Each hunting season here in Alaska offers another chance to learn more about dealing with the elements here and also with the many different types of wildlife found here. Often times the bugs here are the worst thing you have to deal with, and without bug spray and a bug net, almost unbearable at times. While at other times it might be the wind or rain or even the warm weather causing your meat to spoil before you can get it out. Trying to find the perfect clothing to allow you to stay somewhat dry and yet not too hot or cold is a real challenge. Besides making you uncomfortable and at times miserable, the rain can also make the footing slippery and very treacherous.
This fall I was involved in bear hunting a lot and was able to see three people shoot their first bear ever. Hunting bears has always interested me no matter where I lived. It is also something that I think we all need to dedicate a little time to in certain areas to prevent these predators from thinning out our other big game animals. In some areas like the Skilak Loop area, I’m told that bears eat nearly 50% of our moose calves. I think perhaps in the McGrath area those numbers are even worse.
Black bear hunting can be done in a variety of ways, from glassing beaches, hillsides, and mountains, to hunting along salmon filled streams. You may also use bait in certain areas at certain times of the year, but be sure to check your regulations for rules involving this type of hunting. One of my favorite methods is simply find a mountainside in the fall where there are berries and stalk the bear while he is feeding.
This fall I hunted in the Brown Mountain area for mountain goat and found the goat hunting not very productive at all. The goats proved to be plenty scarce combined with a bad storm and a whole lot of rainwe did not do very well this year stalking the goats. We did however find an abundance of black bear in the area; in fact at one point I could see 5 adult black bear all at one time!
I spotted a bear moving along the mountainside just before dark and watched it move through a brushy area and stop on the outside edge to nibble on a blueberry bush. After watching and waiting for the perfect shot for about 20 minutes Jim Von Haden dropped the bear with one shot. It was at that point that the excitement of the successful hunt actually hit him and cool and calm hunter shook like a leaf.
Jim spotted another bear high in the mountains a few days later as we were working our way towards the top of the mountains to hopefully check out the goat situation. This bear was also feeding on berries but about 1000 yards away. The wind was in our favor so we began stalking him as he slowly meandered towards us feeding and digging up roots, as he got closer to us. We ran when he moved behind rocks and finally we found ourselves 150 yards from the bear and another tasty berry eating black bear was ours.
Anytime you’re working on the west side of Cook Inlet you should be aware of the great abundance of bears in that area. Both brown bear and black bear populations are very high in that area. I watched Romey Newton shoot a very nice black bear that I’m sure weighed close to 350. I also watched another friend shoot one that weighed around 300 the two nicest black bears I saw taken this year. If you know ol’ Romey Newton let him tell you in his words what his excitement level was after shooting his trophy bear. Ever have a very happy hunter jumping up and down and trying to hug you after shooting their first bear ever? Some get excited right away while others don’t even flinch till after the bear is dead, and then look out!
Anytime you’re hunting with someone who gets their first Alaskan big game animal you can rest assured that they are going to be at an all time high excitement level. I know of several people who have never shot a bear here in Alaska despite living here most of their lives. Believe me this place is crawling with bears, often times many right in your neighborhood. Being a successful bear hunter simply requires putting in some time and doing some studying about their habits and tendencies.
Bear hunting can be a very rewarding hunt and often times is a whole lot easier to do than any of the other big game hunts available here in Alaska. If you choose to do the spring bear hunt over bait, again I remind you that you need to take the bear baiting class before putting out bait. Once your bait station is fully set up all you have to do is sit and wait and let Mr. Bear come to you. If you choose the right spot you won’t have to wait very long either.
My closing brings me to another bear hunting story, where after taking his client out and getting him all set up, the guide reaches into his duffel bag and pulls out a pair of running shoes. “What are those for?” the client asks. The guide replies, “Just in case you miss!” “Well,” puffed the client “you certainly don’t think you can outrun bear with those silly shoes, do you? “ “No,” replied the guide, “but I can outrun you!”
There is still plenty of time left this fall to bag a bear...be careful, and just in case you have a close confrontation with a bear this fall, tell him Big John sent you!
See you next week!
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