Boat trip yields beauty of a bear

Posted: Friday, July 09, 2004

Although many young college students dread their summer jobs, Traye Turner can't wait to get back to his.

"I love my summer job," said Turner. "I can't see doing anything else."

During the school year, the 22-year old is a student at Kenai Peninsula College where he is actively pursuing his bachelor's degree.

However, Turner is also an avid outdoor enthusiast that grew up hunting whitetail deer down in Alabama, and has continued hunting blacktails since moving to Alaska many years ago.

Turner hoped to find summer employment that would allow him the opportunity to pursue his interests, and he found just that when he signed on as a deckhand with Ninilchik Charters last year. Owned and operated by Mike Flores, the charter service offers unguided spring and summer black bear hunting trips by boat through Prince William Sound.

"I like it because I like being outside, and around people that enjoy hunting and fishing," said Turner.

That in itself may be enough to bring young college guys back the next year, but there's also a few more perks to Turner's summer employment.

"Last year I got to hunt," he said.

Turner explained it happened after the four hunters the charter service had taken out all bagged bruins within the first day of a week-long trip.

"Once they got their bears they just wanted to stay on the boat and relax, so I asked if I could try for one," said Turner, and Capt. Mike agreed.

So while the four successful hunters stayed on the 47-foot Delta Marine dubbed the "Arctic Endeavor" and fished for halibut, lingcod and rockfish, Turner took a Zodiac-style inflatable raft from the big boat to shore. He was a man on a mission.

Black bears are highly prized by hunters at any time of year, but early season bruins are especially sought after. Polished by months of hibernation, their coats are long, thick and unrubbed. They have have a sheen and luster that is not only magnificent, but instantly apparent to the trained eye of a hunter.

Although Turner was after his first bruin ever, he knew his quarry well.

"I went up into a few coves and glassed the shorelines, open muskegs, and avalanche paths in the hills," he said. "There's snow up high so the bears come down to the beaches to feed because they're the first to melt. They feed on beach rye grass and sedges in the early morning and late evening."

Spotting the bears by boat also had the advantage of leaving a minimum of human scent in the area, and allowed Turner to cover a lot more terrain than if he were on foot.

"I'd stop the boat and glass around for 10 minutes, then move down the shoreline," he said. Turner continued cruising like this for quite awhile, until finally, in the back of a cove he spotted the telltale ebony outline of a foraging black bear and it looked like a big one.

His pulse began to quicken now that he had located his target, but he carefully drove the tiny boat toward the shoreline.

"I beached it about 400 to 500 yards away from where I saw him," said Turner.

The stalk was on.

This is the part of the hunt where even a seasoned professional can feel their heart beating in their chest like a bass drum.

With bears it's difficult to predict exactly what kind of shot you'll draw because their senses are so keen the hunter can quickly become the hunted if they're not careful.

In addition to the possibility of a hunter stepping from dense cover to discover a bear staring at him with it's head down and jaws popping, bears are extremely powerful animals with tough hides and whose vital organs are well shielded by heavy bones and rippling cords of muscle.

Even a hunter who is fast and accurate enough to draw and connect a shot at close range may not be able to stop a charging bruin. However, that's bear hunting.

Turner knew what he was getting into and moved cautiously as he approached the area where he had spotted the bear from the boat.

"I saw the bear, but before I could take a shot he moved over a rock ledge," he said. By the time Turner had stalked up to the spot he last saw the bear, it was gone.

Had the bruin moved off to find a spot to rest for the day, or had it become aware of Turner's presence and was lying in wait in the thick brush that lines the shoreline? Turner wasn't sure, but he continued to search the area relentlessly.

"I was just about to give up and head back to the boat, when I spotted the bear further down," he said.

Turner was swift and deliberate as he moved toward the bear. He stalked up to about where he felt close enough to make a shot with power and placement. "I was about 170 yards away," he said.

Kneeling, he used a rock in front of him to brace for his shot, then lowered the sights of his custom made 30.06. Slowly squeezing the trigger, he let a 180-grain round fly from the rifle and the shot connected.

"The bear went down with one shot," said Turner, and what a bear it was.

"It was a big, 6 1/2 -foot tall male that weighed about 300-pounds," said Turner. His bear was even bigger than any of the bears the four hunters had bagged, but being modest Turner added "They were all close though and everyone's bears had great hides."

Turner harvested the bear's hide, skull and all the meat. The skull is still being processed and he got the hide tanned and it currently is draped over his couch.

As to the meat Turner said, "Bears get a bad rap for not having good meat, but I thought it was excellent. The burgers were the best."

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