Sure, Daryl Mannausau said, his trip into the Kenai Mountains on a caribou hunt in August was probably the hunt of a lifetime but not, he added, for the obvious reasons.
Yeah, that bull caribou he took on Aug. 27 in a drawing permit hunt certainly was on the large side another member of the hunting party, Jesse Tubbs, said it must one of the biggest to come out of the area south of Hope in years.
And sure, packing into the area on mules, then trekking up and down mountains for a few days glassing for caribou was an adventure in and of itself.
But the really interesting part of the hunt, according to Mannausau better known as Manny from Manny's Driving School was something he didn't even get to see.
"Two of us got to watch Daryl and Tim (Campbell) stalk this caribou," said Tubbs, explaining that he and Doug Jacobs, a friend visiting from Outside, found a nice perch to watch while Mannausau and Campbell, another visitor tagging along for the week-long adventure, worked their way across muskegs and stands of alders to get close enough for a good shot.
"While we were watching, we noticed a black bear, about 75 yards to the right (of the caribou), come out of the brush and stand up. He walked 20 feet, stood up again, and then he started running toward the caribou."
And, according to Mannausau, that's what made this particular hunt so interesting.
Mannausau and Campbell couldn't see the bear from their vantage point, and Tubbs and Jacobs were certain caribou would be spooked.
But just the opposite turned out to be the case. Instead of turning tail, the caribou held its ground, lowered its antlers and ran the bear off not once, not twice, but four times.
"The bear would move off 30 or 40 yards, and then come back," Tubbs said. "This happened four times, then the black bear went up and started feeding on berries. It gave up on the caribou.
"We looked down, and there were our guys, within 25 or 30 feet. They stood up and dropped it."
Mannausau said he only got to see the bear charge once, but was worried that all the hard work of stalking this particular caribou climbing hills to glass for animals, then traversing some rugged terrain would be for naught.
"I thought, 'Oh no, he's going to scare it,'" Mannausau said. "(After the bear moved off and) the caribou was still there, we figured the caribou was going to be keeping an eye on the black bear, which he kind of was. We got up close and got him, but it was a tough hunt."
Of course, the hard work was just starting. By the time Mannausau dropped the caribou, it was 9:30 in the evening and starting to get dark.
Mannausau said they gutted the caribou and moved the gut pile downhill from the carcass before heading back to camp, where they arrived around midnight.
The next morning, they saddled up their mules, and it took nearly six hours to reach the kill sight.
"There were so many bogs, we had to go up on side of the hill and come down the other," Tubbs said, explaining that mules, sure-footed as they are, don't like walking over the soft stuff.
And that's when things got really interesting. During the course of the hunt, the party had taken note of a black bear sow with cubs in the area. As the party approached the caribou, it became clear that the sow had laid claim to the gut pile during the night, and she wasn't happy to see the hunters return to dress out their kill.
Tubbs was leading as the group approached the caribou carcass when the sow black bear charged.
"I pulled my pistol out and hollered at the bear," Tubbs said. "She was growling and hissing. As soon as she disappeared, I handed the mules off and told everybody to stay back.
"She came running (again), this time to about 20 feet away."
Tubbs said he spotted one cub and assumed it was the sow with two cubs the group had spotted earlier. Tubbs said he picked up a large stick and continued to try and scare the bear off, but the sow was determined to do just the same to the hunting party.
Tubbs said the bear eventually dropped to all fours, at which point he fired a warning shot over the bear's head at close enough range that the sow would have felt the muzzle blast. That did the trick, though a member of the party did stand guard while the rest of the grouped dressed out the caribou and loaded the mules.
"Just all the stuff that happened it was spectacular," Mannausau said. "You don't see a bear charge a caribou, and it was fun to be on the mules. They're pretty sure-footed. They don't like soft ground and water, they went places you wouldn't believe."
"It was great," Tubbs said. "I've been up there a whole bunch of times. It was nice for me not a real difficult trip, and I got to see lots of new country I hadn't seen before. Daryl and Doug hadn't been around horses or mules, and Tim has a horse, but he's never been in the high country before. They were all ready to go again once we finished."
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