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The Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, the rugged backdrop for the sportsmen shown on the preceding pages, is a monument to the extravagance of nature's imagination. Within its borders lie almost a million acres of virgin forest. Out of the dense pine valleys, limestone mountains rise to more than 8,000 feet, backing upward toward sheer cliffs that leap another 1,000 feet to form the awesome barrier of the Continental Divide. Not a single road cuts through the woods and mountains to disturb an abundance of wildlife that is unequaled elsewhere in the United States.
Yet this ageless wilderness is open to everyone. It is part of the vast natural inheritance that a few farsighted conservationists saved and protected for a leisure-conscious nation. One of the leaders of the wilderness crusade was the late Bob Marshall, who spearheaded a movement that in two decades has grown to include 80 wilderness areas in which more than 20 million recreation-hungry Americans have rediscovered the outdoors.
A year after Marshall's death in 1939, three primitive areas, situated in the Lewis and Clark and Flathead national forests in northwest Montana, were consolidated into one great hunting ground and named the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It is the most beautiful and at the same time one of the least known and least visited of the wildernesses. Each year only 500 sportsmen pack in during the hunting season. This year I was fortunate to make the trip, and one thing was immediately apparent: hunters in the Bob Marshall are a very special breed. Most of them come from out of state. Many travel 1,000 miles or more, but they all share one thing in common. They are quality hunters seeking quality hunting.
"That's a distinctive part of this Wilderness," says Robert F. Cooney, Chief of Game Management for the Montana Fish and Game Commission. "Sportsmen who seek out the Bob Marshall want the highest level of hunting experience; the pursuit of an animal in the wildest range of its habitat under conditions most difficult for the hunter and most advantageous for the quarry. They want to engage in a competition between man and nature as primitive as the area itself. This kind of competition demands a particularly pure sportsman, a hunter who does not care if he leaves the Wilderness empty-handed, because the hunt and not the bag is his primary goal."
Because the Wilderness is roadless, and will always be if the combined vigilance of the Forest Service, the Montana Game Commission and the Wilderness Society has anything to do with it, a hunter going into the Bob Marshall faces a six-or eight-hour ride on horseback, or, harder still, a hike of several days. The 1,500 miles of narrow trails (see map) are marked, but in some areas only at intervals of several miles. Although maintained and cleared each summer by Forest Service crews, they are rugged, mountainous paths which wind through dense forests, over jutting shale cliffs, across fast-moving streams and through canyons and rock-slides. They are difficult and sometimes treacherous.
A number of Forest Service guard cabins and mountain lookouts are located strategically throughout the area, but these exist solely as fire-control measures, are often unmanned, and never for use of the hunter. Nor is the Bob Marshall a park where the trail leads eventually to a lean-to and kindling stacked against a fireplace. The trail leads only to other mountains and other canyons, each as barren of man-made improvements as the last.
In this wild country the grizzly bear roams one of its last remaining haunts. There are a few in Wyoming and Idaho, but the largest concentration of grizzly bears in the world is in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
The nation's second largest elk herds are also here, sharing their habitat with mule deer and whitetails, black bears and moose. On the sheer cliffs of the Chinese Wall, where for one stretch of 22 miles the great barrier of the Continental Divide towers 1,000 feet above the surrounding country, mountain goats pick their way among massive boulders and sun themselves on unscalable ledges. Rocky Mountain sheep move stealthily above the timber line. Blue grouse whirl out of brambly clumps, and loons call somberly across Big Salmon Lake. Along darkened crevasses, long, sleek mountain lions pursue their nightly paths.
The hunter, regardless of experience, who tackles this kind of country alone or without a first-class guide takes a needless and foolish risk. There are at least two dozen fine guides and outfitters scattered around the edges of the hunting ground. They provide riding and pack animals, and all basic camping equipment for a week or 10-day hunt. Customarily, they furnish at least one guide for every two hunters. The usual outfit consists of a sleeping tent for two to four people; a dining tent, like the one shown crowded with relaxing hunters on page 70, which doubles as a bar and recreation room; portable wood-burning stoves; canned and dried provisions; materials for packing and salting trophies; and medical supplies for almost anything from a hangnail to appendicitis. Some outfitters even have facilities at their home lodges for entertaining wives and children who cannot or don't want to pack into the Wilderness.
Generally the hunter is expected to bring his own sleeping bag, since bedding is usually a matter of personal preference.