Outdoors: Bear Story

Posted: Tuesday, June 15, 2004

A few years ago I was approached by my son Travis and the next door neighbor boy Michael Thornton about skinning out a red squirrel.

I asked the two boys just what they planned on doing with this thing and Travis replied " Michael just wants to save the hide." You see this wasn't just an ordinary squirrel this was the first thing Michael had every hunted and shot. I did not have time to skin it right away so I instructed the two young hunters to put the squirrel in a zip lock and put it in my garage refrigerator. The following day these two boys were once again concerned about when I was going to skin the squirrel. I explained you can't just skin it, you must flesh it, salt it and then get it tanned to preserve it. It was quite obvious that these two boys were going to see to it that I got this squirrel skinned like I said I would. So I took the time to skin the squirrel out and Roger Ager at Northland Wildlife Studio in Soldotna had the hide tanned for Michael.

Travis and Michael have been friends since we moved in here next to the Thornton family on Tara Circle. Besides playing basketball here for countless hours and being on several fishing trips together they have been very close buddies for several years. On one fall day we were butchering turkeys here and Michael and Travis were working together picking a huge Tom turkey. When we were done Travis decided we should reward Michael for helping us so he suggested we give Michael a turkey for his family for his help. The dressed out turkey was too big for the two boys to haul to the Thornton home despite their home being right next door to us, so the two boys hauled the turkey over there in their wagon. I will never forget the look of pride on the faces of those two boys as they pulled the wagon out of the garage to deliver the big bird.

Now here it is several years later and Michael is a much bigger and taller young man then the one who asked me to skin out that squirrel. In fact today Michael is 13 years old and stands nearly 5'10 inches tall. This spring Michael and his father Dan borrowed a 30-06 rifle from me as they were planning on heading out of Whittier to do some bear hunting with Steve Richard. Michael took the rifle out and shot it several times and with a sparkle in his eye told me how he felt good about the gun and that he was very happy about the way it shot.

I have always been a firm believer in how feeling comfortable about the gun you're using generally relates to the safe and successful operation of it. I have always felt that there are more shots missed by not being used to your gun then for any other reason.

Michael, his father Dan Thornton and Steve Richard left Whittier with a 26-foot Alaska Sea Runner on Friday May 28th. The first night was cool, breezy and rainy but the next two days were bright warm sunny days with flat seas. Steve Richard went on a trip to this area nearly 15 years ago and the information he was able to remember from that trip made this trip a whole lot easier.

They spotted a black bear on Saturday, May 29th and after losing sight of it for a few minutes Dan went to the rear of the boat and luckily was able to spot it again. Steve and Michael went to shore and began stalking the bear. Crawling on their hands and knees they slowly crept towards the bear. Using the tall grass as cover they were able to get in close enough for a shot. The bear had his head down eating grass as they were in position for a shot however there wasn't anything for Michael to rest his gun on. Steve got on all fours and instructed Michael to rest the gun on his back and shoot the bear when it raised its head up. The bear lifted his head and Michael squeezed the trigger sending a 150-grain bullet into the chest of the bear. One shot, one bear and one very happy young man.

Steve returned to the boat to make sure it stayed anchored and Dan helped his son skin their first Alaskan trophy together. Despite never having skinned a bear together before Steve Richard said they did a great job. Dan said he found it a real adventure being there with his son skinning out the bear. The only knowledge they had about skinning a bear was from several videos they watched prior to going bear hunting.

Altogether they ended up seeing 11 bear on this trip, Dan Thornton missed his only shot he had at a bear and Michael was successful on the only shot he took. I asked both Dan and Steve if Michael was nervous or overly excited prior to and after shooting the bear? Steve replied " He was really cool and calm to the point he acted like he had ice water in his veins like the old gun fighters of the old west. Heck I was more nervous then he was!" Perhaps one of the reasons he did so well was he follows instructions really well, he shot immediately instead of waiting or he could have had a running target in a manner of seconds. Steve went on to say "He knew what he had to do and did it!" Steve was also impressed as to the amount of time Michael spent glassing (using binoculars) looking for bear. A very proud father, Dan went on to say "Michael has always followed instructions well, he is very quiet but he is a very smart kid."

While Michael waits for his bear hide to get back from the tannery he has plenty of pictures to share with you while you let this young hunter tell you his story in his words! Congratulations Michael!

See you next Week!

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