Ranchers over the years have not only had to protect their herds from disease and poison weed but have had to be constantly alert to protect them from predatory animals. In the case of cattle, wolves and grizzly bear are the worst killers and when one of these appears in a community, no time is lost in hunting down the unwelcome invader. The grizzly which eased into the Cochrane and Morley district took a heavy toll on cattle before rancher George Copithorne trapped and shot him, but let the rancher tell his story.
“I first saw grizzly tracks in the district in February 1946: a lot of cattle died that spring from poison weed and I think he got a craving for beef then. In the spring of 1947 he killed a calf at Buckley’s. He was shot at and disappeared only to come back during the summer and lived high until winter. He came back to Buckley’s again in the spring of this year and was chased off after several kills. I suspicioned his presence in my field when I noticed a large number of coyotes in the district. They were following his kills. He killed two of my yearlings and then moved to an adjoining field of heavy bush where he killed six calves and one cow before the stock could be moved out. He always battered his victims’ head and at the first meal removed the stomach, ate the lining, tore off the brisket and scooped out the heart. For a time he moved south into the Bragg Creek district but ranchers there immediately hunted him and he came back into my fields making two kills on the way and a third kill right by my fence.
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“In the fall of 1947, I had a long talk with Jack Butler who is now ranger at Sheep Creek. He told me he had helped to trap grizzlies farther south. He advised to look for a fresh kill and then build a solid pen around it with a roof on top and one small opening where I should set a trap. I was not long now in finding a fresh kill and did as I was instructed a year earlier. I had the pen and trap set before dark. Two days later I came back and found he had sprung the trap without getting caught. He tore the side of my pen, had a good feed and was gone. I hauled the carcass back into the pen and not only nailed the pen up solidly but wired it securely leaving no opening at all. I set the trap after digging a bed for it to make it level with the surrounding ground and covered the trap with moss and leaves. I placed the trap near where the opening was before.
“The bear must have been close by when I was working because my horse has a habit of blowing through his nose when he smells a bear and he signalled twice.
“The next morning as I rode out to see if had any success, I noticed a cow grazing within 50 yards of my set. I thought I had missed again; I was to be surprised. I noticed my pen was broken and the heavy drag log, which was fastened to the trap, was missing. My heart thumped and I nearly froze in my tracks as I quickly gazed around. At 40 feet away, standing quietly among the small trees he had beaten down, stood the killer. To make certain I had a good cartridge in my gun I pumped in another shell. In my excitement the fact that the shell I ejected was a good one didn’t matter. The most exposed part of him was his shoulder and I brought him down with a well-placed shot and for good measure I shot him through the neck with a second shot. My gun was a .300 Savage rifle.
“He was caught securely by the hind leg; there was no chance of him pulling free. The trap was a Newhouse double-spring No. 5 bear trap with teeth set in the jaws.
“The bear looked very dark in the shadows and if it was not for his dished face, one would have taken him for an overgrown black. When he was dragged out in the sunlight, however, there was a golden sheen to his pelt. While it was September 18 when I shot him, his hide was still strictly a summer one. His head was well furred, however, and I am having it mounted.
“I had no scales large enough to weigh him, but I judge he weighed about 700 pounds. He measured seven feet from his nose to his hind feet and probably nine feet from front claw to hind toe.”
George Copithorne estimates that before the grizzly met his end he had killed, since the summer of 1946, no less than 100 head of cattle. Small wonder the Jumping Pound Stock Association was glad to pay over to the rancher the $500 reward which had been posted for the bear’s destruction.
For more of the past from the pages of our magazine see the History section at canadiancattlemen.ca.