Ucohokie and Pmac's Afognak adventure. Long post - but good stories should be !
Eastern Afognak Island 4/21. I'd hunted the same location two years ago, and went back despite having been warned by the biologists that it was difficult place to hunt (regardless of the fact that there are definitely bears there - most people just never see them or get a chance at them). Weather broke the day we arrived in Kodiak, so flight out to the lake with Seahawk Air was like clockwork. Unpacked and set up our gear, then took a stroll to the ocean beach for a look around. Spotted a bear, way up high on south facing western ridge, after about 20 minutes of glassing. It was working a steep grass slope, intermixed with scree lines. Watched for an hour. Went back to camp and set up our rented zodiac and gave it test run on the lake. Went back to beach and spotted bear again, still on same grass slope - working the ground for bugs and such I suspect. Watch for three hours, then see bear den down on a knoll under a tree. Decide that is the bear if still there the next day - no idea how long weather will hold, but the series of lows moving in from the west had been bringing miserable weather, so I knew another one was a few days out at most. Go to bed early after some warm chow. Wind & sleet/rain mix during the night.
4/22. Awake to cold but clear morning. Out on beach by 7am, light snow cover on ridge. No sign of bear. Decide to wait it out - figured it didn't go anywhere last night, but bedded down up there to wait out the weather. Spot lots of deer on both beach and ridges - all look fat and healthy - good for them. Get repeated visits by local red foxes including this big, ugly red one I'd seen two years earlier. Wind picks up coming off the ocean. Move down the beach, and find wind break. Sun is warm and comfy. So comfy we alternate taking naps and glassing. Around 4pm, see bear in same grass/scree patch working about between 800 and 900 ft up the ridge. No time to lose.
The stalk. The grassy slope had two avenues of approaches - it was bounded on either side by ridge finders that extended all the way down to beach and were covered with grass and clumps of spruces. That's the up side. The down side was that it was 60-80 degree terrain, but it was workable. It was about a mile walk around the beach to base of the ridge finger and the angles obscured seeing the bear, but it couldn't see us either. Threw on the 10 point crampons, rifle scabbard and small pack with the "bear" essentials, and started up. First 300 ft were the slowest, as it was the steepest, like climbing a wall in spots. After that, eased to about 60 degree pitch, with flat spots to pause and assess. The ridge finger we selected was actually three thin ridge fingers,rather than one big wide one, about 15-25 feet in "height"/depth/whatever separated by thin scree lines. We had started on the tallest one. I transition to the middle one about 600 feet, (Pmac decides to continue on the initial ridge finger) and hid under a spruce tree to look at the wide grass/scree slope we'd seen the bear. No bear. Notice three things. 1) There are now deer feeding on the bottom of the grassy slope about 150 yds away, parallel to me. I suspect they don't see a bear either. 2) I can't see the upper half of grass slope because of this third ridge finger, it's only 15 feet high, but that's enough. 3) 5 feet to my left, the ground has been dug away from behind another spruce and its full of bear scat. Another bedding area. It's going to know I was here. So only one thing to do - go up. I stick to the ridge finger I'm on and go up to 900 feet - I can't go any further, it drops off about 15 feet into a little ravine. Still can't see the upper half of the grassy slope. Notice a good depression, in the third and final ridge finger, parallel to me. It's only 35 yds away, just across a scree line with a snow fed stream. From the depression, I should have a full view of the whole slope. I take about three steps...
...and see a claw slowly rise into the air from the depression. Holy S**t! It is bedded down right there, but that wind in my face is keeping me invisible. I step back to my previous position and get a shooting rest as I as possible without falling into the ravine. I can make out an ear, and that claw that keeps getting raised in the air. That's it. I pull out my bear call, and blow a soft squeal - the ear flicks. I blow again - a little louder - a slight raise of the head, and then down again. I let loose with four loud screams. Bear sits up, rolls on belly and faces me. See the full head, and left shoulder. Put a shot in between neck and shoulder. Bear rolls to back. Put two more into center of back to be sure. After third shot, bear rolls off ridge finger and into scree and somersaults end over end to beach below (very convenient actually). Time is 6:15pm.
I'd gotten ahead of Pmac (due to crampons), so after some miscommunication and losing sight of each other, we finally reunite on beach below at 8pm for pictures and to begin the long chore of getting bear home. Get back to camp about 1am.
Not a big bear, but it was trophy experience - hence the long post. Footnote: John, one of the ADFG biologists, said he'd only seen 3 bears in 13 years come out our particular location - so we took some pride in that fact.
Couple of thanks to some forum members:
Winmag - for turning me on to Seahawk air years ago. Rolan, Jo and company are a class act.
Grizzlyeyes - for helping me a select a good .375 two years back. Finally got to use it.
Brwnbr - for being willing to help people you've never met with bear advice, both on the forums and PM. It helped.
Pmac - gets the biggest thanks - for tagging along/and being a great sport. Anyone who has had the pleasure of having him come along on a hunt while he conducts his research is the better for it.