A-Team in Idaho

The A-Team--my wife, Ligia, my friend Ron Wagner and I--assembled for a black bear hunt, which ran from June 5 to 10. We flew to Spokane, Washington, and drove southeast past large fields of wheat and canola, which blossomed with yellow flowers. Those rain clouds, unfortunately, stayed with us most of the week.
Cruising south on US-95 at Cottonwood, Idaho, we saw the Dog Bark Inn. The place bills itself as "a bed-and-breakfast inside the world's biggest beagle." Sounds like a ruff night.
Here's a Google Earth image of our destination: Dixie, Idaho. A gold-mining boomtown that had several thousand inhabitants prior to World War I, the community now has about a dozen full-time residents and covers a narrow, mile-long stretch of deeded properties surrounded by federal land. The nearest gas station is 38 miles to the north, in Elk City.
We stayed at Silver Spur Lodge along with six other hunters from Nebraska, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Owners Rick and Debbie Koesel have a beautiful place and make everybody feel comfortable in a family-style atmosphere.
Rick uses these overlays and illustrations of a black bear's anatomy to help hunters understand proper shot placement.
Please check your guns at the door: The guides carry .45-caliber sidearms when tending bear baits.
Silver Spur's guiding concession encompasses 400 square miles and includes parts of the Nez Perce National Forest as well as the Frank Church-River of No Return and Gospel Hump designated wilderness areas. Gorgeous and wild country! They conduct spring bear hunts from the lodge; in the fall, their hunters ride horses to remote pack-in camps to stalk elk and mule deer.
On our way to the bait site one day, we saw this mountain lion track in the road. Rick gauged it to be from a 100-pound female. While driving to and from our hunting area during the week, we saw whitetails, muleys, elk and a pine marten. One afternoon, one of the hunters in our group saw wolves chasing elk near his blind.
We also saw evidence of the major forest fire that ravaged the area in 2007.
Our bait site was in the Nez Perce National Forest on a ridge more than 6,000 feet above sea level, overlooking the Salmon River. Though it was only 15 miles from the lodge, it took 45 minutes to drive there in Rick's 4x4 Mitsubishi on often bumpy, sometimes slippery "roads" that were actually old mining trails.
I had to trust Ron's strength and balance to take me the last 80 yards to our blind. A few times, he had my chair up on only one wheel. We laughed about it later, and agreed it was worth the effort to gain the benefits of camo-therapy and experience the sights, sounds and smells of the Rockies in springtime.
Rick baits with dog food, placing it around and under rocks. Bears have to move the rocks to reach the tasty morsels, giving hunters more time for better shot opportunities. We maintained high hopes because a night-stalking bruin had hit our bait four times that week. Unfortunately, we never saw the bear.
Rick sweetens the deal by spraying attractant on trees surrounding the bait.
He also burns scented oil in a smudge pot to lure bears from afar; however, persistent rains prevented aromas from spreading effectively.
We spent mornings jawing on the porch, speculating on what the weather might be. Five out of six days brought rain and sleet, and temperatures ranged from 30 to 65 degrees. I enjoyed spending time with a genuinely fun bunch of true sportsmen who, despite lousy weather putting a serious damper on bear activity, uttered not a single word of complaint.
Chow time! Debbie serves the main meal at 1 p.m. so hunters can fuel up before heading out to their stands for the afternoon and evening.
We took advantage of the only sunny morning to tour downtown Dixie. Behind us stands the Post Office. A small plane delivers mail once a week.
Many cabins belong to "out-of-towners" who come in on weekends.
The Dixie Community Center is always open.
Inside, you'll find a bulletin board, info on the area's history, and a library with books, CDs and DVDs. The quilting club meets on Wednesdays.
Guide Randy Wagner skins the week's only bear, taken by Herb Swan of Nebraska. With a blonde back, chocolate flanks and a white V on its chest, this bear will make a stunning half-body mount.
If at first you don't succeed, dry, dry again. The second-floor banister is a good spot for airing out wet raingear.
Although lousy weather kept the bears holed up, we considered our hunt a success because we made new friends and saw a part of our country that very few people visit. We'll return to Silver Spur Lodge for another try next year.