Heres one from this season. a recent thread regarding the lack of hunt write ups opted me to get some done from this past season. hard to find the time to compile journal pages and thoughts and do one right, but i certainly appreciate it when others do, so i figured i'd oblige as well....this was a particularly fun hunt, as combo's can be, and i greatly enjoyed being a part of it, as usual...
2010 Western Alaska Combo Hunt
“You got the drive for this son?”
I grinned, remembering the first words out of Ralph Miller’s old grizzled mug when he’d hired me as a packer some years ago. On just a couple cups of coffee the mornings outlook was still a tad muddled as I rummaged through the cook tote for a morning meal for my client and I. Midway through the season…and while only feeling slightly overworked, I was pretty sure I’d broken my tailbone on that last hunt. It was getting worse before better apparently…it crazy-hurt, that much I knew. “Well, Ralphie, I said I did then, and I guess I still do” I thought, eating a few Advil and “sucking it up” for an honest days work…the beginning of a twelve day combination brown bear/moose hunt with a southern gent from the state of Texas.
In great shape, Greg was a pleasure to hunt with and to guide. Never short in humor, always wanting to help, his type are far more prevalent in this industry than one would think, given the “horror” tales of aimless, idiot, “cheechako” clients by the barrels full. It’s just not that way…not in my experience. The majority of serious hunters I meet and/or guide are good people.
Three days into the hunt I rolled out of the tent into fog so thick you could cut it. It was beautiful… draped low in the valley like God’s breath, or something equally fascinating. Figuring the sun would burn it soon, Greg and I climbed the spot knob none the less, in order to be there when it did. Fifteen minutes later found us both lost in our personal thoughts, while glassing bits of country below us as the fog ghosted over it…showing sporadically in holes and patches of glassable country.
This is always entertaining, especially as you spot game and it dances in and out of focus in the mire. Precisely the case when I spotted a very long, very dark, very OBVIOUSLY BIG boar brown bear snake through a clear gap in the fog, ‘top of a big cut-bank across valley. As with most rivers in this country, there were very distinct, well used game trails paralleling the rivers route, on each bank. While this particular crick held only a trickle of fish (salmon), the bears checked it regularly. Not quite enough fish to concentrate them, and late enough into the fall for seasonal movements away from the bigger fish rivers, It was still an obvious food source and well traveled.
I got one more good look at big boy as he ambled up valley away from us…still in the fog. No doubt a great bear, I dearly hoped to see him in better circumstances. A good sign none the less. Greg and I had been seeing game, but nothing to hunt, and this was the first “shooter” boar we’d yet spotted.
The next few days produced little cept a few small moose, black bear, and a sow brownie with two kiddos. Hot days and an Indian summer right in the middle of moose season…thanks, whoever ordered that. While Greg’s primary species was brown bear, this was a combo hunt, and the boss fully expected combo results…with the country fully able to produce and support it. We just weren’t getting into them…either, nada on huntable brown bear or bull moose.
The morning of day eight of Greg’s hunt found him cooking a very Texan (and very good) version of breakfast burritos in the cook tent…this much to my jubilant glee, gotta especially love a client who ramrods the cooking chores now and again. We went over my plans for the days hunt and decided together that we might think of changing the view for a day. I figured on hunting up river a few miles and found a round a bout route, up high on interconnecting ridge tops, that would keep us and our scent out of the valley floors.
Lunchtime found us high on a knob a few miles from camp glassing the country upriver. Later, while chewing on jerky, we watched a sow feed across a low hill full of berries a few miles distant. Seeing little into the late afternoon I opted for a stroll around the hill we were on, want of a different view and sore backside called for a stretch of the legs. Greg and I side hilled around to the edge of our knob as it began to drop into the valley and took a perch to glass a bit. Greg no sooner brought his glasses up when he hissed “wolverine!”
“By that patch of green, up from the low bench with all them red blueberry bushes you showed me earlier”.
“All right…hold on. Got him…and that’s either the biggest wolverine in all of history or a nice brown bear.
“It IS a bear aint it”?
“Yep it’s a bear, and the type of bear your looking for, do me a favor and keep your glass on him until I get back with the packs…it’ll be just a minute, don’t lose him Greg, K?
I hustled over to the packs and hastily grabbed them both up, all-the-while picking a route in my head that would eat up some space between us and that bear, and put us where I figured his path of travel would take him in an hour or so.
Every once in a while a guy gets it TOO right…the stalk that is. The last third of this one ended in tight quarters and a touch closer than I expected. A guy can only make educated GUESS’s about bears and there intentions when traveling…the rest is obviously a play by ear endeavor, cause they just don’t always do what you think they’re gonna do. This boar veered off an obvious (to me anyway) travel route and cut across a particular patch of brush at exactly the time I was cutting through it to head him off at the point I thought we’d meet…there goes that thinking you know what they’re gonna do thing again. His initial route would have taken him directly to a small willow filled drainage ditch that meandered down to the big river…his obvious destination at some point in the evening. His new route took him right into the above mentioned patch of high blueberry brush that happened to occupy the Texan and I.
Having had a good look at him from the hill and twice since, I’d judged him and told Greg what I thought. I figured him to be a boar between eight and a half feet and nine…but leaning towards eight and a half. Exactly the size bear this part of our country produces in a slightly above average mature boar. I told Greg exactly what I thought. We had both agreed to take him given good opportunity.
We met him in a patch of high blueberry bush, cut up with medium sized, closely spaced tussocks…kinda crappy medium for close-in stalking, but you gotta hunt em where they are right?. Plenty loud walking through, with limited visibility, I was trying hard to get through the mess to better ground up ahead where I thought the bruin would end up. This being (of course) when the bear decided to join us. At first I saw only the tops of the brush move to our immediate right forty yards out. I noiselessly instructed Greg to chamber a round.
Stuck with no-where to go without blowing the bear, my only successful option was going to be waiting him out in our current position. He made us at about fifteen yrds and stood on his back legs. Greg wasn’t quite ready and as I covered the bear I repeatedly instructed Greg to shoot. I remember a flash of indecision in the boars face, and right before he hit the ground on all fours It looked as if every hair on his head flattened, along with his ears…I thought he’d come for sure…instead he bailed away from us, and came into full view on the edge of the clearing I was headed to from the start, and paused, looking back. Greg’s 338 Ultra Mag barked and I immediately followed up with a raking shot behind the last rib breaking the far shoulder and anchoring he bear. Due to the close proximity and nearby brush, backup was immediate with no hesitation…as soon as the bear reacted to the shot, I pulled the trigger. An insurance shot from Greg and a couple minutes later we were admiring Gregs trophy.
Giddy with the afterglow of adrenaline associated with this part of bear hunting, Greg and I were beside ourselves with the rewards of success, and after initial congrats and a quick pow wow with the Copenhagen can, we both took a minute to drown in the moment. After pictures and the customary knife chores, we each enjoyed a snickers bar, and started the couple miles back to camp engulfed in the gun metal black of a moonless September night…
There’s a bit of a hill just before camp in that little patch of western Alaska. As I waited for Greg near the top, I rested my burden for a moment and paid another visit to the Cope can. I sat back against the hill and watched below me as Greg’s headlight bounced along for a bit, then stopped… bounced along, then stopped. The rhythms of a hunt…the small things. Those I remember more and more as the years turn and the seasons fly by. The promise of home and shelter in the tents up ahead…the simple pleasure of a full nalgene bottle after a thirsty stalk…the rush of the chase, followed up with success, and washed down with nicotine, good company, and an overwhelming sense of a job well done…coffee beans hammered into grounds with the back of my ax before being boiled…maybe just the look in a Texans eye when he finally gets to heft the head of his very own Alaskan brown bear…the drone of that one super cub you know to be your ticket home, a new client and the promise of more work and adventure…the little things, the rhythms and nuances of a hunt. That’s what I suspect we’ll remember after all the rest fades away. Sure hope so anyway.
Greg’s bear squared just a tad over eight and a half foot, and had a nice even September coat, with silver guard hair tips and lots of light color around his hump. Greg stayed on the remainder of his hunt and we managed to round him up a set of moose antlers for the den after all. He was a very average bull in the mid fifties, and will provide unbeatable table fare for a couple different families this winter. The moose hunting continued to show difficult due to the weather and pm movements, and we felt grateful for an opportunity at a mature bull. All in all a wonderful hunt.
Next fall when the days start to get short, the leaves turn gold and copper, when the bull grunts start booming in the bottoms…there’s a particularly large bear I have a date with. I recently watched as he ghosted in and out of my life on a foggy September morning, sitting on a hill with a new friend from Texas…