By: Randy Tucker
The Trembly family will never forget Thanksgiving 2012, a special day whose theme of gratitude and appreciation took on a new meaning for three men of the family who lived to tell about a close call with a grizzly thanks to two Remington bolt action rifles.
David Trembly of Dubois, Wyoming, and his sons, Grant and Joel, came within just a few feet of meeting “Mato” (the Lakota name for the grizzly bear) in a section of dark timber just north of Jackson, Wyoming.
Within seconds, David emptied the entire contents of a can of bear spray into the charging bear before his sons fired a combined five shots, hitting the bruin three times before it fell just eight feet in front of their dad. Those two Remington bolt action rifles are the reason the three men are alive today.
David Trembly coaching the Dubois, Wyoming Rams.
The Call of the Wild
The call of the wild is a very real thing for people like the Tremblys living above the Dunoir Valley on the slopes of Union Pass, just west of the small town of Dubois. The cry of the lone wolf and the howls of wolf packs are commonplace in the small sub-division high in the Wyoming Rockies.
Moose, elk, deer, black bear, and even grizzlies are familiar sights along the switchbacks that lead to Warm Springs.
The area was once a haven for tie hacks, men who built elaborate sluices to carry logs down the mountainside to the Wind River on the valley floor. The timber industry fell on hard times, and only the decaying remains of check dams and the remnants of sluices mark the passage of time.
David Trembly lives on the mountain with his family. The Dubois High School math teacher and coach moved into the area 15 years ago from Cheyenne and loves the place.
“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 bear encounters are a growing concern to much of western Wyoming as Ursus Horribilis (the scientific name for the grizzly) continues to return to his historical range. An encounter of the personal kind is exactly what Trembly and his sons experienced on that Thanksgiving Day five years ago.
‘I Fired Until It Clicked’
Grant was a 21-year old junior in college, and Joel was a high school senior just turning 18. They lived in Kansas, but traveled many years to hunt and fish with their dad in Wyoming.
As the boys grew-up, hunting elk became an annual tradition with the entire family taking part. David’s father Dwayne often came up from Cheyenne to hunt with his son and grandsons along with David’s wife Adria and their son Wyatt.
The boys flew into Jackson Hole in November, and the family picked them up for their third annual elk hunt. The party 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 towards the river, where they waited for the sun to rise.
As the sun shone on the peaks of the Tetons, light gradually filled the little valley, and the three hunters moved from the sagebrush into a grove of cottonwood trees, then on 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.”
The trio moved ahead no more than 15 or 20 yards when 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 later recalled. “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 recounted. “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.
The bear – just 40 feet away – turned toward David and began to run.
“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.”
Since David had filled his elk tag earlier, he didn’t have his rifle.
“After the spray ran out, I pulled out 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 when I did, 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 Remington BDL simultaneously, and the bear dropped instantly eight feet in front of David and less than 11 feet from the boys.
‘We Might Be in Trouble, 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.’”
“I heard the triggers click, but I never heard the blast from the guns,” David said.
For 30 seconds or so, no one moved. Their eyes were riveted by the 534-pound bear lying motionless 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.
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, and their demeanor was, at least initially, less than friendly.
“I think we had interrupted their Thanksgiving Day,” Joel said. “They were going to have a day of investigating and paperwork instead of a holiday dinner.”
But the rangers’ attitudes changed immediately once they saw the close proximity of the bear to the three hunters.
Other officials arrived, and their reactions were identical to those of the rangers. They separated the three hunters and interviewed each one of them individually as a supervisor listened to each group. The supervisor verified that all three were retelling the event identically, and the entire investigating entourage became 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.”
‘He Was Just Defending His Life’
Exploration 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. It is not 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.”
Joel summed up the experience while contemplating future hunts, “Honestly, if we keep going, we’ll probably come up on a bear again.”
Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.