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YUKON TERRITORY - 1956 - Part 1
There’s a land where the mountains are nameless, And the rivers all run God knows where. There are lives that are erring and aimless, And deaths that just hang by a hair. There are hardships that nobody reckons, There are valleys unpeopled and still. There’s a land—oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back—and I will.
- ROBERT SERVICE
A picturesque country this Yukon Territory, its western boundary hugging the Alaskan line and the Northwest Territories pinching it so narrow that there is only a slight touch on the Arctic Ocean.
Our hunting area was bounded on the east by the Whitehorse-Skagway Rail-way, on the north by Alaskan Highway, by the Haines Highway on the west and the British Columbia border on the south. West of this area more than half the country is covered by the vast Hubbard Glaciers.
From start to finish our hunting field would measure about sixty miles as the crow flies. By pack train the distance was close to 150 miles and the total miles we actually covered must have been at least 300. There were no inhabitants in this area of approximately 1,500 square miles.
Several years before, a friend of mine had made this trip. He reported many moose and grizzlies there but we found them less plentiful.
Buck, my horse, ate the red berries I stuck in my hat band and together we had a great experience.
Friday Evening, August 24, 1956
—Sitting in camp at the take-off point with rain pattering on the tent. Judd comes in this evening and Alex will meet the plane at Champagne (about fifty miles) and arrive here about noon tomorrow.
Will start the hunt Sunday. We’re along the Haines Highway ninety-three miles from the seaport of Haines, Alaska.
The trip so far has been a bust. Them Kjar, the game commissioner of Yukon Territories, met us at the plane with the official Yukon welcome. We went to his office to obtain hunting licenses, have some refreshments and a chat.
A beautiful pair of Da11 sheep horns was lying on the floor. I examined them in admiration and Them told me that he had confiscated them. “Took them from a hunter who had bought them from an Indian.” He then told the story of large moose antlers he had confiscated also, a few years ago.
Same story. “A hunter had bought them from an Indian. We apprehended the Indian as he had done an illegal act. Were about to put him in jail but learned that he had ten kids and thirteen dogs that we would have to feed while he was serving time.
“So we reprimanded him severely and that ended the issue.
“The antlers remained here in my office for several years. They were beautiful. One day a Boone and Crockett scoring man came along. He measured them and we were amazed to learn that we had a first-place Alaskan-Yukon-record moose. All due to the straight shooting of one of our local people.
“There was great happiness. All of this glory for the Yukon. We had a fine rifle properly engraved, held a banquet and our guest, the Indian, was duly honored.”
I had arranged with our outfitter to arrive several days ahead so there would be time to do some fishing in Sockeye Lake. Alex had engaged Ron Hollaway, a Cree Indian with a panel truck, loaded with camping equipment, to take care of us. Them suggested, instead of Sockeye Lake (he had a boat, motor, and trailer), that he would take us to Aishihik Lake where we could catch giant lake trout. Ron went with us. We made arrangements to have a plane pick us up three days later.
We got there late afternoon, fished for two hours, caught nothing, and then a high wind came up, blew for three days, and we could not go out on the lake.
Found a place to catch grayling by the hundreds on flies.
Went out to the highway, flagged a truck taking gas to an army field, and had the army phone for a plane to pick us up Sunday which was a day ahead of schedule.
To make a long story short, Them Kjar left Sunday a.m. thinking we would be picked up. Ron had brought a driver with him who took his car back to Whitehorse.
So we had no car and the plane never came. We were isolated on a windswept, bleak, above timberline, dusty lakeshore. So windy it was almost impossible to cast a fly and no sun for pictures—a total loss.
Ron finally walked out to the military road on Wednesday. After four hours he got a ride to the Alaskan Highway (forty-five miles). Got another ride to Champagne, came back with a pickup, and bailed us out.
We stayed the night at Haines Junction where the Haines Highway takes off from the Alaska Highway southwest to the Alaskan port of Haines.
Alex Van Bibber had returned three days early from a very successful hunt and we met him that evening. A fine-looking fellow, alert and capable.
Next morning we went to the Klukshu Indian village where they catch and smoke salmon. The run was over and the men were all out hunting.
We came on out the Haines Highway to this camp from where we start our hunt. Yesterday we went to Haines looking for a creek with salmon in it to shoot with a bow and for pictures. We found one but it was raining.
Saw a bull moose along the highway. He ran into the bushes. I grunted and he came back to within fifty feet of the car—but that was in Alaska. Farther on, in British Columbia, we saw a mother grizzly and two cubs on a gravel flat about 400 yards away. Mother was digging for something. We watched them for over a half hour from higher ground. Could not get to them because of a fast river, besides, we were in B.C. and my license is for the Yukon.
Again it was raining and no pictures.
Today it looked like it might clear up and this afternoon we went back to Alaska to the salmon river. It was not raining but the light was poor. I shot a thirty-pound salmon and we took pictures.
Judd will be here tomorrow. We will sort gear and take off Sunday morning. First camp is only four and a half hours. I hope for a change of luck. I feel that we will do well as there seems to be plenty of game. Big bear tracks all over. One of our wranglers was chased by a bear while rounding up the horses one morning. It chased him down a steep bank, and he jumped on a horse for a fast getaway only to find that the horse was hobbled. Fortunately, the bear gave up the chase.
We will have twenty-one horses, a good cook who is with us now, two wranglers, and two guides.
Sunday, August 26
—Just finished dinner here at Blanchard Camp. Rained all morning and then cleared. Got away from the highway at 11:30 A.m. Rode until 2 P.M. and stopped for tea and cold short ribs of moose. Got here at five-thirty ¬made camp and here we are. All gear wet, but we have a stove now and can dry out.
Saw a great many bear tracks and sighted two bull moose and four cows. The country is quite open. We are just about at timberline. Above this, nothing but willow and buckbrush and above that, rocks. This is a mushroom paradise. Saw many big bolitas, some ten inches in diameter with white meat one-inch thick.
Alex has a good outfit with unusually nice horses. The colts practically live in the house with their owners. During the stop for tea this afternoon one of the pack horses walked into our circle and stopped, wanting his pack taken off. He was very disappointed when it was only tightened. When we reached camp the pack horses nudged us with their heads wanting the packs taken off. Finally freed of their burdens, they rolled on the ground with relief.
Camp is in the brush by a cluster of dead, isolated spruce trees. The cook tent is fourteen-by-sixteen, our tent nine-by-twelve. The guides and wrangler have a nine-by-twelve also.
Monday, August 27
—Judd and George, the Indian guide, went moose hunting. Alex, Don, and I went to look for goats and sheep near Blanchard Lake. We saw eight sheep but could not get close to them. Back in camp at 7 P.M.
Daylight breaks here at 3:30 A.M. and darkness comes about eight-thirty but it is not entirely dark all night. Judd saw two cow moose and several goats across on the other mountain. We will go after them tomorrow.
Tuesday, August 28
—Judd and George took bedding and went north after a moose. They plan to stay two days. We went across the mountain after goats. Got up to where they were about 10 A.M. and tried a stalk on a lone billy after taking his picture. Fourteen more watched us from above. Wind crossed us up both on the billy and on the group of fourteen. There were two nice billies in this lot, too. We chased them all over the mountain but had to concede this round to the goats.
Back in camp around 7 P.M. Moose hunters were unsuccessful.
Wednesday, August 29
—In camp. It is 7 P.M. and we just had dinner. Dump-lings, moose stew, peas, potatoes, lettuce, celery, soup, prunes, freshly baked cake and cookies. Judd and Alex have the spotting scope on a big bull moose across the next mountain. Judd plans to get him tomorrow. He stalked a bull today. Got very close but the brush was too thick.
We went after goats again. Climbed the mountain all the way up but did not find them. We had planned to move to the next camp tomorrow, but will stay now so Judd can hunt the moose and we will go after goats later.
Saw quite a few ptarmigan, hoary marmots (these whistlers warn the goats of our presence), bald eagles, flickers, whisky-jacks, magpies, juncos, ravens, and several birds I do not know. The country has many parka squirrels. These are about the size of small prairie dogs and look like a young groundhog.
Water very good here. Runs down from glaciers as in B.C.
Don has had a rough day. His saddle came off when he mounted this a.m. A rock fell on his leg up the mountain, and in coming back his horse bogged down in the tundra and willows and they both got muddy.
Thursday, August 30—Had intended to move camp today but Judd’s moose was still on the mountain. We decided to take a day off and help him. Our camp is in a valley and the moose was on the mountain facing us. Willows, buckbrush, and alder higher than a man’s head make it difficult for a hunter to make progress on foot, so we agreed on a set of signals as we watched the moose with the scope and two binoculars.
Alex took Judd across the river and he went on foot from there. It was 10 A.M. before he came out into an opening and motioned for instructions. We directed him with a towel-flagged stick for several hours, following the moose with the glasses while he ambled over the territory, now stopping to feed, then standing still seemingly looking at nothing, and even lying down once or twice. At 4 P.M. Judd was within twenty-five yards of him but the brush was too thick to shoot. Then the wind changed suddenly and the bull took off over the mountain. It was quite an exciting day. Had intended to wash my clothes but found this far more interesting.
Friday, August 31, 8 P.m.
—Friday was not unlucky for me. I shot a grizzly today.
We got packed up and off at nine-thirty to move to the next camp. It was quite a chore to load so much gear on so many horses. The pack train is a fine sight, however, winding along through the mountains, fording streams, etc. Before we started, Judd and I did some practice shooting. We do this every day.
Stopped for tea at 1 P.M. Roast moose, ham, candy bars, and fresh doughnuts. Back on the horses again we saw a black bear come over the mountain ahead and cross in front of us about a half mile away. We watched him for a while and, when he went over a knoll in the creek bottom, Judd and I decided that any bear that size was a trophy and we should go after him. All twenty-one horses stopped then, too, to watch the show.
Judd went up over the knoll and I went around the end on the double. When I saw the bear again he was digging for a parka squirrel. There was a rock twenty-five yards from him offering cover and I lost no time getting up to it, pausing to take a good look and plan my shot. I realized, too late, that the bulldog profile of the bear in front of me was that of a grizzly and not a black bear. Alex had decided to sit this one out since he deemed it unnecessary to back his client for a black bear.
My arrow went straight where I was looking, immediately behind the shoulder.
The bear let out a growl, made two jumps toward me, and then turned out of sight over the knoll. When I got there he was down—about seventy-five yards.
Judd had the bear in sight all the time. He said it came over the knoll, went down into the creek bottom, made two small circles, and folded up. It was a breathtaking show. Don says he has it all on film and the rest of the party witnessed the whole thing from about one fourth of a mile away. This was good as we had not yet proved the bow to our guides and wranglers.
It was not a big bear, but a grizzly. Black with silver tips on the head and shoulders. We took pictures in the rain and snow before skinning him out. Going on toward camp (a willow thicket with no wood) we spotted fourteen goats and Alex and Judd and I made a stalk. Got within 100 yards but no closer. We found the cook tent up and the cook trying to get dinner with wet willow wood. Hudson Bay rum made the rounds in celebration of the kill. Raining and snowing off and on. Everything wet down.
Saturday, September 1, 7:30 A.M.
—Breakfast over. Horses being rounded up and dishes done. Still raining but not too cold. Ed has great difficulty cooking. He stuffs pieces of paper into the draft hole to try to get a proper fire. The stove sits on uneven rocks, so pancakes are thick on one side. …
Yesterday I gathered a sugar sack full of mushrooms and tied it on the back of my saddle. Traveling in the rain softened and spoiled them beyond use however. A great disappointment to me.
Packing up now. Next camp is base camp where there is a supply of wood. Will have some drying out to do. Alex and I will make another try at the goats on the way. Goats won this round also.
At base camp now. Fine place. Alex had food stored on a high cache.
Sunday, September 2, 7:45 P.M.
—Just finished a big dinner. Moose, rice, scalloped potatoes, soup, pie, cake, and stewed dried apricots.
Alex shot a four-year-old ram today for camp meat (moose meat getting low). We ran into about twenty-five ewes and kids with this small ram in the group. Mutton for a few days now. Ate the grizzly heart last night. Supposed to make strong men of us.
Judd and George (Indian) took off for a side camp this a.m. for moose. Will be gone for two or three days.
Saw a red fox and a lynx today. Two bull moose yesterday.
Getting my mountain legs now. Feeling fine. Big appetite. Shot seven arrows at a blue grouse and then he flew away.
Monday, September 3, 6 A.M.
—In the cook tent waiting for breakfast. Had four hours of sunshine yesterday. It felt very good. There was frost last night and it is sunny and clear now. George says the frost will kill the berries, start the moose rut and bring the bears out in the open looking for gophers and marmots.
I have a sprig of bright red cranberries in my hat and my horse, Buck, nips at them at every opportunity. There are some blueberries here and also some blackberries. Some man-sized glaciers around and snow on all the high places. When it rains below, it snows up high.
Later—Went down the valley today and stopped frequently to glass the mountains. Didn’t see a thing all day except ptarmigan. Sun was out all day and very warm. We had a lazy day. Took •a nap on a knoll and rode back to camp about three-thirty to make camp pictures. Sun lasted only another hour and then Judd and George came back from their hunt. They saw no moose but did see three grizzlies. Judd wanted to tackle them with the bow but George would have none of it. He had been mauled by them and is scared to death. Being his last day here, Judd took the Indian’s rifle and shot the biggest one.
Alex and George entertained us with bear stories this evening. Have my fanny well broken into the saddle now.
Tuesday, September 4, 6:30 P.M.
—Sitting under a tent fly roasting a slab of sheep before a hot fire. I’m in a willow thicket by Devil’s Hole Lake, about five miles from base camp.
I hunted up this way. Saw a bear but he saw us first and went off. We climbed up high on horses and ran into snow. When we got down it was raining. Judd is at base camp. Not hunting today. His plane comes in at this lake at noon tomorrow.
Don, my photographer, is having trouble with ulcers and will fly with Judd to Whitehorse for some medicine and then come back.
Had roast mountain sheep last night. It tastes like roast leg of the best lamb. This slab of ribs is beginning to smell good.
We arrived at this camp with two pack horses, a small tent, sleeping bags, and plenty of grub. Really living high. Plenty of candy bars, cookies, oranges. Alex forgot to bring dishes, cups, and silverware! He is now carving wooden spoons. Shot a parka squirrel today.
Wednesday, September 5, 6 A.m.
-Snow coming down in the largest wet flakes I have ever seen. About an inch on the ground now. Rained all night. Those heavy tarp bags kept our sleeping bags dry and we had a good cozy sleep.
Took some still pictures of our camp in the snow. Alex says he has seen two feet of snow here in August.
Base camp is just below timberline. Plenty of good dry spruce for wood. Side camps like this are usually above timberline and one has to scrounge for wood.
The next side camp is “Goat Canyon” where we expect to have good goat hunting. Sheep are not so high. Mostly in the buckbrush. Grizzly and moose could be anywhere.
A bad trip for pictures so far, with only one and a half days of sun. Had fair light for the shooting of the grizzly, but rain during close-ups afterward. Don says he got pictures of me shooting the bear and the bear going over the hill.
I forgot to mention the most important part of the notes from this a.m. Those sheep ribs, wow. I ate nothing else except some canned pears.
Breakfast is over now. Corn flakes, bacon, and eggs. Sitting under a fly on our bedroll wondering what to do. Visibility zero. No plane today.
The same day—Just had tea and a snack. Very comfortable and warm but the inactivity kills me. I would like to go back to base camp, but Alex says the snow on the willows would bog us down. (Not me with my nylon pants and jacket.) It is still snowing and raining. Fog is about 100 feet up. No plane today. We expect Judd and George any time.
I skinned the parka squirrel and have his hide on a drying board.
—Had a nap after finishing the ribs. Judd and George came in an hour ago and we are all sitting around the fire. Rain has stopped and the sky seems to be clearing. George and I will go back to base camp and turn this one over to Judd and Alex. Will be glad to be doing something.
Thursday, September 6, 4 P.M.—George and I got back last evening. Brought Judd’s saddle horse and a mare with cameras and sleeping bags packed on her.
George led the saddle horse and I rode on “Freddie.” He is the best mount I have had yet. Will do just about anything. Good thing, too, because when we passed our grazing horses across a small lake about two miles from camp, the mare made a break for them. Thanks to Freddie I was able to head her off at the water’s edge, or she would have swum the lake and put our cameras out of commission.
Alex, Judd, and Don stayed at the wet willow camp at Devil’s Hole Lake hoping for a break in the weather and the plane. Rain off and on last night. No plane yet and I doubt if one will come today. Can’t hunt—fog too low. Have been fixing up our tent since early morning. Washed all my dirty clothes. Cleaned and dried cameras. Greased my boots and kept a fire going to dry my laundry. George says all this rain is good. “Moose wash velvet off antlers, then rut starts.”
Still feasting on the sheep. It is delicious. Killing time like this, waiting for the weather, is hard on me. Wastes too many days.
I was surprised to hear Alex say that there are wild horses north of here. They live through the fifty to sixty below winters. It is from these wild herds that he gets new blood for his saddle and pack horses.
Between hunting seasons, Alex rents his horses (he has about sixty) to prospectors and mining companies. He also takes out survey groups, using a dog team when the snow is too deep for horses.
It is now 6 P.M. and Ed is cooking something that smells good. He is fifty-six years old, is divorced, and has three grown boys in Vancouver. Not the cleanest cook in the world, but things taste good and he is good-natured.
Alex’s father was a Scotsman and his mother an Indian. He is wise in the way of the bush and is slowly grasping the problems of the bowhunter, and appreciates the fact that it is a tough game.
Across this narrow valley from camp are two mountain peaks with snow on them. Between them a glacier-fed stream tumbles recklessly over many waterfalls on its way to the river below us. Whisky-jacks are stuffing themselves with kitchen scraps.
Friday, September 7, 7 A.M.
—STILL RAINING. Stella, one of the horses, is high up on the mountain across from us. We thought for a while she was a moose. Just finished breakfast. George is planning to take some food up to the boys in the other camp. Think I’ll go with him.
I wonder if I’ve mentioned Tiger in my notes. He is a young husky, two years old. His father is a wolf. Alex brought him to camp to keep the grizzlies away. He never makes a sound. He wants to be friendly but is held back by some ancestral instinct. As for me, I would like to have a grizzly come in. Last trip here the cook saw two at night and this is the spot where Joe was chased by one. We have been up and down this valley though and have seen no fresh bear signs.
—We are waiting for Joe to bring in the horses. Quite a life—that of a wrangler. Up at 4 A.M. and out shagging after the horses. He never knows where they are. It is a rough and unpleasant task on a cold, frosty morning. They do not have a bad job during the day, however. Nothing to do but sleep, read, and cut wood.
Joe doesn’t like to cut wood. Doesn’t like to do anything but work with his horses. He quit a two-dollar-an-hour job in a garage to wrangle on this hunt for ten bucks a day.
Ed reads most of the day. The place is well supplied with magazines, mostly men’s magazines with snappy stories and pictures. George and Joe sleep in their wet-down tent. No air mattresses and thin sleeping bags. George washed his clothes three days ago and they are still wet.
Horses are here. I hope he has Freddie.
—Went up to Devil’s Hole Lake and found the men in better spirits than I expected. Stayed about two hours and came back. Don came with us. He is cold and wet.
Had not been back here long before we saw the plane go in to the lake and then come out. Alex came back and we all had mail. Two letters and a package containing Softi-Pack Life preservers from Mrs. B. Might need them if it doesn’t stop raining. Eighteen days of rain so far.
Don’t know what the plans are for tomorrow. “Depends on the weather,” Alex always says when I ask him, so I won’t ask him tonight.
Saturday, September 8, 8:15 P.M.
—Camping under the stars tonight on Kluhini River, just before entering Goat Canyon. Got here at dusk, made a fire, ate supper, and am now lying by the fire writing by candlelight. Rained early today but is clear now.
Left camp at eight-thirty this morning. Spent two hours chasing a pair of rams and got here late. The country is beginning to show color.
Sunday, September 9, 7 A.M.
—Nice, frosty morning. Sun shining on the white top of Mount Nevin. This is very close to British Columbia. We will hunt close along the edge.
It looks like a good day. There are four goats in view from camp.
Had a good sleep in the open last night. Alex woke me up at midnight to see the northern lights.
Monday, September 10, 6:30 A.M.
—Too tired to write last night. We went up into Goat Canyon yesterday morning and started after some goats. Got some good pictures but no trophies. Got back to the horses at 5 P.M. and it was dark when we reached camp in the spruce thicket.
It is a beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky for the first time. Very hot going up the mountain. Ate many kinds of berries: two kinds of cranberries, soapberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.
We are camped at Upper Hendon Lake. The B.C. stake is just fifty yards from camp. The trip was very rough going. Dense willow and alder thickets and piles of rocks. Instead of leading the horses we often let them go ahead of us. Sometimes we held on to their tails going up steep places.
Tuesday, September 11, 6 P.M.
—Had a big meal last night. Fried sheep steak, onions, beans, bread and jam, fruit, and always, tea. Had a good night’s sleep.
Spotted a billy from camp this morning. We went off after him spending all day up high but he was not for us. Two hundred yards was the closest we could get.
Alex is cooking dinner. After dinner now, stuffed, and writing by flashlight swinging overhead. It is windy and cloudy all over. We hope for the best.
Have a tarp stretched up over my bed in the event of rain.
Wednesday, September 12, 10 A.M.
—Perched on a moss-covered bench half-way up the mountain. Three goats are bedded down across a small canyon from us. We can’t move until they do. Hope they go the other way so we can cross the canyon and get closer to them. On the mountain across from us now are two more goats, and up the valley are three more.
There does not seem to be much game in this big country. But it is a good place to hunt because it is open and what game there is can be seen. This country should be able to support much more game.
We are looking down on the snaking Hendon River as it flows below. Increasing in size as the many glacial streams, carving canyons on their way down the mountains, join it. Yesterday we came upon a place where a rocky cliff had given way and came down like an avalanche. Rocks were ground to dust and alder groves buried. It was nature at work with her carving tools, reshaping the mountains. Someday this may be a mighty forested area and someone may find the arrow I shot yesterday to scare some goats out of a canyon… .
I had my first brush with “devil’s-club” [a spiny shrub] this morning in an alder thicket. Bad stuff.
Yesterday the plane dropped supplies for us without benefit of parachutes. Just packaged them well and kicked them out. It was quite a job finding them, George said.
I am not too sure of getting a goat. It is extremely difficult to get close enough, and rain has used up so much time. We will spend two more days here and then will have to move on. I would regret not getting one of these monarchs of the peaks.
Thursday, September 13, 10 A.M.
—Just twenty-four hours since I wrote last. We are sitting on the mountain near where I wrote yesterday. Alex and Don are cleaning a big billy goat on a ledge overlooking the canyon.
My spirits were low yesterday when I wrote that I was not sure of getting a goat here. Three hours later I had one.
When I wrote yesterday, we were within 500 yards of the goats as the crow flies but much, much farther on foot. There was a steep canyon between us with a rushing, glacial river tearing down the middle. The goats were bedded down where they could see us if we tried to cross.
They finally got up and fed down into a depression, and we started out in all haste. As soon as we topped over we saw goat horns above a ledge, and I started making my way toward him. The wind was right, the footing was right, and he didn’t hear me until I had made some progress. Then he got up and started off. I put an arrow through his ribs at about twenty yards. He was out of sight in seconds.
Straining after him, trying to look under, over, and around the crags where he might be, I suddenly saw him get up not very far away. My arrow found its mark again, going straight through him low behind the front shoulder, and he tumbled off the ledge.
We could reach him only by being lowered with ropes, and since it was getting dark we had to get off the mountain immediately. We had no choice but to leave him and get back to camp.
This morning, armed with ropes, we went back to recover my trophy. Fortunately, he did not break his horns in the fall off the cliff. They were 9’/ inches long. He was approximately a two-hundred-pounder, a fine goat for a full mount.
—Got back to camp at 1 P.M. with the goat. George had a stew waiting. He is now working on the hide, head, and feet of the goat.
It is good to have at least part of a day to loaf and rest up. Goat hunting with a bow and arrow is really rough. I think this will wind up my hunting for these cliff dwellers.
Have some pictures to make tomorrow morning when the sun is on the right side of the mountain. After lunch we plan to start back to base camp.
Chapter 2Yukon Northwest Territory - Part 1
Fred and company explore the Yukon Territory on horseback in search of grizzly, moose, goat, and other trophies. Instead, they are met with cold, tireless rain and snow showers ever increasing their respect for the wild outdoors.