Afognak Elk Hunt Cut Short By Brown Bear -- Long story
I just wanted to relate to all of you what happened on my elk hunt last week on Afognak. I've been meaning to put it all down in a blog so I can easily post photos, but I'd figure I write down the skinny now so those of you going to Afognak can get something out of it.
Flew of out of Afognak, the afternoon of 1 Oct with Seahawk Air (class act all the way, highly recommend). There were three of us, I had drawn an elk tag and my buddies were going for blacktail. Our destintation was the southern end of Laura Lake, so we could easily access the logging roads. Rolan, the pilot, had dropped off hunters before in that area, and said camping spaces were few and far between but knew that one or two of the bites in southeast side of the lake would do. The extreme south end of the lake is right out -- its a swamp, so we ended up about 1/3 mile north on the southeast side in bite with a small stream. The area around Laura Lake has two hard and fast rules we discovered -- 1) if the area is flat and clear of any major vegetation -- it goes "squish". 2) if God can put devil's club in a spot, he did. Our camp site was about 15 yds laterally from the shore but about 20 feet above the water line, in a flat moss area we cleared out. After about 3 hours of work we had cleared the area, set up our tents/game and our UDAP portable bear electric fence (we had to dig a shallow trench around the campsite to ensure clearance for the wres, so the fence would short). Set out that early evening while it was still light, to figure out how to get to the logging roads. One answer follow the game trails.
Everything on that island uses the same trails, they are pretty well defined and elk tracks, deer tracks and bear tracks (very big) are laid right on top of each other and so is there scat. The sheer density of the vegetation and deadfalls necessitates this I suspect. Speaking of the sheer density of the vegetation, the spruce canopy is heavy enough that GPS and SAT phones don't work--you need to be a clearing.
Anyway ran out of light on Sunday so turned around before hitting the logging road and had a good night's sleep.
Monday, 2 Oct
Set out after sunrise, and found the logging road after much chagrin. We had wanted the most direct path (you are staring at the **** clearcut a half mile out) but deadfalls and debris from the logging make it impossible (and very dangeourous) to clamor over. This is where we learned that the game trails were about the only answer, and once we mapped which ones went where, we got around relatively easy. Logging roads are easy walk, but getting overgrown in places with alders which will really slow you down and up your pucker factor. Shot a deer that afternonn near the top of one of the clear cuts. Decided to drag him down the clear cut to logging road, rather than back up to a logging road. Dumb. If possible butcher it on the spot or if concerned about visibility (we were) go direct the nearest logging road. The clear cuts are not clear, they are full of logging debris and vegetation that's chest high. Brutal going, it took us an hour to drag that deer down to the road. Butchered up, bagged him and packed him back to camp and hung him about 11 feet in the air. Eat dinner, hit the sack, life is good.
Tues, 3 Oct
Spend day glassing and hiking mostly in the Seal Bay area clear cuts. Lots of elk sign but weeks old. Overall uneventful day. Notice that remains of deer carcass we left off the side of the logging road had been picked on by foxes (in the morning) but totally obliterated by the time we return in the evening. See very fresh bear sign on way back to camp. Build a big fire that night and make noise just to be sure.
Wed, 4 Oct
Get up and our prepping our packs to leave, I have to heed the call of nature, so I grab a roll of toilet paper, my wet wipes, rifle and head over the small saddle near our camp to find a good sitting log. I was less than 100 yds from camp and about 80 yds downwind from where we had the deer hanging. The saddle was formed by where two bites in the lake met, so our meat and camp were one side of saddle and we had agreed to do more formal nature calls on the other. Anyway, I surveyed the area twice, found a good log, dug a cat hole, laid out my paper and rifle on the log. I decided to sit with my back to the lake, which was 15 yds behind me so I could keep a lookout into the forest. Snapped a branch off to give me more leg room, dropped my pants and just as I was sitting down, I thought to myself I stink I really need a shower, and then heard what sounded like a stampede. I've hunted long enought to know which animals sound like what in the woods, and this did not sound like anything I'd heard before, so I instanty knew what it was. I grabbed my rifle and lunged forward. This according to everyone is what saved my life. The bear struck me on the flat of back over my lat on the right side, rather than my head which is generally what everyone agrees he was probably aiming for. Anyway, I sprawled forward and landed on my back and before I can do anything, all that see is the triangle outline of his head, and I watch as the white of his claws whiz by face. And then he backs off, runs about 10 feet, turns around and stairs at me. Meanwhile, I scream "Bear, Bear" (translation help, help), flip off my safety, point (not aim) and pull the trigger -- killing a trophy class spruce tree. Bear starts to run, but parallel to me back up the saddle, shoot again to ensure he stays going (and tagged another spruce, thank you very much, we won't dicuss the utility of a scoped rifle with cover on in this type of situation). Bear disappears over the saddle running towards our camp and runs right into one of my buddies who is running to my aid. Buddy unloads .44 mag at bear and kills some trophy class spruce trees. Bear runs off into woods. We say "Holy ****" alot. Buddies patch me up and tell me I need stitches. We call up Seahawk air, they can come get us that evening (I told them what happened and that I was not critical). Looked for bear for 3 hours, not blood no sign of a hit, but we wanted to be sure we had not left a wounded bear out there. Packed up camp and waited for Seahawk.
That night in Kodiak emergency room, got treatement for a 3 inch by 1/4 inch wide buy up to 1/4 inch deep gash in my back (longest claw, on his paw had caught me, that's how lucky that decision to blindy lunge out of the way was). No stitches because it had been 12 hours since the attack, and it would up the chances for infection, so I just get wider scar.
Caught the last flight out of Kodiak back to Anchorage, and then drove home. Spend next few days hugging wife and kids more than usual.
By all accounts (pilot, biologists, etc) we had done nothing wrong. Our meat and food were up in trees and out of camp. We had been clean. Best I can figure he had come in the middle of the night and bedded down behing a deadfall that was on top of the saddle near the meat pole. We I went walking past that area the next morning, he slipped in behind me and either viewed me as a threat or deer (I was just wearing my thermals and brown poly pro shirt at the time). When he realized I was neither, he broke off his attack. He was a big bear, his paw prints are as long a my boot (size 9) and his was able to rip but not get down our meat bags which were 11 feet of the ground. His back was noticeably higher than waisthigh (according to my buddies, I didn't get that perspective being on my ass). Were guessing close to a nine foot bear and about 800-1000 lbs.
One last note; we did not report the attack or shooting as a DLP -- Seahawk coordinated with fish and game at our request - since there was not conclusive evidence we had hit anything (other than spruce trees) not blood, visible change in animal (it didn't act like we had hit it), there was no duty to report. So we didn't. I can honestly say that bear probably spent his day in the bear coffee shop with his buddies having the "Pulp Fiction" miracle vs freak occurrance debate.
Final note: he was beautiful, colored like a milk chocolate bar, and moving with a power you have to witness to believe. Glad both us walked away unscarred from the experience.
Well, well, we are heading for the same spot next week. Can you contact me?
Glad you're ok, now that's its over, think of all the stories you can tell about the scar (or scars). You always have to be careful and even then, thins may happen. Again, glad you are ok.
That was one heck of a story to start a day at work with...2 or 3 people crowded around the computer trying to read at the same time. Glad your ok!
Happy for you
Glad you made it back relatively unscathed to tell your story. I spent a lot of time in the 80's over there. (camped two winters plus numerous trips over from Kodiak to deer hunt) Had many bear encounters of the close kind, but luckily, none that resulted in any physical injuries or bullets being fired. (a couple did require underwear changes)
Just a tip for everyone, not a chastisement.........20 feet is a better height to hang meat. a 10 ft. bear can reach a long way.
We are planning to take a kayak. Is it possible to hunt the lake out of a kayak?
Sorry to hear your hunt was busted early BUT thank God you guys are okay.
It's an amazing place and you have one amazing story - but most of all God's grace is amazing!
Hang in there... And like any cowboy, when the chance comes around - SADDLE UP!
I would't be worried about hunting out of a kayak. I'd be figureing out a way to use it to take a crap. :-)
Don't bother with a kayak unless you plan on fishing...which is not a bad idea... the trout were feeding heavy on the surface and were easily 2 feet + in length. They sounded like logs hitting the water when they jumped. Other than that, the trees grow right down to the waters edge, eliminating visibility into the spruce jungle, plus the lake shore is minimal. Typically, you have about six feet of shore and then the terrain rises rapidly (like 45 to 60 degrees) to an elevation of 15 to 20 feet above water level before flattening out and then gradually rising again to elevations ranging from 300 to 700 feet. I don't think you will catch much of any thing standing out in the open on the lake shore, there is plenty of drinking holes in the forest and the bears rule the low areas around the lake.
Personally, I wouldn't go back there unless it was later in the year, when the weather forces the deer and elk lower or if I was hunting bear. Bear sign was the predominate sign of all the four legged critters. Lots of deer and elk tracks, but droppings were old. I thing everything was still up high in the thick spruce on the ridges due to the warm weather and the bears. Laura Lake gets a late run of silver salmon, and we thought the bears might concentrate 3 miles north at the top of lake (where most of the cabins are) but not so much.
Tried bugling in the morning and late afternoons - no luck or response. I let out cow mews periodically but more for practice and to mask our movement; the elk have to be close enough to work and they weren't.
Blacktails we saw (and the one we shot) were tucked in on the more vertical than horizontal slopes (like 60 degree inclines) in the clear cuts and seem to prefer the short spruce groves that are growing back.
PM me if you want more specifics.
We plan on taking some fishing gear. This place sounds spooky and tough, but that is the way it is. I had some ideas about cruising the lake in a kayak, but that sounds like not so productive.
That is one awsome story! I am headed there later this year w/ a brown bear tag in hand. I was debating to land in Pauls Bay or Seal Bay. Wondered if you would be willing to share a bit of more information.
Dude close call! Glad to here your ok and I'll bet your glad you didnt have pants on! Less cleaning that way.
Heard about your encounter here at Tinker. You're the AWACer, right? Glad you made it out safely.