After 8 years of putting in, Dallas drew his limited entry Utah black bear permit. Since he drew a summer permit, baiting for bear would be permitted so the first task at hand was to acquire bait. After several failed attempts, we finally found an establishment willing to part with day old pastries and donuts for a reasonable price so we started stock piling.
Carrying in bait to first site Done baiting second site, heading out
Finally the first day of the season was upon us, which also happened to be the first day we were allowed to bait, so we loaded up our gear and headed to the foothills above home. Since we had a couple of bait sites to set, we figured a couple of hundred pounds of donuts would be a good starting point. With our frame packs crammed full of donuts, we trekked out across the mountains smelling like a mobile donut shop. After the all day event we had placed our trail cameras, had set a couple of tree stands and had our bait in place. Now all we needed to do was to wait for the bears to show up.
Getting treestand hung was a challenge One of our first visitors wasn't a bear at all
Apparently the aromatic smell from our mobile donut shop did the trick because when we checked our cameras on day 3, they both showed that bears had shown up on the first day during the early evening of our setting the bait sites!
A nice pile of delicious donuts Didn't take long, donuts devoured within a day
The second baiting go-round was a bit easier since we didn’t have any treestands to pack in, but we were still a bit tuckered out by the time we had finished. Over the next couple of days, Dallas made up his mind to forgo sitting in a treestand and instead setup where several of us could accompany him on his hunt. So on Wednesday the decision was made to go check out the one bait station where such a setup was possible and take in more bait just in case the site had been hit again. And hit it had been! Here the shot opportunity would be no closer than 100 yards, so Dallas would opt to use the 7mm rifle instead of his bow.
While some bears came in at night A good number came in during the day
Nice cinnamon color phased black bear Maybe caught this bear yawning?
To say that we were overly anxious to get out and sit over a bait site was an understatement. So on Thursday just after noon we headed for the mountains. We arrived at our bait site at 2:30 p.m., probably a couple of hours earlier than necessary, but we had nothing better to do than hunt. The day was warm, but the wind was somewhat unpredictable since a small storm was blowing in and bringing with it a slight cold front. The area we were hunting was thick with under growth, but we had previously trimmed the area in order to provide a narrow shooting lane toward the bait site. The valley we were hunting was mostly covered with oak, maple and quaking aspen, with a few big pine trees located down in the bottoms. We setup around the 100 yard mark and waited. Due to the thick cover, we were mostly focused on a very specific spot directly in front of us but would occasionally glance at the thick hillside 400 yards away hoping to catch a glimpse of an animal slipping through the almost nonexistent break in the cover.
A short indistinguishable whisper from Dallas snapped me to attention, even though I thought I was already alert. There at the bait site I could see a cinnamon colored blotch through the brush. I switched on the video camera and watched, mesmerized, as a bear slowly came into view and filled the view finder on my video camera. The bear instantly turned toward us and had its nose up, testing the air. At that moment I noticed the swirling wind, that we had encountered all afternoon, was now blowing across the back of my neck towards the bear. Then in a flash the bear was gone. I had recorded a total of 21 seconds worth of video, but that was enough to get our blood pumping and our pulses racing! I looked at my phone, 4:50 p.m.
Shooting lane, bear would show up here soon Zoomed in down shooting lane
As evening approached, the wind started to stabilize a bit which I hoped would work in our favor. And with new shadows constantly being cast across our donut pile, I once again put the binoculars to my face. But this time I could faintly see the fur of a bear on the periphery of our site. Seconds later the bear moseyed into view. At that point the adrenaline rush hit! Clearly the lack of experience judging bears combined with a high level of excitement caused the bear to look a lot bigger to Carson and me than it did to Dallas. In fact, Carson later recalled that he thought the bear looked like a big old grizzly bear. And I too thought the bear was bigger than it actually was. I definitely pushed Dallas over the edge and caused him to ultimately take the shot even though he had a goal to look over at least a handful of bears before deciding to shoot. With the wind now in our favor, we watched the bear for a good 4 minutes before Dallas clicked off the safety. At the crack from the 7mm Remington Magnum, the ball of fur whirled in a blur and was gone, 7:40 p.m.
Excitedly we recounted the entire event as we tried to calm ourselves down until we could wait no longer; we went after the bear. There at 10 yards from the bait site the boar had piled up, Dallas had his first bear!
"Do you see that bear?" our guide Rob exclaimed. You would think that a big ol' Kodiak brown bear digging roots on a sidehill a mere 250 yards away would stand out like a sore thumb, but that wasn't the case. Those words echo in my head as I recall my Alaska Kodiak Island hunting adventure.
Probably similar to many, my dream began many years ago. I remember those discussions with my dad where we debated which caliber rifle would be the best for an Alaskan brown bear hunt and tried to imagine the details of such a hunt. In retrospect, one aspect of the hunt I never considered was snow, lots and lots of snow!
About a year ago I booked my hunt with master guide Brian Peterson, who owns and operates the Ugak Bay lodge on Kodiak Island (http://www.ugakbay.com). However, part of the hunting-brown-bear-in-Alaska process is to wait for the Alaska Fish and Game department to post the bear permit drawing results. Feb. 17th finally arrived and my name was listed as one of those lucky enough to draw a permit! While I doubt that most people living in the lower 48 paid much attention to the amount of snow that Alaska received during the past winter, I can tell you that I won't soon forget.
My son and I arrived on Kodiak Island, April 19th, where the cool ocean breeze along with a steady easterly rain, reminded us of the harsh weather common in Alaska. Not to mention that snow and ice covered the ground wherever it hadn't been plowed. I couldn't help but wonder, as I had for months, how this record snowfall might affect our spring bear hunt.
Our first stop was at the local Fish and Game office where I picked up my bear permit. Again the possible impact of the record snow fall was dominating my thoughts, "how's the bear hunting?" I asked. "Slow, only three bears checked so far", was the response.
Our final plane ride was over before we knew it. The pontoons of the float plane skimmed across Ugak Bay as we approached the hunting lodge that lay in the distance. Brian and his right hand man, guide Rob Wagner, greeted us on the beach and helped us unload our gear. We would only stay one night in the lodge before heading out the next morning to our final destination, spike camp.
After loading up our backpacks with food, sleeping bag, tent, snowshoes and our remaining gear that would suffice for the next 10 days, we sat down to enjoy a fantastic dinner. Both Brian and Rob are great cooks and they treated us to a steak dinner, complete with home grown potatoes, salad and a freshly baked pie for dessert.
Morning came and the chefs (Brian and Rob) were at it again. After a big bacon and egg breakfast we loaded our gear into the boat and headed 6 miles down the bay to where we (Rob our guide, Dallas my son and me) would begin our 6 1/2 mile hike. Luckily the day was nearly cloudless, no hiking in the rain today thank goodness. Brian dropped us off over 20 shore miles away from the lodge. For the next week and a half it would be just the three of us on this wilderness adventure.
Right off the bat we spotted bear tracks on the beach, a good sign. Then not more than a half hour later we came across a huge track that was made from a 9 1/2 plus bear. And this bear track was fresh, we were on high alert! Like Brian says, "you only need to see one bear on the hunt, a shooter bear" and in my book a 9 1/2 foot bear is a no-brainer. Now every bear hunter (including myself) wants to leave Kodiak with a 10 footer, but my goal was to leave Kodiak with a respectable brown bear, period.
Excitement again at our first river (really just a big creek) crossing, this time in the form of heavy spring runoff and deep snow levels. From the looks of things Rob worried that we wouldn't be able to make it to our final destination, which could ultimately affect our hunting success. We looked for the best place to ford the creek, but we still ended up with soaked feet as the water swelled up and over our hip boots.
Over six hours had passed since we left the beach, we could go no further. Unable to negotiate the remaining river crossings we were forced to camp almost 2 miles short of our ultimate camping destination. In the 14 years Rob’s hunted this area he has always been able to make the required 23 river crossings needed to reach spike camp. So, the rest of that first afternoon and evening were spent near camp glassing for bear. We saw a total of "one" set of bear tracks. Again, Rob had never seen so few tracks in all his years hunting here. On the bright side, we did see 18 mountain goats working a southern facing, mostly snow free, mountain slope. Rob made it clear that the plan for tomorrow would be to spike out, bushwhack and do whatever it took to advance at least another 1/2 mile up around a major canyon bend. That way we would be able to glass several miles further up the canyon.
Back at camp we fired up the Jetboil and within minutes were pouring our boiling hot water into our Mountain House freeze dried packaged dinners. Once finished we hopped into our tents, nestled into our sleeping bags and attempted to find comfort between the endless hummocks/tussocks.
Breakfast the next morning consisted of instant oatmeal. That simple hot meal sure hit the spot on our first cold frosty morning away from the lodge. It didn't take us long and we were on our way up the canyon. We hiked up, over and through alder covered hills, made our way across snow/ice fields, negotiated river crossings when possible and finally arrived on a knob that was perfect for glassing. It was barely mid-morning so we settled in for the long haul...a full day of glassing lay ahead.
We hadn't been glassing long, but I was already feeling anxious/nervous. Even though we could see for miles up the canyon, the pure white snow covered slopes were virtually devoid of bear tracks. The one set of tracks that were visible through the spotting scope (at least 2 miles away) appeared to go straight up and over the mountain. On a positive note, the sun was shining brightly, the day was about as warm as could be expected for a spring day on Kodiak and there was another set of bear tracks that crisscrossed the sidehill about 500 yards up the canyon. It was difficult to tell exactly where the bear tracks led, but it was obvious that the bear had been working the mountain side...the mountain side on the same side of the river/creek/canyon as us!
It was 4:00 p.m., Rob was 30 yards away from us on the other side of a small alder patch glassing up the canyon. Dallas and I were situated down from Rob on a little knob where we had a better view across and back down the canyon. Suddenly and much to our surprise, Rob burst from the alder patch, belly crawling through the knee high dead grass and wild rose thorn bushes, "do you see that bear?".
The look on Rob’s face almost appeared startling. Then with more vigor than before he repeated "do you see that bear?" I couldn't comprehend his remark. Did he say/mean, did you see that bear? Had there been a bear some place where we should have seen it, I wondered. I honestly thought that maybe Rob had fallen asleep, then awoke in an almost dreamlike state and was now dreaming/hallucinating. Rob seemed almost frantic. I actually asked him if he was just joking around because I truly could not comprehend his reaction...he was acting as if a big bear was close by and within plain sight.
Then we saw it! Unbelievably, a big ol' brown bear had worked his way right behind us and now fed on the sidehill just 250 yards away. I was dumb founded. A Kodiak bear…where had he come from? With all of our years of hunting experience we knew a bear could show up literally anywhere, but the bear’s current location seemed like the least likely spot to suddenly appear.
All three of us hurriedly proceeded to belly crawl back to Rob's previous position. Why? Because that's where both the spotting scope and my rifle lay. Yeah, I know...hard to believe that I didn't have my gun right by my side. But the knob where we were perched provided such great visibility in all directions that I would have thought it impossible for a bear to approach within less than 500 yards without our seeing it...giving us plenty of time to make our way back to my rifle a short 30 yards away.
We spent the next 10 minutes evaluating the bear. It was awesome to watch the boar forage for food, pawing and digging for fern roots. Rob judged the bear at just over 9 feet, with a perfect no-rub hide. Again, a 9 1/2 foot bear was a no-brainer, but this bear was just shy of that mark so I repeatedly asked Rob if this bear would go 9 1/2 feet. Rob stuck to his guns and judged the bear to be just over 9 feet. After much debate (size of bear, ease of stalk, location to pack out, lack of visible bear sign/tracks, condition of hide, the trophy brown bear currently in my sights…duh…) it was game on!
But wouldn't you know it…just as I made the decision to take this bear, the big Kodiak slipped behind some alders and proceeded to amble up and over the hill, out of sight. Are you kidding me?
We quickly made a plan to slip down off the knob and into the ravine that separated us from the bear's last known position. Maybe, just maybe we could get far enough down the ravine to where we could look back up the hillside and see the bear. 150 yards later we were positioned right below where the bear stood just minutes ago. Scanning the hillside above us we saw the bear, barely visible as he skirted the ridge line. Within seconds he again vanished over the ridge.
We stood in awe and disbelief. This time we were certain he had disappeared for good. We discussed the idea of back tracking to approach from up and over the ridge so that the wind would be in our favor. But while that approach might work, the possibility that we'd be right on top of him and unable to see through the forest of alders changed our minds. So instead we decided that we'd go take a position up on the opposite side of the ravine in hopes that we could see up over the ridge. We hadn't gone 10 yards when suddenly the mighty bruin skylined 100 yards away! Within an instant I dropped to the ground, raised my .340 Weatherby, centered the crosshairs just behind the bear's front shoulder for a perfect quartering away shot. The blast of my rifle clearly surprised Dallas as evidenced by a slight jump in the video footage he captured. Unbeknownst to me, Dallas had started recording the bear just as I plopped to the ground, the entire moment caught on tape! And what a surreal experience to have the bear finally come to rest less than 20 yards from our feet!
The pressure was off, we had our bear! And fortunately for us we still had a full week to spend relaxing and exploring all that Kodiak Island has to offer. And that is what we did. Over the next week we saw all sorts of wildlife including, Sitka black tail deer, ermine, fox (both red and silver), bison, mountain goats, otters, ducks (harlequin, golden eye, scoter, etc.), emperor geese, bald eagles, ptarmigan, snowshoe hare, seals, sea lions, humpback whales…just amazing!
As I sit here on this dry hot Utah day typing up the story of our recent Alaska adventure, I can’t help but remember the severity of this past Alaska winter and how it undoubtedly affected the spring bear hunt (for me maybe it was for the better) as being one that I’ll never forget. Don't get me wrong, there were bears taken on Kodiak Island this spring, some really big bears, but the hunt was slow. In fact, Fish and Game said that my bear was the 20th bear checked so far and that hunting was extremely slow. They also mentioned that normally they would have checked between 100 and 120 bears by now, now being April 30th. The bottom line is that there are plenty of giant brown bears roaming the island, so if you want to experience an adventure of a lifetime, book a hunt for the giant Alaskan brown bear!