Feature Articles from BHM

Sep 19 2014

Adventure of Two Lifetimes

Brown bear on the Alaskan peninsula

An early winter storm brewed over the Bering Sea and channeled through the surrounding mountains. Unrelenting sleet pelted us. Gale-force winds cut through our skin. The dense interwoven alders and willow bushes that encapsulated the river below our vigil waved violently, but clung steadfast. Cold, wet, and mentally beaten, we huddled behind a rock outcrop. Sheets of water were being lifted from a distant lake and swept mercilessly across the tundra.

The Alaska Peninsula tested our endurance for three days. We saw bears, but all were young or clung too closely to the security of the alders to assess their size. I looked to the two balls of high-priced hunting gear beside me. “You guys paid for this?” I hollered.

Slowly Father and Son uncoiled like newborn chicks from their shells. Jack gazed at the deteriorating conditions surrounding us and flashed his already familiar smile. “There’s no place else I’d rather be this miserable!” he chuckled, gripping the young man’s shoulder who inspired him to once again venture to Alaska to hunt brown bears after an unsuccessful attempt in a different area two years prior.

John looked to his dad. “We wanted a real Alaskan adventure. I think we’re getting our money’s worth,” he smiled.

The skies lifted the following day, but the wind persisted. After spotting a small bear at dawn, I discovered what appeared to be a mature boar. Lying atop a berm of tundra, I struggled to get a steady view through my spotting scope. Before I could make an accurate judgment, the bear disappeared in the creek bottom.

“That looked like a bigger bear than others we’ve seen,” Jack offered modestly.

“My gut tells me that’s a big boar, but I just couldn’t get a good look with this wind. I’m sure he’s in there fishing for salmon. If he stays in the river he should come right to us,” I said.

We caught several glimpses of the dark bruin searching for fish from atop the high riverbanks, or wading, and in the deeper pools swimming downstream with his head underwater. He passed just 500 yards beneath our position before I was confident that it was indeed a mature boar.

“Pack it up, fellas. We gotta go!” I ordered.

We gathered our gear, loaded our packs, slung our rifles and busted downhill through the alders toward a ravine that overlooked the river. Despite the cool October temperature and stiff Northerly, the sweat was soon melting from Jack’s face. “Just find your pace and stick with it,” I yelled to him, over the wind. “I’m going to go ahead to make sure we find the easiest route. We need to get there as quick as possible, get set up, and you should have plenty of time to catch your breath before the shot. Just walk where I walk. Everything is in our favor.”

“Okay,” Jack nodded. “I’ll do my best.” As the three of us scurried through the bush to find our position, I soon lost sight of the bear. With John halfway between Jack and I, keeping us both in sight, I was able to venture well in front of Jack, allowing me to backtrack several times to search for a more favorable route while not losing any time in our pursuit.

Near the riverbed the alders soon gave way to open tundra. I was astonished at how quickly the 61 year-old maneuvered over the uneven boggy terrain. Waiting only seconds for John and Jack to catch up before the final stalk to our predetermined ambush, I saw a flock of gulls explode into the air 350 yards upstream before catching a brief glimpse of the bear along the bank as he plunged into the stream below. “He’s still working down river. All we need to do is get into position without him seeing us. Let’s catch our breath, and stick close behind me. Just watch me and do what I do,” I instructed.

With Jack now close behind me, we traversed an open hillside, stopping several times as the boar came into view. Finding a flat bench on an otherwise steep slope, I pulled out my rangefinder and zapped the river. Un-shouldering my pack I turned toward my hunters, “One hundred thirty yards to the river. This is where you’re gonna’ shoot your brown bear, Jack!” John smiled, but Jack remained stoic.

In no time the three of us had live chambers and solids rests; Jack and John were prone while I opted for a more maneuverable kneeling position should a backup round be required. The massive boar soon reappeared, sauntering down the middle of the long straight stretch of river before us, scanning side-to-side in search of sustenance for the long cold winter that was just weeks, or even days away. With Jack in position to fire into the open section of river closest to us, the veteran deer hunter waited patiently for the hulking bruin to walk clear of the last large boulder.

“Whenever you get a clear, broadside, standing, shot, take him square in the shoulder,” I instructed.

The bear suddenly darted after a salmon in a deep pool along the near cut bank. With only his head exposed there was not shot. I quickly shifted my pack, which Jack was resting his rifle on, for a shot further downriver. As Jack was nestling-in, the bear disappeared into the water before emerging with a large, blood red, Coho salmon flopping lazily in his mouth. He quickly exited the deep pool onto a shallow riffle.

“He’s taking the fish into the alders. Get on him and take him if he stops,” I ordered. I whistled as loud as I could. The bear climbed on the bank and hesitated for just an instant.

“Kaboom!” Jack’s .375 H&H bellowed, sending the bear back into the river.

“Hit ‘im again!” I shouted

Several hits and one miss later, Jack’s quest for an Alaskan brown bear was realized.

“That was awesome!” John shouted. The men rose and collided into a hug. “What a hunt!”

“Son, your hunt is just beginning.”

John’s quest for his own brown bear continues here in part 2 of Adventure of two lifetimes