Father and Son Bonding Brown Bear Hunt: 2012
I’d like to start a story of bonding with my father with a disparity between the two of us. I’ll go all the way back to the summer of 2008; when I took a summer job during college break in Skagway Alaska. I spent three months in the town and fell in love with the Alaskan lifestyle. I moved back to Pennsylvania to finish college, however; I was certain I belonged in Alaska.
Fast forward to 2010, and I was in the midst of graduating college. I had wide open gates to do whatever I wanted in the world. I could be who I wanted to be, and live where I wanted to live. I was lucky enough to land a job in Alaska and be reunited with the state I loved.
Moving 4,500 miles from home was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. My Dad and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye on the opportunity that was unfolding in front of me. He wanted to spend as much time as he could with me since I was gone four years of college, and I wanted to grasp a different part of the world. It was tough to move so far away from family, but quite the adventure to take. Against the will of my Dad, I made the move. He was right by my side, being the loving father he is, and helped me get my feet on the ground in Anchorage.
It was a hard concept for Dad to get; moving so far from home to such a different environment. Even being with me for the first ten days, he still didn’t get it. I knew it would take a hunting trip for him to come to an understanding with me. During the winter of 2011, we decided to hunt Alaskan Brown Bears in the spring of 2012.
Dad and I shared hundreds of emails back and forth. Some were just to plan the trip, but most were to pump each other up for what was ahead. Over the 6 months of planning, we called and emailed back and forth more than we had in my four years of college all together. When May 6th 2012 came, there was a whole new level of excitement.
We made the short flight to King Salmon. From there, Branch River Air took us to Shallow Bay; to hunt bears in the thickest alders. As we flew into camp, the weather was perfect; The sun was a ball of fire in the middle of the sky, it was a balmy 60 degrees, and the only sound to be heard was that of the ocean waves crashing onto the beaches. We were quickly able to get camp set up and a couple of good luck beers cracked in anticipation for the week ahead.
“The sun was a ball of fire in the middle of the sky, it was a balmy 60 degrees, and the only sound to be heard was that of the ocean waves crashing onto the beaches.”
In Alaska, you cannot hunt brown bears the same day you fly, so we were left with enjoying our 20 hours of sunlit days.
We woke the morning of the 7th, expecting the calm blue skies of the morning before. What we arose to was absolute misery. The wind blew hail nearly horizontally into our tent walls. You couldn’t hear each other talk because the noise from pelting ice was so thunderous. We laid in our sleeping bags; cracking jokes, eating junk food, laughing, pouting, and most importantly bonding. If I said we had fun, I would be lying to you. There wasn’t much fun at all being stuck in a tent all day. What I hadn’t realized at the time was the bond growing between my Father and I as we shared stories from past life experiences. Our relationship grew stronger than ever. Now I realize how alike the both of us are. My Dad and I are one in the same, an epiphany that was an outcome of the days spent in our tent.
On day two of the hunt, it was more of the same. We woke to drowning rain. It was the type of rain that soaks you from head to toe in seconds. With patience being tested in the tent, Dad exclaims “We have two options here. One is we go out in this storm and hunt. The other is we call the air taxi and go home. I am not spending one more day in this tent.” What we both knew was there was one option; lets hunt!!
I take everything I hear from successful hunters and utilize their strategy in advancing my hunting techniques. One thing that is repeated by every peninsula brown bear hunter is to be patient and glass. Glass, glass, glass. However, after 3 full days of glassing and only seeing one bear; it was time to try our way of hunting.
“One thing that is repeated by every Peninsula brown bear hunter is to be patient and glass”
We headed due west in search of more bears. This proved to be our most successful plan yet.
After hiking three miles, we found the highest point in the landscape. It was hard glassing due to the density of the alders. The vegetation is so thick that the only route around the land is to follow trails forged by bears past. Dad was able to spot a nice size boar. The only issue is he was another four miles west. As Dad was helping me see the bear, I happened to spot two other boars. Being their breeding season, these bears were in full battle over a nearby sow. Both bears were on their hind feet, jaws wide open, staring each other down as they tried to rip chunks of each other’s hides.
It was then, seeing triple the bears we had all week in less than five minutes that we decided we’d make the trek to track one of these bears down. We made our way down to the beach as it was the easiest way of transportation. The closer we got to our spotted bears, the more sign we found. We went from no bears tracks around, to hundreds of tracks scattered along the beach. Everywhere we looked, we found sign; Bear scat, prints, and hair.
As we drew closer to where we glassed the bears, a wolf leaped out in front of us. At full speed, the wolf disappeared as fast as we saw it. It was a thrill to witness the most elusive predator in Alaska a mere 50 yards away.
Around the next pinnacle, we crested the top and there was a bear browsing the beach for washed up food. After glassing the bear over, we decided to make a stalk. The wind blew rain between us and the bear, creating enough sound to cover our movements and blow our scent away from the boar. We made the stalk along the beach; using downed trees, willows, and any boulders to cover movement. As we drew closer, the bear became aware that something was happening. He never made out what we were, because I dropped to a knee and took a shot. After making a good shot, the bear was still capable of running. I had to shoot the bear four times before he finally perished. To witness an animal endure all that he did was quite remarkable. It truly gives you a whole new respect for how powerful these beasts are.
Take note of the rain coming down sideways between the camera and bear.
Dad and I spent a couple of hours skinning the bear out. We had a seven mile hike ahead of us back to camp. On the way back, a sow and two cubs ran within 35 yards of us, and a big boar took off about 100 yards ahead of us. He winded us as we returned back to camp, and we had no time to react as he was gone in an instant. We got back to camp well after dark and rejoiced in our recent success. We later found out that there was a guide about 15 miles up-river from us that was unable to get any of his clients on bears. It turned out to be a slow year all around.
The following day, we made our way back across the seven miles of tundra where we were the day before. The sun blazed in a cloudless sky for the first time since day one. We glassed all day, and only saw the one wolf from the day before. We watched the wolf for hours as he lay 600 yards from us. With a wolf tag in our pocket, we got lost in the enjoyment of watching him and never took a shot. Even though we didn’t see a single bear, it was one of the best days yet. We were able to dry out clothes, sleeping bags and most importantly our own bones.
Notice how red we are as we got burnt by the blistering sun
After another day of glassing we hadn’t spotted another bear. We made a decision to call Branch River Air and have them move us to Goat Bay. We would lose a day of hunting because of the same day hunt law, but we knew Goat Bay was a bit more protected by mountains than where we were.
Our first legal morning of hunting in Goat Bay came quickly, and we were rejuvenated. It was like the hunt started all over again. There were no more gusting winds. Everything seemed a little easier and calmer than the bays predecessor. We left camp and within the first 200 yards of hiking, we spotted a bear foraging. The entire hunt Dad insisted he wanted a steady rest, with the bear slowly moving broadside. I told him we’d try our best, but when an opportunity would arise, he would have to pull the trigger. Well, as luck would have it, Dad was set up on a perfect hump in the ground, with a bear moving broadside. I ranged the bear at 274 yards, and Dad made the perfect shot. The bear hunched up and dropped dead right in its tracks.
The excitement that this day had will live with us the rest of our lives.
It took us nine total days of hunting. We had our ups and our downs. Not seeing an animal can really wear on your ambition. But, we were able to harvest, together, two of Alaska’s most beautiful predators. Our bond as a father and son grew to an all time high. There is a certain truth to the saying “Families that hunt together, stay together.”
One of my favorite things my Dad has said since the hunt was; “Now I get it. Why you moved to Alaska.” This was a hunt that will live in our memories for the rest of our lives; the jokes, the laughs, the misery, and the fun that we had in one of the toughest environments to hunt.