Spot & Stalk
Cory Staniforth | cory_stanimal
Three native Oregonians received the confirmation email stating we successfully drew Alaska’s Southeast bear tag for 2016. Todd Freitag, Scott Thorpe, and myself were now in the frantic planning stage of the hunt. We all have harvested many trophy-quality bears in Oregon, but the famous Prince of Wales (POW) Island bears were a whole new breed we’d never hunted.
In one short year, we made a plan to step into a vast range of wilderness where ocean meets isolated islands full of monster black bear, Sitka blacktail deer and wolves. Being the adventurers we all are, we had the drive to push farther than many would want to go. The plan was to rent a boat and cruise across open channels of water to reach an uninhabited island that had very little hunting pressure. I wanted to pursue bears in a fashion we have never experienced. Cruising the shorelines with the intent of spot-and-stalk archery hunting was the plan, but plans don’t always works out.
The day had come; we were halfway across the first channel of open water on an aluminum boat with a small outboard motor. The boat was plumb full of our hunting equipment, camping supplies and enough food to last seven days. The reality of what we were doing was setting in and actually started to become a little scary. Here I am with two other buddies in a remote area of Southeast (SE) Alaska heading to uncharted land with zero cell service to reach out for help. We are on our own now with the help of nobody but ourselves. Three hours into our boat ride, the water started getting big, the rain started coming down sideways, and getting all the way to our destination might be cut short due to this storm. Against all odds we pushed through the storm and made it to our destination, an old abandon logging camp abandoned in the 1960's.
This logging camp was a quarter mile into the forest off the shoreline. Old broke down cabins, large tin roof ports for equipment storage and roads that had grown over with lush green grass. We decided to make camp inside an old cabin that was still standing, so we popped our tent up inside the main living quarters and placed all of our loose items on the workbench inside the house.
The next morning was just as bad of a storm as the previous night, so I decided to sleep in while Todd and Scott tried to go out in the boat. Thirty minutes after they left, they came stomping back into the cabin soaked and discouraged. We all decided to walk down to the tin shack and dry out all of our gear while waiting for the weather to pass. Three hours later I was standing in my merino base layer and Crocs, and all my gear was fully dry from the fire. I wanted to walk back up to our cabin and get my spotting scope and cameras to film the experience and glass up the alpine country for deer now that the weather was breaking.
As I approached the cabin, I could not believe my eyes: at the front door stood a monster bear making his way inside! I franticly ran back to grab Todd since he had his bow from earlier in the morning. There we are, two stud bowhunters putting on a stalk in our merinos and Crocs. This was a sight to see and was very comical, but we are bowhunters, so we had to take advantage of the situation. As we closed the distance, the bear actually walked into the cabin and out of our sight. So we stalked at a quartering angle and made it to 19 yards from the front door. I threw a rock into the timber trying to get this intruding bear to step out of our cabin and present Todd with a clean shot. As the rock made contact with a tree we heard the bear grunt and start walking towards to front door, his head pierced through the opening and instantly he made eye contact with us, but we had no shot. As I stood behind Todd, the bear receded back into the cabin. “Hold draw, hold draw.” Is all I could say to Todd as we waited for the bear to step back out. The bear decided to come back out after a long twenty-second hold. He walked out enough and presented us with a perfect shot as Todd let the arrow fly. A fatal shot landed, and when you think you know what should happen, the opposite happens. The bear turned back into our cabin and all we heard was total chaos and crashing for about ten seconds, it all ended with one loud moan, then silence. We cautiously approached the front door, as we glanced into the cabin we witnessed total destruction. Tent shredded, blood splattered, and a giant black bear expired on the bathroom floor. What a sight!
As the next three days went by we found amazing country, saw over 30 black bears, and experienced Alaska in a whole new way that many have never dreamt of. I personally passed on a few bears that would be considered absolute studs down in the lower 48, but in this country, the rule of thumb is if you see a black bear that looks like a black bear pass on it, but if you see a black bear that looks like a brown bear, it’s a shooter. So on the fifth day of our backcountry hunt we finally found a bear that looked and walked like a brown bear. I watched this bear feeding on a south-facing shoreline at low tide; he seemed to be focused specifically on lush green bear grass. So we set up in a position where Todd and Scott could film and watch the hunt unfold from a distance.
I began my stalk with the wind in my face and a half moon cove to skirt around until I was able to close the distance. Walking on seashell covered beach rock made the stalk louder than I’d like and as I reached the end of my cover, the wind actually started swirling, which began to make this bear wary of his surroundings. He started pushing towards his escape route into the timber. I closed an extra ten yards in a rush to get within an ethical shooting range and had to make it work at 81 yards. This is a distance I practice at and am confident in. The bear spooked a bit and started his rush into the timber, and as he was only five yards from disappearing when Todd hit the predator call, which stopped him in his tracks. I quickly set my single-pin sight to 81 yards and came to full draw. Time seemed to halt, I was centered on mid mass, my breathing slowed, and my finger lightly pulled the trigger back. Glowing red is all I could see flying through the air and quickly disappeared into a black abyss. My bear bolted into the timber and I instantly knew that my shot was a fatal one. We quickly got onto the blood trail only to find my bear 40 yards away. As I walked up to this bear I realized I had just shot a true Pope and Young class bear. This bear amazed me with his body size, head size, even his paws looked like they came off of a grizzly bear. There we were three Oregon hunters with two tags punched and one tag to go.
The very next day we pushed over to an island we have yet to see in the attempt to find Scott a bear. We found a high point that looked safe to drop our gear while we explored the shorelines in our boat. As we finished dropping our gear off, we all seemed to take in the beauty surrounding us. This vast system of water and islands creates an amusement park for hunters and outdoorsmen. Every direction seemed to have some cove into an island that I could only see the front half. That was like a tease to me and I had to see what potentially massive bear was lurking in the back of the cove grazing on lush grass. I had so much I wanted to explore but so little time to navigate all these islands and technical water. So we set off to the east a little past first light and sure enough, we came across multiple bears in the first large cove. As we quietly beached our boat we began to glass the cove. Three bears were feeding throughout the cove but none of them seemed to be the caliber we all had in mind.
As the day went on, I navigated us through new waters. We put our eyes on five more bears, but couldn’t seem to find the right one for Scott. So I pushed on to the south end of the island, which seemed to hold much longer coves and channels. The coves we started finding would run back over a mile to a small creek filtering out of the island. This area where the creek came streaming out of the island was the lushest area we had seen thus far. It held an abundance of life in every form. After exploring we began to cruise back out but on the opposite shoreline. Within minutes we came across a bear feeding with all the potential in the world to be THE bear for Scott. So we killed the outboard and cruised by him slowly. He watched us, but was not hesitant to keep feeding, so as we completely passed his line of sight we started the motor back up and beached the boat. We quietly started our stalk on the beach rock, which was not very quiet as it had shells and sea urchins covering the top layer. Our game plan was to reach the bend in the shoreline where we should be able to see him and get Scott a clean shot with his rifle, but as we came around the corner to our surprise the bear had gained ground our way and we met nose to nose. The world seemed to come to a silent stop, everything went calm and all I could hear was a large boar heavily sniffing the salty air. Standing only 60 yards from us, he slowly became wary of his surroundings and turned to walk away, but as he turned Scott was prepared with one knee on the ground and a solid rest with his rifle rested against his shoulder waiting for the perfect shot. Click, is all I heard as Scott pulled the trigger. Scott quickly jacked a new bullet into the chamber and found his rest again. The bear was quartering away as the bullet landed ethically and fatally. Time caught right back up to us and all the excitement began as our third and final tag was punched with yet another great POW Black bear.
Three adventure hunters from Oregon standing on a dock with three mature bears was nothing less than success, but what really made this trip amazing was the adventure in its own. Exploring untouched ground, seeing mother nature in its true natural state, and taking it all in with great buddies. We came into Alaska empty handed and full of doubt, but we walked out of Alaska as the "Kings of Spring.”