We crept slowly along the edge of the woods just
off the beach, for the third time in three days, working
hard at trying to get closer to the magnificent black
boar now just 600 yards ahead. The humidity of this
southeastern Alaskan rain forest jungle was intense, as
were its denizen hordes of huge horse flies, sand flies,
mosquitoes and black flies.
The huge boar fed nervously at the tree-line, one
step away from slipping into the undergrowth, as he
had already done to us twice in the past three days. He
would raise his head and we would freeze, then begin
moving again as soon as he turned his head away. We
took great caution in trying not to step on the many
barnacles, called “poppers” (a seaweed which sounds like firecrackers when stepped on), and rocks covered with loose shale and gravel. This one had looked like an impossible stalk at first and Joe thought we would likely not be able to get close enough, but here we were, trying it anyway.
I had been watching a point of rocks several hundred yards ahead which is where he was headed. If he would simply turn this corner, I then could sprint up
I had hunted these bottoms with Joe several
months prior and had seen some excellent brown bear
sign. Unfortunately, this area was now ruined, for the
entirety of my short trip. I had also, in my usual tradition,
planned to be able to make certain that my scope
was still on after the traumas of multiple-connection travel. I typically do this as soon as I get out into the wild, however, Joe suggested we wait so that we would not disturb the other hunters visible from our boat. He said we could shoot the next day after our morning hunt. I then told him that I hoped we saw no shooters, although this rifle had never, in seven years of long distance travel, been knocked off its mark, despite encountering some of the toughest baggage busters north of the equator. Who cares about a guy named Murphy, anyway? Surely not in rural Alaska!
I should have known better, as Murphy had significantly
pestered my trip thus far, first with a screaming
and fanatical airline clerk, apparently experiencing
his first firearm and ammunition, whose yelling
made many other passengers in line behind me upset.
He kept me at the counter for 45 minutes, even phoning
my destination to inform the Juneau airport security
that I was arriving with a rifle, the exact number
of rounds I had, etc. Two more-experienced agents
actually needed to calm him down and talk him
through the procedures. Next were two TSA inspectors
who were actually afraid of my ammunition, then
some missed connections and a brown bear permit
problem that took a $70 cab ride to rectify, all before
even leaving Juneau for the field. Certainly, Mr.
Murphy had already had enough fun and would now
leave me alone.
The spring weather was as expected, predominantly
overcast, damp and rainy, with temperatures
between 30 and 70 degrees. Several nights on the
water while float-stalking the beaches, extreme cold
weather gear was required to keep the icy north wind
blowing up the bay from turning us into popsicles.
We were able to glass the beach extremely well from all sides of the boat, actually seeing much more ground than the hunters in the lower bay could, and thus watching more territory for the classical spring bear walking the beach looking for the new green shoots of grass as well as for potential mates. There was still much snow in the mountain tops and even some remaining down in the black spruce, despite this being the last week in May. We were hopeful that the bruins were, at least with respect to the boars, out of
their dens. Sows and cubs are typically the last denners to emerge.
This was my fifth brown bear hunt to Alaska, and could only further help us.
The next morning I woke at 4:00 a.m. to very bright light coming through the porthole. I got up and glassed the shores all around the boat, being able to see all four sides of the long bay and found no evidence of bear activity whatsoever. Joe expertly decided upon the floating spot and stalk technique given the fickle wind and the clueless band of hunters in the lower bay. Depending upon the time of day, the tide and the wind, we would motor the skiff to one end of the bay, then slowly drift with the current/tide, glassing all shores the entire time. We were able to watch ducks, eagles, wolves and seals catching fish as well as taking in the amazing surrounding mountain and beach scenery.
This technique paid off later in the morning as we
spotting a very large black bear at the edge of the
woods with a full and attractive shiny coat. Noting the
wind, we went ashore on the appropriate side and tried
as quietly as possible to anchor the skiff in the gravel
and shells. We stalked along the woodline at the
beach’s edge, getting within several hundred yards of the bear before he decided to escape into the woods. He may potentially have heard us, despite our efforts to avoid stepping on crunchy barnacles, even though they were everywhere. He also might have seen us or simply had that smart critter’s sixth-sense that something was amiss. I watched him leisurely walk into the trees. We stayed there awhile to see if he might return, but shortly thereafter, three hunters from the other boat who had been watching us stalk from their craft shot out in their skiff, going on the wrong-wind side of our bear. They walked on the shoreline and then began pushing their skiff down the shoreline slowly for hundreds of yards, occasionally getting off and walking up into the trees.
Given the wind direction, this bear was obviously no longer in the territory. We went back to the boat for lunch. I suggested checking my scope at this time, but old Joe was still trying to be nice to the classless hunters who were currently only several hundred yards away on the opposite side of the bay.
After lunch we resumed the drift and spot method.
The rains came intermittently, but not too heavily.
There was, however, a bitter, icy wind blowing down
the bay. We stayed out until dark which was quite late
in the evening this time of year. We also put out a
crabpot to see if I was going to be rewarded with one
of my favorite Alaskan foods. Joe does not eat much crab so I usually get the entire catch for myself. It is sure nice of him to cook them for me.
The next morning we awakened to cloudy skies He had looked several times when we had made slight noises on our stalk but had not been alarmed and shortly thereafter had continued his lunching. He was a very large, old boar with dull blackish/grey markings and some red on the sides as well. Joe called him a ratty old bear.
I slowly raised my rifle upon the rock which gave
me a relatively good elbow rest, got a good sight picture,
took a breath, let it partially out and slowly
on him. He slowly worked towards the rocks, went around the point and disappeared. I sprinted past my amazed guide, who later laughed, saying “At first you were going so slow, then you bolted so fast I couldn’t keep up!”
I knelt just at the tip of the rocky point, .375 H&H at the shoulder and slowly peeked around the rocks, not knowing whether he would be there faceto- face with me, 500 hundred yards away or in the brush altogether. Joe whispered, “Shoot as soon as you see him!”
We were on a brown bear/black bear hunt in St.
James Bay, north of Juneau. This was my second trip
to this area in the past eight months. The trip from
Juneau in Joe’s 42-foot sailboat had been uneventful.
We watched whales, seals, sea lions and porpoises. A
foreboding mist/fog at the bay’s entrance with a howling
rain storm welcoming us as we sailed in. The rain
and fog then cleared that afternoon as we anchored in
the bay.We glassed all four shores from the boat with
Joe recommending we not go ashore at this time
because there were several other, rather clueless, bear
hunters who were messing up the entire lower bay.
They were paying absolutely no attention to wind direction while walking all over the bottom, mucking up the region with their scent.
I thus far was “0 for 4.” Unfortunately, on my first trip
to Chichagoff/Baranoff, despite seeing 52 bears in 14
days, no shooter boar was ever quite within range. The
second trip into the Alaska range resulted in the stalking
of several grizzlies, none of which panned out.
Then freak extreme cold weather of 10-15 below zero
in early October, combined with an early and extremely
heavy snowfall seemed to send most of the bears into an early hibernation, noted by the visible bear tracks going up into the mountains. The locals said this was the first time they had ever seen such an early storm. Brownie hunt number three was also in the Alaska range and scheduled for springtime, but this particular April, again the worst the locals had ever reportedly noted, the great majority of bears were once again much smarter than I, remaining in hibernation, rather than face the bitter cold. We saw the tracks of just one bear during 10 days of extreme weather, with midday temperatures being 10 to 15 below and evening temperatures being 25 to 30 below with severe wind.
During trip four last fall at our current location, scheduled for 19 days of hunting, we managed approximately three full days in the field because of a severe blow. With blustery rain and winds, sometimes up to 40 knots, it affected not only the animals, by completely suppressing their movements, but also our ability to stay safely in this bay. We spent some sleepless nights with the wind screaming through the riggings and watching the depth finder for anchor drag toward the rocks. We needed to go back to the marina several times, and in short, had a very difficult time even getting into the field. One coyote pelt was all I had to show for the trip, having called in a pack that was fishing for salmon. That was the only action of the entire trip. I scared one small bear in the brush while it was dark as I walked past. I saw no brown bears or black bears whatsoever during this entire trip, certainly very unusual for bear-dense southeast Alaska.
I was hoping this trip would be different. While
this trip would not be as long as others, I was hopeful
that there would be bears, plentifully and everywhere.
I had my first concerns upon seeing the relatively
clueless bear hunters, as well as several other vacationers
in the bay who were shooting guns for target
practice, water-skiing, cooking with woodsmoke fires
(which have been documented to drive bears into the
next county), etc. I tried to forget all this as we feasted
on one of Joe’s gourmet meals, an excellent hollandaise
halibut banquet. I further tried to reassure
myself that the 19+ hours of hunting/shooting light
and later had some sun. We performed our usual morning float to the end of the bay with the guys on the other boat watching us as they talked loudly and ate breakfast. At the end of the bay we glassed a large tan object in the mudflats which appeared to be moving, hopefully a large brown bear far in the distance. As we started motoring towards it, four guys jumped in their skiff and shot out in front of us toward the sighting and began walking all over the bay bottom. Their apparent guide was glassing over towards where we were heading, but by now we were able to tell that what we were seeing was merely a very large blonde rock. We had a good laugh while they were stalking our rock. We abandoned the north end of the bay for the south end to check
the meadows for bear activity. The meadows were full of new, lush, knee-high, bright green grass with an abundance of dandelions and wildflowers everywhere. As we rounded a rocky point we saw a very large black bear in the back of the little inlet eating leaves and grass at the tree-line. He was over 400 yards away, but fortunately we had the wind advantage. We crawled across the same barnacle- encrusted shale trying to make as little noise as possible as we headed toward rocky cover near the inlet. The bear did not seem to see us, even though we were totally exposed for approximately 200 yards. We attempted to keep a low profile and eventually managed to get behind a very large rock where the bear was unable to see us. We then gradually moved towards him, but again ran out of cover 175 yards from him. He had walked toward us, but the grass ended so he was coming no further on his eating path.squeezed the trigger. The crosshairs looked perfect at the report, but as I jacked in another round the old bear simply turned his head to look directly at me, his expression being “Oh, Crap!” He then shot into the trees, showing no evidence whatsoever of having been struck. Reloading fully, we walked to where he had entered the bush, searching for evidence of a good hit. Find out if Murphy took a siesta or not in the next issue.