May 12, 2013 - By Randy Tucker, Staff WriterThanksgiving Day 2012 took on added meaning for three men of the Trembly family. David Trembly of Dubois and sons Grant and Joel came within just a few feet of disaster with Mato, the Lakota name for the grizzly bear, in a section of dark timber just north of Jackson.
In the space of just a few seconds, David emptied the entire contents of a can of bear spray into the charging boar before his sons fired a combined five shots, hitting the bruin three times before it fell just eight feet in front of their dad.
The call of the wild is a very real thing for people like the Tremblys, who live above the Dunoir Valley on the slopes of Union Pass just of Dubois. The cry of the lone wolf and the howls of wolf packs have become commonplace in the small sub-division high in the Wyoming Rockies.
Moose, elk, deer, black bear and, yes, grizzlies are familiar sights along the switchbacks that lead to Warm Springs.
The area was once a haven for tie hacks, the men who built elaborate flumes to carry logs down the mountain side to the Wind River on the valley floor. The timber industry fell on hard times and only the decaying remains of check dams and sluices mark the colorful history of the mostly-Swedish "knights of the broadax."
David Trembly lives on the mountain with his family. The Dubois High School math teacher and coach moved into the area 15 years ago, and the Cheyenne native loves the area.
"Bears and wolves are common around here," David said. "Every spring we have grizzlies grazing in our pasture. They like the young brome grass. Since we moved here I've had about 25 encounters with grizzlies."
Grizzly bears are a growing concern to much of western Wyoming as Ursus Horribilis (the scientific name for the grizzly) continues to return to its historical range.
Encounters of the personal kind are exactly what Trembly and his sons experienced on that Thanksgiving Day.
Grant is a 21-year old junior in college, and Joel is a high school senior who just turned 18. They live in Kansas but have traveled many years to hunt and fish with their dad in Wyoming.
As the boys grew up, hunting elk became an annual tradition. The entire family takes part. David's father, Dwayne, comes up from Cheyenne to hunt with his son and grandsons along with David's wife Adria and their first-grade son, Wyatt.
The boys flew into Jackson, and the family picked up for its third annual elk hunt in November. The Tremblys had tags for the Black Tail Butte area. After four days David had taken an elk, but the boys were still looking.
"We decided to try the river bottom," David said.
They dropped off Dwayne, Adria and Wyatt at Teton Point and headed toward the river, then waited for the sun to rise.
As the sunlight struck the peaks of the Tetons, light gradually filled the little valley . The three hunters moved from the sagebrush into a grove of cottonwood trees, then into dark, heavy timber.
"Do you guys want to split up," David asked?
"No, let's not split up," Joel answered. "This timber is pretty thick."
Face to face
The trio moved ahead no more than 15 or 20 yards before David came to an abrupt stop.
"Dad peaked around a tree, hunched over and had a puzzled look on his face, then he stood up extremely tall. 'Oh, crap, what is it?' I thought. My dad doesn't stand up like that unless he's trying to intimidate something," Joel said. "I've seen him do that before, and it's never a good thing."
David yelled as he made himself as large as he could.
"Bear, No! Get! Bear, No!"
"When he yelled 'bear' I could hear the bear crunch his first step," Joel said, "No roar, just crunch -- and it was getting faster and louder."
Just seconds before, David had taken his bear spray out.
"I don't know why I did. I guess the Lord was with us," he said.
David noticed a horizontal line against the vertical timber and at first thought it might be an elk. But the color was wrong. It wasn't yellow. It was gray.
Separated by just 40 feet, the bear turned toward David and began to run. A six-inch tree trunk and a couple of smaller trees were directly in front of him as he set to spray the bear.
"He was so close I could see his nostrils flair," David said. "I emptied the bear spray right into his face and could see droplets falling from the roof of his mouth and off his fur. I fanned the spray back and forth, and some of it bounced off the trees in front of us."
Because David had filled his elk tag earlier, he didn't have his rifle.
"After the spray ran out, I pulled my knife and set my feet," David said. "Maybe I could dodge him and get on his back."
Joel and Grant were directly behind and to the left of their dad.
"You could hear it coming through the woods," Grant said. "Snapping trees and breaking branches off. We were in an L formation in the middle of a deer trail. I saw dad spraying, and I knew the bear was coming for sure."
Grant threw off his glove and stepped next to Joel. He clicked the safety off his Remington 700 CDL and fired three 300 Winchester magnum shots at the bear.
"I fired until it clicked," Grant said.
Joel fired twice from his 270 caliber BDL at the same time.
The bear dropped instantly, eight feet in front of David and less than 11 feet from the boys.
"I asked Joel if he had any rounds left," Grant said. "I started to reload since an empty gun is just an expensive club, but dad said 'He's dead.'"
In the brief intensity of the face-off, David tired to stock of what had happened.
"I heard the triggers click, but I never heard the blast from the guns," he said.
'We just shot a grizzly'
For 30 seconds or so no one moved, their eyes riveted on the 534-pound bear just a few feet away.
David dropped the can of spray and said, "We might be in trouble boys."
He instructed his sons to mark where they were standing when they shot, and they walked a short distance until coverage returned to David's cell phone.
He sent a text message to Adria.
"Call the Game and Fish wardens. We just shot a grizzly."
Not believing the message at first Adria texted back, "Sure you did."
A few seconds later Adria realized the message was true and called the authorities at 7:32 a.m.
Grand Teton National Park rangers were nearby and heard the shooting. The firing was so close together that they initially thought someone had fired a semi-automatic rifle two or three times.
"They were amazed when they realized we were shooting bolt action," Grant said.
The rangers walked down to the scene with the trio. Their demeanor was less than friendly initially.
"I think we had interrupted their Thanksgiving Day," Joel said. "They were going to have a day of investigating and paper work instead of a holiday dinner."
But the mood of the two rangers changed immediately once they saw the close proximity of the bear to the three hunters.
Other officials arrived, and their response was identical to that of the rangers. They separated the three hunters and interviewed each separately while a supervisor listened to each group. The supervisor verified that all three were recounting the event identically, and the entire entourage's manner changed to friendly.
"They wanted to go down to the bear, but they were only carrying pistols," Joel said. "I thought there might be another bear eating the first one already, so Grant and I carried our loaded rifles back in with us."
Months of study
The official investigation lasted for months as rangers, wildlife biologists and others combed through the events of the day. The Tremblys were exonerated entirely.
Research after the shooting revealed that the bear was trying to cache a dead elk when the Tremblys came up on him.
"He was just defending his life," Joel said. "There were other bears in the area, and he needed food before the winter hit."
A survey of the immediate area revealed that six other grizzlies were active nearby.
The family hunting tradition will continue. This wasn't the first time the group had encountered an aggressive bear.
"We have tags closer to Dubois next year," Grant said. "Hopefully we come home with elk and nothing else."
But Joel has no illusions.
"Honestly, if we keep going, we'll probably come up on a bear again."
Get your copy of The Ranger online, every day! If you are a current print subscriber and want to also access dailyranger.com online (there is nothing more to purchase) including being able to download The Mining and Energy Edition, click here. Looking to start a new online subscription to dailyranger.com (even if it is for just one day)? Access our secure SSL encrypted server and start your subscription now by clicking here.