Spot & Stalk
Dec 18 2023
By Jana Waller
Bear hunting, in my opinion, is the most diverse kind of big game hunting because every hunt is so diferent than the next. From spot and stalk, baiting, or hound hunting, to the incredibly vast types of terrain that black bears live in, no two hunts are the same—that’s why I’m always open to new bear hunting adventures.
Prince Of Wales, Alaska is a bear hunter’s paradise. Until this past year, I had only dreamed of the thick, green rainforest that blankets most of the relatively desolate island. I have been blessed to hunt black bears in Alaska before, in Petersburg and on the Yukon Flats near the Arctic Circle, but never on POW island. Known for its pumpkin-headed black bears, POW is also home to wolves, sitka blacktail deer, flying squirrels, and not-so-cute banana slugs. And while the land-based wildlife is incredible, the bays and inlets are brimming with frequent sightings of humpback whales, porpoises, sea otters, seals, and sea lions. I had heard stories over the years of exciting bear hunts on the island and I was thrilled when my then-fiance now husband, John Bair, had the idea of applying for black bear tags for the upcoming season.
We’ve had numerous friends who have gone to POW for hunting and fishing adventures and have stayed at Eagle Lodge near Whale Pass. Eagle Lodge specializes in do-it-yourself style hunts where the hunt is up to you but there’s a nice, relaxing lodge, hot shower, and delicious meal waiting for you after a long day’s hunt. The only mistake we made was putting in separately for the tags and not as a party. As luck would have it, I drew a fall tag and John didn’t. Many people visit Eagle Lodge for the renowned salmon fishing alone, but I’m not sure that was at all consoling until he was actually hauling in huge salmon on the trip.
The island is only slightly larger than the state of Delaware, but it’s actually the fourth largest island in the United States and has approximately 6,000 residents. Thanks to the logging industry at the turn of the century, POW has a road system but many miles are not paved. In my opinion, that only adds to the adventure. Once we booked the trip for the first week of September, we were advised to fly into Ketchikan and catch the Inner Island Ferry. It operates every day, taking passengers on a beautiful three hour ride from the airport in Ketchikan to a town called Hollis. From there, the fine folks at Eagle Lodge picked us up and we hit the main paved road that cradles the entire island.
The cabins at Eagle Lodge were nestled into the hillside directly above the beautiful bay that was loaded with starfish, sea urchins, and sea otters. Eagles were soaring overhead, letting out their screams as they searched for spawned out salmon and other sea life. The cool, salty ocean air smelled refreshing and the skies seemed to be whispering the hint of a rainstorm. Big, finger-sized slugs crawled along the wooden staircases that lead from the cabins down to the bay. We dropped oour hunting and camera gear at our cabin and were treated to a delicious dinner at the main lodge that would rival any five star New York restaurant.
On this do-it-yourself style hunt, Eagle Lodge oters each hunting party a vehicle to use during their stay. If you’re hunting in the spring, you can use a ski boat to cruise the shore line in hopes of finding bears scavenging for ocean life. In the fall, most hunters use one of their trucks or SUVs to drive to the numerous creeks and rivers hoping for black bears gorging on the salmon as the pinks and silvers make their way upstream to spawn.
Unlike any other bear hunt I had been on, this trip offered the luxury of salmon fishing while you hunt. We drove our truck just a few minutes from the lodge every day to various river locations that were brimming with salmon. You could see the hundreds, if not thousands, of fish swimming their way upstream to their fateful end. Most looked healthy and alert, darting quickly through the fast moving water, while others we named “zombie fish” sat on the bottom, their bodies white from deterioration and mouths gasping for a few final breaths.
We slid on our waders, gathered our hunting, fishing, and camera gear, and walked through the incredibly dense rainforest down to the river’s edge. I remember wondering if the paths we were on were created by fishermen or bears. I later discovered the answer was both. I brought along my Desert Eagle .429 pistol after hearing stories of many bear hunters having close encounters along the creeks and streams. I also had my trusty 28 Nosler in case we couldn’t close the distance.
Heath, my good buddy and cameraman, is an avid fisherman but he was having the same dilemma I was. Could he be fast enough to put down the fishing pole, go grab the camera, and be prepared if everything went down fast? With the terrain being so thick, it was easy to see how a bear could suddenly appear at the water’s edge, grab a fish, and efficiently disappear into the lush undergrowth of the forest before we could even get a shot off or capture it on film.
After only twenty minutes of fishing, that exact scenario happened. We were all in the water casting our egg patterns when suddenly I caught movement to my left at the river’s edge. A bear appeared out of nowhere, walked down a moss-covered fallen tree, and grabbed a fish. As fast as he was there, he quickly disappeared into the brush with his breakfast. He wasn’t a giant, but it was so exciting to see a bear that quickly on our trip. Heath was able to get to his camera and capture some great footage of him as he popped back out on another log to eat his prize.
The first couple of days, we had a few other bear encounters that were under 50 yards. On one particular occasion, a nice bear suddenly appeared on a log on the opposite side of the river (about forty yards away). Heath got some fantastic footage of the bear submerging his head underwater and coming up with lunch. That day there were a couple of fly fisherman on the river nearby and I didn’t want to light up the woods with a loud shot from my .429. They call it a hand cannon for a reason. It was early in the trip and sometimes it’s fun to simply watch a bear’s behavior and enjoy their company.
Light rain showers were frequent every day, but that’s to be expected on POW Island. Good, dependable rain gear is a must for staying comfortable on this kind of hunt. One of the days forecasted heavier rain all day, so we took the SUV for a cruise around the area. We stopped and fished a few creeks and rivers and soaked in the beauty of the rainforests. Sika deer peppered the roads, feeding on the lush vegetation, and we were even lucky enough to see a beautiful buck in velvet just off the graveled road.
On the last day of the hunt, we made a game plan to perch ourselves high above one of the main rivers so we could get a nice advantage point and see down the river’s edge. I brought along the trusty 28 Nosler since we could glass approximately 400 yards from our position. I found a solid mound on the forest floor where I could comfortably sit with a stable rest in a semi prone position. It wasn’t 30 minutes later that Heath spotted a bear way down the river’s edge. We watched him walk up and down the fallen timber, checking out what are most likely his favorite fishing spots. Just as quickly as the beautiful bear would appear, he would vanish back into the mass of twisted downfalls, vines, and ferns. He was always on the move and appeared to be heading in our direction on the opposite side of the river.
Every few minutes the jet black bear would pop out of the jungle, but he was always on the move. I got behind the Nosler in hopes we would see him in an opening, and finally we all spotted him a mere 80 yards away making his way down a mossy, green downfall. “I’m on him!” Heath exclaimed. I steadied my breath and squeezed the trigger before I watched the bear dive off the log and into the green abyss. John watched through his binoculars and reported back that my shot looked good. We took a moment to recap what had just occurred and celebrated with hugs all around followed by some serious contemplation. “How in the world are we going to get over there? And boy, he’s going to be so fun to get out!” I exclaimed, both with excitement and a touch of sarcasm.
John attempted to make his way down off the hill towards the river to find a spot we could possibly cross. It wasn’t ten minutes later that he came back. “There’s no way we are getting down and across right here,” He begrudgingly commented, “Let’s take all of our gear back to the truck, unload, and look for other possibilities.” After unloading any unnecessary weight, we downed a salmon cake sandwich, put our packs on, and made our way through the jungle to a spot along the river that appeared low enough to cross. We marked on the OnX map where I shot the bear in hopes he didn’t go far and we could find that exact spot. It’s not an exaggeration to say that John or Heath could be standing six feet from me and I couldn’t even see them in the thick, Jurassic-like rainforest. After a few minutes of combing the area, John yelled out some music to my ears, “He’s right here!”
We huffed, puffed, and struggled to get the beautiful boar out from underneath a maze of plants so we could get some nice photos and start field dressing. The bear’s big pumpkin head was heavy to cradle and we were all so thrilled that our adventure came to the perfect ending. This trip was such an amazing getaway, from the incredible fishing to the amazing sea life, and so diferent than any other bear hunt I’ve been on. Heath worked his magic and captured everything on video so I could share it on Skull Bound Chronicles on the always free CarbonTV app or CarbonTV channel. To watch this episode, simply go to CarbonTV.com or on their app, search for Skull Bound Chronicles, season 5 episode 2.