Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Despite running late and getting to Homer almost 1 and a half- hours later then our pilot ,John Berryman of Beluga Float Plane Service, wanted us there, things looked good. We spotted several goats in the mountains while flying over which gave us renewed excitement before we even landed. My hunting partners were 17-year-old Damian Collum and my 12-year-old son Travis. This was perhaps the youngest crew I had ever left with on a mountain hunt and it seemed a little scary to think I am 23 years older than the combined age of my two hunting partners. With that thought in mind, I wonder if they make a 4 wheel drive all terrain wheel chair complete with a winch and brakes?

We arrived at our camp, which is on a bank just above a bay that leads directly to the ocean. The fact that our camp had a direct pathway to the ocean proved to be a very important resource to us as our hunt progressed. We carried our gear up the bank and set up our camp partially secluded in the trees. After setting up the tent we built another cooking and storage shelter that also would prove to be very important to us later. Our gear was stored under this tent to help protect it from the wind and rain.

We decided that we would concentrate on getting a bear or two before going up into the mountains to try and fill Damian’s goat tag. We also wanted to shoot another bear up there for eating, as those in the mountains are eating berries and not fish like those found around the bay. If you have ever tried to eat a fish bear I think you will understand why we prefer berry bears. I would compare eating a fish bear to something between carp and pig droppings!

Another reason we were hunting bears around the bay first rather than climb the mountain was the fact that Damian wasn’t feeling well and we thought maybe with a little rest he would feel better in a day or two. Part of the reason we were late was because he had a doctor’s appointment before we left. Sometimes it just seems to take longer at these appointments than we think, and this was one of those times.

We snuck into the bear hunting spot and spotted several bears busy feeding on fish. Damian made a really good shot at our first bear and then was able to make another great running shot at our second bear to finish it off before it was able to get into the thick brush. I was just preparing to shoot when the bear disappeared behind a tree and I lost track of him. I was so happy Damian got him stopped before he got much further as I hate tracking a wounded bear in brush and devil’s club taller than your head and thicker than you can see through.

We quickly began skinning out the bears and trying to beat the incoming tide. We still had to move the first bear about three times to keep it out of the tide. By the time we got to the second bear we had several other bears that apparently were not chased away by the gunshots and decided to join us. We had one bear within 25 feet of us and I even threw a rock at him to chase him away from us. Yes, it was a special 2000-grain high velocity rock powered by a 52-year-old arm! One rock and a few choice words and Mr. Bear was gone!

We finally finished skinning the bears out; it was about then that I began to realize just how sick Damian was. His color was very white and he just wasn’t the same energetic, strong young man I have grown accustomed to seeing around my home the last couple years. Travis knew also, as he volunteered to carry out one of the hides so I didn’t have to carry out both and Damian could just walk out and not have to worry about overexerting himself.

When we arrived back at our tent Damian went straight to bed, in fact his jacket and shoes were left in a pile in front of the tent. I noticed he was having a really difficult time just walking along behind us as we got closer to camp. His color was getting whiter by the minute and despite the fact that he just shot his first ever bear he was almost nonresponsive.

I warmed up some chicken broth for him and gave him 2 vitamins to help power him, as he wasn’t able to hardly eat anything the past couple of days. While Damian was sleeping I climbed up the highest peak in the area in hopes of being able to contact someone to come and get Damian to the hospital. Each time my cell phone said the same thing: No service available! I noticed the water was crashing over the small islands between the ocean and saw a nasty storm was brewing.

I returned to camp where I had left Travis to keep an eye on things and hopefully be of some help to Damian. Our weather turned bad and the wind picked up as it also started to rain. Rain poured down so hard I cut a ditch around our tent to drain the water away and hopefully keep it from running in the tent. Damian was still sleeping and quiet except for an occasional moan and I knew somehow, someway I had to get him to the hospital. I lay there in my sleeping bag that night wide awake and worried sick that Damian wasn’t going to make it until I could find a way to get him to the hospital. Our plane wasn’t even due for several more days.

I don’t know if you’re a person who believes in the power of prayer or not, but I do know there were three guys who did a whole lot of praying in the wilderness of Alaska that night. I was hoping that somehow we could figure out a way to get Damian to the hospital or that he would live until our scheduled pickup several days later.

Suddenly from out of the dark night a boat appeared and it was coming straight towards our camp! We quickly ran outside and flashed our light at them. The boat, Tempest, quickly responded and I explained our ordeal to them. I was told they could not leave that night because the ocean was too rough but would help us in the morning.

Somewhat relieved I fell asleep only to be woken up by something rattling our camp dishes! Great, I thought, now I have to deal with a bear in my camp! I quietly slipped my 44-mag pistol from the holster and grabbed my flashlight. I unzipped the tent and stepped out into the night. I shined the light over the tent into our cook shelter and spotted a camo dressed figure not the coal black bear I was expecting. It was Damian, still too sick to sleep, but looking for a candy bar in the dark!

The next morning the crew of the Tempest paddled their rubber raft to shore using a paddle and plastic shovel. We put Damian in the raft and they paddled back to the boat. The anchor was pulled and the boat sped off towards the ocean waving as they left.

Travis and I spent the next two days there sitting in the rain hoping and praying that they got Damian to the hospital in time. I thought what a miracle it had been that the boat even showed up there, but also realized that I had sent Damian off with complete strangers. I also knew that it was the only option I had at that point.

Despite some fog and a lot of rain John Berryman showed up as scheduled and told us the good news. The Tempest was finally able to reach the Coast Guard by radio after a couple hours and they had dispatched a helicopter that lowered a basket and line down to the boat and hauled Damian to the hospital in Homer. Damian underwent surgery to remove an abscess from his abdomen that was causing all the problems and created a very serious life-threatening situation for him.

A very special thank you to the members of the Tempest and also pilot John Berryman for all his efforts in making this hunt possible. I also would like to thank my 12-year-old son Travis who performed like a champion in some very difficult situations. And most of all Thank God for sending that boat!

See you next week!

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