A BLACK BEAR HUNT TO REMEMBER
As most hunting trips start out, it starts with friends discussing, planning, and acting. This trip was no different. The friends meet, usually at a certain spot and the planning begins, once everyone knows their role that plan is put into action. The discussion is a played out role that always seems to continue throughout the whole time as things, situations and challenges are thrown our way, where knowledge, skill, experience all play the role of what make us an outdoorsman, sportsman, ethical hunter, and a steward of our playground.
The time was set on where to meet, and that spot was the boat launch. Excitement builds amongst those who prep for venturing out into the outdoors. Some call this buck fever, others would say it’s more of the fire within coming to light that fuels that passion doing what we love. No matter how many times one ventures out into the unknown that feeling never gets old as the anticipation of what’s to come is never foretold. Old hunting stories and experiences are shared as we set out on what was to become one black bear hunt that we would never forget. A few hours into the boat ride where we would set out to check the bait stations, which waited like a Christmas morning to a child, we started to see the river come alive. Eagle’s, ducks, moose, beavers were all a part of ones viewing pleasure, and both of us were taking in the show that Mother Nature presented to us. With the wind blowing in our faces and the sound of the motor humming along never missing a beat we worked our way up the river. Since black bear hunting over bait is in the spring time the new generation of wildlife was apparent and abundant as the circle of life was starting all over again and in full bloom.
One particular spot on the river we noticed a moose calf 3-4 days old on the shore, this isn’t out of the norm this time of year to see but just a half mile up the river on an island was another 3-4 day old calfand cow. We figured that there was two cows with calves in the area and that the first calf we saw was a little slow getting out of the river and up on the bank with its mother. Another hour or so we made it too the first bait station to be checked and that feeling that every child has Christmas morning was coming over us. We loaded our riffles and slowly worked our way into the bait station to see if anything had found it and was feeding on it. To our surprise it had been hit and by the looks of things was only just discovered as the bait barrel was only about half full, this was good news to see and the rebating begun. I should mention that usually during the planning of such hunting trips, the discussion of who is going to draw first blood usually comes up at some point during the trip but no one ever expects that they would be the one to spill it……literally! As we went back to the boat to get the bait containing of cheap dog food, grain and other goodies that I will leave out ( you know the secret recipe no one gives out ). As I began to open the grain sacks by pulling on the white lacing of the first bag I had no trouble and it wasn’t until the second bag that the events to come would be set into motion. The lacing wasn’t unraveling as easy as the first bag, so like any outdoorsman I whipped out my pocket knife. I went to cut the string so I could start over at the pulling it open and yup as I’m sure you have guessed it by now I sliced my palm pretty good and began to bleed like a stuck pig! As most men would act amongst men, I shrugged it off and ended up not saving the bag and cut the damn thing wide open! My buddy noticed and asked if I was ok, of which I promptly replied “yeah, it’s just a graze”. Of course the bleeding wasn’t stopping as quickly as I’d hoped so I peeled off a piece of birch bark and placed it over the cut (problem solved)! So now the bait station was baited and ready for the next hungry stomach that came along and wanted an easy meal and we set out in the boat back down river to the other bait station.
3 hours had gone by roughly by the time we first saw that cow and the two newborns. They were in the same spots as they were the first time we saw them and thought that was a little weird. We pulled up to the bank the lone calf was laying, hiding and waiting for his mom. We kept our distance in thinking the cow was maybe up in the trees and didn’t want to full on pissed off cow in the boat with us…………just saying! After a few minutes of taking pictures of the little guy it was obvious that this little guy was on his own and that cow and calf up stream was hanging around looking for him.
A little idea crossed my mind of throwing a family reunion and ran it by my buddy, of which replied: “you ever grabbed a wild animal before? He will probably kick the shit out of you or worse mom is still up in the woods and will come out with blood in her eyes and stomp your ass!” I laughed and said no I haven’t but there is a first time for everything! Hence this is how the saying of “here hold my beer” came to be, one person thinking up something crazy enough that they obviously need both hands to accomplish the task they just dreamed up on their head. For whatever reason I began talking to the little guys as if I was approaching a mean dog, all quiet and settle, hoping that he wasn’t going to pop up with those long lanky legs and roundhouse my ass.
He laid there and got into a tighter ball the closer I got until I was next to him, I reach out to scoop him up and BAM he stood up and went to run off about the time I got my hands on him. He put up a little struggle but quickly calmed down as I tucked him under my arm like a wide receiver heading for the end zone. I got into the boat with the brown fuzzy calf and sat up on the bow and we proceeded to head back up river to the awaiting cow. He put up a little struggle but soon became content with the wind blowing through those big floppy ears and nose of his like a dog hanging his head out the truck window.
We approached the island on the far end not to have that cow see us with him and come stomp us into the ground and pushed off to go around to the back side of the island in thinking that the cow would hear him or would run that way with us on the backside of the island in the boat. Well as most plans go at times, and especially whenever I go on these trips they don’t always don’t go according as planned. She and her other calf decided to hop in the channel and swim to the bank. Once she crossed the narrow channel she was up on the bank in no time but her calf was having a hard time getting up the steep cut bank and she waited for him while the lone calf was to our surprise chasing after us on the bank like a dog chasing a car! We couldn’t believe what we were seeing! The cow couldn’t see him as her attention was on the calf that was still with her, that is until that calf reached the end of the island and found no more bank to run down and began to cry. We beached the boat on the opposing side of the river and turned off the motor to watch what we hoped was our great idea come to full circle.
With boat off the cow could now hear her lost calf cry out for her, and boy did she hear him! She quickly looked back onto the island and saw him standing there, and then looked at us on the other side of the river then back down at her other calf trying to get up the bank. She began to call out to her calf reassuring him that she was there and gave us one last look over before coming off that bank and swimming back across the channel and scooping him up and taking him back across where her other calf was waiting. Feeling good inside about the whole thing we shoved off and floated down river for a ways before starting up the boat, making sure they were together and not wanting to scare or rush the reunion only to hear that sound no boater likes to hear……….the sound of rocks under the hull. Yup we ended up beaching the boat in the middle of the river and had to push her off the rocks back into deep water and got a good laugh out of it.
We cranked up the boat and away we went, down river to check the other bait station that awaited our visit. We couldn’t stop talking about what just happened and how awesome it was and the good feeling about doing it, as he would have been dinner to a bear or wolf in no time flat! We also were greeted with yet another surprise in the 3 hour time frame that had passed on this stretch of river, and that surprise was a hatch of caddis flies. Our faces were pelted with bugs hitting them as well filling up the bow of the boat as they bounced off us and the windshield……yes I said windshield, you would think we would have been smart enough to hide behind it but due to our manly nature and high from what just happened we stood there and took what they dished out! Once at the trail head of the second bait station the grayling were in a feeding frenzy eating the new hatch. It was obvious that a bear was in the area by the evidence we found at the trail head and that little feeling kicked back off yet again! We worked our way back to the bait and it was obvious that this bait was getting hit hard and judging by the sign there were some good/decent size bears working it. After the new bait was placed we crawled up into the stand and it wasn’t long before we had a visitor. A short 20 mins was all it took once things settled down for the black bear to come right on in as if the dinner bell was rang. He came in and went straight for the bait and looked up at us a few times but could care less that we were there and went about checking out the goodies we brought him. His curiosity got the best of him and he looked up at us again and then stood up on his hind feet to get a better look at us and that’s when I let him have it! I was shooting my .338 and my buddy was packing a 45/70 open sites compared to my scoped riffle. When I got ready to shoot all I saw was black and had to put the crosshairs on his head and pan down to find my target. Open sites would have been ideal but you never know when you might have to take a longer shot where a scope would be handy. The bear dropped in his tracks and after a few seconds got up and ran a few yards into some bushes. Waiting in the stand not wanting to push the bear, we gave him time to subject to the injection that he was given. Once on the ground we went into navy seal mode working cautiously through the brush up to where the bear laid, taking a few steps and scanning the area over good before proceeding on. Both of us were happy to find the black bear and that feeling of accomplishment and success over came both of us and the; congrats were thrown out as well a solid hand shake of a job well done! We both grabbed a leg and pulled him out of the bushes to get a good look at him and of course take pictures to remember the moment.
An average bear is always a good bear as well a good eating bear and we were both happy with that, after all that’s why we are out there doing what we love to do! Once we got back to the boat we were met with yet another surprise, another bear had visited the boat and his tracks were still wet in the boat from his departure and we saw him about 450-500 yds on the opposite bank before we disappeared into the bushes. We sat there quiet in case he circled back to possibly take two bears this trip, but to our luck no such thing happened. We loaded the bear into the boat and started to work our way back to the boat launch taking in all that happened this trip and the gorgeous sky overlooking the calm river at 1am, and being that this is Alaska as you well know it’s not dark, by no means.
What defines a hunter, outdoorsman or sportsman? Well as I mentioned before was just a small piece of that definition as there’s a lot that make a bold statement as such. Attitude and mindset and passion are also a few more that make up that definition and are solely the foundation that separates “the men from the boys” sort of speak when it comes too those that look down on what we love to do. There are a lot of people that say let mother nature take its course when it comes to the wilds around us, and even though mother nature has her beauty she also has her ugly side and needs to be reminded from time to time of her own beauty just as we do. To be able to make a difference in the changing of tides is one that will never be forgotten and no matter if it was right or wrong in certain eyes, at the time it was what felt right. Managing resources is one part those who call themselves hunters, outdoorsman and sportsman play in this big never ending circle of life in death. How we choose to manage those resources for future enjoyment is up to us for the better good and if that means saving a new born moose calf to mature into a grown adult for harvest to feed a family that needs the meat, to taking a predator’s life to prolong the life of not only that moose calf we saved but others out there for future generations to prosper from, well that to me is being a steward of the land and a honor in itself.
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