by Matt Schiff
I wouldn’t expect someone to shoot, especially without giving fair warning, and considering the hour, the heat of the day had yet to add to the rage one might feel when coming across some trespassers. We’ve definitely been spotted as I watch a pickup stop, back up, and the driver get out and mess around the bed of the truck. What I can’t see is what worries me. Theoretically, a rifle could be loaded, steadied, and a round fired precisely while looking through the crosshairs of a scope. This is all unrealistic paranoia on my part as I lay down flat to minimize the possible target, peeking out above my sleeping bag. After a moment the man gets back in the truck and continues on. If he drives slowly we’ve got about a minute or two until confrontation. I rush to get clothes on but after no more than 30 seconds there is the crushing of sage.
We’ve left Yellowstone, left Cooke City, traveled through National Forest, and ascended eight miles at a 7% grade to an 8000 ft pass. Now, heading down the backside – the dry side – there’s a lot of private land, not a lot of cover, and we’re ready to camp before we get too close to Cody, WY. We just need to find a small patch of land to lay our tents and maybe some cottonwoods for shade. Without obvious “no trespassing” signs you can usually correctly assume you are entering BLM land in these parts of the country. One sign says a ranch begins behind this sign for 8 miles but looking the other way there’s no signage. We made camp, washed off, took proper bear precautions, and then called it a night as the light faded.
I woke up before the sun light up the mountains on the far side of the valley. I consider reading but this would take too much energy. I consider going back to sleep but my mind is moving and ready to start the day. I start to get up and perhaps get an early, cool start toward Cody and that’s when I spot the white truck.
The truck crashes over sage on a seldom used road. The driver rolls down his window.
“Good morning”, I say.
“You’re not supposed to be here. This is private land,” the man explains. He’s not pissed; in fact, he seems worried as if his boss might find out we were here.
“There are bears here. You camped in absolutely the worst spot. I’m just glad you guys are alive.”
We’ve heard that before, but given how much unwarranted fear there is towards bears, it’s tough to worry.
“You could have gotten hurt and then sued us and that’s not fair because you’re not supposed to be here,” he continues on.
Now that’s a fair claim and you have to respect people who discuss matters like these in a calm and respectful manner. I explain our confusion over the signage and how it was getting too late to continue on towards Cody. Enough was said. The man rolled up his window and took off.
In the west we run into plenty of public land and that’s the way I like it. We use BLM or Forest Service land to camp on because it is convenient and free, and there usually is no question as to where the public and private land is. This is the first run-in we’ve had, and at least for now, dispels the myth of the western states trigger happy rancher.