My friend, Lee, drew the DC590 Western Talkeetna Mountains caribou tag and asked if I was interested in tagging along. I said sure, thinking I'd have a decent chance at a sheep/bear/moose. We flew in with Meekin's Air on Saturday, Aug 29th and after seeing nothing but parka squirrels for two days, asked to be moved. Mike Meekin juggled his schedule and was able to move us Monday evening which was nice because we really didn't lose anything time-wise.
We got into Spot #2 around 6:30 and had camp set back up and were boiling water water for coffee and Mountain House meals in no time. We glassed the valley until it got too dark and saw nothing but parka squirrels...but, this valley looked "gamey" and we were optimistic.
Tuesday the 2nd dawned partly cloudy with a steady down valley wind. After a quick breakfast of coffee and Cliff Bars/Snickers we headed up wind and uphill towards the pass at the head of the valley hoping to find Lee a nice bull. As we gained elevation the cloud deck thickened. After an hour I happened to glance back into the wide, river bottom flat just up-valley from our camp, and spotted two caribou feeding. Lee was 20 yards further up the hill and I hissed to him to try and get his attention. No dice. Then again several more times, each time a bit louder. Still no dice. Eventually he turned back and saw me pointing frantically at the two caribou.
He joined me and after a bit of commiseration, and after considering the animals seen thus far (zero) and the possibility of seeing others he decided one of these two small bulls would make fine sausage. I concurred. We worked our way back down the draw we'd come up, closed the gap to around 200 yards before running out of cover and got set up just as it began to rain. He waited for the bigger of the two to turn and shot. Unfortunately, the shot was a bit far back and the caribou ran off but stayed in sight and bedded down. Half an hour later Lee was able to stalk closer and finish the job. After he notched his tag and a few pictures we began to gut and butcher his caribou. It turned out to be a cow. It had me fooled--a light mane and a lot of antler for a cow.
Just as we finished removing the guts I noticed a bear on a high bench across the valley. As I watched him I recalled the advice of Jake Jefferson "A big bear has a long neck". This bear had a long neck, and swagger. Through the binos he looked black, but I thought that might be from being wet. His blond guard hairs created a sort of halo across his back. This bear was moving down valley and descending gradually as he went. He was also moving downwind, periodically stopping to scarf up berries.
I asked Lee if it would be ok to postpone the butchering of his caribou. He said yes, and off we went sticking to cover where we could. I fully expected the bear to see us paralleling him at some point and bolt but luck stayed with us as the stalk continued for another mile. I told Lee I wanted to be close, preferably right around 100 yards. Eventually the stalk took us onto a boulder strewn esker. The bear had descended low enough that he was now straight across from us. I had a nearly level shot.
I laid my rifle across a boulder and chambered a round. I tried to get a good stock weld and sight picture but couldn't--my heart was pounding. I tried forcing myself to calm down to no avail. Then the bear moved up and over a small knob, disappearing for a few seconds, but continuing to my right, still on his down valley course. I moved again, further down valley and another 40 yards closer. Tucked behind the absolute last rock large enough to hide a man, I set up once again to shoot. The bear had crossed over the knob and down onto a small grassy bench. I guesstimated the distance at about 150 yards--not what I wanted but well within my comfort zone.
I slipped the safety on my Model 70 forward as I took a deep breath. I was surprisingly calm as I let out most of that breath, holding the last bit as the cross-hairs settled on the center of his shoulder.
At the shot the bear went down but then was up and biting at the wound, spinning in place and tumbling downhill a bit. As was planned during the stalk, Lee shot also as I continued to shoot, again remembering Jake's advice to keep shooting until the bear was dead. My fourth shot hit him between the shoulders where the base of the neck meets the spine and he dropped. It was done. I let out a whoop as a flood of emotion washed over me. After the shot Lee ranged the distance at 163 yards.
We approached with caution, first going up to the knob where the bear had just been to get above him. Looking through binoculars it didn't appear he was breathing but I put a 5th round into him as insurance. He was dead for sure. It was raining lightly, but steadily. We took pictures and examined him a bit. Loaded with scars and pus filled wounds, and missing his right upper canine. An old bear. His eyes appeared to have cataracts which may explain why he never reacted to us in what seemed like plain sight. what was most surprising was his claws--super long for a fall bear. Well, longer than I would have expected.
I made a knife slit next to a bullet hole near his crotch and attached my tag. Click. First time ever doing that. I used to joke to my wife that a $25 bear tag is the cheapest bear repellant ever made. And now I have a huge taxidermy bill in my immediate future. Go figger...
Oh yeah, 165 grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw out of my lefty M-70 in 30.06 (the first shot passed completely through)