Sep 02 2014
By BHM Publisher, Clay Newcomb
Sept 2nd, 2014
It’s been two weeks since I’ve made a blog post. As you may have heard, there aren’t many Wi-Fi connections in the Alaskan wilderness. Had there been I would have been disappointed. The disconnect from the modern world is part of why we go to remote places. Life truly does slow down as you focus on the hunt and your needs become more primitive – eat, sleep, stay dry and hunt. On a ten-day hunt, after about day four you lose track of time. Knowing whether it is Monday or Tuesday loses its relevance.
My longtime friend, Scott Brown, and I flew into camp by floatplane on the Yetna River in south central Alaska on August 16th. We were greeted by a flood stage river and rain. The original plan was for us to be in a different area, but high water prevented it. It was an unforeseeable and necessary switch that meant the outfitter hadn’t been in the area yet this fall. We were going in cold.
We spent the first three days on the water scouring the creeks for salmon and bear sign. We found some salmon, but we didn’t find bears. When the water is high they know fishing is tough and they head to the hills for ripe berries. The ideal situation is that the water is high enough that the salmon can run up river, but low enough that the bears can fish for them in the smaller creeks. Bears can’t fish in deep water. They don’t fish much in the main river channel, but rather in the smaller, clear-water feeder creeks that run into the river. This is where most Brown Bears are ambushed. It actually made for very conducive bowhunting conditions – even for the traditional bow.
After three days and no bear sightings our outfitter decided the water had receded enough to move us up the Skwentna River. This is primarily where they hunt and have most of their success. After about a 100-mile airboat ride, we made it to their northern camp where we were greeted with a positive bear forecast. They were finding lots of salmon and bear sign.
The first night on the small creek off the Skwentna, I met up with my new guide, “Bigfoot”. The 21-year old would later in the week make a name for himself by proving his resolve while being charged by a sow grizzly. He was filling up water jugs and rather than leaving the 80 pounds of water behind, he proceeded to run from the bear with jugs in hand! The bear stopped 10-feet shy of Bigfoot as the other guide, Earl Oney, hurled rocks as the enraged sow (good job, Earl). He made it back to the boat with our water for the camp. We were able to eat our Mountain House freeze dried dinners on time because of it…..probably wasn’t worth it, Bigfoot? – But THANKS anyway. Nonetheless, we laughed non-stop listening to Earl recount seeing Bigfoot running with the water jugs!
On my first evening of the hunt with Bigfoot we saw a sow with two cubs. The bears came to about 15 yards and made us nervous when they acted like they were going to cross the creek onto our bank. Rather than surprising them at close range, Bigfoot stood up and yelled at the sow. She made no hurry to leave and ambled off none to scared. Within 20 minutes she was back in sight, but now on our side of the creek headed our way. We were situated in the middle of a bear trail in an alder grove. We knew we had to get out and we did. We scampered like a couple of girl scouts back to the boat. Within minutes the sow and cubs walked right on the trail we set up on as we watched from the safety of the boat. We learned not to mess with Momma Grizz in tight quarters.
One of the main challenges of setting up on these bears is finding an ambush position where they won’t walk right over you. Alders choke the banks of the streams and the only time you can see the bears is when they come onto the shoals to fish. Most of the hunting was close range.
To make a long story short we hunted hard for 10 days and couldn’t catch a break. We lost some productive days to high water. A couple of days we left early because the wind was wrong. We boated everywhere that we went in john boats with jet motors on very treacherous waters. This meant that in most situations we were leaving our hunting areas before dark so we didn’t have to navigate the ever-changing river after nightfall.
On day seven, Bigfoot and I spiked out and boated seven miles north to another feeder creek. We stayed up there two days and found some good, unmolested bear sign. However, we couldn’t have bought any luck if it had been for sale at the river market.
The waters of the Skwentna and Hayes Rivers proved to be treacherous when Bigfoot and I were both “clotheslined” by an eight-inch log that overhung on the river. We were drifting through a swift current trying to find a navigable channel in a maze of literally dozens of braids. We had our heads turned and were pummeled by the protruding log. I ended up doing a backflip in the boat after the log hit me between the shoulders. I rolled over my recurve bow, unstringing it, but didn't damage it. I ended up bending the eyepiece on my Huskemaw 10x42 binos. Bigfoot took the brunt of the event as he was knocked out the johnboat into the swift water! Things got serious quick.
With fluidity and grace of a trumpeter swan, Bigfoot made it back to the boat. Other than injuring our sense of competency, no lasting damage was done. We did, however, learn to respect the river even more. It would kill you if you let it.
We ended up catching some nice salmon and had a good time panning for gold right behind our camp. We found some flakes. Overall, we had some high adventure with a good outfit – Triple C Alaskan Outfitters. The cards just didn’t fall in our favor. Clifford Smith has good success rates, but we were the statistic on the wrong side of the graph. They actually have a high success rate for brown bears. Ted Nugent, Larry Weishuhn and Dennis Campbell of Grandslam Club Ovis have all hunted with Clifford in the last year.
Will I be back? I hope so. We will see.
I now move on to my favorite time of the year – my local hunting. No matter how far I travel, my favorite place on the planet to hunt is right here in the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma. Alaska was amazing….period – but there is no place like home. Adventure is found wherever you find it. The hunt takes place inside of a man; the geographic location is secondary. Hunting all over the world doesn’t make you a world-class hunter; it just makes you a well-traveled one. Most of the world-class hunters I know have never left Arkansas…I’m sure you know some too.
Check out Bear Horizon for an episode about our Alaskan hunt. Don’t expect to see me Count Coup on a Brown Bear, because it didn’t happen – nor will it ever. We did capture some great footage that will tell the story of our hunt. Look for it in the next few weeks at www.bear-hunting.com