Hope reading this is enjoyed by everyone as much as it was by me doing it!!!
I've just gotten done with the fall white tail hunting season at River Ridge Hunting Club in Tupper Lake, NY, and have decided to begin plans for a grizzly hunt in Alaska. After many hours of research and phone calls, I've finally decided to go after a grizzly in the interior of Alaska with a guide by the name of Jake Jefferson. My exercise routine began the day after I booked the hunt and I hiked daily on foot and snowshoes until I had lost 40 pounds and felt physically ready. Every Alaska hunt is physically demanding and you must be ready for almost anything. I feel like I will be able to keep up with Jake and be ready for whatever the hunt demands. Now on to Alaska!
Well, here I am again. I've finally made it back to Alaska for a grizzly hunt that I've always dreamed of. My wife, Beth, dropped me off at 5:30 this morning at Albany Airport and after a really full day of flying, I'm in Anchorage. There were several delays and a bumpy ride, but I've made it. I'll try to get to bed early, but the four-hour time change has me all messed up. I went down to the hotel lounge and after a couple of Alaskan Ambers and some supper at the Glacial Brewhouse downtown, I started to come around. I went to bed at 9 PM and slept real well after the long day.
Woke up at 6 AM and I'm ready to go grizzly hunting. My guide, Jake Jefferson, will be picking me up outside the hotel at 10:30 AM. I'll then repack my gear to lighten the load, purchase my licenses, tags, and any other necessities. We are driving up to Talkeetna and flying into the bush at about 5 PM in a Piper Super Cub. The plane will have to make two trips in and out due to its small size. Jake said we'll be landing on a small sand bar near Clear Creek. We'll set up our tents and get settled in after that. You can't hunt the same day that you fly in, so we'll get ready to go for tomorrow. The weather is overcast and about 50 degrees so we should be able to take off this afternoon.
It's now 5:25 PM and the plane has come and gone with Jake and his gear. The pilot's name is Billy. It will take him about 3/4 hour to get there and back and then I'll fly in. Jake will have the tents set up by then and maybe we'll do some spotting later on. If the weather holds like it is, I should be able to get some good pictures of Mount McKinley. Billy and his Super Cub is back to get me and my gear at 6:20 and we're on our way to camp. He tells me there is a change of plans and we will be landing on a narrow strip on top of a ridge. After about 20 minutes of flying he tells me that our landing site is just ahead. I see a yellow tent in the distance but do not see anything that resembles a runway. Billy swings the plane around and we softly put down on a flat bench lightly strewn with rocks. There were a couple of sharp bounces, but all in all the tundra tires absorbed much of the shock. We had arrived at our new home. I nearly needed a shoe horn to get out of the plane, but finally my gear and I were unloaded. Billy turned the plane around and off he went. The Super Cub is truly an amazing aircraft.
After we finished setting up the tents, Jake and I fired our rifles to check their accuracy and then took a walk to try to spot a bear. We did not see any so we decided to have supper and hit the bed early at 9:30 PM. It gets dark at about 11:15 PM and light at about 4 AM. The tent is quite comfy and my sleeping bag is nice and warm. The hunt starts tomorrow.
I awoke at 2:30 AM to the sound of hard wind and rain. I eventually fell back to sleep and awoke at 5:30 AM to hear that it was still raining. Jake yelled to me from his tent that we would wait awhile before starting our day. I rolled over and fell back to sleep. Jake woke me up with a cup of coffee at 7:30 and we had a nice breakfast of sausage and eggs. The rain had stopped. We left on the hunt at about 8:15 AM. We walked out from camp about one mile and set up on a ridge top overlooking a long valley. (Jake packed sandwiches and snacks that we ate during the course of each day's hunt--I brought a thermos of coffee and Jake drank melted snow--not fancy but adequate). We glassed the valley all day until 7:30 PM seeing five black bears, nine caribou, one golden eagle, two bald eagles, and a marsh hawk. We returned to camp and had a nice beef taco supper. It started to rain again after supper so we hit the hay at 9:45 PM. Hope the weather improves. It was very windy all day today.
Woke up at 5:30 AM to an overcast day. I decided to try to call Beth using my cell phone. Reception here is extremely sketchy without a satellite phone. Surprisingly, I got through to her and was delighted to find out that we had a new granddaughter by the name of Chloe. Everyone was safe and healthy.
Had a nice breakfast of pancakes and blacktail deer sausages with black coffee. Packed roast beef sandwiches for lunch and headed out about 7:15 AM. We went to the same overlook as yesterday. The weather got progressively nicer as the day wore on and we saw black bears (four of them were the same sow with her three large cubs that we had seen yesterday). We also saw another sow with two small cubs and a nice large boar that I could have shot, but elected not to. We also saw six caribou, two golden eagles, and several bald eagles. NO grizzlies have been sighted yet but hopes are high. Tomorrow we will be taking a long walk (about six miles) to another valley overlook. The weather is supposed to improve each day. I saw the lone boar today as it skylined a rocky ridge with Mt McKinley in the background. What an unbelievable sight! Returned to camp about 8 PM and had blacktail venison hamburgers for supper with homemade chocolate chip cookies for desert. During supper I talked with Jake about today's hunt and then we went to bed at 9:45 with the sun shining brightly.
Woke up at 4:30 AM. Got Jake up and we ate breakfast of sausages and oatmeal and headed out early for a new valley about three miles or so away. There is still a lot of snow and the going is rough at times. Quite often while crossing a snow field you will break through the top crust and "posthole" up to your knees or more. This really wears you out fast with a 30-pound pack on your back. We finally reached our chosen high point and began spotting. We saw four separate black bears during the nine-hour vigil along with ten caribou and a very new-born fawn. We also saw two coyotes, one golden eagle and dozens of ptarmigan. We got back just as it started raining at 7:45 PM. We had sloppy joes with hot black coffee for supper. After supper we went down to the end of our runway and spotted some more. I saw one medium sized black bear. We returned to camp and turned in for bed at 9:30.
Today was a gorgeous day to be in Alaska. It was warm and clear, the bugs weren't bad, and I stared in amazement at Mt. McKinley many times today. We had once again seen a lot of game but NO grizzlies yet. We'll just try again tomorrow. It is quite windy most of the time and I wish I had brought some chapstick, but that is just one more thing I forgot.
I awoke at 5:45 AM to a beautiful day in Alaska. I heard the ptarmigan making their crazy sounding calls off and on during the night and they are still at it. Had a nice breakfast of sausage and eggs and off we went for another day of spotting, moving, spotting again, and then moving and spotting all over again. This is what interior grizzly hunting is all about. Countless hours are spent looking through binoculars, dealing with the boredom when you are not seeing any game and, hopefully, culminating in a few minutes of terror and exhilaration when you spot a grizzly and shoot it.
Today was our slowest day for spotting game--we watched a big sow black bear with two cubs eating grass and playing together for several hours. We also saw about a dozen caribou and several eagles. The weather was beautiful (low 60's) and Mt. McKinley was very easy to see. Still no grizzlies sighted but all can change within a matter of seconds. We spotted from 7 AM to 7 PM then headed back to camp.
We had a burrito for supper with chocolate chip cookies for desert. For lunch today we had smoked salmon with crackers. It was delicious.
I'm sleeping quite good on my sleeping pad and new bag. The temps at night are generally between 28 and 35 degrees. The wind blows every day and my face is feeling the effects. However, due to the wind there are very few mosquitoes. We'll give it hell tomorrow again. It's important to always keep your spirits up.
Up again at 4:45 AM. Weather is a little cloudy, but supposed to burn off later. Had pancakes, reindeer sausage and birch syrup. We headed out for our favorite lookout and arrived there at 7:15 AM. We spent the entire day there with each of us taking an occasional stroll. During the course of the day we saw a huge sow with two small cubs, another sow with two larger cubs and a single boar--all black bears! We also saw about two dozen caribou, two eagles, several ground squirrels and countless ptarmigan. The ptarmigan is a pretty grouse-like bird that changes color from brown to white and back again following the seasons. We packed up and headed back to camp at 6:45 PM-- 11-1/2 hours in one spot was more than enough! Jake cooked up a chicken fajita-type supper that tasted great. We sat around and talked for a little while after supper and then turned in early because tomorrow we will be taking our longest hike yet. My snowshoeing last winter has certainly paid off as I would not have been able to keep up had I been in worse shape. It's so great to be 62--yeah, right!!
Woke up after a good night's sleep at 4 AM. We decided once again to go to "black bear valley" for the day. Tomorrow we will get up at 3:30 AM and head back to the high rocky point about three miles away.
We had reindeer sausage, toast and eggs for breakfast and then headed out. It is unseasonably warm today with no letup in sight. Jake calls his wife by satellite phone every night and she gives us the weather report. I did pretty well with packing what I needed, but I never thought I would need sunscreen. My face and ears are both pretty sunburned and windburned. It was 75 degrees today and clear, but windy. We saw a bunch of game, as usual, but NO grizzlies. We saw eight black bears, numerous caribou and a couple of eagles. The snow is melting fairly fast but there is still a lot of it. It seems like as soon as a patch of snow melts a flower of some sort will magically appear. It is like they are anxiously awaiting to bloom after the long winter. There are many different varieties of flowers. We came back to camp at 6:30 PM after spotting for 11-1/2 hours again. We went to a nearby snowdrift and refilled out water pail as there are no creeks nearby. We then ate a supper of chili and mountain goat hot dogs with jalapenos in the dogs! I washed it down with a couple cups of black coffee. We sat around after supper and talked about Alaska. This is an amazing place and I love hearing the residents tell stories--especially hunting stories! Went to bed at 9:15 PM. It is hot in the tent, but you must zip it up or the mosquitoes will eat you alive. Our hopes are still high to get a grizzly. We must push on until the end. There are only two days left to hunt and the Super Cub will be coming to get us on Monday--weather providing.
Awoke at 3:30 AM and got Jake up as we will be leaving early. It is a long haul to our rocky lookout and the walking is not the greatest. It is a combination muskeg, alders, snow (occasionally deep) and steep rocky climbs. To train for this type of terrain is nearly impossible unless you can walk a couple of miles a day on mattresses covered in blueberry bushes! It is a real physical test.
After a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee we head out and walk nearly two hours to get to our rocky lookout. The wind is out of the South and cool. We glass to the North and to the South and switch sides periodically because the wind in your face is brutal. While scanning the landscape back in the direction of our orange tents, which are a few miles away, I spot a black bear walking through our campsite. Jake is concerned that the bear will get into our supplies but the bear keeps on going. Most of the day is spent spotting four black bears, several caribou, three golden eagles and many other assorted birds. This seems to be another day with no grizzly sightings until 4:05 PM when I hear Jake excitedly exclaim, "Grizzly. I see a grizzly." I immediately turn my attention to his side of the rock outcropping and I spot the grizzly right off. It's about 3/4 of a mile away. It looks huge to me, but I'm not the expert. Jake says it's a nice bear, but it's hide is rubbed a little since he just came out of hibernation. My response is, "Who the hell cares? I've only got one day to hunt and it's our first grizzly!" We start cramming our gear into our packs and begin to head off the rocky knob. The bear is leisurely feeding on grass in the meadow and is moving slowly. As we reach the base of the lookout knob, we glass the bear once more. He has reached the caribou trail we walked in on earlier. After checking out our scent, he looks around nervously and then slowly heads back into the thick underbrush that he originally came out of. Several black bears have crossed our tracks during the week, but he would have no part of it. We watched sadly as he disappears. It's bad enough that we have lost a chance at him, but now we have to climb back up through the rocks. We glass until 6:45 PM and then head back to camp. We had a nice supper of blacktail venison tacos. Tomorrow is the last day of my Alaskan grizzly hunt but, no matter what happens, it has been a wonderful adventure. I will cherish the memories forever.
The last day of the hunt has sadly arrived. I'm up at 4:15 AM, I get the coffee started and wake up Jake. The temp is 38 degrees, but not too windy. We'll head to "black bear valley" today and the spot near camp this PM. My guide, Jake Jefferson, has done all he could to get me a grizzly, but they just weren't to be found. We saw many black bears, caribou, eagles and a wide assortment of other game, but could only find the one grizzly that alluded us. There was more snow than usual for this time of year and maybe that was against us. Who knows? Jake is a religious man with a very personable wife and two very well-mannered boys. He does not allow smoking or drinking in his camp which worked out alright, although, a couple of nights I probably would have traded my rifle for a Manhattan if I could have. His meals are not fancy but they are tasty and filling. A hunt of this type is never fancy. His Alaskan stories are many for his years and are very interesting. His knowledge of his hunting areas is quite broad. He showed me an abandoned gold mine camp along Clear Creek and it was interesting to wonder how they got all the equipment to that site with no roads. An old back hoe and pickup truck could be seen far off through the trees and I doubt that they were driven there being we flew 35 miles to get here.
I have now moved to my afternoon lookout spot closer to camp. I can see the meadow where we spotted the grizzly yesterday and I can't give up hope just yet. The temp is 70 degrees without a cloud in the sky. I stay at this spot all afternoon soaking up the warmth of the sun. Finally at 8:45 PM I call it quits and my grizzly hunt is over. We saw seven black bears again today for a total of 50 bears seen this week. There was always some sort of game to hold your interest while you were glassing. Unfortunately, only one grizzly was seen and none killed. The percentage of kills for interior mountain grizzlies is quite low and now I know why. If you are fortunate enough to bag this type of bear, you will have gotten one of the most cherished prizes in Alaskan hunting. This time the grizzly beat me, but maybe the game is not over yet. Who knows?
The Super Cub will be picking us up in the morning and we'll be heading back to Talkeetna and then on to Wasilla where Jake lives. We'll then sort out our gear and Jake will bring me to Anchorage. It will be 10 days since I had the use of any shower facilities and I'm really looking forward to it. I'll be flying out of Anchorage on June 1 at 7:30 AM and Beth will pick me up in Albany at 12:15 AM on Thursday! I would never have made it to Alaska without the understanding wife that I have and I'm really looking forward to seeing her and our new granddaughter, Chloe. I'll have to save my pennies for a return trip to Alaska as killing a grizzly is still on my "bucket list".
Monday (Memorial Day) 5/30/11:
I slept in today. Got up at 6 AM to another beautiful Alaskan morning. Broke down the tents and packed up our gear. Stood around and talked for about 1-1/2 hours while we waited for our ride out. Billy and his Super Cub showed up at 9 AM. After an uneventful landing I loaded my gear into the plane and away we went. The flight was amazingly smooth and very scenic. Once we were below the tree line there was no more snow and the foliage is very thick. Jake will come out next and then we'll be headed for Wasilla.
It's been a great stay in Alaska, but it will be great to get home and see Beth and our new granddaughter, Chloe Ruth Smith. She will pick me up in Albany and we will head directly to Massachusetts to visit before returning to Tupper Lake. Once again I've been lucky enough to get to a place that I spent my younger years dreaming about. Theodore Roosevelt once said, "The memories of the things you wanted to do but did not will stay in your mind far longer than the things you actually did". I have always tried to follow my dreams and thankfully I have lived out many of them. I will now start my plans for a return visit to Alaska to get my grizzly (while my wife starts divorce procedures).