Ranger Rick: Tales From a Former YNP Ranger

Meals on Wheels

Rick Gale

Every August, like clockwork, Bear #88 made his way through Pelican Valley and into Fishing Bridge Campground.  

To my knowledge, this all black grizzly bear never hurt anyone while raiding and plundering a few campsites every summer which always resulted in his capture and return to the backcountry with a radio collar.

It was August again and my turn to monitor the bear trap we had baited with slices of cantaloupe from the kitchen of Lake Hotel. I parked my truck about 50 feet from the trap in I Loop and rolled the windows down and waited to capture this repeat offender.

It was just a few minutes after midnight when I heard the loud clang of metal on metal. The trap had been triggered. I started the engine and drove slowly toward the trap not knowing for sure if Bear #88 was actually inside the steel culvert.  
Before getting out of my truck, I aimed my flashlight toward the trap and could see the reflection of his eyes staring me down. I had him!

As I walked toward the trap, he started pacing back and forth. It was then that I noticed the steel pegs for locking the cage door were not in place. Not good. If he hit the cage door he might be able to lift it and get out. And I would be his next meal on wheels.

My first thought. “RETREAT!”  And that’s exactly what I did.  Back to the truck and on the radio calling for help.

Within a few minutes, three Lake District Park Rangers were on the scene to cover me while I climbed on top of the bear trap and forced the metal pegs into open slots that locked the cage door down.

A short time later, Bear #88 was on the road again and driven back to Pelican Valley where he was released and told to stay out of Dodge.

Stories about trapping bears wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t tell you about another mishap I had with a bear trap that unhooked itself and tried to pass me in a no passing zone.

I really thought I’d hooked up the trailer the way I was shown by my supervisor that night. I was driving north on the Grand Loop Road toward Canyon when to my disbelief the empty bear trap was attempting to pass me on a curve near Le Hardy Rapids.

Sparks were flying everywhere and across the hood of my truck as the trailer hitch dug into the asphalt. I hit the brakes and steered right into a pullout. Lucky me. The bear trap came to a stop just a few feet short of going over the edge of an embankment and into the Yellowstone River.

Did I get on the radio and as for some help? Nope. Not me. I got back in the truck and backed it up and hooked the bear trap up again and was on my way to Buffalo Ford Picnic Area where a grizzly bear had been treeing fly fishermen for days.
After several mishaps like this one, I decided it was time to do some research on my own to get the inside scoop and poop on bear traps that just didn’t do what they were meant to do.

I learned that for decades bear traps were designed and constructed without quality control and standard technical specifications. Consequently, traps were fraught with problems which included frequent malfunctions that sometimes required park rangers to return to their quarters and for a fresh uniform and undergarments.
Yes. I’ll admit it. I was one of those rangers.    

This was made by

Rick Gale

Rick Gale is Assistant National Director for the Elks Drug Awareness Program, a Bozeman Public Schools Guest Teacher, and member of Veterans Alliance of Southwest Montana.

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