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Author Topic: ALASKAN BEAR HUNT By Doug Campbell  (Read 733 times)

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ALASKAN BEAR HUNT By Doug Campbell
« on: February 27, 2006, 06:42:00 AM »
ALASKAN BEAR HUNT
By Doug Campbell

Damn, I should have waited another fraction of a second and it would have been perfect. I listened to the crashing as the big black bear tore through everything in his path. I knew that the shot was too far forward but maybe I would get lucky. This was my last chance for a bear this trip. It was an hour till dark and Steve Hohensee and I had to catch the ferry back to Ketchikan tomorrow and the ferry doesn’t wait for anyone. What an awesome trip this had been so far.

It had started out kind of slow but after the fourth day it seemed like someone had opened the flood gates. The bears had started popping up everywhere. This was my fifth stalk of the night. It all started three months ago at our annual United Bowhunters of Missouri Banquet in Jefferson City. Steve and I were in charge of setting up the trophy displays. Naturally, we were talking bow hunting and found we both wanted to kill a bear. Neither one of us were too excited about hunting over bait with bugs trying to carry us off. We had heard, and read, about the spot and stalk hunting in the spring on bears emerging from hibernation. After kicking around several possibilities, we settled on the islands of Southeast Alaska.

We had learned that in the early spring, fresh out of hibernation, the bears could be found grazing on the new grasses emerging along the beaches and tidal flats, which is where we intended to concentrate our efforts. After being practically dormant for the long winter months their stomach 2s can not handle meat or other more solid foods. They graze the fresh grass and other greens to get their systems primed and working again. This brings them out of the rainforest jungles they call home and makes them much easier to see and stalk. Without this advantage these bears would be practically impossible to hunt in the environment they call home most of the year.

By the end of the weekend we were both pretty pumped up. In the following weeks many hours were spent on the Internet researching the trip and Steve’s travel agent was pursuing the best airfares. There is no telling how many E-mails flew back and forth at the speed of light. Finally the dates were set and airline and ferry tickets were on their way. All that was left was packing, and the hardest part of all, the waiting. Finally, on April 30th we boarded our flight for Seattle and, after a brief layover there, on to Ketchikan, AK.

When flying it pays to pay attention to details. We ran into a slight snag in Seattle when a couple of our bags turned out to be over weight. We hadn’t had any problems in St.Louis but, when checking our baggage at the Alaska Air terminal, we had to pay an extra $50.00 for each of the two bags that were ten to twelve pounds over the 70# limit.

After getting everything straightened out and our baggage checked we still had a couple of hours to kill. It just so happens that Northwest Archery and the Pope and Young Museum were only ten minutes or so from the Airport. Well, needless to say, it didn’t take much to talk us into jumping into a cab for the trip over. Steve had been there before while attending the PBS Biannual Banquet in March. But I was awed when I walked into the Museum and was surrounded by the archery history that I had heard and read about all my life. I could have spent hours looking at and reading the displays. Glen StCharles wasn’t there that day but his son Jay was working on a bow in the back, when he finished he came out and Steve introduced us. We spent the remainder of our extra time talking bows and telling stories. Steve who builds White Bison Longbows was working on a design for a folding longbow. He and Jay hashed out some of the details for it. I was mostly satisfied to look and listen. We wound up talking too long and Jay had to run us back to the airport. I would highly recommend visiting if you ever get the chance. The displays and hospitality are definitely worth it.

It was back on an Alaska Air jet, for the last air leg of our trip, after eleven hours of travel, we arrived in Ketchikan, AK. We were wore out but so excited we couldn’t wait to get the hunt started. After loading our rented Suburban, doing some shopping for items we couldn’t bring with us, and checking into a hotel for our last night in civilization for almost two weeks we drove out of town for some exploring.

We just went south till we found a patch of beach where we could walk down to the water. After an hour of beach combing and exploring the marine life we headed back for supper, which I was ready for with the three-hour time differential from MO to AK. I can’t describe the feeling of finally arriving in a place I have been dreaming about ever since reading, Jack London’s, Call Of The Wild more than 30 years ago. The only thing I can say was waiting one more night to get into the brush was going to be excruciating.

I was ready to go when 3:00 ‚ AM arrived and it was time to get ready for catching the ferry, and our ride out to Hollis, on Prince Of Wales Island. The ferry ride was an experience in itself. The ferry looked like a small cruise ship, we drove onto the lower deck, parked the truck and moved upstairs for the cruise. A restaurant, cabins, lounge, and viewing areas made for a very comfortable ride. I had heard that the Alaska Marine Highway was a major means of travel up here but hadn’t imagined the extent. This would be an interesting way to explore any of the coastal areas of AK. We saw several porpoises, eagles, and sea birds, and heard stories about whales, seals, and a lot of other interesting stuff from the other passengers. We finally arrived on Prince of Wales Island and opened our topo map and headed for our first camping area.

We were both pretty beat from the travel and time difference but after setting up camp and eating a good meal we were ready to go. We had spent hours studying and researching the maps and had roughly picked out our hunting areas. Steve dropped me off and headed for his chosen area. I had decided to hike down an old trail to the flats at the upper end of a small bay. After a hundred yards, and running out of trail, I was doubting the sanity of this idea. I knew I had finally found the wilderness when I eased off into the brush. This wasn’t like I expected, it almost seemed like I had stepped into another world, definitely a long way from Missouri. All around me were huge pines and cedars, there were what looked like three hundred year old trees growing on three hundred year old logs, everything was covered with thick moss, and visibility was about twenty feet. Devil’s club and skunk cabbage lined the stream banks. I can’t describe the eerie feeling that came over me when I hit the first bear trail.

I kept moving down hill, hopefully toward the beach. If I were to have met a bear in there it would have been very interesting. I ducked under a limb and there were white bones scattered everywhere, it turned out to be a bear, apparently from last year. I found his skull with the teeth still intact and a few claws, I was hoping this was a good omen. I gathered up the first of many mementos from this trip and started on.

Finally I broke out onto the flat with a good creek running through it and found a mossy old tree trunk where I could sit and watch. Just before dark I walked down the shore back to camp, no bear tonight, but I did see eagles, sea lions, and otters, critters seemed to be everywhere. Steve saw a big bear but stepped on a twig and spooked him at twenty yards. It was a pretty interesting first day.

The next morning, the sea lions and otters were still in the bay below camp. I watched them while I ate breakfast and drank my coffee. I went fishing up the creek flowing into the bay, but didn’t do any good. I saw one good steelhead but spooked him. Steve fished the bay below camp. He didn’t catch any fish but did come back with a big crab, fresh seafood for supper.

Steve and I scouted a different area south of camp but didn’t see anything we were thrilled with. We hunted the same areas again as the night before with about the same results, except Steve saw two bears. He was able to get within thirty yards, but got no shots. I saw a nice Blacktail buck with a good set of horns already beginning to form. We decided to move camp the next day and check out some new country. The north end of the Island looked interesting so after a couple hours on the logging road we made camp in an old rock quarry.

Later we waded down a little creek to the beach. When hunting you wear hip waders all the time. We took stocking foot neoprenes and used felt soled wader shoes. This turned out to be a good combination since the rocks in the creeks always seemed to be slippery.

Steve and I went our separate ways on the beach, I sat on a long stretch with grass at the edge of the timber. About 5:00 and 300 yards up the beach a bear came strolling out to check out what the high tide had left. He milled around a couple of minutes then went back into the forest. I could occasionally glimpse him in the edge of the brush as he worked his way toward me till he came out again about 50 yards closer. I started my first stalk of the trip. The bear slowly came my way as he nosed through the kelp that had been piled on the beach. First, I tried to go along the edge of the forest but the brush was just too noisy. I dropped back down to the beach and worked my way from one drift log to another, gradually closing the distance. This worked well till I was about 70 yards from the bear, and ran out of logs. He was slowly working my way so I crouched behind the root ball of a huge tree lying lengthwise along the beach. If the bear kept coming he was going to pass on the other side of the log no more than four steps away. As usual when dealing with wild critters, things seldom work out exactly like you plan.

As the bear came to the end of the log I was behind he decided to try his balance by stepping up on the log and walking straight toward me. This was my first encounter with a bear in the wild and after some of the horror stories I had read in a book a friend had given me when he found out I was coming bear hunting with a bow, my heart was in my throat. Just when my imagination was telling me to prepare for the worst the bear sensed something wrong, or maybe he heard my heart pounding, and stopped. He stared my way for a few seconds facing me then turned and hopped to another log just to the left and above me. This move put him broad side at about twenty yards, and I could tell he was getting ready to bolt into the woods. Just as his front leg went forward I raised my trusty recurve and let fly. I think the combination of rushing and my nerves being pretty much frazzled caused the miss that should have been a gimme shot. The bear growled and snapped at the air where the arrow had just been then jumped off the log and was gone. I kicked myself for a while then realized that that was the most exciting half-hour of stalking I’d ever done. This bear hunting was going to get into my blood big time.

 

I stayed on the beach too long and was caught by the high tide, and couldn’t go back along the beach and up the creek. This meant I had to work my way through the forest to reach the rendezvous point with Steve. You definitely need to pay attention to the Tide tables. This was a very hard lesson. After fighting my way through a quarter mile of jungle where I literally had to crawl on my belly to get through several spots it was one I wouldn’t soon forget. I finally got back and met Steve. He had gone south along the beach but hadn’t seen anything but good looking country. We headed back up the creek to the old rock quarry that was home sweet home for the next five nights.

Fourth day of the hunt and I’d only had one opportunity at a bear, but what an opportunity it was. We unpacked the solar shower and put it to use, it felt great. One thing about it you don’t have to worry about being modest out here, there’s not much chance of anybody seeing you. We camped just off the road and didn’t see or hear anyone else come by.

That afternoon we found a big flat that covered several hundred acres and proved to be great for clamming at low tide. Some people had warned us not to eat the shellfish but when we stopped to get gas at a small village the locals said they were fine so we couldn’t resist trying. We had brought a small plastic garden shovel with plans of putting it to use on the clams. Neither of us had any idea the little rascals could move so fast. The first few times when we would dig for a clam all we would find was a hole going further down. Steve finally figured out that if you dug under them first they couldn’t get away as often. It turned out to be a lot more work then we had anticipated but we knew it would be worth it.

We bagged our clams in on old pillowcase we’d brought for the purpose and spent the rest of the evening bear hunting. Turned out this was a lot better clamming spot than a bear hunting spot. Steve did get a stalk on a decent bear that spooked and took to the forest before he could get close enough.

Looking at the map it appeared a short cut cross-country instead of wading back up the creek would cut off a considerable distance back to the road. Before we made it out we were afraid we might be lost in the wilds of Alaska forever. It was another hard learned lesson on navigating in Southeast AK. There are many old cut-over spots and I would advise against trying to go though them without a trail. These areas are unbelievably thick, at one spot we decided to walk a huge log that was pointing in the direction we were going. When we got to the end and started to jump off we were twenty feet off the ground and couldn’t tell it. In places you had no more than three feet of visibility and it would have been real handy to know how to walk on water. I was never happier to get out of a place in my life. I sure hoped if I shot a bear it doesn’t go into one of those places. The sleeping bag felt extra good that night.

Halfway through the hunt and the weather had been great every day but it was beginning to look like that might change. The clouds were starting to come in. I still-hunted the logging roads and clear cuts above camp most of the morning seeing many different birds, surprisingly even a few hummers but no bears.

We had the clams and a few mussels for lunch, pretty darn good stuff, I think I could get used to this. If my wife and kids were here with me I’d just stay. After lunch we went fishing in a small lake not far from camp. We tried from shore and even went out in a forest service boat for a while. The decent fish must have still been hibernating because they sure wouldn’t bite anything we were throwing at them. We did catch a bunch of 6” to 9” Dolly Varden and Cutthroats which were below the legal length so it didn’t look like we would be eating fish yet.

The rain started that evening so we donned our rain gear and headed out to give it a try. This turned out to be the slowest night we’d had yet. I wouldn’t think it was the weather since it is so wet here most critters probably have web-feet. I did see several Blacktail does and fawns which seemed to be moving better than usual. Took a picture of a couple that came by at twenty yards but it didn’t turn out since I forgot to shut the flash off. Momma just about turned inside out when it went off, all I saw was a blur. Tons of waterfowl and eagles were everywhere. A big fishing boat was anchored at the back of the bay. I was sure hoping this wasn’t an indication of how severe the weather was going to be.

Day six dawned dreary and wet but the rain didn’t get to carried away, although it looked like I was going to get a chance to catch up on my reading. Spent a good part of the day with Don Thomas and Long Bow Country. After a good start I sure hoped the rest of this trip turned out as good as most of his did. It cleared off early in the afternoon so I headed back down to where I’d missed the bear a couple days ago, maybe he’d come back for round two.

I sat for an hour fascinated by the antics of a couple of sea otters. They would chase and play for a while then disappear, about the time I thought they were gone they would pop back up with a clam. They’d then float on their back crack the clam with a handy rock and use their bellies for a table. When finished they would just roll over and wash the table off and go down again. I could have watched the otters all night but something better came along.

Whales! And I got one whale of a show, pun intended. It started with a huge spout of water shooting up a few hundred yards out in the ocean. I got my binoculars up just in time to catch the first big guy coming almost completely out of the water then falling back with a giant splash. Two adult and a calf humpback whales entertained me for the rest of the night or at least till high tide forced me back off the beach.

I had stuck an indicator stick in the sand this time so I wouldn’t get caught again. While I watched the whales a couple of bald eagles circled and swooped just above me chirping and clucking, sometimes only a few feet away. I had to wade a mile of rising creek in the dark to meet Steve in the truck but it was well worth it. Just doesn’t get any better than this.

Steve had went back to the clam flats a few miles away. He’d seen one small bear but thought he looked like Boo Boo, Yogi Bear’s buddy. Not what he was looking for so he’d just watched him.

I woke early the next morning and wasn’t sure if I would die laughing or Steve would tear the tent down first. Turns out he had to get up and answer the call of nature so he put his rubber boots on bare feet. The boots were damp from sweat and created a pretty good seal around his ankles. I woke up to Steve dancing around in his skivies about to freeze, kicking his boot heels on the rocks anchoring the tent down. This went on for a couple of minutes. I was pretty impressed with his stamina and balance. Just when I thought we were going to have to amputate he managed to get the boots off but not before banging his heals a time or two. What a way to start the day.

We just messed around camp for a while then drove up to a place called Memorial Point to look around. Some rifle hunters were camping there so we quizzed them hoping to gain information. They had killed five bears so far, one guy turned out be the area geologist and knew the area very well. The others were from St. Louis of all places. We looked at a big bear they had killed that morning in a high clear-cut. This really got our fever up. The geologist’s wife had watched the whales the night before also. She declared their camping spot to be the most beautiful spot on earth, I couldn’t argue. To top it all off they told us that a couple nights ago, while we were camped on the south end of the island, there had been an unbelievable display of the northern lights. I tried to check every night after that but the lights never returned.

Steve and I drew straws to see where we would be hunting and I drew the clam flats. We had been there two nights and saw two bears so I had a pretty good feeling about it. Steve was going to head up and glass some clear cuts and logging roads above where I would be. The rain was still with us off and on making the wool I brought along feel pretty good.

This place was amazing as I didn’t think anything could top the whales but this night got close. I had been sitting about forty-five minutes when I caught a movement to my right. I put the binocs up and couldn’t believe it when 70 yards away out stepped a timber wolf. I had just been reading about Don Thomas and Ray Stalmaster’s experiences with wolves up here and here was one right in front of me. Turned out this was a momma, for a few seconds later out stepped a couple of three-quarter grown pups. These guys kept me entertained for most of the evening. The pups tried several times to put the stalk on the geese that were all over the flat. This was pretty comical since the birds could see the pups from a hundred yards away. The geese would honk like crazy till the pup would make his rush then fly up just out of reach.

Momma just lazed around and watched till the pups got tired of harassing the geese and started pestering her. They worried her till finally she got up and led them off into the timber. Just before dark Boo Boo came out again about 150 yards away. I decided to see how close I could get. Crossing the creek I waded up a side branch to within fifty yards and crawled up the creek bank to check the wind. I circled through the trees and eased out of the brush just above the little bear. He was at the base of the bank just ten steps away mowing grass like crazy. It was sure tempting to thump him with no more bears than we were seeing, but compared to the other bear this was a real dink. I just watched till he heard one of the cedar branches brush my raincoat. The little rascal really had the mud flying when he galloped away. When these bears decide to get gone it doesn’t take them long to do it. If they decided to come toward you instead of go away it wouldn’t be fun.

Steve had seen some interesting country and had two small bears cross the logging road but didn’t get a chance at them. I was hoping I wouldn’t be regretting letting Boo Boo go.

We figured we had about exhausted most of the good looking places around camp number two so we decided it was time to move again. The next day we headed south to the only established campsite that I saw the whole trip. This spot had a couple of picnic tables, a fire ring, and even an out-house, seems we were back to civilization.

After setting up camp we headed out to check the bear situation. I dropped Steve off at a likely looking spot and I took the Suburban on to another of the small creeks that looked like it would lead me to the coast-line. After a Three-quarter mile wade down the creek I came around the last bend and there just the other side of a drift log was a big black rear end. The bear was about twenty-five yards away and definitely big enough to shoot. I eased up to the log but the bear was moving away just as fast. Just about the time things were looking promising I felt a puff of wind on my neck and two seconds later the bear was flinging mud everywhere heading straight away. The only good thing was that the evening was just getting started.

I moved out onto the flat spooking a Sandhill Crane who started making all kinds of racket. I was easing along watching the crane and caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked to the right into a little cove off the bay and saw another big bear sitting on his rump munching on skunk cabbage. I stopped and started backing up very slowly till I got behind the bank. I could still see the top of his head and for some reason he wasn’t spooked. This looked like the perfect setup, I made it to the top of the bank and was just ready to stand up and shoot when the wind did it to me again. You guessed it, nothing but pounding feet up the other bank. You can beat their eyes and ears but their noses are unbelievable.

Wow, the night had just started and two stalks already. I moved on down the beach about a mile to a good looking flat and stopped to study the situation. There was a small creek running in front of me and I watched as a river otter caught a small fish and ate it. There is quite a bit of difference between the sea otters and the river otters.

I watched the flat for a while but had no further action till I headed back to the mouth of the creek I had waded down. About halfway back I saw a bear across a big cove from me. He was busy grazing so I made a big loop through the timber around the end of the cove. I eased down almost to the edge of the brush about twenty yards from him. He was feeding toward me so I just waited. It was another good bear and just a couple of steps out of the trees, the wind was in my face, everything seemed perfect. He kept feeding toward me till he was only twelve feet away, then he found a particularly good patch of grass and set up camp. This would have been great except there was a bushy limb covering his vitals. He fed here for what must have been five minutes then instead of moving along parallel to the edge like he should have he turned toward me and took a couple more steps. My friendly wind had finally died and we were just to close together. At just five or six feet he noticed the feather wind indicator on my bow tip then the bow then me. These critters definitely lead charmed lives. He whirled around offering no shot and was gone. That was all the excitement for that night but I sure couldn’t complain. Steve hadn’t seen anything the other side of the river we were camped on.

It was another beautiful clear night, you could tell it was going to get cold. The next morning proved it as our dishwater and coffeepot were both frozen. A perfect morning to try and fulfill another of my dreams to catch a trophy steelhead on a fly-rod. After a breakfast of hot oatmeal and coffee I headed to the creek behind camp.

It was pretty close to low tide and I started about where the fresh and salt water met which wasn’t far from the ocean. I worked my way upstream casting a tiny jig and letting it drift through the holes. I went through three hours of beautiful scenery but poor fishing, bear and wolf sign was everywhere. The time was passing quickly and my stomach was reminding me it was getting close to lunch. About that time I spotted a Blacktail doe on the edge of the gravel bar ahead and decided to try for a close-up picture. Between the crunchy gravel and slipping through the brush with an eight foot fly rod it was a pretty tough stalk. Needless to say the doe spooked before I got close enough for a decent picture.

I walked back out on the gravel bar intending to head for camp when I caught movement in the pool in front of me. I slipped up to the edge and sure enough there was a large steelhead slowly finning in the current. Time to get serious about fishing I rolled the jig out ahead of the fish and she immediately spooked taking off up stream. I followed and started spotting fish lying all along the inside curve of a long sweeping hole ahead of me. I move up to the next fish and tried another cast. The fish didn’t spook this time but didn’t show any interest either. There were about a dozen fish in the hole from two foot males to huge females. Occasionally the males would start chasing a sow and they would change positions but mostly they seemed to be resting. I kept trying different colors and presentations and getting a few follows but no takers. I was on the verge of giving up and had actually walked away and came back once unable to leave all those fish just lying there without catching one. I decided to try one more cast. A couple of males had chased a big sow to a spot below a big rock in front of me. I rolled a pink marabou jig out without expecting too much. As it drifted by the sow raised up a couple inches and inhaled the jig. I was so stunned I almost forgot to set the hook, but when I lifted the rod and the water exploded I knew this would take all my concentration. The fish ran up, down, and across the creek for fifteen minutes, I couldn’t believe the six pound test leader was holding. This fish was unbelievably strong, every time I would apply too much pressure she would take off again. She tried jumping and dogging the bottom but couldn’t shake the hook. I kept all the pressure on her that I dared trying to land her before she was completely worn out. Finally she rolled onto her side four feet in front of me, I slid her across the surface to my waiting hand. Just as I touched her the hook popped out of her mouth, she righted herself, lay still for a couple seconds then slowly swam off.

   

It was a truly amazing fish, bright silver and fresh from the sea. As far as I’m concerned she was mine the only thing I regretted was not getting pictures but she will be etched in my memory forever. I did manage to measure her with my rod and determined she was around thirty eight inches long when I got back to camp. I had finally accomplished one of the things I had been dreaming about ever since first reading about steelhead as a kid. It was an unbelievable day in Alaska if only I could top it off with a bear...

That afternoon I went down the same creek as the night before but didn’t see anything till about a mile down the beach. I came around a point of timber and there was a bear fifty yards away. I slipped into the timber and stalked to within thirty yards, and ran out of cover. The bear was feeding in my general direction so I just waited for him to come to me. This strategy seemed to work till he got fifteen yards away and spotted me crouched between two trees where he wanted to go. After a stare down for a few seconds he figured out this wasn’t where he wanted to be and didn’t waste any time getting somewhere else.

While I was stalking this bear another one had appeared about a hundred yards further down the beach. Back into stalker mode again I headed for this bear which was half again bigger than the first one. This time didn’t work much better since the bear fed out into the middle of a grassy area forty yards from any cover. I got as close as I could and waited to see what would happen next. The slight breeze made that easy as the wind feather on my bow changed directions and pounding feet were the next sound.

It was time to head back and the next cove had a bear feeding in it but he was acting very nervous. I moved into the timber and slipped around the end of the cove but when I came out he was already gone. This made six bears in two nights in this one stretch of beach but I had really saturated the area with my scent and everything was pretty nervous.

Steve had an interesting night also, he ran across the first sow with cubs we had seen. The cubs were about grown and he wisely decided to not mess with them and moved on. A little later he found a medium sized bear grazing on a big flat but spooked him when within twenty-five or thirty yards.

Later he was going through a thick area making quite a bit of noise when he heard a scraping sound. He couldn’t figure it out for a while then finally traced it to a tree ahead of him. Moving up under the tree he heard a growl and saw a black blob in the tree. He figured out he had treed a young bear, and moved in closer, the bear was rubbed pretty badly. He decided he didn’t want to kill his first bear out of a tree and walked away.

While sitting on the bridge waiting for Steve to pick me up I was really regretting leaving this pretty little creek, I knew it would be a long time before I would see it again.

I tried the steelhead again the next morning but there were only four in the hole and they were too spooky, couldn’t do anything with them. I played scavenger on the way back to camp when I spooked up an eagle along the river and went to investigate what he was doing. There in the shallow water was a large steelhead that he had just started eating. He had just started at the gills and the rest of the fish still looked fine. I checked it out and determined it was a fresh kill with nothing wrong with it that I could see. I didn’t see how the eagle could have killed the ten pound fish and knew he couldn't eat all of it either. I took out my knife and liberated about three or four pounds of fillets thanked the eagle which was still sitting in a tree a little way off watching. I bet this wasn’t the first time he had to abandon his meal to another predator further up the food chain. The only difference is I put the rest back where I had found it hoping the eagle would come back and eat his fill.

Steve and I dined like kings for lunch that day, I believe that was the best tasting fish I had ever eaten and I had an eagle to thank for it. After lunch we packed up one more time planning to hunt our last night closer to where the ferry launched from. We decided to check out Craig, the biggest town we saw on the Island on the way. It was Mother’s Day so we found a public phone and called home, it was good to talk to my family after being out of touch for eleven days. We even found a coin operated public shower at the Harbor Masters office, it was the best feeling seventy-five cent shower I ever took. We spent a little time looking around the harbor and asking questions about boat rental and salmon fishing, already planning for another trip.

Before long it was time to hit the beach again for one last attempt at a bear. I dropped Steve at the same place he hunted the first evening and I went on about ten miles further to where I had started. I figured the hunt was probably over since I hadn’t seen anything here before, boy was I wrong. I headed down the creek intending to get closer to the salt water when I saw two gun hunters coming up. We were still a couple hundred yards apart so I made sure they saw me and sat down on a log. They must have been thinking the same thing and didn’t come any further up the creek.

I was bummed out thinking the good hunting was where they were. I sat there a while then moved back up the creek to watch a little meadow I’d passed through earlier. I was amazed when I came around the last tree and a couple hundred yards away there was the biggest bear I’d seen yet. I started my stalk working my way around the clearing trying to keep the wind in my favor. The closer I got the bigger and uglier the bear looked, he had rubbed most of the hair off his face making him almost bald. He was huge, his head looked like a pimple on his shoulders and his belly hung almost to the ground. This late in the hunt I was ready to quit worrying about a good pelt and had little doubt this was a trophy size bear. I made the stalk and cut the distance down to fifteen yards till all I had to do was step around one last small pine and send an arrow through his lungs. I thought it was finally going to happen when I felt the wind change, I tried to take a quick step around for the shot but it was to late. He had smelled me and was backing further around the pine quicker than I could quietly come around my side. He only had to take a couple steps to the safety of the brush, as quick as that it was over.

I had just sat down on a log when I looked back where I’d just come from. There was a medium size bear standing on the far creek bank looking across. I immediately went into hunter mode again and started back the way I had just come. I was within fifty yards of this bear when I saw another one to my left about the same distance away. The second bear was smaller so I kept after the first one, but by now he had decided he wanted to be elsewhere and just meandered off. I could keep up but couldn’t gain on him without making too much noise. I gave up as he headed into a swampy area and back tracked to see if the smaller bear was still around. The smaller bear had given me the slip also so I sat down on the edge of the creek to contemplate my next move.

After sitting a couple minutes another bear appeared on the other side of the creek not far from where the big bear had been. I crossed the creek for the fourth time and headed for the bear. This looked like the ideal stalking situation. There was a shallow ditch running within twenty feet of the bear which would make for an excellent approach. I had about cut the distance in half when the bear looked up and bolted away. I was wondering what I had done this time when a bigger bear charged out from under a big cedar tree and pounced on the bear I’d been stalking. The smaller bear didn’t waste any time getting away and the bigger bear settled down to feeding like nothing had happened.

I continued the stalk but now it was for a lot nicer bear. There was a light screen of brush along the top of the ditch which made it relatively easy to close to within fifteen yards of the bear. The only problem was that he was feeding toward me offering no shot. The wind seemed to be with me for the moment if he would only turn it would be a gravy shot. Well you guessed it, the wind swirled and up came his head, but this time the bear didn’t bolt and run like every other one before him had done. He hesitated for a few seconds looking around then started crossing in front of me at a fast walk. I could see an opening about three feet wide in front of him, when he started through I drew and shot, intending to time it to drill him behind the shoulder. This would have worked if he hadn’t stopped in his tracks and looked my way at the sound of the bowstring. The arrow caught him in the neck just ahead of the shoulders.

There was no doubt about the hit, the fletching had stood out like a golf ball against the black fur of the bear. I followed until I was going to have to get down and crawl through the brush then decided maybe it would be wiser to go get Steve. I drove to the pickup point and while waiting for Steve dug out the pump shotgun that so for hadn’t been taken out of the case. We had brought it along just in case we had to trail a wounded bear. We had kicked around the idea of not messing with firearms but my wife had insisted on it, now I was kind of glad she had. I didn’t relish the idea of crawling through the brush after a wounded bear in the dark.

Steve came out just after dark, he was pretty pumped up, he had seen eight bears, but hadn’t been able to get close enough for a shot. It probably would have been smarter to wait for daylight to trail the bear but we had to catch the ferry shortly after noon the next day, that meant we didn’t have much choice but to go after him. It was 10:30 and two and a half hours after the shot before we got back to where I had shot the bear. There was a pretty good blood trail so Steve followed it while I stood guard with the shotgun. Talk about something to keep you on your toes. We were pretty nervous and I was trying to look every direction at once. We found my arrow in four pieces at different places along the trail. We waded swamps, crawled on our bellies, and climbed over giant logs and blow downs. The bear went places I wouldn’t have thought possible and we followed one drop of blood at a time for the next five hours without ever catching up. Finally we lost the trail at a place with four possible escape routes. We tried our best but couldn’t find any further sign.

The bear had traveled about three-quarters of a mile and hadn't offered to bed or even seemed to slow down. I was pretty sick about not finding him but between the distance traveled and the bright red color of the blood we decided the arrow must not have hit anything bit muscle. We hoped the bear would survive with nothing more than a stiff neck for a while. It was after three thirty in the morning when we got back to the truck, so we decided to head for the ferry dock and not set up another camp.

It was a short night and a suburban packed with gear was not a very comfortable place to spend it. It started raining again by daylight which made it difficult to repack our gear for the trip home, but it had to be done. All that was left was the ferry ride back to Ketchikan and the long plane ride home.

As much as I loved this country I was looking forward to getting home to my family. I’m always anxious to go on these trips, but just as anxious to get back home and see my wife and kids afterward. I’m sure I’ll be more than ready to try this spot and stalk bear hunting in Alaska again next year. I had always thought a hunt like this was a once in a life time trip, but now that I’ve experienced Alaska I know I’ll be back.

Definitely not the end!!
IAM  ~  Black Powder Gang  ~  TANJ  ~  NRA Patriot Life ~ NRA RSO

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