Many of you will be familiar with what our household calls “you suck” emails; those terse messages from wildlife agencies that contain the dreaded word unsuccessful. I had resigned myself to being unable to draw a southeast Alaska bear permit while my husband and friends seemed to pull every year. I was considering changing my name but instead changed application areas and this resulted in the word successful ending up in my inbox.

For those unfamiliar with southeast Alaska black bear applications, they are due mid-December and result emails are sent mid-February. If successful, your tag doesn’t open for 7 months (for fall season) and if you want to hunt the spring you have 15 months to plan your trip. All these tags are for nonguided hunters only. We generally opt for the spring hunt for a few reasons. Foremost, in the spring coastal bears can be found voraciously feeding in tidal salt marshes which means two things; their table quality is prime, and they are active and accessible. A spring hunt is also ideal as it doesn’t crowd the already too short fall hunting season. Although this is a painful wait, it is perfect for DIY hunters to have the time needed to plan the logistics and get the most out of your tag.

The area we drew tags for requires a bit more planning than others. The island has no year round residents and no services. E-scouting revealed an area I wanted to focus on but the flight service we had planned to utilize went under due to COVID-19. After a lot of phone calls and consulting some local knowledge we locked in a couple awesome pilots, one who had just purchased a DHC-2 Beaver who would fly us in, and another with an amphibious Cessna 185 who was willing to give us two flights out.

The reason we needed this kind of flight capacity was that we were planning on bringing our Pristine Ventures Pioneer X-Stream raft, custom frame and 2.5 HP motor. This would give us the mobility we needed to properly cover the many bays in our planned hunt area. Looking back, we may have still filled our tags without the aid of the raft, but it was worth the hassle and extra expense.

In terms of camp gear, we brought our basic backcountry setup for grizzly country; Seek Outside Redcliff and battery powered bear fence. We borrowed a titanium wood stove from a buddy on a whim. I didn’t think we’d be able to find much dry firewood, but it ended up being the MPV of the trip (besides my husband). We packed our favorite dehydrated meals as backups but since we were taking the luxury cruise option weight wasn’t much of a concern and we brought some fresh food as well. We landed on chest waders as the best option as we saw ourselves getting in and out of the raft a lot. Southeast Alaska isn’t known for being dry so we figured we’d be pretty much living in them, and in fact we filled both our tags while wadered up.

The next hurdle was to get our raft, motor and frame packed up in an airline-friendly manner and get them up there. Our raft and frame were designed to be packed by mules or fit in a Super Cub, but it still made an impressive mountain of gear. It would be going as freight so we got it all booked, as well as most of our camp gear, and sent it on its way, hoping we would be seeing it soon as we flew out the next day.

We took off in great spirits with just our double rifle case and soft side cooler as check baggage and our backpacks as carry-ons filled with essential gear such as binoculars and Garmin inReach. We got to our destination without any trouble but immediately found out our freight hadn’t. There was a hitch in Seattle and it sounded like our gear might not make it for a week. Luckily we had a good buddy in town who helped us a form up a quick plan. We raided the local hardware store for essentials, did another grocery run and with borrowed gear were ready for plan B. And then we got a call that our gear would in fact be showing up the next day. Reboot and return to plan A with a couple days of our trip lost but thankful for the hospitality of southeast Alaska. I bring this up as an example of how to always plan for the worst on Alaska trips. Expect bad weather and delays! If possible, plan an extra day on the front and back of your trip and most importantly, go with the flow and enjoy it all as part of the experience.

Finally we were able to see our raft loaded up into the Beaver and pile in for the flight to an area we had never seen except in aerial photos. We hoped expansive, emerald, green grass flats full of bears was in our near future. Unloading in a light drizzle only took a few minutes and before we knew it, we were hearing the radial engine roar away down the bay. We lucked out finding a flat-ish opening to put camp and set to clearing a bit of brush to make space for tent and bear fence. We of course couldn’t hunt that day due to Alaska regulations so we took our time getting camp and raft all set to hit it hard tomorrow. No bears were spotted that first day but we did find ourselves surrounded by sea otters and sooty grouse.

First morning of hunting dawned clear and cool and we planned a big trip to scout the area we could feasibly reach with our setup. We fired up the big 2.5 HP and we were off at a roaring 5 mph. The bay was calm, and we managed to cover its entire 12-mile length, which was disturbingly bear-less. With tails tucked we went back to camp for dinner. We decided to check out a nearby river to see if any steelhead were available since the bears didn’t want to play. The river was a tangled mess of downed timber, but we did find some gigantic, fresh piles of bear sign as well as some. With darkness coming on we found a place to set up downwind of the chewed-up grass flat. Not wanting to get stuck navigating back to camp in the dark, I was starting to get gear packed away when Justin said he saw the bear’s nose. Sure enough, there was a bear nose poking out of the dense brush which soon materialized into a rolling black mass of grass-eating fury. As he angry-ate we covered the 400 yards to his domain by creeping up the river bed. We popped up onto the edge of the flat and I was able to see the upper half of the boar as he fed along, oblivious to our presence at 70 yards. Justin gave me honors on the shot if I wanted it and I did, dropping the bear with 150 grains of non-lead from my 28 Nosler. What my sasquatch husband could see but my short frame could not I was about to find out. When I approached the bear I saw the lower half of his hide appeared shaved off. There was no disappointment though, I had finally drawn a tag for an incredible area and filled it with a 6-foot plus, grass-fed wilderness beast. Field photos were few as we quickly quartered him out and loaded up the packs, hoping to make it back to camp before the black. The raft performed even with the extra weight, and we were cruising up to our camp at dusk only to find a young boar on our beach. With worries about our supplies we approached our tent but thankfully the bear had kept his distance or the fence had done its job. By 11 pm we had the meat and hide hung and were sharpening knives and celebrating with some whiskey.

The tide and weather didn’t look ideal for a morning hunt, so I spent the high tide pulling the skull and getting the hide fleshed out. We hadn’t seen much bear activity on the morning low tide anyway. This we guessed was due to the late spring, it was early in May and temperatures were cool. I highly recommend bringing a copy of the tide charts for your hunt area. They are invaluable as coastal bears will feed harder, becoming more visible during low tide. It will also help prevent you from getting stranded by the tide if you are hunting from a skiff or traversing a tide flat.

After an early dinner we headed out to the one part of the bay we hadn’t covered and immediately saw bears in every direction. It became overwhelming to try and decide which bear we should be targeting. We’d spot one bear, start stalking and then see another bear we decided was larger or less rubbed. Finally in the far back end of the bay we saw the king of the flat, and he was in a good spot for a stalk. I cut the motor and silently oared the raft into wader-depth, allowing Justin to slip out using a small hill for cover. He was then able to quickly get under 100 yards from the grass obsessed boar and put him down with single shot from his .338 Win. Mag. Once again we were up to the same process as the night before; get him quartered and packed before the impending dark. We were warmed up and on a roll now though and quickly and cleanly had the bear loaded up and headed for camp.


With inReach weather telling us a storm front was on the way we messaged the pilot wondering if he would have time to grab us the next day. If we’ve learned anything from our Alaska trips it’s to make the most of your weather windows. He replied he’d try to make a run for us in the afternoon. That meant the next morning was consumed with getting meat deboned and packed into our soft side cooler and getting Justin’s bear hide fleshed and the skull pulled. We kept two rear hams bone-in for smoking whole and broke down the rest into muscle groups and ziplocked, ready to freeze. Justin flew out on the first flight with the raft, and I was left to break down camp as the pilot wouldn’t be able to make another run until later in the afternoon. With camp packed and waiting on the beach I had time to wander the timber with our single shot .22 looking for sooty grouse and take in part of the masterpiece that is the Tongass, our largest national forest and the world’s largest temperate rainforest. We have been truly lucky to be able to experience a small part of this unique landscape with its unending tracts of massive, moss-covered hemlock and spruce and abundant fish and wildlife coexisting in a land etched by the rhythms of the ocean.


The trip to town was perfect with little fog to obscure the endless inside passage views. We now needed to get our bears sealed at the local fish and game office. Make sure this is planned into your trip and be aware your closest office might not be open on weekends. Some taxidermists are approved to seal, or you may be able to find a warden to help you out if things go sideways. The biologists were appreciative that our skulls had very little flesh left on them, evidently, they don’t see this often. Both skulls were green scored just under 19” and we were told they were the largest checked in so far, but it was still early in the season. After getting everything legal we packed the hides and skulls up in a fish box ready to freight home. We freighted our meat home as well to ensure it would stay in a freezer whenever possible.