ELEMENTS: Face-to-Face with Idaho’s Most-feared Wildlife

ELEMENTS: Face-to-Face with Idaho’s Most-feared Wildlife

Our Elements series is a close-up look at the natural world through the eyes of river guide Codye Reynolds. This time she helps us turn our anxiety into respect for two of the most-feared wild animals found along Idaho’s rivers–the black bear and rattlesnake.

Sometimes guests arrive at the banks of an Idaho river with worries of wild, dangerous animals. While both the black bear and western rattlesnake have healthy populations in Idaho, they are unique and fascinating creatures that deserve respect and not fear.

225-Pounds of Crowd-quieting, Discussion-ending Furriness

Our trip leader, Bronco, was finishing up his evening talk at Trail camp and answering questions about the next day’s rapids on the Middle Fork of the Salmon when a black bear cut his lecture short. It was spotted on the opposite shore from camp, ambling downstream in search of grubs and berries. Bronco was heard saying, “Well, I guess the meeting’s over,” as all of the guests’ attention was shifted to gathering cameras and binoculars. We stood on the rocky beach and took pictures of the slender, yearling black bear. We spoke quietly to each other about the rarity of seeing the bear, a perfect example of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness at its best.

black bear middle fork salmon river

The black bear, smaller and without the characteristic hump of a grizzly, can be black, brown, blond, or cinnamon in color. They are omnivores, eating roots, berries, insects, fish, and carrion. Our black bear was likely less than two years old, on his own and finding his way along the riverbank. Maybe he got lucky and found a thicket of ripe and juicy thimbleberries.

Black bears are generally shy and skittish of people. A wild black bear sighting is a treat, getting a few pictures to prove it happened is even better.

The Beautiful and Sleek, Mouse-hunting and Shade-seeking Serpent

This July we were camped along the Main Salmon River nearing the end of a 16-day Ultimate Salmon River Rafting Experience. My fellow guide Jeff was cleaning his dory when a guest noticed a western rattlesnake slithering across the sand under the stern of his boat. Luckily, Jeff stayed in his boat until the snake was gently removed by our fearless guides Jake and Derik. The snake spent the night confused but safe in a bucket until we left the beach the next morning and let it free. Guests and guides alike were awed and fascinated by the serpent, though respectfully we kept our distance.

rattlesnake middle fork salmon

The western rattlesnake is a poisonous pit viper (they have heat-sensing pits/nostrils, to help locate prey) found throughout Western North America. With its characteristic rattle (you know it if you’ve heard it), rattlesnakes usually make it clear if you are too close for their comfort.

Since rattlesnakes eat birds, bird eggs, and small mammals, it wasn’t looking to eat our friend Jeff. The snake, being cold-blooded, was likely seeking shade and relief from the hot summer’s rays. Perhaps it thought there would be a mouse hiding under the dory, too.

Have you come face-to-face with a wild animal you’d rather avoid?  Share your story below.


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ELEMENTS: Idaho’s Natural Icons

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  • Gordo

    Well, I have a couple of wildlife encounters to share. On a shoulder season Middle Fork/Main Salmon combo trip with my wife one September I decided to do something different and reserved a night at the Flying “B” ranch for the two of us. We asked them at the ranch if we needed to worry about our cooler in our raft on the boat beach and they re-assured us that since two large boar bears had been taken just two weeks prior by hunters that the bear problem was resolved and we had nothing to worry about. The six days of wind, cold rain and even a bit of snow had worn us out by that time so we took their word for it and left the cooler on the raft. Big mistake. We got up to our cooler contents strewn across the sand and we thought our trip was over, we’d lost our provisions. But as we too stock of our losses we found that the bear had eaten our butter and margarine, four pounds of the stuff, and he’d screwed the lid off of a jar of my World Famous Chipotle/Caper Salmon Sauce and licked the jar clean. He bypassed our frozen and plastic wrapped steaks, meatballs, breakfast sausages, polish sausages, even our frozen salmon filets that the sauce was intended for, and although he’d scattered our vegetables he hadn’t bothered to eat them so we just washed off the veggies, bought some butter at the “B” to replace what we’d lost and went on our way with the satisfaction that the bear must have had the worst case of diarrhea, EVER! I still have and use that cooler, bear bite marks where he tore it open and all.

    My second story was from one of our 8 (so far) private Grand Canyon raft trips. I’d seen the bark scorpions and the fearsome looking Giant Green Hairy scorpions that call the Canyon home but had been lucky up to that point never having been stung by one. After a night at Blacktail Canyon we loaded the raft and got underway. Not a quarter mile into the trip I shipped the oars and leaned back into the gear pile to rest and immediately felt a hot sting on the inside of my right arm, then another, then another and again until I could react and fling the monster that was stinging me into the Colorado hopefully to his ultimate fate! It was one of those small bark scorpions that had hitched a ride on the gear as we loaded the raft. I had no idea what was in store for me as the venom took effect but the inside of my arm quickly went numb as if it was loaded with novocaine. It felt sloshy like it was filled with water, but since it wasn’t painful I decided to ignore it and get on with the business of running the Canyon. Later that night after we went to bed my arm was still numb, but at about one in the morning I woke up to a strange sensation in my arm. It felt like all of the tissues under my skin were quivering randomly. I turned on a light and that’s exactly what was happening. My skin looked like a million tiny worms were crawling around under it. It felt very strange but since it also wasn’t painful I decided to ignore that as well and get some sleep. In the morning the feeling in my arm had returned to normal and the quivering had stopped. It was odd that something so small could be so disruptive, but I got out of my close encounter with a bark scorpion relatively unscathed.

    • Cari_Morgan

      Wow, great stories Gordo! Thanks for sharing. Stay safe out there!

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