the cold put our gear to the test.
The black bear is the undisputed king of Prince William Sound. His domain, the Chugach National Forest, is a steep, craggy land, rich with fir trees and rivers so precipitous, they run in white ribbons down the black cliffs. The underbrush grows thick with huckleberries on the side-hills and salmonberry along the creeks. Moss hangs heavy in the trees and carpets the forest floor. This is ideal conditions for black bear.
We had arranged transport to the hunt area with Ninilchik Charters and had both the 43-foot Arctic Endeavor and the 52-foot Sundy at our disposal. To explore the coastline and reach into the coves, we used an inflatable skiff powered by a small outboard.
In early June, the daylight fades at 11:30 p.m. and shooting light returns ar ound four in the morning . The best time to be in the woods is at last light and at first light. That leaves precious little time for sleeping.
On one morning hunt, we waited along a beach inside a bay fed by two glaciers. Every hour, one of the massive ice flows would calve, giving birth to an iceberg with a crash that shook the bay like a sonic boom. Thousands of icebergs, big and small, floated in the bay and migrated out into the passage.
To prepare for this trip, we had brought brand name, expensive stuff that should not let a person down. But rain, cold, saltwater and rough use showed us what would stand up and what would not.
Driz zle and Fizzle
The first thing to fizzle was a headlamp embla- zoned with the logo of a famous knife manufacturer. It was utterly useless five minutes after being exposed to the salt air. Everybody was given one. None of them worked. Fortunately, there were several back-up flash- lights in our emergency gear. My $250 flashlight with the emer gency strobe also quit working while I was signaling for the skiff to pick me up on the beach. After drying out at home,
it works fine again. The first evening, two guys said it was time to head back to the boat with an hour and a half of day- light left, the best hunting time of the da y . “It’s too dark to see through a rifle scope,” Dave said. He hand- ed me his rifle. He was right, as far as his 20 year-old optics were concerned. High quality modern rifle scopes and binoculars with coated lenses offer much better light tr ansmission and allo w the hunter to hunt the best hours of the day blew the stalk before I could seal bear number four’s destiny as bear steaks and sausage.
I spotted bear number five at the shoreline, feed- ing on kelp and assorted goodies brought in on the tide. My rangefinder pegged him at 256 yards, but Ol’ Blackie was too far to try a shot with the muzzle- loader. He vanished into the woods.
Bear number six was a younger boar on a lonely beach. I spotted him at over a mile and made the stalk to see him disappear into the alders, still over 400 yards away.
Starting a Fire (Almost)
Driving rain pounded us from dawn to dusk for two days. I sat with videographer and turkey hunting expert Ray Eye up in the tree line one evening. Ray huddled inside a garbage bag, looking like a black bear with a pointy head and glasses.
By the end of the evening, we were soaked. My ma tches would not strike, and when I checked my muzzleloader, it would not fire. The powder had turned to soup. The cap ignited the powder with a “poof” that pushed the heavy bullet about six feet out of the muzzle. Good thing I did not have to face a bear coming in hungry. I had taken care to keep rainwater out of the barrel, by tipping the muzzle toward the ground, but a better idea would have been to slide a balloon over the barrel. Next time, I will also wrap the
May 11th, 2007 will be a day I remember for the rest of my life. I was planning on hunting the last Friday of southern Alberta’s spring black bear season, getting out for another try at a particular black bear.
It had been a miserable bear season to date, and in fact I had not seen any bears. I had been plagued by Murphy, always too much snow, rain or wind, usually all three. But, it had been sunny and dry all week. I had a good feeling, joking with my wife all week that Friday was going to be the day that I got “THE” bear.
I had been pursuing a bear I had named “Ol’ Volkswagen” for the past five years on Crown (pub- lic) lands and two of my favorite ranches in the rolling foothills along the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies, but I had never been able to get a clean shot at him. He was a very smart old bear.
I arrived that morning and hiked until I had reached the spine of the ridge from where I was
My packable raingear failed on the third day and never performed well for the rest of the trip. An hour of dry clothes was the best it would give me before it reached saturation point. Our Gore-Tex boots, after getting clogged with saltwater and kelp, had to be dried out by the heater each evening. The boat’s cabin stunk with socks and boots arrayed in front of the heaters every night. The only hunter whose boots stayed dry was Snook, who bagged his bear on the first day and stayed on the boat the rest of the trip. Next time, I will bring two pairs of Danners and one full set of slickers.
What Worked When Wet
The Claw, a rifle sling from Quake Industries became my new favorite sling and when I got home, I replaced the slings on all my rifles. It has nylon swivels that make no noise, a nylon strap and a wide rubber shoulder piece that grips even soggy fabric or raingear.
My Blackhawk backpack, designed for the desert, kept out most of the elements and never failed me. I put the Gerber multi-tool to good use cutting things that needed cutting and, most important, cracking open crab legs to dip the meat in melted butter.
For a rangefinder, I brought a Bushnell Elite 1500. Out of my element, at sea-level, my range estimating powers were poor. The Bushnell performed flawless- ly, as did the Bushnell Elite rifle scope (with Rain Guard) and m y Alpen 8x42 binoculars.
I took the pr ecaution of putting my Canon Powershot in a Zip-Loc bag. Both the camera and the Zip-Loc did their jobs well.
My CVA speed loaders kept back-up loads of powder dry and my Winchester 209 primers never failed me, though they were soaked with everything else in my possible’s bag.
Following bear tracks on an island, I had occasion to tak e out my Silva compass when I became turned around in the muskeg bogs. I disbelieved what it told me, but I followed the needle anyway and emerged again on the beach where I had started.
On the third day, Captain Bob Stumpff ran me in a skiff into a nar row bay. I waded to shore and found a place to wait with the wind in my face.
For two hours, I battled no-see-ums and held mos- quitoes at bay. Then bear number four padded out of the alders onto the tidal flat. A big boar, his long black hair r ippled o v er po w erful m usc les as he g razed on the rich green grass. I watched him for ten minutes thenbreech in plastic to keep moisture from entering around the nipple.
One thing that might have worked was a cigarette lighter that I always keep in my survival pack. When I needed to start a fire to warm up the freezing film- maker, I could not find it.
By the way, I no longer subscribe to the “soak cot- ton balls in Vaseline” theory either. I had some back- up matches in a film canister. Only one of them could hold a flame, but not long enough to light my fire starter. Saturated with 100% humidity, the Vaseline- soaked cotton put my last match out. I gave Ray a hand-warmer.
Looking for something else to light, I found a polite form letter from the Transportation Security Administration, notifying me that they had relieved me of my cigarette lighter and my waterproof match- es at the airport’s checked baggage screening center. I am keeping the note in case we run out of toilet paper next spring in hunting camp. Thanks guys, for keep- ing me safe.
At the end of it, I packed my halibut and a sack of the biggest shrimp I have ever seen into a meat box. Alaska haunts me still. The images of big boars prowling the shoreline will be burned in my memory forever. I will be back to hunt them, as long as the black bear is king on the rocky ridges and in the icy canyons of Prince William Sound.
going to spot, there was just a slight westerly breeze. I prefer to be in my spotting location before first light, but I was running late and the sun was already bathing the green Alberta foothills in bright light. I would be spotting the hillsides and valleys to the west, so I stayed to the east of the ridge’s spine to avoid being sky-lined by any bears to the west. I lowered my pack, eased out of the trees and there he was, Ol’ Volkswagen, stretched out and sleeping in the sun next to a pond 700 yards down a draw below