across to where the
horses were, thinking they were
frightened.
I looked around and heard the
growling still, then realized two
tents over it was my uncle snoring
really loud.
“Aw, shit,” Dad said.
We got some sugar in him and went
back to sleep.
We didn’t see any elk that week, but
we saw just about every other kind
of wildlife – mule deer, black bear,
moose, bighorn sheep and mountain
goats. That trip hooked me on
elk hunting anyway, and I’ve been
out every year since.
Troy Paulson moved to Montana
after college and still loves elk hunting
in the mountains. He lives in
Belgrade with his wife Megan and is
an avid bow and rifle hunter.