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This last fall I went up to hunt brown bear, he's my tale.

Brown Bears of Chichagof Island.

Ten days of adventure and 43 brown bears sighting later my 2008 bear hunt is over. The most enjoyable and will probably remain as the most memorable hunt of my life. I’m not really sure there was any one issue that made this the best hunt, I guess it was the well planned and executed adventure and, of course, my wife and other fine folks in company. I’m not easily impressed by hunting and I’m not new to guided hunts or hunting. I’ve hunted caribou in Quebec, black bear in Alberta, elk in Colorado, blacktail deer in California, and dozens of whitetail in half a dozen states, but this boat-based hunt was truly impressive.

Participants

My wife, Cheryl, came along as she often does. She’s been elk, deer, and boar hunting with me at various times. Dale Adam’s of Adams Alaskan Safaris was my outfitter and trusted guide, his wife Lori (cook) and son Levi (deck hand), as well as, Larry (Lori’s father as all-around good guy and videographer), Lucy (the deck dog) provided entertainment and some trash disposal services.

Preparations

Having zero experience with southeast Alaska and its weather, I did a bit of floundering with clothing and gear. Dale Adams’ brochure stated, in no uncertain terms, that cotton was forbidden, so I was on a quest for all non-cotton. I’d watched the weather patterns in the SE Alaska area and saw that 40-50 degrees was about the normal situation in late September/early October so cold weather gear would not be needed. I eventually ended up, after several forays into the internet, with some fine wet weather clothing and gear. The weather was expected to range from sun to heavy rain with mostly drizzle and light rain (expected daily). I bought a set of Simms Rivershed stocking-foot chest waders, and some size 12 Field & Stream Bighorn black felt sole wading shoes (my normal shoe size is 9 wide). For a raincoat, Helly Hansen (H-H) Impertech in olive drab was the choice. I had a fair bit of fleece available from previous hunts, Patagonia base (thin) and middle layer (middle weight) stuff and some Columbia outer layer fleece (thickest layer) jackets, a couple of pairs of wool and Smartwool socks filled the voids.

Rifle and Ammo

There are a lot of opinions on what is a good to ideal brown bear rifle, about the same as with any species I’d guess. Discussion upon discussion with various folks, and searches on the internet revealed tons of information. I am not a recoil sensitive fella and have shot sporting type rifles chambered from the tiny 22 Hornet to the mighty 50 BMG. There seemed to be two major themes, handiness, and reliability with stopping power in the reliability realm. For my spare (backup) rifle, I opted for an early Marlin 45-70 lever gun that had a +P load worked up for it, a load of about the same power as the newer 450 Marlin. My main rifle was a custom Remington 700 chambered in 458 Winchester magnum with a light Shilen barrel of 22 inches and a Leupold 1.5 x 5 VX-III. It weighed in at 8lbs 4ozs and bears the name Ol’ Hematoma. The 458 had a load that would push the 500 grain Hornady Interlock at 2025 fps. This load seemed good for fast recovery on a second shot and still had plenty of penetration.

Dale carries a Winchester rifle chambered in 458 Win magnum, three rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber when we were on station. Dale also carries a Titanium S&W revolver chambered in 44 Remington magnum in a shoulder holster.

Boat Clothes

For daily on-boat wear I dressed in standard blue jeans, flannel shirt and Lacrosse ankle high boots. If I needed to be on the open deck, I’d get in the H-H rain jacket and for the water sports, like shrimping or crabbing, I pulled on my waders.


The Daily Hunt Gear

The basic daily hunting gear was simple: base layer top and bottom, thick socks, mid-layer top and bottom, outer layer top. Then I’d pulled on my chest waders and H-H Impertech rain jacket out on the stern of the boat. I wore a standard ball cap all the time I hunted (olive drab sort of affair given to me by Dale) and carried a few pieces of cloth in various pockets to use in keeping the scope lenses clear. My spare cartridges, license, and small items were wedged into the little chest pocket of the waders, some cloth wrapped around the cartridges so they’d ‘clink’ less. I had a small daypack for a flashlight, a headlamp (LED and Halogen by Black Diamond), radio, gloves, lighter, knife, little camera, etc. I opted to use a daypack of Dale’s rather than the one I brought as my carry-on luggage; his was smaller and more water-resistant. Zip lock bags were a given for anything in the day pack that was not submersible. The rifles were not loaded until we were in an area of bears, magazine was loaded first and once we were in final position or going into the sneak mode, a round would be chambered. Dale was very particular about when I could load my rifle with a chambered round.

Daily Routine

We’d sleep until about 7:30 AM, then a short morning cleanup, shave etc. Breakfast was at about 8:00 AM or sometime later depending on the special events such as boat movement to an anchorage, early day hunt or some such event. Cheryl would spend a fair bit of the day reading and sneak away for a nap just before noon unless we went on a beach exploring trip. Lunch came about 1:30 to 2:00 PM and was generally the largest meal of the day, something to work off on the hunt that generally began unfolding at about 3:00 PM. We’d gear up and Dale would ask the same three questions each day before the skiff would leave the boat: Got your licenses? Got your gun? Got your bullets? We’d hunt until the world of shadows was in charge and I could no longer clearly see to shoot. Then we’d head back to the skiff and motor back to the boat, generally about 7:00 PM. Once back onboard we’d head to the engine room to hang our wet gear so it’d be dry for the next hunt. Waders were hung inside out to dry the condensation, while wading shoes stayed on deck in racks. The rifles were stored in a rack inside near the door to the aft deck. I’d go to my stateroom and change back into my boat clothing and hang the fleece to dry. Supper would appear on the table about 8:00 PM and we’d hang around and tell stories or on occasion we’d watch a video of previous hunts (the Shishmaref musk ox hunt was a good one as I recall). Bedtime seemed to be about 10:00 for many with Larry (Dale’s father-in-law) staying up late to read.

The Airlines and TSA

We flew Northwest Airlines to Seattle, and Alaska Air to Sitka, with stops in Minneapolis on NWA and Ketchikan in AK. Cheryl and I each had one carry-on bag, along with one checked bag apiece. I checked the two rifles and 80 rounds of ammunition in the double rifle wheeled StarLight case, while she checked the duffle bag full of waders, boots, fleece, and such. We each carried a back-pack for checked baggage, it contained all of my electronics, binoculars, compass, boat clothes (jeans and a shirt), underwear, and socks. There was no grief from the airlines or TSA on the guns or ammo, straight forward follow the rules and it worked fine. We arrived in Sitka about 6:30PM and were met by Dale Adams, Skip, and Larry. Dale drove us to the Sitka Motel for check-in and a meal. The Sitka Motel was nice with friendly folks. We stayed on the new side with a private bathroom.

Dale stated he’d be back at 7:00 A.M. to pick us up for the drive to the boat. He also took our checked baggage straight to the boat so we didn’t need to carry it around.


The Boat



The boat, Surveyor, was a pleasant surprise to see. It was white with a hard covered rear deck area. Surveyor is about 65ft long and of good width. There are three staterooms, one on the main deck (Captain’s quarters), two forward at the bow a half-deck down and a crews quarters on the lower deck amidships.
The guests staterooms are two bunk versions with a skylight hatch for light and air (when opened). Each is equipped with a doored closet large enough for plenty of clothes and several coat hooks on the walls in the room. There was also a mirror. The bunks were comfortable and spacious. Cheryl and I shared the lower bunk, a little close, but not uncomfortable, leaving the upper bunk for gear and bags (linen was provided).
The pilot house was spacious and we were allowed to visit freely to pester the Capt and whoever else was up there. It had the Capt’s chair, of course, two stools and a couch/bunk for sitting or sleeping. Lots of electronics: radios, radar, computer for chart display and GPS position, about 50 gazillion switches for pumps, fans, engines, fuel and entertainment.
There was also a journal, with pictures, about Ben Forbes. It was an interesting view of early Alaska and brown bear hunting. Dale had plenty of stories of “Old Ben” as he called him. It was obvious Dale had great respect and affection for Old Ben.
The galley was nice, microwave and conventional oven, cook stove, coffee pot, refrigerator, double sink, and a nice window view. There were a lot of good meals prepared in that galley. The main seating area contained a table large enough to easily seat six folks without bumping elbows. There was a small Sig Marine stove for heat. Just at the door to go onto the aft main deck, there was a rifle/gun rack, four or five hole affair that held the rifles secure even in the rigors of open ocean. Below decks forward, was the engine room, main engine, and two diesel generators (an 8k and 12k as I recall). Aft on the lower deck in the hold was where the extra dry foods, freezer, and large bags (rifle cases) were stored.
There was a nice head with sink for a morning shave and tooth cleaning (fart fan and port hole too). There was also a proper shower (towel and wash cloth provided) with a sink and mirrored porthole.
There’s room for two skiffs onboard, they nest over the hard aluminum shell that covers the rear deck. They’re launched with the power crane/davit thing that the Capt operates. The skiffs were powered by 25hp Yamaha outboards and appear to comfortably seat 4 folks normally but could hold about 85 worried folks if it were the only vessel available in heavy seas. As I recall, there were many fuel tanks combining a total of about 4,500 gallons of fuel and about 3,000 gallons of fresh water.
 
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Day 1

Day 1

Dale met us bright and early at the motel and we headed for the boat. The Surveyor was docked at the head of the pier and we clumped straight from the truck to the boat, about 30 feet. We cast off lines at about 10:00AM and headed north toward Chichagof Island at 8kts. It was clear and calm, somewhat overcast day but devoid of rain. During the 6 or so hour transit to our first hunt, we managed to spot some humpback whales. One of which was bubble netting herring close to the boat. There was also a small raft of sea otters, a blacktail deer swimming south to north across the narrows headed toward a cove. Other critters about were eagles and the ubiquitous seagull and, of course, we sighted a flock of flamingos perched in a tree (a local prank attraction) on either Olga or Neva Straits.
We anchored and launched the skiffs just before lunch, about 3:00PM I’d guess. We had pasta with carrots, corn-on-the-cob and various drinks: soda, coffee, milk, juice and water (salt or fresh) for lunch.
Just after lunch, as would become the normal routine, we dressed up for the evening hunt. Fleece, waders and raincoat, rifle, license, cartridges, binoculars and I’m ready for my first brown bear hunt evening. I carried the Marlin 45-70 with the lighted reticle 30mm Leupold 1.5x5, I thought I’d like to give the lighted reticle a try. Dale had his standard well worn Winchester model 70 chambered in 458 Winchester with the low power Leupold. We piled into the skiff and motored toward the shore, where we exited the boat and shoved it back out to anchor it below the low tide mark.
I had not previously seen this method of anchoring so I’ll describe it for others that have not anchored where there is significant tide. The anchor is secured to the skiff by a standard anchor rope, about 20 foot length, and a long floating yellow poly rope secured to the anchor. This secondary rope is the one retained by the boatman on shore when the boat is pushed back out into the open water. The boatman exits the boat on shore, places the anchor on the gunwale so it can be easily pulled overboard once the boat is far enough out to anchor in deep water. He lets go enough line from the yellow poly rope to allow slack and pushes the boat out paying out line as the boat floats away. Once the boat is in deep water, the boatman gives the yellow poly line a short haul and dumps the anchor off its perch on the gunwale. He then secures the shore end of the yellow poly line to a rock or tree above the high tide mark. Upon return he takes the shore line and rapidly pulls the boat to shore with the yellow poly line. This rapid pulling ensures the anchor stays clear of the bottom, so as not to snag in the rocks on the bottom. Now back to the evening hunt.
We’re on a large tidal flat at low tide. This flat has a salmon stream meandering lazily through it. I asked Dale about my position near or behind him as we head inland. He stated I should remain close behind and near enough that he can take one step to the rear and side and be along side me so that we can talk and I can immediately shoot. This will be our traveling formation for the majority of the hunts. Dale informs me that we can walk across the tidal flat nearly anywhere, so long as we’re below the high tide mark. The tide will erase our scent in the tidal zone, but once we’re near the high tide mark we must remain in the stream to ensure we leave no scent on the ground. Dale tells me to load rounds into the magazine of the rifle, no round in the chamber just yet. After about a 300 yard walk, we’re at the high tide line and already in the stream. It is a narrow stream of about 12 to 15 yards. The water is fast moving in places, but not too deep as a rule. There are many mid-thigh and some waist deep pools with slower moving water. We tend to stay near the edge in ankle deep water, if possible. About 500 yards upstream, we rounded a bend to a view of another short stretch of stream. This is where the tidal flat ends and evergreens and alders begin to grow. At this point we each immediately spot a bear moving in a log jam. Dale stops and we view a sow and cub fishing in a shallow pool formed downstream of the logs. This is my first in-the-wild brown bear sighting. It was not overwhelming for me. They were still better than 100 yards away, but we had spotted them before they spotted us. I was pretty pleased with seeing them act natural. (I did manage to combine sow and cub once to form the “COW” response when whispering to Dale.) After a short 15 or 30 seconds we’re on the move again, slowly advancing on the sow and cub. It wasn’t long before the sow spotted us, took her cub, and headed into the timber. We pass the log jam with its pool of salmon and rounded another bend in the stream. This section of stream parallels the tree line with some small alders on the beach side and evergreens on the opposite. We can clearly see the next bend in the stream, a bend where the stream disappears into the big pine timber. Dale and I cover about half the distance to the far bend and hunker down just behind a large deadfall (there had been a tree stand nailed in this log, as evidenced by the remaining piece of 2by lumber). Our packs come off and we’re now in the place where we’ll observe bears in the stream until dark. We each load a cartridge into the chamber of our rifles. It is about 50 yards to the far right hand bend beyond which we can’t see. There is also a small blind spot just on the left of the stream at the bend. After a few glances back downstream, to assure myself the sow was not a blood thirsty killer stealthily sneaking up on us, I finally settled down and enjoyed the evening and scenery.
Dale told a few stories of the man that used the tree stand in the now down tree we were leaning against. He managed to get in a few more tales and answered about 3,000 questions as I asked them: Will that sow come back? Are you sure she’s not just around the corner with her blood thirsty friends? Will the cub grow up to be a man-eater like the sow? Did you hear something? Are there mosquitoes in Alaska? Is it true salmon will attack me and gouge my eyes out if I slip and fall in the stream? How do I pee while wearing these chest waders? Did you hear that? How fast can a bear run? How fast can you run? Why are you shaking your head and laughing? Are you sure that sow… A loud splash ahead of us surprises me to full alertness. As if by magic, a brown bear is now in the middle of the stream at the bend holding a fish in its mouth. My eyelids were stretched as far open as they’ve ever been, even further than, as a kid, when I found my first Playboy magazine. The solitary bear slowly walks to the left at the bend and climbs up into the blind spot, presumable where it was previously perched. Now the chat and questions are over and we’re hunting bears, stealthy bears in my opinion (I’m now a seasoned, 30 minutes experienced brown bear hunter with small bits of turd in my waders). Dale glassed the bear through his 20x stabilizing Zeiss binoculars for a while and appears not too concerned or excited. We both watch for the bear to arrive again. It’s not a long wait before it is back in the stream again. This time it crosses and is on the bank opposite our side. The bear slowly begins to walk down the rocky bank in our direction and Dale declares “small sow”. She advances down stream and at about 20 yards distant she apparently spots the change in the shape on the downed log Dale and I are leaning against. She starts across the stream to check us out. She is headed directly for us, clearly intent on discovering what we might be and if we’re friend, foe or food. Once she is about 15 yards from us, Dale slowly stands up to full height in plain and full view to let her know what we’re about. She stops in mid-stream and Dale talks to her a bit, a slow steady monotone voice, a conversation something like “Where are you going little girl? We’re over here, why don’t you go back up and fish at the bend where you were? This is our spot, yours is up there so go back up there and fish. We won’t bother you there.” The sow stood her ground for a while then slowly turned and retreated back up the stream bank to the bend. Every once in a while she stopped to look back. Once she was at the bend she turned completely in our direction and lay down on the sandy bank, head on paws, to watch us. She lay there for what seemed like a long while, head up every few minutes to check on us and then look in the stream for a close fish. I couldn’t help but get the idea that she wished she had a remote to put us on “hold” so she could fish. After about 15 minutes, she tried to flush us out. She got up and walked around the bend into the alders and weeds only to stand up to peek over the top of the weeds (to see if we would follow I guess). She did this a few times, up into the alders a bit and stand up to look. Eventually she must have determined the tactic was flawed and she came back to the bend and crossed the stream to the side we were on. It was now obvious she was going to come and check us out again. Sure enough, she appeared out of the blind spot slowly sneaking through the alders, silent, intent and slow, 40 yards, 30 yards. Onward she came until eventually she was at the root ball of the log where we were leaning. She was now perhaps less than 10 yards and out of sight. Dale looks to the left of the root ball and I’m looking to the right waiting to see what she’ll do….. She’s on the right, about 12 yards and turning to walk straight to us; it seems she wants to shake hands. Again Dale has a talk with her and she gets a really close look at us. She decides to leave for good, well maybe for good, and strolls off into the alders sort of upstream. She continued to sneak around in those alders and peek at us for a few more minutes but soon lost interest and disappeared into the timber for good, finally.
Dale and I look at each other, I’m sure he was trying to see how I felt about that close encounter but I’m more intrigued by his discussions with the bear. It just didn’t occur to me that he’d be talking to the bears on a regular basis.
Not long after this I hear Dale say “get your rifle, this one’s a shooter”. I keep my rifle close at hand so there’s little movement as I grasp the grip on the Marlin and reach up to raise my binoculars to my eyes with my left hand. Up at the bend, on the far side stands a large bear, I can see little ears on the sides of its head, a light colored scar on its forehead and long, long white claws, then I see a cub, two cubs then three. Dale is saying “Cubs? It’s a big old sow!” Dale points out the long white claws, yellowed muzzle and yellow rounded teeth stating she must be at least 20 years old. I can clearly see that she’s large and with three second-year cubs. It was a majestic sight, in a way. She was at the bend in the creek standing on a lump of tree root looking over the stream and surroundings, like an old queen at a review. The cubs piled past her and into the stream. One cub had a fairly long string of tape worms trailing, “too much fish in her diet” Dale states with a little chuckle. It is getting near dusk. The timber is dark and as the old sow begins to move we can see her feet better, smallish ankles and feet, sort of odd seeing those apparently small ankles and feet on such a large bear. Dale estimated she’s about an 8’4” bear. I, of course, had to agree (being the new resident bear expert in present company). The old sow slowly walked the stream and, once again, got on shore on our bank. She followed the earlier little sow’s path straight toward us. Dale tells me to follow him and back further into and, if necessary, across the stream to give the old queen and cubs some room to pass without feeling crowded. With rifles in hand, and packs left behind, we slowly head across the stream. No sudden movements, just a deliberate pace. Once near the far shore (we moved about 10 yards) Dale tells me to stand along side him to allow the sow and cubs to see that there were two human critters in attendance. The sow got to within about 35 yards before she spotted us. After a short but direct examination she turned and moved off back toward dark timber at a little bit faster shuffle, cubs in tow. Dale and I make our way back to the log and our gear to once again hunker down to await the next surprise.
We watch closely now, its getting dark but every once in a while we talk a bit in low tones. “Did you hear that? Want some bug dope?” A few times Dale stood full up to glass back down stream to determine if a sound was a bear fishing or a fish flopping, mostly it was fish flopping.
Dusk turns into the time when the shadows rule. Short logs and their shadows become bears, bushes become bears and the entire familiar scene becomes foreign. The landscape and everything else takes on a two-dimensional quality. It is the time just before dark when it is not possible to tell if an animal is a quartering-away or quartering-to. Distances and size are unknown and shadows seem to move. Checking through the scope I can tell dark from light. The lighted reticle indicates the center of the scope but I can’t tell shadow from log. It is now too late to shoot further than just a few yards. Dale and I pack up our gear to begin the trek back to the skiff. We can still make out the rocks and logs in the stream and can avoid bumping into a bear. We take the cartridge from the chamber but leave the magazine loaded. Back down the stream, past the logs where the sow and cub fished, through the deep pools and onto the tidal flat. We stop to glass the expanse of tidal grass, it is a bit easier to see here, the light yellow grasses make a good backdrop to the dark objects but there are no bears to be seen. At the boat Dale retrieves the man-winch, his spool of yellow poly line and begins to reel in the slack, then the anchor and skiff. The skiff ride is short, the night is clear and we can easily see the Surveyor anchored in the cove. It is good to be headed back for the evening.
We are greeted by Larry and Lucy, both apparently equally anxious to see us. Our gear is handed over to Larry on the boat and the skiff attached to the tow line. We empty and stow the rifles in the rack, take our packs to the engine room to dry, and change out of our waders and jackets hanging them inside out to dry then off to staterooms to change fleece to boat clothing.
We had supper of pasta and rhubarb crisp filling in the empty places with chat about the evening bear hunt, so ended day 1 of 10.


 
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Day 2

A bright and fairly clear morning greeted me as I went out onto the stern. Another boat anchored in the cove with us late last evening.

Breakfast time and we’re presented with Lori’s version of oatmeal. This is the first time I’ve had oatmeal like this. I’m not a cook, in fact, I’m from an entire family of not-cooks so we’ve all adapted to the point where we can eat nearly anything with equal gusto. Luckily, my wife’s family wasn’t the same and she’s a good cook. Lori’s recipe, given to Cheryl, involves boiling the oatmeal but using ½ water, ½ cream and another ½ close attention instead of the standard single unit of water near as I can figure out. The oatmeal was a real tasty treat, sort of like a dessert and breakfast cereal mix. We topped the oatmeal with brown sugar and butter (real butter, I’ll eat margarine if I must but it makes my exhaust vent act up). We had toasted home made bread and preserves (I call them jam and jelly interchangeably and get corrected a lot), oranges, grapefruit, and other juices as drinks.
After breakfast we began preparing shrimp and crab pots. Larry and I passed the pots from the upper aft deck to the main aft deck at the stern. Larry has done this before and wisely took position on the upper deck passing the pots to me on the main deck. Apparently, there is a lot of stuff that collects in these pots and quite a bit of it falls out during handling, mostly onto the guy on the receiving end of the pass. We began baiting the shrimp pots. There was some dog food looking stuff in a bag that we’d scoop into a plastic cup then secure it in the center of the pot. I asked what the bait was and got a quiet double shoulder shrug from Larry, so I figured I’d better give a small piece a try in case it tasted better than I remembered shrimp to taste. It doesn’t. It sort of tasted like used cat food (I got it chewed and swallowed but politely declined seconds). We baited about a dozen shrimp pots, then we began putting the crab pots in a pile. Shrimp pots are an interesting puzzle, but we worked it out pretty fast and I wasn’t injured.
We up anchor to head north but headed south-ish, I was a little confused but quickly caught on once Dale displayed the charts and depth. We needed to set the shrimp pots, then sail around to an island and shallows. Setting the shrimp pots was a fairly easy job. A float at the beginning of the set and then each pot attached to the longish manila type line as it pay out at equal intervals until all 12 were attached and over the side, then with the larger final float.
It was a short boat ride to our anchorage, past a few humpback whales, sea otters, and some smaller boats long-lining halibut as I recall. Dale chatted on the radio with one of the other Boat Captain as a boat went past. We anchored in a halibut honey-hole and immediately Larry had a line in the water. I hadn’t fished for halibut before and, not being an avid fisherman, I was a little lost at getting a rig setup. Before long Larry rescued me and we were both fishing. It wasn’t too long before the weather blew in, a fair rain and wind with moments of hard rain. Larry got the first halibut and after a few freshwater style yanks and balks by me, I finally just let a fish hook itself and pulled in a decent sample, somewhat larger than Larry’s of course.



Dinner was served, chowder, fresh bread and peanut butter pie for dessert, then the usually gear-up for the evening hunt.
I opted to use the Marlin again this evening. Once Dale and I were geared up, we loaded the crab pots onto the skiff and took onboard Levi to return to the boat with the skiff. Levi ferried us so we didn’t need to return to the skiff if we decided to hunt a westerly creek vice the easterly flat and creek. We made several passes to the west side of the sound to set three pots and set the final two at the north east end of the sound. Dale and I exited the skiff at a large tidal flat with two streams on the north east section and the lone creek to the west over a shallow treed rise. The wind was not good for the evening hunt, as it was now coming from the south east, blowing inland making for a difficulty. Dale had planned to cross the tidal flat and shallow rise to enter the western creek drainage, a fair distance north-west of the tidal flat. We crossed behind a small island at the center of the flat and glassed out over the entire eastern flat to the western rise. We saw some bear tracks and shallow sand wallows while standing there glassing. Dale said to load up the magazine before we headed out onto the flat. After seeing the bear sign on the north-east creeks, we opted to go a good distance upstream on the western most eastern stream instead of crossing over to the far west creek. The stream banks were well defined, steep, and grass covered and about 6 feet high near the wood line. I was really taken aback by how much grass had been packed down and worn away by the bears. The creek was about 5 to 10 yards wide with a rocky bottom. There were schools of salmon that would split and dart away up and down stream as we passed. We advanced to the tree line. Alders hung out over the stream and pines were growing right up to the banks. We carefully avoided touching anything and made our way upstream around several bends and past many small fallen trees. The entire way we were witness to bear sign, grass flattened on the muddy bank edges. The rain was getting serious and we dunked our rifle scopes in the creek several times to sheet the rain off the scopes so we could see to shoot if necessary. After about 200 yards into the trees, we came upon a large jam of logs of about 2 foot diameter stacked in a jumble about 8 feet tall blocking the entire creek. With no way to creep under this morass we were forced to accept that this was the inner limit of our travel into the trees. There was still a lot of bear sign; they even had a few good paths worn over and through the logs. Dale and I climbed onto the stack, our felt wading shoes helping reduce the slipperiness. The logs were not lumbered logs, they were rooted up logs, and retained the remains of their limbs as foot long pointed shards. A fall into the pile would certainly result in a few extra holes in clothing and body. Once we were in the pile we found a good log to stand upon, one the offered a good rest on a second log on the down stream side. Dale used a small folding saw on some broken limbs. He trimmed off a few eye-gougers but we couldn’t get to the foot long butt jabbers that waited below. I sort of wished I had a seat belt. Once settled, we had an excellent view down stream and could see a short distance into the trees on either side. Directly behind us about 30 yards the creek made a sharp bend to the east over a rocky riffle.
The wind was steady, at maybe 5 knots, with periods of heavy rain spaced with light rain to a light mist. We didn’t need our binoculars here too much as things were pretty close, 35 yards to the rear and maybe 60 yards to our front. Dale and I talked lightly about different hunts we’d been on, hunting deer for me and hunting brown bears for him. We also talked about some of the folks we shared as acquaintances, people we knew by association through the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Eastern Sportsman Show. Occasionally a duck would fly or swim past as we waited. There were some salmon in the stream and we’d watch them bunch up and break for a run up the rocky shallow creek behind us.
As it started to get dusky, Dale motioned it was time to head out and see if we’d trapped any bears between us and the tidal flat. We carefully, but thankfully, climbed out of the log pile happy to be away from the foot long shards poised below us. A round was chambered in our rifles to begin the trip down stream. Going back down stream was far more pleasant that going up. The rain had stopped and the scopes remained clear. We were confronted with a darker world, very dark in the timber close to the creek. We went around several bends and onto a sandy bank, we check for bear tracks and look back up a small feeder stream hoping a bear wasn’t just feet from us as we peeked around downed logs and giant root balls. Finally, we can literally see light at the end of the tunnel. The tidal flat was just ahead about 80 yards, just beyond the low hanging branches of an alder. We make our way slowly through thigh deep water, careful to not touch the alder branches and set the tree to motion. Just as we get around the alder and start up toward the bank to the east side of the stream we see two black shapes in the stream ahead. The two bears were about 40 and 60 yards away. It was immediately obvious that the further bear was the larger of the two. They were in the middle of the stream hidden from easy view by the tall bank and pines on the far opposite side. Dale backed up the stream a bit trying to find a good vantage point. A place to allow us to see the bears in the light colored sky reflecting off the water. Since the second bear looked of good size we needed an advantage for a better look. The closer bear begins to come out of the stream to our side, He gets on the rocky bank, below the steep bank, and starts to walk upstream directly toward us. The larger bear is our focus but the other bear is getting close. There’s no backing up at this point. We need to stop the bear from getting any closer without spooking the other bear. Dale and I stand side-by-side hoping the bear will see us and stop or turn around. He sees us and gives a little sideways head-wag look. Another step or two and Dale lets him have it with the monotone greeting of something like “Hey bear we’re here, you go back down stream and fish.” The close bear stands his ground, at about 20 yards, looking at us quizzically. The other, larger bear decides things aren’t quite right, and bolts from the stream as if shark bit, heading east fast. The closer bear gets the idea he should also leave but not with such haste and slowly walks back down stream as if to fish. We follow a bit. The bear goes a little further and eventually crossed to the west bank of the steam and climbs up onto the tall bank. It is clearly visible against the remaining tall yellow grasses. Slowly we advance downstream checking for the whereabouts of the larger bear, while keeping watch on the bear across the stream. It is just standing there watching us. We pass the bear on the west bank and, shortly after, it must get our wind as it quickly shuffles into the trees and out of sight.
We continue to head downstream but see no more bears. Eventually we decide to clear our chambers and get our head lamps on so we can see what were doing. Dale radios to the boat asking for Levi to motor the skiff over to the flat and pick us up where he dropped us off. Slowly we make our way the remaining distance across the flat onto the east side of the central island. We stand facing inland with our lights lighting up the shoreline to avoid night blinding Levi, Dale uses me as a handy marker and plays his light against my backside making a giant shadow on the trees of the central island. I couldn’t help but think of the classic line as I view my large shadow “Does this make my butt look big?”
Once in the skiff we make the short trip to the boat and stow our gear for drying. We had sandwiches, soup, and a few good laughs for supper. Dale and I talked about the larger bear for a bit, Dale figured it was about an 8’ bear as I recall.
 
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Day 3

I got up a little late, about 8:00AM and already Dale, Larry, and Levi have pulled the crab pots catching three keeper-size Dungeness crabs, which are already in the live tank. Dale pulls anchor and we head for the western side of Chichagof Island with a short detour to pull shrimp pots. Breakfast of homemade biscuits, gravy, and various juices; the gravy had sliced hard boiled eggs on top, a nice addition that I hadn’t had before.
Pulling shrimp pots was a fun affair but I’ll bet it’d get down right boring and difficult to do for a living. We used the long boathook to snag the big buoy end of the set. Larry had the honors and as we were chatting, nearly missed the grab. Once we had the buoy on board, Dale stopped the boat and got us straightened out on running the hoist. Levi manned the big plastic trash can that would hold the retrieved rope as it pay out of the hoist. I was given the honor of controlling the hoist and disconnecting the pots via a two-way lever tucked nicely, but high into the overhead. Larry was the pot fetch, dump, and stack guy. Once Dale had shown me how to take in and let out rope with the hoist, he went back to the pilot house to run the boat keeping us on course for the pull. Lever down and we are pulling in line. Before long the first pot breaks the surface and drags up along side the boat to the hoist. I stop the hoist and unclip the pot tether from the main rope.



The pot is tethered on a short line of about 4 ft and attached to the main rope by what looks like a giant diaper pin. First pot is off and I’m hauling in more rope, pot after pot. Some have a dozen or so shrimp and others that look to be hundreds. About 30 minutes go by as we haul in pots. Larry has a big stack of emptied pots and on the cargo hold hatch sits a single pot with the entire dumped collection. We had caught a bit over ½ a pot full of shrimp as I recall. Dale has stopped the boat and we’re securing the gear, zipping the side flap shut, and putting the rope away. Levi gets two blue tubs to hold the prepared shrimp and takes up position to show me how to clean these things up a bit. I don a pair of industrial strength Playtex dish washing gloves, orange ones with sand paper on the palms and finger. Levi starts the lesson, “The head goes in your left hand and the body in your right. Pinch a little just where the body meets the back of the head and twist and pull”. He gives a demonstration as I watch. I was thinking about playing a Navy seaman tactic and asking him to repeatedly show me how it’s done until all were cleaned but decided against it. I did my best action for action impersonation of Levi and things worked out well for me, not so for the shrimp I’m afraid. I hadn't caught live shrimp before and was a little surprised at the roe on some of the large females. Larry being an old hand at this, informs me the roe is tasty and begins to eat the eggs from a large one. I recall my shrimp bait tasting of yesterday and figure the roe must be better than that and once I'm fairly well convinced he's actually eating the roe and not pulling a fast one on me, I give the eggs a try. They're actually pretty tasty, much like any other roe I've eaten (sort of like saltwater chicken). After what seemed like an hour or two, Levi starts getting a little bored, something not unexpected from a 14 year old. Levi takes to creating a game out of throwing the heads toward the scuppers but this soon gets tiresome too. Larry and I come to the rescue and finish off the remaining shrimp and Levi is off to do other things. Once we’re done, Dale helps bag the shrimp into zip lock bags. I’d guess about 5 pound per gallon bag, 10 or 12 bags total.
After changing out of my waders (shrimping attire), we rig out the stabilizers for the open ocean transit to an anchorage on the west side of the island.
We anchored. Dinner was deep fried halibut and a big salad and then we began preparation for the evening hunt. Dale and I head in for the evening, just a short skiff ride. Levi dropped us off at a small cove affair with a creek of tall steep banks lined with large pines. There was a little finger of land separating the shallow banks of the cove from the creek. The entrance of the creek and cove formed a shape similar to a lower case letter ‘q’. Dale split us apart; I sat about 20 feet from him with a clear view of the cove beaches to the south, while he sat slightly above me but with a clear view of the stream to the north east. This was a very narrow stream, choked with live salmon while the beach and bottom of the stream were littered with the remains of salmon recently rendered useless by bears. There were gulls and ravens in abundance. Several squirrels enjoyed pine cones not far away. The wind was perfect, straight down the creek out to open ocean. Dale had to endure rain being blown directly into his face, while I fortunately was spared the direct brunt of the rain by the lower and 100 degree different viewing area. We watched for several hours but saw little other than the squirrels and birds. Dale motioned that it was time to go further up the creek. The creek bed was slippery and we had yet to chamber a round in our rifles. I was a little nervous due to the tightness of the creek, high banks and numerous blind spots. Advancing upstream about 50 yards to a better vantage point, we crouched down and could just make out the edge of a large pool. Ahead was a log choked area, tall pines mixed with alders and Devil’s Club which we couldn’t easily get through, but we had a good vantage from where we were backed up against a small log sticking over the edge of the bank. We chambered a round and waited. I’d check the creek bank above, and behind us, while Dale paid close attention to the creek ahead and the bank to the north. At one point there was some movement up stream. The branches of a small tree moved. Shortly after, as I was glassing the spot, a large black shadow blocked the view. Just ahead, about 25 yards, a mass of dark brown appeared on a small pile of logs. It looked large, but odd. The oddness became apparent in less than a second as a large sow appeared with a single cub walking at her side. They were close and in a tight area. Dale and I immediately began a short walk back downstream, maybe 5 yards, to give her some room. Across the creek was a flat area cleared of brush and with a clear view up into the big timber. If she would stay on her side of the creek, she and the cub would pass within about 15 yards of us in the open and hopefully not feel too hemmed in. She apparently saw us move away and opted to, either go directly into the dark timber, or back upstream as we didn’t see her pass. They were the only bears we saw that evening. It was however, the most intense time up to this point being in the close environment of steep banks and dark timber.
On the way out that evening, Dale related some tales and lore about sows with cubs. He recalled how Ben Forbes had said that, if a sow spots you, goes to place her cubs in safety, and returns a second time, she is bent on killing you. So be prepared to kill her when she returns. We got onto the subject of sows with cubs that evening as I related one of my hunting tales about a black bear sow with three cubs that false charged me about a half dozen times while I was hunting in Alberta. Dale also told a story of a one eared sow he had managed to bump into several times over the years. The abbreviated story as best I can recall follows.
On a trip out on a stream one evening, a bear appeared out of nowhere. Within feet, coming fast, and no time to aim, Dale fired one round from the 458 hoping to hit the bear solid. He sidestepped and the bear went past with a bump of its side against his hip. Dale had chambered another round and fired sort of downward at his side best he could but apparently missed both times. The hunter was so taken aback by the entire affair he wasn’t able to continue the bear hunt and left early. Years later Dale was on another hunt in the same area and saw an old one-eared sow with cubs. She headed away only to stash her cubs safely and came back. Dale was with two hunters and with all three hunters spread out in clear view, the old sow apparently thought better of coming in to apparently finish the job she started years back. Dale said he felt sure it was the same bear that he had tried to kill years ago and that his first round had grazed her taking off one ear in the process. He saw that old sow once again after that but she was in a better mood and stopped a fair distance away giving a clear indication of knowledge of their territorial limits.
That evening we watched a few of Dale’s previous brown bear hunt videos after a supper of musk ox fajitas and salad. We also watched the video of Dale and his son Benjamin hunting musk ox near Shishmaref.
 
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Day 4

We get another restful night of sleep. We’re up early to check another stream near our anchorage, but the wind has changed and the seas are coming in. Dale decides it is a little too rough for a skiff ride in open ocean and across the surf. Breakfast was prepared to near completion before we left the cove and we eat a fine, quick meal of cinnamon buns, cantaloupe, and juice. We rig out the stabies (stabilizers) and start north then pull the stabies as we head through a passage. The seas weren’t very rough, a few decent rolls but not much to an old sailor like me. Even Cheryl was barely able to tell we were in open ocean vice the protected inland passages. Dale and I were in the pilot house with Cheryl and Lori most of the passage. Larry popped up a few times and Levi remained below reading or sleeping.
Dale, Cheryl, Larry, Levi and I piled into a skiff and headed for shore. We wanted to explore a bit, this was an old mining settlement. First order of business on this little excursion was to shoot my rifles to make absolutely sure they were shooting true. Dale had his trusty target box. It looked as though he had been using this box for a while as it was fairly well littered with holes. I figured I’d better hit his 2” by about 2” bulls eye piece of white duct tape or suffer with having to sort my holes out from the myriad of others. Dale had a bunch of sand bags and things in his “rests” bucket. I was having some doubts about what we were there to test, but then I recalled other hunts and outfitters.
One outfitter friend of mine once remarked to me when asked why he had his hunters shoot their rifles from a nice bench with padded rests, “I want to test and see if the rifle is zeroed not whether the hunter can shoot accurately in the field.” It makes some sense to me as I think on it. The outfitter is there to get the hunter to the game and the rifle needs to be zeroed. After that it’s up to the hunter to figure the rest out. Back to the test.
Dale headed downrange to place the target box and said I should put whatever I need to use up on the large rock overlooking the firing range. Dale had specifically told me during our conversations prior to the hunt, to zero the rifles dead-on at 100 yards and that is exactly what I did. Dale has selected a nice range, nice rock about mid chest height and I could easily get an elbow onto the rock for a good rest. Dale returned and asked if I can see okay, “Yup!” I answered. He then wanted to know if I would like some sand bags or such “Nope, I’m fine” I replied. The box was about 100 paces down the beach, no rain or wind and we weren’t winded so it was an easy shot I figured. I used the Marlin 45-70 first, scope to 5 power and left elbow on the rock while I leaned against its side. The Marlin went off and my sight picture was good. I anticipated a fine hit as I’d shot like this many times in preparation for this hunt. The only difference is that I always shot a three shot string of rapid fire onto a 12” abrasion resistant (AR) 500 Brinell steel target to simulate follow up shots. (The same steel used by the military on sniper rifle ranges, armored steel.) Dale checked with me for a clear rifle before he headed down range. He came back at a slow walk and for a moment I thought the rifle was somehow off. Once he was back he reported the bullet struck in the upper left corner inside the duct tape. This rifle was good to go. Now to test Ol’ Hematoma, my custom Remington 700 chambered in 458 Winchester magnum. The rounds are big clinkers and feel heavy compared to the 45-70. Scope to 5 power and a good steady rest, elbow on the rock and lean to the left for brace. “Whooom” she goes, I call the shot a little high as the sight picture was about ¼ inch from the top just left of center of the white duct tape when she went off. Ol’ Hematoma is a light rifle and has a recoil pad of about the same consistency as a Vibram boot sole. She’s not a plinking type gun. Dale went down range, brought the box back and announced that the second round hit about an inch from the first round, a little higher and to the right. We were ready to continue the hunt. The 30 plus years of various competition shooting had paid off once again, confirming that I can kill paper with boring regularity. I asked Dale if he wanted to try the 458 and got a no in reply. Dale thought I could use a better recoil pad and then maybe he’d give it a try. We did manage to get a few chuckles out of the affair. I asked if the rounds had good penetration on the cardboard box and Dale quickly replied that it appeared that the 458 made it through four layers of cardboard fine, but the 45-70 may have stopped before exiting the empty box.
We explored a bit. The old house needed some work. The front room had collapsed and all but the smallest pieces of window glass were long gone. We traced the trail of the small gauge railroad for a while looking for gold nuggets the miners might have missed. They seemed to have been a thorough bunch as no gold nuggets worth bending over to pick up were discovered. The stream had some live salmon in it, as well as, the now common beach and bank salmon. Some rhubarb was found hidden in the skunk cabbage, the red stalks easy to spot. There were bear tracks scattered about in the mud. In the old generator shed stood a big old diesel engine. Dale gave it a lick with the hand crank and it still turned over, reluctantly, after a little grunt or two and maybe a fart from Dale. Cheryl had a good time. We picked up stones and old bits of someone’s past to marvel over; a shoe sole, tin cans and bits of colored glass from broken jars.
Back on the boat for a short move before lunch, lunch was shrimp and halibut along with a few other items that didn’t seem to get much attention.
Dale and I geared up and headed to check a nearby creek. Dale’s previous hunter had killed a bear there and we were going to check the carcass for scavenging activity. Maybe a bear had claimed it. Our main objective was to get a look at the condition and whereabouts of the bear carcass, but also check the stream for salmon activity. Upon arrival the carcass was in the open where Dale had left it. The eagles had been on it but no signs of bear activity near it. There were salmon but Dale wanted to wait until the carcass was claimed by a bear so we headed out to another area. Back in the skiff we headed to the south where we come upon a blacktail deer hunter. We chatted with him a bit. Nice enough fella but apparently he was a bit startled to see us. He mentioned a bear in the cove earlier but it appeared to be a small version of the beasts.
We anchored the skiff on the west side of the arm and headed up stream to a good vantage point. It overlooked a pile of brush and small logs in the bend of the stream and we were still able to see most of the tidal flat. To our right was a small grove of pines just at the streams edge, probably 20 feet tall with well trodden grass below. Far ahead and to the south was a narrow valley covered with large old-growth pines. The wind came from the south. It was a cool gentle breeze, comforting, but not enough to blow the light rain into our faces and just enough to keep the few black flies hidden out of the way. There were a lot of salmon in this creek and we spent a good bit of time watching them dart about. The sea gulls enjoyed the time, they lined up in the rapids waiting for some unknown event. A few mallards flew by headed into the valley. I hadn’t expected to see mallards in Alaska, I guess I figured they were warm weather ducks. About 45 minutes into our evening we spotted out first bear in the tall grass behind us. It first appeared as a few humps of darkness above the tops of the grass, much like seeing a porpoise or whale as it cruises close to the surface. This bear is feeding close to us and eventually got our wind and stood up to get a better look. It was a smallish and comical bear. Once it was on its hind legs, it tested the air a few times and also managed to make a series of odd gestures with its lips. It flopped its mouth around a bit like a horse eating a carrot but at the same time kept its lips pursed in what appeared to be an attempt to say “whooooo”. It stood up several more time and “whoooo’d” us as it slowly worked toward the east side of the tidal flat. At about 6:30 a large sow appeared, very large with three two-year old cubs. She fed with her cubs for a while, but soon walked off to the east and into the dark timber. We saw one more bear that evening but it was way back behind us on the north east end of the tidal flat.
It was a nice ride back to the boat. Dale went slowly until we were well past the other hunter’s anchored boat, a common courtesy.
Back on Surveyor we had BBQ musk ox for supper and told of the blacktail hunter and “whoooo” bear.
 
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Day 5

I got up a little early and fished for halibut. I knew it was about time for breakfast when I started hankering for the salted bait herring in the bucket. Lucy was a big fan of bait herring too. We had to keep the bucket covered or she’d be in it in a second. Breakfast was pancakes, chicken eggs and yogurt along with the customary juices. There were about 10 kinds of yogurt on the table each time it was brought out. Today there was one flavor that was not previously known to me, marionberry? Having worked in the Washington D.C. area for the past 19 years, I just couldn’t bring myself to try it. The other folks didn’t seem to mind though and would eat it.
We were going to have another day off the boat exploring so we up anchor and headed north. We took both skiffs this trip, Dale, Cheryl and I in the Trepang and Levi, Lori, Larry and Lucy in the Wahoo. Dale carried his titanium 44 magnum and I brought along the Marlin in case we happened upon a bear. We headed northwest for a cove on the ocean side of a large no-name island. Dale led the way weaving in and out of the small islands, rocks, and eel grass. He stopped often to back flush the grass out of the prop. This was a very scenic area with many forested small islands, some the size of a house and others many acres. The seas were calm and the weather nice. It was a pleasant sight seeing trip. The others stayed close behind most of the time and followed Dale’s lead to avoid bumping into any of the large, jagged, submerged rocks. Just before we reached the beach on the small island just west of the no-name island, we passed over what appeared to be a large, oddly shaped log clearly visible through the crystal clear water. Dale, of course, was eager to play along with the treasure hunting adventure theme and loudly announced to Levi in the rear boat that it was a Spanish cannon. We stopped to get a look at it due to its oddness. On a later trip, to this same spot, at low tide, Dale and Lori discovered that it was a whale bone. They didn’t specifically state which bone but I suspect a leg bone due to the length.
Once we had the skiffs safely anchored we set to splitting up and exploring. Cheryl and I blundered about up close to the high tide mark searching for red beavers, yellow ducks, blue turtles, and green frogs; the spoils of a 1992 Pacific Ocean cargo container spill. Dale, Levi, and Lori went ahead to explore the tidal zone looking for shells and a Pelican case full of money or jewels (we discussed the movie “No Country for Old Men” later). Larry was more methodical. He took his time and explored the entire area stopping to take pictures every once in a while. I saw him once with a piece of tattered bluish rope and another time with a handful of broken sea shells. Lucy found the first interesting scent and took off for parts unknown. Eventually, we all met up on the far side of the little island. We came across a little black tail doe just at the tree line of the narrow beach. She stayed and observed us for a long while, probably trying to figure out how the neighborhood went downhill so fast. On the far west side of the island we cut straight inland to avoid walking the same beach areas again. This shortcut allowed us to get onto the beaches that collect stuff directly from the open ocean. We marveled at the pile of rubble that had collected and the trinkets buried in the large flotsam pile. There were about a million clear plastic drinking water bottles, the 12 oz. size I guess. Dale sarcastically remarked that he’d been looking for a discarded plastic bottle with a blue top for a long while and now he had his pick of hundreds. I was most surprised at the odd things and the quantity of some items: a few shoe soles, numerous Bic style lighters of all colors, each with an ailment of some type that rendered it useless, lots of gill net floats, bones from some type of pinniped, and lots of tatters of blue poly rope (Larry wasn’t around to marvel at the treasure).
We eventually tired of exploring and Dale gave up on finding the Pelican case full of treasure, so we headed for the skiffs. It was about this time that we collectively began discussing the whereabouts of Lucy. She hadn’t been seen since we landed. Back at the skiff we loaded up our treasures. Lori had the number one treasure in value, a 5 gallon bucket full of shells she’d crush once back home for use in her garden. Cheryl and I had a small beach rock worn to the shape of a button and a piece of drift wood in the shape of Elvis Presley (we left Elvis for someone else to find). Dale, Levi, and Larry had memories. We called and called for Lucy without reply. It was as if she had run away (again)! Lori tied a scarf and glove to a low bush above the high tide mark. We figured Lucy would come back and hang around the scent eagerly waiting our return.
The trip back to the boat was interesting, lots of sea otters and a few seals to see. Of course, there was the required skiff race once the boat was in sight. We would have won had it not been for Levi’s skid-to-a-halt approach at the stern ladder, and the fact that our skiff was loaded down with fat men and iron.
Lunch was roast pork, along with a few other items that were lost in the pile of pint-size ice cream containers brought up from the freezer. This was a “single dip, try any, and as much as you like” extravaganza; a sort of brain freeze frenzy affair…. It was awful! Cheryl and I tried to require a daily ice cream tasting after that but it didn’t work out.
Once I was shed of my ice cream headache, Dale and I geared up for our evening hunt. It was a particularly warm day with scattered sunshine. I decided it was time to begin toting my near antique camera along for early evening pictures. We took a long skiff ride south to a stream inlet and small beach on the west side of the cove, almost directly across from a second large cove. Dale spotted a bear even before we had landed and anchored the skiff. We anchored and carefully crept around the end of a little spit of land to get a view of the bear as it fed in the stream. The bear spotted us about the same time we saw it. We were back lighted against the clear blue sky reflecting off the water. It was still too far to get a good look with the weeded stream bank obstructing; we’d advance a bit when it had its head down. The bear knew we were there and would stand up every once in a while to get a good look toward us. We’d stop and melt into the grass advancing on the bear in this manner for a fair time. It was a fun game of hide and seek. The bear eventually fed further up the stream and into the thick timber with Dale and I fairly close behind, maybe 80 yards or so. The stream was shallow and had only a few salmon but there were a lot of dead fish on the banks and a lot of bear sign in the way of trampled grass and mud. We decided to cross over to large cove to see what was happening on that side, I managed to get a picture or two of this area before leaving.





The day stayed pleasant. The breeze became variable mostly from the east, but every once in a while there was a short shift to come out of the west. We traveled slowly taking our time, and glassed the sides of the steep mountains in the west. Dale was looking for deer and I looking for goats (I didn’t know there were no goats in that area, yet I still managed to find two… white rocks.)
The second c was a hot spot for birds, eagles, gulls, and ravens easily visible for the last few days. The cove is about 800 yards wide and 600 yards deep. Sort of a backward “c” shape to the stream before it straightened out to flow pretty much southwest out of the mountain pass. The tidal flat was large and open. The stream was very wide at its mouth, perhaps as wide as 150 yards at high tide and as narrow as 30 yards at low. There were ravens in the surrounding trees and hundreds of gulls wading among thousands of dead salmon on the stream banks. I was in awe of the number of critters here, live and dead. Eagles were scattered about and often well hidden. Their presence betrayed only by their white head. The ravens seemed to enjoy our company often initiating or answering croaks as if to announce and monitor our arrival and subsequent progress up the stream. The smell was an odd mixture of what I’d call salt and mildew. I’d later come to welcome that smell as a comfort. Crossing and walking in the salmon streams was now a normal routine or so I thought, but Dale always seemed to find something to keep me guessing and entertained. We crossed the stream near the mouth to avoid stinking up the timber which grew tight to the steep, boulder strewn bank. With rounds only in our magazines, rifles hoisted and packs high on our shoulders, we began the trip across 25 yards of crystal clear stream, Dale in the lead. I thought Dale going first would be comforting to me, blazing a trail I could easily see. What I could easily see was that Dale was taller than me and he was soon nearly nipple deep in the stream and bouncing lightly before he came to shallow water on the other side. He turned to wait and watch my crossing, I wasn’t sure if over concern or for the possibility of an impending comedy act. Pack and rifle held high I started across, easy going at first then a bit of a drop off, then large 6” diameter round stones. The water pressure began to press the waders tightly against my waist with the tightness creeping up my belly to my chest and my feet started getting light on the bottom of the stream. Soon I slid sideways in the current and I had a few doubts about remaining dry. With only a little further to go until I’d be into the shallows, I realized my dry rags were stored in the raincoat pockets, pockets that were now about a foot under water! Once on the other side Dale asked if I was a Vietnam Vet. I mentioned that I was in the Navy during the end of that era, but that I was riding submarines and not slogging across streams in Southeast Asia.
Onward we went, upstream, as I readjusted my pack, slung my rifle, and emptied about a quart of water out of each raincoat pocket. I found a water soaked and illegible note in my pocket as I cleaned up. Apparently, I’ll never know who inspected my raincoat for quality at the H-H Impertech plant. We passed the end of the “C” and headed into the straight stream and cross back to the northern side. Hundreds of live salmon choked the stream, their dorsal fins marking individual progress upstream, their dead brethren wedged between rocks or slowly rolling down the streambed toward the ocean. We follow the last bit of stream across the tidal flat. This is within 30 yards of where the stream forks to go around a small island covered with alders and tall grass. To our left the fork is not visible as it entered the big timber. To the right fork we can see, maybe, 90 to 100 yards as the stream slowly bends to the left and out of sight. Leaving the stream on the north side, we hunker down in the tall grass on our knees and are hidden on all sides up to our shoulders. We had to pay particular attention to where we knelt or lay our packs and rifles to avoid smashing or smearing a rotting salmon or two. The gulls are oblivious to us as they soar and walk within yards of our hide. Some gulls land on the banks or in the stream to eat, others flitting just above the water and dip for salmon eggs. The wind is gently from the northeast and the tall grass lazily bends in the direction of the wind, our very own weathervane. This is a sheltered cove, tall mountains on three sides and a fair growth of timber about 80 yards to our rear and 60 yards to our left, much as if we were in a bowl. There are large boulders scattered near the edge of the timber. Each initially looking like the rump of a retreating bear, they are carefully examined and mentally noted for later when the shadows come out to play. Dale is first to begin glassing the tidal flat. This is a 360 degree glassing job with what appears to be excellent habitat on all sides. The glassing is a careful and lengthy task. The mountain to our east offers a nice view of clear alpine areas. I can’t help but glass up there to see what might be watching us from far above. I joke with Dale saying I see two old bears pointing down at us from up on the high ridge. Shortly after we settle down to serious glassing, Dale spots a bear out on the flat about 400 yards to our right. The bear is coming across the flat, out of sight except for when it stands to survey ahead across the tall grass, a Whac-A-Mole situation. We were intrigued by this behavior wondering the cause of this cautious approach, up to look then down and advance perhaps 50 yards before standing to check again. We checked all the way around to be sure there wasn’t another bear in sight, speculating that there could be a large or miserable bear that frequented this place. As it is about to turn out, we were wrong. It was just a cautious sow with two cubs. She came out up stream about 40 yards from us, close to a large pine that stood alone on the stream bank. She immediately entered the stream with the cubs close behind, scattering the salmon that had pooled beneath the pine. I quickly snapped a picture and handed Dale the camera to take another from his more open vantage point.



Crossing onto the island with the cubs in tow she is immediately back in the stream fishing. With what appears to be an easy practiced grab, she has a salmon in her mouth. She turns toward the little island, fish in mouth, and quickly deposits it near the cubs. The rush and growling began. The two little cubs were very serious about claiming that fish. Paws in each others face, humped up at each other like giant versions of black cats fighting over an escaped goldfish.
The sow stayed in the stream with the cubs for a long while. She’d catch a fish and feed the cubs and in doing so they slowly advanced upstream on the little island. We watched her progress and could, at times, just barely see her side as she fished just around the bend in the right fork.
Dale and I continued to glass the area and, of course, I’d watch the sow as I was interested in the techniques she used to catch fish. I was hoping to try it later to impress Larry our resident halibut expert. At one of my sow viewing sessions, I spotted what I initially thought was the sow but on the southeast side of the stream. The bear entered the stream at a trot easily coming down the steep bank just at the timber line, about 80 yards upstream. This bear is different. I poked Dale so he could get a look too. The newly arrived bear wasn’t in the stream more than a few seconds before it has a fish in its mouth. It gripped the fish just at the junction of the head and body, just above and forward of the gills. With a quick flick of its paws it appeared to break the salmon in two and discard it. This happened so quickly I wasn’t able to clearly see and understand. I watch it do this a few more times and asked Dale what he could make of it. He replied the bear was eating only the brain of the fish. I immediately wondered if the spouse of the now brainless fish would notice any difference in the character of its mate?
The sow stayed out of sight while this boar was in the stream. Dale figured he was a 4 year old, about 7 ½ foot. The boar was entertaining and figured to use the entire length of the stream. He’d race up and down an area of about 60 yards looking for a good spot to grab a fish. At his closest he was maybe 20 yards from us.
Twilight was coming on and the wind started to change a bit. For the early part of the evening the wind blew pretty much straight down the stream, carrying the familiar salty mildew odor. But now every once in a while the odor was replaced by the smell of pine and clean grasses. The wind was every so slightly coming from the northwest blowing diagonally across the stream toward the lone pine. The wind continued these short switches, but the duration was short. We felt our scent wasn’t getting too far upstream toward the boar bear, and we were correct. Eventually the boar was at the bottom of his fishing circuit, about 20 yards away, when the switched to the northwest. Dale and I watched the bear closely at this point. I wasn’t sure if the bear would get our scent and, if it did, would he feel crowded by our unexpected close presence. Nothing happened for a while, I thought we’d get another switch and be off the hook but about that time I saw both ears on the boar lower and paste flat to the sides of his head. I found this new behavior interesting but ominous. I figured something was about to happen. Either we were going to get a close range shot at a bear or something less exciting. In the span of about 3 seconds the bear went through several conditions. Ears flattening, then turning for an area check and onto a full run, away from us up the stream to exit just past the lone pine. The bear was clearly thinking “whatever this is, it is not known to me. I’ll give some more thought to it once I’m a mile or so away.” There was a fair bit of noise associated with this bear leaving; salmon splashing, gulls crying, and lots of bear splashing. Dale and I looked at each other for a few seconds, somewhat amused by the haul ass mode of the bear. Then a second series of loud splashes as the long forgotten sow apparently decides she too needs to leave too. She came from the little island and headed straight across the stream on the same track as the boar. Dale and I thought she had spooked, but there were no cubs in company. As I try to glass for the cubs and other bears that might be leaving, Dale stands to watch and glass the two running bears. Shortly Dale, still standing, says “there, take that and don’t come back”. I had to look up and give him a quizzical John Belushi raised eyebrow type look. Dale kneels down and about that moment a bear enters the stream splashing across toward the little island. It is the sow returning and Dale tells the story. Dale figured that when the boar entered the stream, the sow gave way moving to the far side to fish. When the boar hauled ass in the “I’m scared” mode the sow figured she was the agent of his fear. She was giving him a little more “what for and don’t you forget it” traveling incentive. The sow now moved back to the better side of the stream and continued to feed all evening. We watched her even as we left for the skiff.
 
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Day 6

An easy and slow day was in store for us. We slept a little late and got up to breakfast of cinnamon buns, toast, yogurt and bacon. We moved the boat to an inlet at the north end of the previous no-name, but recently now named “Lucy” island. We ran alongside a pod of killer whales for a while, they came close aboard to see what we were all about. I managed to get a picture of the pod bull.



Once in the little inlet, Dale anchored. He and Lori had plans to search the island for Lucy. Lori and Larry had been to the island late on day 5 and put out food after finding Lucy had not returned to the glove and scarf. I decided to try my hand at fishing again. Luckily I caught nothing so no extra work cleaning fish. Dale and Lori returned with little news of Lucy. There were thoughts and quiet discussions that maybe Lucy was brown bear dung by now.
Cheryl and I took a short nap in our stateroom. This was the first nap I recall taking, Cheryl had managed to find time about every day so far. Lunch was Dungeness crab and shrimp alfredo. Cheryl really enjoys crab and managed to pick an entire crab herself, I had the alfredo as I’m just not interested in picking crabs apart to eat when scoop and swallow food is available.
We had another nice weather day, a few light showers, mist mostly but all-in-all very nice for SE Alaska in October. We made one last scan around in the little inlet for Lucy and a few last yells and calls but she was not to be found. Dale spotted a family of river otters cruising the inlet. We watched them cavort for a while as Dale told a story of their fierceness. Seems there was a large family of these river otters swimming and playing about as Dale observed. As if for no reason the raft circled a single small family member and began a fierce attack. Perhaps she had violated a custom or she possibly was an adopted member. The attack began quickly, but the little otter managed to make it to shore and tried to reach safety in the timber. The rest of the otter family romped ashore and caught the fleeing member before it could get across the beach. The second attack was brief but final. First there was just fur flying, then body parts, and it ended with the little fleeing otter being completely dismembered. Her carcass had been torn to pieces… “little Betty was no more”.
Up anchor and we head to the evening anchorage in a little cove. It is a nice place, tight and sheltered from the wind pretty well. There is a waterfall here that provided a nice soothing sound.
Dale and I headed out at about 3:30, just a short ride to the end of the arm then south east to a large tidal flat. I had earlier decided that I’d use Ol’ Hematoma for the second half of the hunt, so this evening I had the little custom Remington in 458 Win. Magnum. We came upon another river otter, a small one skirting the steep rocky shore. We followed closely for a short while as I tried to get a picture. It eventually tired of our trailing and apparently hid in a tumble of downed trees.
We arrived as the tide was going out, still fairly high and performed the customary shove and anchor dump with an added twist as I recall. Dale wanted to ensure the boat was a long way out so he left the engine running and just before he pushed it back out disconnected the fuel and put the engine in reverse. I was a little confused at first (happens to me a lot), the running engine and the disconnected fuel line (I didn’t know he had it in reverse). I thought he was just trying to be mean and starve the engine to death. Once he explained the entire sequence to me I had it figured out quick enough. I might try it next time I have to park at Walmart.
We loaded rounds into the magazines straight away at this flat. There were a series of cutbacks and hidden areas. With the high tide we were walking just at the edge of the timber and high tide line. We immediately passed a large boulder covered in moss topped with a small tree. The boulder was maybe7 feet tall and as long as a full size pickup truck. Dale (probably remembering our little button rock from yesterday’s beach combing) asked if I wanted the boulder to take back home for my yard. He said he couldn’t carry the whole thing and that I should pick a half. I selected the top half, as I thought the tree would look nice.
This cove was a great setup for viewing. It was large and nearly circular with a smallish rise in the middle that caused the main stream to fork around this small central island. There was a single line of mature pines, a great hide protecting us from the light rain. Dale and I crossed the tidal flat to enter the stand of pines from the side opposite the larger stream mouth, well hidden from view. There was a switching breeze, primarily from side to side, leaving our position out of the scent field of the stream mouth. We crossed through the line of pine and stepped a few paces to the right behind a large clump of tidal flat grass. There was a lot of bear sign here. The grass was flattened in many places and there was a small string of tape worms left by an infested bear.
We could see clearly in a 180 degree arc, but with a little stroll to the other side of the pines could observe the far end of the flat in the other half of the inlet. From our position it was about 250 yards to the timber lines on either side and about 150 yards to the timber directly in front of us. To our rear we could see perhaps 500 yards down the beach on the western side.
At about 4:30 Dale spotted our first bear of the evening. It was coming up the shore behind us to the right, but before it got to the stream it cut into the timber.
There were some eagles here and, of course, the ever present gulls. The stream was a little thin on salmon, but there were a few, and bears would still come looking. Ahead of us off to our left, there were a few small 4ft tall pines close to the tree line. We didn’t have any large bear shaped rocks. Dale had adopted the term CCC or 3 C’s from Ben Forbes, their term for these large boulders. Dale said old Ben Forbes thought the CCC’s should have sent folks out to paint the boulders to indicate that they were not bears.
The CCC was the pre-World War II Civilian Conservation Corps, an effort to employ the many unemployed young men of that era. My own father in years past would some times talk of his own days in the CC’s as he called it.
Dale and I told tales as we watched the area. Mine were Navy stories and Dale’s were about some pranks. One in particular of placing a pair of old mangled wire frame glasses, a wooden button, and some dentures in bear dung to have a good time with a bear hunter. They told the hunter of an old-timer they would drop off each Spring and pick up in the Fall on an agreed date. Of course, this particular year the old-timer didn’t show. Even after waiting an extra week on station, he was a no-show. As a fore-warning, the hunter was told they may see the old-timer coming out to be picked up so be careful. The guide crossed the flat and stopped near the seeded bear dung, knowing the hunter would spot the glasses in the pile. Of course, the plan worked and after going to the stream to wash the remains, glasses, button, and dentures, the hunter’s talk turned to “What do we do now?” The guides replied that the old-timer had no known next of kin so there was nothing to do other than notify the authorities at the end of the hunt. “What do we do with this stuff?” asks the hunter. The guide says they will probably just throw it away, there was no-one to give it to without next of kin. The hunter, of course, asked if it would be okay if he kept the stuff to which the reply was “sure, why not”. Apparently they never got the nerve to tell the hunter it was a prank and even to this day there is some hunter somewhere talking about the bear that ate the old-timer, leaving nothing but this old button, bent glasses and dentures.
Very near dark, we spot a bear coming across the flat in front. It appeared at the spot where the little pines were. At first both Dale and I thought it was the dark shadow of a pine. The bear crossed the flat stopping to feed in the stream or on the bank at frequent intervals. It stopped for a long while and we could both clearly see a slightly lighter colored band just behind the shoulders, a trait I had seen on several other bears. It walked like a big bear, circular sweeping slow steps with the front legs. Once it got within 30 yards, Dale figured it was a sow from the closer look. We watched her feed for a good while and then we backed out through the pines and headed to the boat.
The tide was full low now. Even with the extra effort to get the boat out below the low tide line, we needed to do some dragging. Not too far, maybe 40 yards. The sure thing is that it’s a down hill drag with the boat to get to water. In our efforts to get the boat in the water, we completely forgot to get the top half of my new yard boulder.
Talk back at the boat was of Lucy for a while. We decided to put out food and some shelter for her in the morning. Maybe also a “Lost Dog” sign.
 
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Day 7

Getting accustomed to the onboard routine, Cheryl and I sleep a little late and wake to breakfast: yogurt, melon, and eggs on muffins (Egg McAdams).
We’re getting near the end of the trip and Lucy is still missing. There is an effort to get a little comfort to Lucy before we leave and to leave a sign in case someone should find her. Lori prepared a white 5 gallon plastic bucket with the requisite “Lost Dog” emblazoned in large black letters followed by the family home phone number. There were a few zip lock bags of dog food. A plastic shelter had already been deposited on an earlier trip. We had nearly completed a castaway survival kit and all that was needed now was a suitable tree stub to slip the 5 gallon bucket over as a marker. We had already seen one such marker on Lucy Island but it had faded to whiteness. I suspect it said “Warning! We are not responsible for lost dogs.”
We moved the Surveyor from our night anchorage to just near Lucy Island, where we had anchored several days previous. Larry was on deck as we shutdown the engines. As Dale and Lori loaded the skiff, Larry announced that he thought he heard barking. We all listened for a bit but attributed the noise to a wedge of geese flying in the distance. The skiff left and I managed to get a line in the water before the skiff roared back, Lucy was found. Larry had been correct about the barking. There was much rejoicing all around. Lucy didn’t look any worse for wear and she smelled a bit cleaner having been in a wash cycle for going on three days. Dale and Lori headed out in the skiff again to pick up the other Lucy gear that had been scattered about the island in efforts to provide comfort. As they left in the skiff Larry asked me if I were in any way upset by the amount of time spent looking for and recovering Lucy. I had not felt upset and told Larry it actually made me feel good, comforted in a manner. Larry asked what I meant by comforted? I recall saying “if Dale and Lori will expend this amount of effort for a dog, they certainly would spend an equal amount of time to find me and/or Cheryl should we get lost.” Larry looked at me for a bit and with a bit of a twinkle in his eye and a wry grin said, “They have some affection for the dog!” I was crushed as Larry had bested me again.
Larry and I each put a line in the water. I had a halibut rig and he had a small rig with a flashy jig. Larry could barely get the line in the water before he had a fish hooked, sea bass, rock fish, yellow eye kind of things, and ling cod. We didn’t keep any of the catch. When Dale and Lori returned, we headed to a different anchorage to fish again. I had the same luck as earlier, so did Larry.



About 2:00 PM Dale moved the boat once again, back to safe anchorage as there was a report of big winds coming. The little cove was a good sheltered place. We did manage to anchor differently this time. Dale went out on the foredeck to let go the anchor, I stayed in the pilot house to back us up a little to set the anchor while, Larry watched the towlines on the skiffs. Larry probably expected me to show for the tow line duties too but that didn’t happen this time… and we managed to tangle a tow line in the screw of Surveyor! After about an hour of twisting rope, jacking the screw, and soft cussing we had it sorted out. A new short splice in the starboard tow line and we were ready to eat and head out for the hunt. I have forgotten what we had for lunch and supper this day and didn’t include it in my notes but I do feel that I can say with some certainty that it was good and not deadly poison.
Dale and I headed south for a fairly long skiff ride of about 6 miles each way.



Along the way we spotted a youngish worm infested bear walking the beach. It stayed on the beach a fair while. I tried to get a picture, but the small chop ended up making for a fuzzy image.
At the large cove the tide was up as was due the cycle we were on. As we made our way to the familiar crossing area we spotted a single bear off to the left side of the cove, over near some CCC rocks tight against the tree line. It fed across the tidal flat into a shallow depression and we lost sight of it. There were some seals in the mouth of the stream feeding on salmon. They looked a bit like small Lock Ness monsters as they rippled about in the stream. We crossed in a little bit different spot to keep from drowning in the place we crossed previously. We still needed to hold our packs and rifles high to make it across but this was also getting to be natural. I had wised up a bit, moving my dry rags to my watertight upper waders pocket, and had spares in a zip lock bag in my daypack. I also kept my spare 458 rounds in that upper waders pocket wrapped in rags so they wouldn’t “clink” together.
It seemed that there were more salmon in the stream today. The eagles, seals, ravens, and gulls were having a good go of things. I was cautious about looking up for fear of taking a hit in the face. Back in our previous spot we glassed about for a while. Dale spotted a bear far off on the beach. After a while we decided to have a stroll up the left fork of the salmon stream, maybe find a good spot upstream to get a view of where other bears feed. We’d made it about 100 yards before an eagle came gliding down stream about 10 feet of the surface off the water. It swooped to a perch directly above us, about 8 feet above our heads. Dale looked up at it for a few seconds and continued to walk slowly. I, of course, gave it a good look once I was not directly beneath. It was an impressive bird at such a short distance. Dale gave it another look or two, clearly puzzled by this behavior. He pointed at it and whispered “odd”. We quietly stalked further up stream. The way was littered with small pine trunks and alders hanging out over the streambed. We carefully avoided these not wanting to leave any scent should we go back to our original lookout. The wind was just not cooperating in this area of the timber so we headed back out. The eagle left as we approached. There were a lot of salmon to step around and over, lots of white carcasses.
Once back at our original spot, Dale mentioned that the eagle was an oddity. He couldn’t recall one ever doing that before. He also speculated that it may have been a sanctuary bird released after some human contact.
Before long a single bear was spotted crossing the flat to our right. It spotted us as we stood to glass and made a hasty retreat toward the timber. Shortly after this a sow and two cubs appeared behind us. We spotted her just as she came out of the big pines. She was about 40 yards behind us to our left. This was the same sow we had seen previously at this site. She bore the same rubbed area on the left side of her rump. She fished a bit in a little slough that had formed at high tide, her two cubs close at hand. She approached a bit and Dale and I stood to let her know we were between her and the stream, Dale then explained the rules of approach and fishing to her. She stayed in the slough for a long while, fishing then giving us a good looking over, then either standing up to see better or stepping onto a log with her front feet for some additional height. Dale pointed out her narrow forelegs and small paws saying that boars generally have large forelegs and big paws. She skirted us for a while heading for the left fork of the stream in front of us. Sometime later another sow and two cubs came into the stream from the far right at the large lone pine. This was a different rub-less sow. The new sow stayed fishing in the stream until we left. The salmon were being a bit playful this evening. It was pretty dark and they couldn’t tell if I was friend or foe. I’m sure that with all the bumping and slamming they were doing against my boots on the way down stream, nearly tripping me at times, that some of them were truly in love with my boots.
During the skiff ride back Dale was a little extra cautious, it was nearing full dark. The phosphorescent trail as the skiff cut the water was long and clearly visible. I was asked to slide as far to port as possible as I sat at the bow so Dale could see and not bump into a killer whale pod by mistake. Good idea I thought!
Lucy was happy to see us. She and Larry met us at the stern to see how the evening had gone, Lucy looking for handouts and Larry happy to have us back. We tried to get Lucy to tell us if there were any bears on “Lucy Island”, but she was pretty tight lipped about the affair. We considered a Lucy Cam for any further shore excursions.
 
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Day 8

It was sort of a fun night. The wind was really howling and managed to push the boat around the anchor point several times. I woke up a few times as the heavy anchor chain drug across the rocky bottom and got out of my bunk when we jerked against the chain and drug the anchor a bit. Dale was already up in the pilot house listening to the radio reports and checking our swing. We cackled a bit about wind and heavy seas and I went back to bed. I don’t know the wind speed but it was certainly significant if it pushed us that hard in our sheltered cove. Cheryl pretty much slept through it all and Lucy looked like she’d have rather been back on the island with the bears.
Morning brought a clear mostly cloudless sky, another somewhat unusual day for SE Alaska. Breakfast was great. We had my favorite breakfast food: French toast, a HUGE pile of French toast with about everything you could think of as a topping. I was pretty full at the end of that frenzy. We pulled in the anchor and headed for another old gold mine to explore. Just as we made the turn north I spotted a bear on “Lucy Island”, very near the place we had recovered Lucy. With the exception of Levi, everyone was in the pilot house. This had become customary when moving the boat during the day like this. It was sight seeing central. Dale had his big binoculars close at hand and, after about a second and a half of glassing announced, “It’s a shooter, gear up”. I was sort of excited! Now in a controlled scramble, Lori is left in control of the boat and Larry went to the stern to get the skiff ready. Dale and I scramble to the engine room to get our hunting gear. About 2 minutes after Dale’s “shooter” declaration I was hopping around on one foot on the fantail getting my boots tied and Larry was handing gear to Dale in the skiff. Once I’m in the boat Dale does his gear check against me: Got your license? Got your gun? Got your bullets? Yup, Yup and Yup!
Surveyor had coasted to a stop and Dale and I were cut loose to advance on the site where the bear had been spotted, a bit more than 1 mile ahead. Remarkably there was a rainbow and it ended just where the bear was wandering on the distance island. I took this to mean there was a rainbow that ended just where the bear was on the beach, a handy marker as we headed north. Being in the bow and somewhat an obstruction to Dale I scooted to the side a bit and craned around to try to keep an eye on the bear. The bear worked its way down the beach for a while, then at a large boulder it angled back up into the timber and we lost sight of it. We approached the beach area remaining about 400 yards out to get a good view up and down the area for glassing. No more sign of the bear here. This area of the island was a long spit of land so we quietly motored the skiff south then around the end of the spit into the inlet. This was a narrow and shallow area, lots of large jagged rocks and eel grass. We were going very slowly with the engine at near an idle. I watched for rocks while peering around the large boulders onto the beaches to try to spot the bear as early as possible. At several points we were just a few feet from the bank as we rounded some rocks, this close approach to the beach was a bit unnerving. I could imagine the bear, had it been just at the rock, would have been quite surprised to see my head and chest appearing just a few feet away. Our rifles were at hand, but no rounds in the magazines at this point. We spent about 30 minutes slowly cruising the inlet searching the beach, rocks, and area above the beach strewn with large trees. There were moments of some very light rain and mist, just enough to clutter up the binoculars and make the rainbows. We eventually headed back to the Arm proper and again glassed the beach area where the bear had originally been spotted but there was nothing to see other than a few sea otters and gulls. The bear and rainbow were both just memories. We’d had about 45 minutes to an hour in the little skiff searching for the bear. I was a little tired from the search. My adrenaline level was high but not to the point to make me begin to shake… that would come later.
Dale broke out his portable radio. We always carried at least one and on several occasions each carried one in case one of us should be injured by flora or fauna to incapacitation. He radioed to the Surveyor for Lori to stop motoring in a figure eight, or whatever, and resume her northward course toward us. In short order we had closed the distance to the Surveyor and were offloading gear onto the stern, Larry was there as always helping tie off the skiff, lending a helping hand and encouragement.
I should point out that during my initial indoctrination for the hunt Dale had mentioned that I would not follow him into the timber after a bear, a wounded bear in particular. In this case, we probably could have gone to the beach where the bear had been spotted and followed the tracks much like a deer hunter would do on such an occasion. By this agreement crafted from experience, Dale and I did not pursue the bear into the timber. Dale had also relayed earlier during the excursion on shore, the day Lucy began her vacation, that large boars would often swim to these islands to hunt deer. This was the main concern for Lucy’s situation.
The boat headed north toward The Gate as Dale and I got out of our hunting gear and readied ourselves for the boat trip and lunch.
We cruised past many small islands then into a narrow passage. I believe Dale called it something affectionate but also not repeatable. There were a lot of cormorants perched on the rocks here. They reminded me a good deal of the Disney animated character Ichabod Crane: tall, thin, long neck, and dressed in black. The seas calmed down a lot as we got away from the little bit of open ocean. The open areas were not rough, but the glass-like surface of the sheltered coves and bays were a real joy. It was like sitting in a living room watching large screen displays of nature (with appropriate odors). We passed amny small islands to finally anchor near the mine as I recall. The day was picture perfect, the surface of the water was like glass and the sunshine brought out a lot of animals. Many black tail does had bedded down on the beach to warm in the sun. There were dozens of sea otters. Many of the otters were females with pups clinging to their chests and sides.
Dale and Lori had another beach exploring trip planned. This excluded Lucy and she was elected to guard the boat. A job she apparently didn’t appreciate. Both skiffs were used again. Dale, Cheryl and I in the faster skiff (Wahoo) this time and Larry, Lori, and Levi in the slower vessel (it is fair to alternate). We motored over to the old mine, a mine fairly well abandoned at the start of World War Two (WW II). The ride was spectacular. All the way it was as if we riding on a mirror, everything duplicated above and below. The Matterhorn like peaks of the inland mountains contrasting with the rounded closer peaks made an odd exotic sort of contrast.



The mine, of course, had a small village associated with it and it was the remains of this village where we searched and explored. The majority of the buildings had long since fallen with many being blanketed with moss and Devil’s Club their presence betrayed only by the hollow, springy feel as we walked over them. I had a few moments of concern about breaking through and immediately being crotch deep in splinters and rusted nails. (I wasn’t too worried about the waders but there are some items in my crotch area I prefer to keep splinter-free). Much like before, Cheryl and I headed out in one direction, Dale, Lori, and Levi left as a group and Larry brought up the rear filming with his video camera. There were many interesting items left from the mining era. Some sort of an auger/manure spreader looking thing and another question extractor device lying on the ground under an old pier type building. Larry, Cheryl, and I puzzled over one odd device. It looked a bit like some type of crusher but too flimsy, with a repetitious series of patterned cast iron plates. I could image it would have made a dandy finger smasher when operating at full speed. There were the remains of a school or church, old school desks with cast iron sides and a pile of piano parts. Larry at one point stated the maybe Dolly Parton had performed there. We came across a nearly intact assayer’s type building with crushing rams and high temperature kilns inside. Lori was outside and surrealistically stepped up to the window to order a burger, fries and drink…. to go (a very nice addition to the shore trip). After about an hour and a handful of trinkets later, we headed back to the skiffs. Levi and his squad headed for the boat while Dale, Cheryl and I headed to a steam to check for salmon activity. This was Cheryl’s first trip to the mouth of a salmon steam. There were salmon, of course, in both varieties, live and dead with the salty musty smell. There wasn’t much bear sign here so we motored back toward the Surveyor. Dale made a quick excursion to another cove close to the mine stating there was a mine shaft in the little cove. Cheryl and I agreed it would be interesting to find it and have a look. We landed and after about 15 seconds, spot the narrow rail tracks leading to the mine, which was about 10 feet. (I wasn’t even winded after the search). The shaft itself was about 4 and a half feet tall and round, with some water dripping from reddish cracks in the ceiling. Dale asked if I had brought a flashlight to see in the mine. I had two lights along so I dug one out, crouched over and headed into the mine shaft. It was close and humid. The bottom has covered by fine silt sure to show the tracks of whatever might have passed recently. I waddled slowly forward shining the light at the walls every once in a while in case there was a large lump of gold at hand. The shaft had a bend visible so I headed around it taking care to watch for footprints. Nothing recent like a giant bear but there were old tracks of some beast. Dale asked if I could see anything of interest, his voice was distant??? I thought they were coming in too and was a bit startled that I was apparently the only fool in the mine. Around the corner the mine ended, I was a little upset that the exploration ended so quickly but now happy to be headed back out to the wiser individuals. Dale again asked about anything in the mine. “Any shrunken heads?” “No shrunken ones” I answer. “Any bleached bones?” “They’re not bleached yet” I answer back. Once I was back out Dale says, “I just wanted to shine the light in for a look, but since you volunteered we figured you deserved to have a go inside.” Cheryl just shook her head, “men” she uttered (even after 34 years of marriage she still flings a “Men” my way every now and again… it makes me smile).
We were met on the stern of the boat by Lori as we arrived. She has us all trapped and immediately handed Dale two caramel apples for him to twirl as they cool, announcing that there are enough apples for everyone so stand by. Before long we’re all 100 percent involved with these apples as they try desperately to shed their caramel coating. Laughs and giggles all around as we each take great pleasure in pointing out the impending disaster in someone else’s hands. Having always been on the far end of the food chain, the bite and swallow end, I was surprised at the time it took to cool these apples. There must have been a full 15 to 20 minutes of doing the caramel apple shuffle involved with the very outer layer yet to be applied. Lori later made the outer coatings, crushed peppermint candies, crushed Oreo’s, and some other stuff equally tasty. Dale was the genesis of the caramel apple treats, and for the hazing that produced the peanut butter pie… he was certainly a hero for the sweets lovers on board. Lori of course performed the mastery for the cooking and preparation but Dale sometimes charted the course.
Lunch was cabbage, potatoes, and corned muskoxen, a particular treat reminding me of many a meal my mother had prepared for us during my youth (corned beef in her recipe).
This evening’s hunt will be another cove a fair distance away. Cheryl and then Larry are invited along. Cheryl had been invited to come along several times before but declined each time stating she didn’t want me to have to split my attention between the hunt and concern for her, she again declines. Larry is the third party on this hunt. He has been to this evening’s area in the past to video, and has been there during a kill.
The ride in the skiff is long, about 5.5 to 6 miles, across a large open area and through a narrow pass. While crossing we passed through a huge raft of sea otters. I counted well over 70 individuals many with pups. It sort of reminded me of a prairie dog town only a bit wet. The narrow passage was interesting to say the least. Much like a raging river in a steep walled canyon, huge rocks with boiling water, Larry and I were asked to sit as low in the skiff as possible. This was so Dale could see and presumably prevent us from capsizing if we were swallowed a bit by roil. The weather is still superb, clear skies and a gentle breeze from the north. The north east side of our destination is cove-like. There was a stream that fed through a tidal flat to dump into the lake, it split just before it crossed the tidal flat thus forming a little island.
We arrive and anchored behind a small tall spit of land which shielded us from direct view of the stream mouth. Larry, Dale, and I gear up. Dale and I load some rounds into our magazines as we’re immediately in the tall timber after a steep, but short, climb onto the finger of land. Dale is first with me following. At the edge of the beach just where we climb up, there are bleached bones laying about, gracile bones. At first I thought deer but then I remember the story of the old timer and the seeded turd. I ignored them lest they be prank bait. About half way up the climb, I stopped to assist Larry with his video camera. The climb was a two handed affair to start and Larry was without a sling for his camera. Larry and I arrive on the top to find Dale about 50 yards away seated on the edge of a cliff. He was intently glassing without moving the binoculars, a fair indication he was studying something. We amble over to Dale, an easy affair on the soft moss covered ground, but did manage to find a branch to slip past and break. This shortly brought a look from Dale. Once we were again clustered together, Dale softly whispered that the evening is very calm. He points to a sow with a cub on the west side of the tidal flat, about 250 yards distant. The sow was now watching in our direction. She was prompted to do so at the crack of the branch, which seemed like a slight sounding crack to us. After glassing the area some more we move off the high position down to the base directly across from the stream. This should help keep some of the noise down should we spot a bear and need to approach it. Getting off the finger would no doubt make some slight noise again and we’d already witnessed with the calmness of the evening and sound traveling further than anticipated. Dale went down first. This slope was more gentle than the one we came up, but still enough for considerable caution. Larry followed me and again we passed the video camera between us part way down. Once on the bottom the shoreline was narrow but covered in grass. Some was matted down by the bears as they transited this area. We found a large alder and hunkered down under its branches, removed our packs and settled in to glass the flat and stream. Dale mentioned that he’d killed two bears at this very spot; Larry had been along as cameraman on one of the kills. This was a nice place, facing north to see up the stream, but there was also a large slough to our right. There were several bear paths coming from the east passing within yards of our hide in the alders. The tide was going out and we waited for a while before deciding to cross over the tidal flat, slough, and stream mouth to get a close look further up the stream. Eventually we all advanced across to get a look. The water was still deep and made for some slow going for a while but we all made it without stumbling. Dale led the way up the stream, me close behind, as normal, and Larry about 10 yards to the rear. There were a lot of alders hanging over the creek so as we slowly walked up the streambed. We slowly picked and wound our way through the tangle of branches careful to leave no scent. There was a lot of bear sign but not many salmon. The banks were worn smooth and muddy and there were some gill plates left in a few places. Dale decided we should cross back and wait on the other side in our hide under the large alder. We could see much further and perhaps a bear would come from the east along the slough. Back under the alder we spread out a bit. Our daypacks making fine backrests for our comfort while sitting and glassing. There was no chat this evening as we waited, not even a whispered full conversation, just a few grunts, chin thrusts, and pointing.
Near dusk the half hidden shape of a bear was spotted coming down the right side stream. It was advancing tight to the left bank and hidden for most part. Dale had the furthest right position and spotted it first, but still had the same half view afforded me. Just before the bear would have stepped out onto the tidal flat, it cut 90 degrees to its right staying in the alders and smaller pines. It was more of a shadow advancing across to the left stream than anything else. It stepped into the left stream but was now completely hidden by the tall grasses on the tidal end of the middle island. Dale immediately decides to cross back to the tidal end of the island to get a look at this bear. He and I grab our rifles and packs then start across to the island. The water was still a little deep but much better than earlier. Crouching down a bit we crossed, Dale in the lead. As we near the island rounds are loaded into the chambers of the rifles, careful to be silent in doing so. On the island we can see that the bear is now up on left bank of the left stream heading into the tidal flat, still just a shadow. It appears to be of good size but just an outline and we couldn’t say sow or boar. Just about this time a sow with three cubs comes out of the tidal grass to stand on the left bank of the left stream. She’s kind of close but we remain low trying to get a good look at the first bear. The sow works her way toward us and at about 25 yards we both stand up to let her know we’re in the area. She appears a little confused so Dale does his calming monotone bear dialog. She decided to let us have that portion of the stream and slowly walked upstream. By this time it is too dark to see the shadow of the other bear and we have no option but to unload and cross back to Larry. It is dark enough that we can’t see Larry just 80 or so yards away. Once we’re back across Larry seemed a bit relieved, I suspect he was a little nervous about sitting on that bear trail at dark armed with nothing but a video camera and a sharp wit.
We walk around the end of the finger on the way back. The tide was low enough for us to make it with nothing more than some minor clawing and scrambling.
The trip back out was spectacular. The sky was crystal clear and the water calm. I searched for the only constellations I know, Ursa Major and Orion. Both are found easily on this clear night. The transit through the narrows was much more exciting on this trip. We assumed our positions on the hull. Dale made sure Larry had a flashlight tethered to his wrist (mine was in my pocket) and we went through the narrows much like a leaf in a torrent. Several times we were bounced hard as if we’d hit a rock but it was, of course, only rough water. I wondered quietly how I’d manage to transit this passage or climb to safety should we capsize. I let that thought drift off figuring I’d deal with it in real time on the off chance it happened.
Safely back on Surveyor and once again wiser, we quickly ran through the evening’s happenings as the supper table was set. We had soup and corn bread then for desert a caramel and candied apple.
Cheryl and I stayed up late hoping to see some northern lights. All we managed to see was the spectacular display of stars only visible on the clear dark night far from the cities of the lower 48.
 
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Day 9

This morning we’re headed back to and earlier anchorage after a breakfast of grapefruit, chicken egg omelets, and rosemary bread toast (mine had some jam slammed on it too).



The trip back was pretty uneventful; we passed through narrow passages despite the gulls, cormorants, and sea otters best attempts to clutter the place up. A small section of open ocean was calm and there was a single sentinel bull sea otter lounging about as if he controlled this area. We used the rule-of-tonnage and made it past without too much grief from him. We slowly cruised south, carefully glassing the shorelines looking for bears and that elusive Pelican case full of money or jewels. Lucy gave no indication that she had a desire to go back onto her island as we passed. Near our anchorage, but on the western side, Dale spots a bear on the beach. It is still a long way off but we throttle back and sneak up on the beast in Surveyor. This appears to be a smallish bear without a lumbering walk but there is oddness in its shape through my 7 power binoculars. Dale had the big 20 power binoculars out and is giving the bear a quizzical intense look, “it has white ears” he mutters. Cheryl and I cannot clearly see the ears but there is certainly something different in the front top part of the bear. We close to perhaps 500 yards as the bear begins to enter a small tidal flat. A flat Dale and I had previously hunted. Dale stops the boat while we all look at the bear; Larry takes time to video a bit. From this distance the white ears are obvious and drawing much attention from everyone in the pilot house. Dale and I discuss this white eared variant. I had no idea these type aberration existed and Dale stated he’s seen some bears in the past with one white ear. We all watch this bear for a long while discussing the probability of it retaining the white ears as it matures. Dale figured this was a three year old, about 6 to 6 and a half foot. We spent a bit more time discussing the bear and the idea of shooting it. I thought it would make a nice, unique, rug albeit smallish. Dale said that it was unique, but a rather tiny brown bear. Cheryl and I talk a bit, trying to decide where we’d display such a rug and if it were a wise decision to shoot the little critter. Over the years I come to rely upon a certain set of rules, one in particular concerning iffy situations. I have a time limit rule for decisions, which have now been exceeded. We’ve been too indecisive so it must be a no-go, I won’t kill the little white eared bear. We watched the little bear for a while longer wondering if it would keep the white ears and if those ears would eventually be its undoing.
We anchored in the familiar cove with a nice view. We’re starting to feel like it is our new home. The seals are sunning themselves and remain on the rocks for a long while. The flash of the camera causes them enough concern that they head into the water.
After a shower and a few pecans for a snack, Cheryl and I take a nap. The smell of meat cooking wakes me before long. Dale is grilling steaks on the stern… I was pretty excited about this event. Steak is another of my favorite foods. I have a rather long list of favorites but I know steaks are near the top somewhere. Steak is also apparently near the top of Lucy’s list, as she stays close at hand. Lunch consisted of thick juicy grilled steak, garlic bread, and salad. For desert Lori cut up two of the caramel apples, crushed Oreo and crushed almond. Life was good and we were content.
Dale, Larry, and I gear up again for our evening hunt. We’re heading for a large cove but Dale wants to stop and check on the nearby bear carcass again. It has been 5 days since we last stopped at the carcass. Once we’re in the skiff with our gear on and I’ve passed my evening equipment check, we head south. It is just a short ride of about 2 miles and we proceed slowly. The day is, again, clear and calm so we keep the noise to a minimum. We anchored in a small slough about 300 yards from the site where the salmon stream entered the big timber. The wind was perfect coming from due east. The tide was just starting to head out so we slogged through the water covered grass toward the stream. We followed the little slough to remain hidden from sight. It terminates within about 100 yards of where the stream entered the timber close to several large pines, and two giant downed tree trunks. We walked tight single file behind Dale, creating a “manipede” as I call it. We stopped at each pine to carefully glass the stream edge looking for the bear carcass. There was an eagle perched just to the right of the stream mouth high up on a snag. We could hear a couple of ravens croaking close by but out of sight. Dale announced that the carcass is gone but because it is still high water it may have just been washed into the stream and not taken by a bear. We discuss whether to remain on this site or head to another cove. The decision is to remain here. We advance to about 40 yards of where the carcass had been left wedged into some large rocks at the edge of the stream, just inside the timber line. The large log provided a near perfect blind. It was about 4 feet tall at the base of the trunk with the roots providing additional cover as they spread another two feet like an umbrella. We were well hidden from the stream and timber. Dale and I each loaded our rifles and stuffed a round into the chamber. I had Ol’ Hematoma. We still stood in water about knee deep and managed to find a branch stub to use as a hanger for our packs. Dale was in front at the roots of the log, then me, then Larry. Larry and I each surveyed the entire area looking over the top of the log. We could see down the stream as it passed us and headed across the tidal flat. The opposite bank was high, about 2 feet above the waterline, and covered in trampled grass. There was a large pine about 30 yards away across the stream blocking some of the view of the timber and tidal flat grass. This large pine was the demarcation line for the area. To the left it was tidal grass and to the right the tidal grass ended quickly and alders and big timber began. To our right was grass for about 25 to 30 yards before the timber. The grass extended to our rear about 100 yards and it was entirely possible for a bear to appear in this area as well. We glassed looking for all the items that would turn into bears at dusk. Small pines and the, now named, CCC rocks were cataloged in our brain. Dale continued to glass the area looking for any sign of the carcass. He glassed deep into the shadows looking for movement and we watched for any sign from the birds as to the location of the carcass. Nothing indicated its new location. Seals were fishing in the tidal flat portion of the stream and approached fairly close for a while. It was interesting to watch them. The tide slowly went out as we all stood along side the log glassing and listening. Larry used the video camera every once in a while. I was surprised and pleased at his silent methods. There were a few salmon in the stream and we’d often hear them splash. Dale and I continued to carefully scan the area looking for the tell-tale white fat of the bear carcass, hoping it would not surface in the stream as the tide retreated. Dale and I talked a bit about the situation. He said that it would be a large bear that had the carcass and he did not expect it to show until right at dark. We also mentioned that when they had skinned out the bear, he and Skip had had a good look around the area to determine where a bear might take the carcass to bury it for feeding. Dale was fairly certain the carcass had been moved by a bear. Skip had wedged a large rock in against the carcass to eliminate easy removal. Dale felt the carcass was not too far away, perhaps 70 yards. There was a large root ball a short way into the timber that he had used to offer a vantage point in his previous survey. Waiting for about an hour standing next to the log, we eventually noticed the water was down to boot sole level and the seals are gone. It was nice to be back on nearly dry ground.
It was very quiet during the entire evening. There were no bears to be seen. The lone eagle provided us some relief as it left and returned several times.
About the time the shadows started to come out, we got a little busy. Ducks flew up and down the stream a few times. The whispers from their wings being the only sounds we heard. The small pines behind us transformed into bears, I was sure one was moving and studied it for a long while. I was starting to get a little anxious; it was getting dark and if Dale was right, as he usually was, our bear would show up soon. We glassed far to the left down the now narrow stream, along the stream bed, and onto the tidal grass. Gulls were gathering to eat their fill of freshly deposited bank salmon. The light is fading fast and we’re now constantly scanning looking for moving shadows. Dale moved to the top end of the log, climbed up to get a better look across the grass hidden behind the large pine, and also that above our low hide. I am now in front position, scanning into the shadows at the mouth of the stream, hoping to see the moving feet of an approaching bear. A slight noise behind me, I half turned and glimpse Dale dismounting the log. I turn back to scan the timber, but Dale is upon me. “There he is.” He points to the large pine just 30 yards away. I simultaneously see the bear. I have the rifle coming up, safety off. “Shoot him if you can, he’s a godzilla.” Dale says. The scope is on mid power about 3x. As I shoulder the rifle, I easily center the cross hairs on center mass of the chest area. The bear is passing in front of the big pine, just past center, at a slow walk silhouetted in the tall grass. The shadow is deep at the pine and the bear has the two-dimensional dark silhouette appearance. I can’t tell if the bear is rounding the pine and quartering-away, or is it following the bank and quartering-to. I lift my head for a split second to see unaided, the bear is quartering-away heading into the timber. Back through the scope I see the rear of the bear highlighted against the tall grass. The front of the bear has blended into the dark alders. As I watch, desperately trying to see the bear’s chest, he disappears into the shadows of the alders. “No shot” I tell Dale as I continue to switch between looking through the scope and over it to catch a glimpse of the bear. Twice more for just a fleeting moment, I see movement. Again “No shot” I utter. Dale was at my immediate left as I come off the rifle and slide the safety. His rifle was also at the ready as he was tracking the bear for the follow-up shot. He says he could not see the bear either, the shadows are too deep. Larry is also close at hand. He says he should have said something earlier but thought it was just a shadow. Dale says he was glassing the tidal flat to the left and Larry saw the bear as it came from nearly directly behind the large pine. We literally only had a few seconds. Larry obviously feels as though he should have said something sooner but it is in hind sight. He had no way of knowing in real time. It was about this time that we hear the roaring begin. At least two bears are somewhat upset. In my mind’s eye I see the bear we just saw coming upon the carcass only to discover an intruder. They’re on their hind legs swatting and sparring. We all listen for a while, an eerie and unforgettable event for me. It is still possible to see well in some areas and we watch for a bear while listening to the fight. Dale playfully mentions he has his 44 magnum on and that if I want I can borrow it and go in after the bear. He says I should have little trouble finding it. I asked in return if I could take my flashlight in as well but his quick reply was “That would be illegal”. Larry was still somewhat apologetic asking about our no shot situation. Dale and I both tell him we couldn’t see the bear at all once it passed out of the tall grass into the shadows of the alders. We had about 2 full seconds of visible bear. I could have easily shot a round into the bear when I first saw it, but without knowing if it was quartering-away or quartering-to, I would have been shooting blind with a possibility of simply wounding the beast. Dale also mentions that had we shot and wounded the bear it could be possible that the other bear(s) would have fed on it during the night had it been a fatal wound. Larry was in no fault at his interpretation of what he saw at the time. It just works out that way sometimes. We eventually leave once it is full dark, quietly vacating the area with Dale telling of how we will come back in the morning and attempt to lure the bear out with some squeak calls. If that doesn’t work, we’ll work our way in to find the carcass to discover if the bear is close by guarding the kill.
Our trip back to the boat was slow and quiet so as not to disturb the area. A supper of cabbage, potatoes, and muskox with cornbread, we talked a great deal about the evening. Running back over the various aspects and second guessing what we might have done differently. Of course, I think I should have immediately shot and got a bullet into the beast. Certainly the big 500 grain 458 slug could deal with whatever the bear offered. However, having been in this exact quartering two-dimensional shooting situation in the past, sometimes it doesn’t turn out as expected. Larry again discusses his hesitation of not knowing if it was a shadow or bear. Dale talks about tomorrow, his squeaking call, finding the carcass, and guarding bear. I believe we all did what was best and we’ll go back in the morning at daybreak for a try in bright light.
Dale told us a tale of tracking a bear that a hunter wounded in the late evening. He tells of entering the dark timber at dusk following the sound of the wounded bear with only his 44 magnum for a firearm. The hunter and Dale’s big 458 Winchester remained in the tidal flat. It was dark enough that at times he can only feel his way along, crossing fallen logs on hands and knees, a few close glimpses of the bear, and firing point-blank into the beast with the 44. Eventually he can hear the bear’s rattling death breathing, slow wet breaths, and Dale is down to one round left in the handgun. The bear has crawled into a logjam and Dale begins to crawl onto the logs to find the bear. It is full pitch black dark in the timber. He can hear the bear’s labored breathing below him as he crawls from log to log reaching deep into the logjam with his left hand trying to find the bear. At last he says he found the bear. His hand slowly descends into the logjam and meets hair, it is on the bear’s chest. He can feel ribcage and the slow rise and fall of the chest as the bear breathes. He places the muzzle of the 44 against the bear’s chest next to his hand and fires the single remaining round. The bear doesn’t move except for a quiver as the round enters. The bear slowly takes a breath then nothing… Dale waits for a long while and still nothing so he feels around looking for the head. He lightly pokes his finger in the bear’s eye, the finger is immediately softly pinched as the eye closes and there is another shallow breath. Dale waits as the bear breaths slower and slower, it is surely dying. Again no breathing for a long while and Dale again does the finger in the eye test, this time with a little more force… the bear bolts from the logjam at the painful poke and Dale can only wait. In the pitch black of the night timber, he hears the bear pile up a short distance away as is takes its last breaths and makes a death bawl.
I’m glad I didn’t use his 44 this evening and go after the bear because I’m sure it wouldn’t have worked out so well for me. I did make a mental note to carry extra handgun rounds when I carry one.
 
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Discussion Starter #11
Day 10

Today is a bit different. Dale has us headed out for a morning hunt to try to coax a bear out into the open, if there is one around. We’re up at 0545 getting ready and head out just before first good light. We anchor a fair distance off our location from the previous evening, about 300 yards give or take a few. As we make our way across the tidal flat discussions are on what we’re about to try in a effort to get the bear, we saw last evening, to come out of the timber, if it is even in the area of the carcass. Dale is going to try to “squeak” the bear out. We got to the log easily as the tide was low. I positioned myself at the front of the log and had a clear view of the stream, the location of the carcass where it was left, and the large pine where we saw the bear the night before. The guns are loaded and rounds chambered by this point in time. I make ready, down on one knee but still plenty able to stand up and easily handle the rifle. I wasn’t crowded or cramped in my position. Dale seeing that I’m ready retreats to the rearward log and climbs up on it to give himself a better view and a proper podium from which to launch a “squeak”. I’ll admit that I’ve heard a lot of calls in my day, commercial and mouth generated imitations, but this squeak was new to me. Of course, I’ve never heard anyone squeak for a brown bear either so this may have been the “10” of this type of call. The “squeak” when it started was loud as I had expected. It sounded a bit like an angry duck running a bleating moose calf through a rusty grinder in a mud pit. A unique combination of quacks, bleats, smucks, and such. I didn’t dare look back to observe Dale during his calling as I was expecting the bear to come running at full tilt to claim the prize. We had mentioned that a bear could come from anywhere and not just where we anticipated. I was in a tizzy trying to scan about 270 degrees around my position, just in case we were suddenly inundated with quizzical bears. Dale’s squeaking lasted through several choruses, about 1 minute total noise spread out over 2 minutes or so. My own throat was sympathetically sore. I just knew Dale was now fully and permanently mute. I waited about 10 minutes, scanning the area constantly but no bears. Dale began to break into the second set as I watched the area. It was a repeat of the previous sequence, but this time I had to look. Just a quick glance as I did my rearward sweep of the area. This was a serious event. I maintained my composure and stayed on task well, but for the life of me I couldn’t help but think of the scene in The Goonies where Chunk was forced to do the Truffle Shuffle. Again we wait post squeak without results. Dale tries a third time. I was sure the call and effort were taking some toll on Dale’s voice. He sounded a little bit in pain. We wait a long while without effect, now what to do?
Dale came down off his perch and made his way to the root end of the log. I rose and backed up so we were hidden from the timber. We quietly scanned the area through binoculars looking for any telltale movement or tufts of fur, nothing! Dale figures we need to find the carcass and assess the situation with more information, maybe we’ll find the bear on the carcass. The wind is still good, steady from the east. Dale and I talk about going into the timber to find the carcass. There are a few requirements: we must be absolutely silent and stay very close together and we must leave as little scent as possible. Dale says the bear may be on the kill, it may charge, or we might not see it al all. The 458’s are tough and if there is a charge shoot center mass no matter what. Dale tells me to take off my raincoat, leave the binoculars in my pack, and remove the sling from my rifle. He does likewise but then re-attaches his sling and picks up his binoculars after some inward reflection. At the prospect of actually heading into the timber searching for the carcass, I was fairly excited. We were pretty much now hunting one specific bear.
We begin our stalk/sneak to discover the whereabouts of the carcass and determine if there is a bear in the vicinity. Ever so slowly we begin across the stream. The tide is out so the going is easy as far as the depth of the water, but there is now the problem of being in shallow water and having to deal with the round slimy rocks in the stream bottom. We carefully avoid the larger rocks, stepping between them or into areas that are gravel or sand-like. The knee deep water is crystal clear and no obstacle to vision. It is not an easy task to sneak across silently and it takes several minutes to cross the 5 yards of stream to the far side. We only advance a few feet at a time and stop to glass the area over well. At the side near the previous location of the carcass, we begin upstream keeping to the water. There are dead salmon scattered about, wedged into the rocks, or partially beached on the steep timbered bank. We are traveling just a yard or two from the shoulder high edge of the tidal flat. The matted tall grass showing the signs of bear activity. We keep careful watch to the sides and as far into the grass and alders as possible not wanting to be surprised by a bear charging forth at head height only to be seen at the last moment. About 30 yards into the sneak we are at a left fork in the stream and just feet away from the place Skip and Dale had left the carcass. We are also high enough to see a good distance into the dark timber, so Dale starts to carefully glass into the timber. I am in a rear guard position just a foot or so from Dale. I take care to keep a watch for any movement, paying particular attention to Dale’s blind spots. We are just now entering the alders and big pines taking the left fork. This fork is dry except for times of the highest tide. There are large rocks, perhaps 8 to 10 inches in diameter, scattered in the stream bed, these are avoided as are any rocks that could teeter and crunch against smaller rocks. It is difficult to advance avoiding anything that will make noise while also avoiding all the low branches of the alders. Progress is slow but it is necessary as we watch for anything that could be the carcass or a waiting bear. All the whitish colored areas are scanned and glassed, if necessary. Any movement seen in the area, even the slightest swaying of grass or branches causes us to stop and carefully search the area involved. It is tedious. I notice a large grey-white object about 30 yards upstream and to our right. I poke Dale’s shoulder and slowly gesture for him to have a look. It is nothing of any interest so we proceed. It is difficult to convey the careful deliberate pace at which we advanced and the intensity of the searching. I have seldom needed to advance in this fashion while hunting. It is a tiring process both physically and mentally. I have my rifle held in a port-arms fashion and notice that my arms are getting a little cramped. I’m not white-knuckling it but I’m not about to drop it either. We begin to ascend to the height of the main forest floor as this little overflow stream is very shallow banked. Dale and I pass to the left of several small fallen alders and are about to step over some large rocks in the stream, there is but a narrow passage between fallen trees here. Dale has just stepped over the rocks and begins to scan the timber again when suddenly two red squirrels burst from the grass and cross the stream bed just feet from us. They are silent but highly visible fast movers. “****” I think to myself as I unconsciously come full alert… Dale and I watch them run off as they play their “scare the humans” game. A short glance at each other and we’re ready to continue. We only get about 5 feet before they come back a second time and zoom back across the stream. It is as if they don’t even know we’re there or more likely they just don’t care! Past the last few large rocks we enter the timber proper. The stream bed turns to small gravel and sand making for much easier walking but we are now able to see much further into the dark timber. Dale scans ahead carefully. We can see the large root ball Dale had mentioned earlier. Still no sign of the carcass, it has to be close by but where. Dale had mentioned it should not be difficult to tell where the bear buried the carcass if we can spot the general area. He says it’ll look like a dozer had been at work. Eventually we’re at the large root ball but once again the bank is tall enough that we can’t see close into the timber. The bear and carcass could be just feet from us, yet completely hidden from view. Dale motions that he is going to climb up on the root ball. There are roots available for foot and hand holds, and is about 4 feet to the top of a small flat. I watch carefully to the left of the large obstruction, in case, the bear comes around from that direction as Dale climbs and watches to the right. He gets about 3 feet up and stops, he’s frozen in time. I watch him in case he motions or indicates a required action, nothing. After about 15 seconds he slowly turns his head slightly and with a slight and slow gesture he raises his right hand and crooks his index finger straight ahead into the timber. A few little twitches of the tip of his finger tells me he’s found something. He motions me to come up as he slowly moves up and to the side a bit. In a moment, I’m at his side after slowly raising up from the streambed. Straight ahead about 40 yards just where the timber starts up a good grade, the ground is tore up pretty good. I can see bits and pieces of white bones and entrails. There is no bear to be seen. We both slowly search the area, Dale through the binoculars and me with the naked eyeball. It is a bit as though time has stopped, all else gone. I carefully scan the entire area. There are trails going up the slope and others heading out to the tidal flat. It appears that there might be enough opening in the tree cover that the evening light will be good for a bit later than I had initially thought. If we needed to come back in the evening, I was concerned about loosing light before the bears arrive. It is a near perfect setup, the trails don’t come to the root ball as there are low banks close by and the existing trails take the easy path. I looked as far up the slope as I could and there is nothing but thick timber and a jumble of fallen logs for a hundred yards. I can’t spot a giant furry ball sleeping in plain sight but I get the feeling he’s up there somewhere watching. Knowing that it is possible that the bear is still in the area, we back out with the same care we used on the way in. The squirrels had finished their game and weren’t to be seen.
Once back at our log across the stream, we put our gear back together and talked about the situation and options. Dale says the bear is probably up on the ridge watching the carcass. We could come back in the evening, wait on the root ball, and maybe get a shot at the big fella. This sounds like a good plan to me and it’s agreed. The little walk-in bear survey just performed took the better part of an hour.
On the way back to the boat as we came out of the cove, Dale spots a small bear to the west, nearly due west. We make a swing to the south and check out the tidal flat there, then slowly head north along the west side. The little bear is still walking on the beach and we slowly approach. It starts to rain a little but overall the sky is clear to the east. We close the distance on the little bear as it continues north checking our approach every once in a while, seemingly unconcerned. I manage to get a few pictures as she stops to get a good look at us. Dale has a little conversation with her, “You look hungry, there’s food over in the big cove”, “You look like you miss your mom, I bet you’re a three year old and this is will be your first winter alone”, “Don’t fret being lonely, you’ll have a nice big boyfriend in the spring”.



Back on the Surveyor and into our boat clothes. Breakfast is bananas, bacon, English muffins, jam, yogurt, and orange juice. Not long after the late breakfast Cheryl and I take a long nap. This boat life is good and I’m getting pretty comfortable with it. Up again at about 1:30PM for dinner of pasta, yogurt, and two more caramel with coatings apples.
The weather begins to change a bit in the early afternoon. Some rain blows in and the winds are now variable in direction. Dale and I gear up, Larry comes to see us off and video a bit. He won’t be coming along this evening. We motor the skiff very slowly over toward the cove and anchor about 1200 yards from the carcass and root ball. The tide is coming in and we’re in a bit of a hurry. Dale performs the reverse engine no-fuel anchor routine but we end up hampered by a fallen log. We move just a few dozen yards further away beyond the fallen log and anchor. As I stand at the bank on the edge of the timber waiting for Dale, two ravens land in a snag about 15 yards away and carefully look me over. Dale sees them and gives them a wary look. It’s early as we make our way across the tidal flat toward the carcass. The seals are bobbing around in the cove waiting for the tide to come full in so they can get up in the stream. Dale and I talk a bit, just chit chat as we cross the tidal flat. The wind is not too good but we attribute the switching to the timber and believe there will be a slight westerly wind once we’re at the stream. We can see small low misty clouds hanging just over the large pines. As we near the large log we had hidden behind earlier in the day, we glass the moss and weeds along the stream bank. The tell-tales show a poor situation, the wind is switching every once in a while and blowing north and northeast. Exactly the wrong direction for our situation. We can see some areas of blue sky and it’s a toss up as to what will happen with the wind and weather. It is sprinkling lightly but nothing of any concern. With the wind blowing to the northeast we are in a bad situation being this close. We’re still several hundred yards from the stream and the carcass, but bears seem to have a good sense of smell. We need to back off. Dale turns and heads back across the flat toward the boat, saying we need to listen to the weather a bit and wait for the wind to switch. Back nearer the boat Dale finds a handy stack of boulders and plops down in his stone reclining lounge chair completely at home in the wilderness. I search but all I see is a small milk stool looking rock, barely large enough to uncomfortably sit upon. As Dale turns on the radio and listens to the weather, I scan the beaches and watch the birds and seals. I can hear the crackle of the radio and the computerized voice weather reports, it sounds a little like Stephen Hawking. We have been on the tidal flat perhaps 45 minutes before Dale and I talk about the problem of the wind. Should we head to the south end and hunt where the wind is in our favor abandoning the carcass, or wait a bit longer for the wind to settle? It’s getting later than we’d like and the tide is coming in fast. The wind remains bad and we decide to head to the south to hunt. The skiff is only a few hundred yards away. As we arrive at the skiff the wind comes on stronger. It is now steady and from the north, we have to change plans again… it is back to the carcass.
We know it is late but we’re at the mercy of the weather. We quickly head across the tidal flat. The rain is picking up and I dig out a few small rags for the scope. Once we’re at the log Dale and I load cartridges into the magazines of our rifles. The water is deep, as deep as I’ve ever seen it in this site. The seals are happily in the stream. Dale hikes his pack and shoulder holster rig up as high as possible and while holding his rifle over his head, heads into the stream. What was just a knee deep trickle this morning is now more than chest deep full flowing stream. He makes it about 3 feet and turns back. We immediately head quietly up stream along the right side bank, the southwest bank. The sides are steep, the remains of a large cliff with flat slab sided rocks and shards of boulders that had splintered off ages ago. We scramble silently along the edge of the stream clinging to the sharp steep sided boulders and cliff, trying to keep from sliding into the stream. Our goal is getting about 40 yards upstream to cross at a rapids. We crawl over several large logs and scoot under others but before we get to the rapids we’re halted by the steep cliff face… At this point we’re stuck; it is cross now or head back down stream. It seems like an easy task, the stream is only maybe 10 to 15 yards across and surely we can find a point to cross. Darkness is coming on fast but the wind is still good, surely we can make it in time to find the bear. Dale crawls over a log wedged parallel to the stream. He hikes his gear high again and holds his rifle at full arms length above his head as he lowers himself into the water. I consider methods to keep the bulk of the water out of the chest waders should we get that deep. Dale is already nearing nipple deep and he hasn’t taken a step forward, he looks frustrated but determined. He moves up stream just a step or two searching with his feet… With a look of begrudged defeat he crawls back across the log and I lead the way back down stream again clinging to the rocks and crossing logs. We both give several looks to the other side of the stream just yards away.
We quickly head to the large log, it is now raining hard and the sky is darkening with the rain clouds. There may be 45 minutes before full dark. It is fairly obvious that Dale feels bad about the situation, being held back earlier and the switching winds. I thought for a few minutes that he would try to swim across the narrow divide… I would have certainly followed as I had complete trust in his abilities.
We busy ourselves with keeping the scopes clear and I had the additional duties of keeping my glasses clear and fog free. There would only be a few seconds to make the shot and I fully intended to be ready. This is probably the worst weather evening we’ve had all hunt, wind and rain with rapidly cooling temperatures causing fog. We hunker down and watch…. Nothing is moving, and I can’t really blame the critters as it is fairly miserable, even the birds are gone. It is just the seals, Dale, and I. Just before it is too dark to shoot, Dale gets up onto the truffle shuffle stump and gives a long and loud squeak. I am intently watching the tree line while he is surely scanning the tidal flat and area near the large pine… As darkness falls my hunt ends and my mind races back for a few seconds, over the events of the past 10 days. It has been a real adventure and I cherish the time, people, and events. Dale startles me back to reality as he softly says we should try another familiar cove tomorrow. He says we have an extra day with the way Cheryl and I had booked our plane tickets and that he would be happy to stay the extra day. I think on it for a few seconds and we chat a while about the hunt, and the great time it has been. I worry a bit about his business and the effect of a hunter not taking a bear. We talk about that for a while. As much as I try to convey that I have had the time of my life and that had I wanted to kill a bear I could have easily shot some of the others. I was here for the adventure, experience, and the hunt. I had had the best time I’ve ever had on a hunt. With a firm handshake and verbal thanks we agree to discuss staying an extra day once we are back at the boat, and unload the rifles and head for the skiff.
Back at the boat Larry and Lucy greet us. Larry looks a little sad at the news of the hunt and weather but Lucy is overjoyed (she doesn’t speak English and she can’t count) as always.
Supper is roast beef sandwiches, peaches, pears, cottage cheese, and ice cream. Larry snuck up an extra ½ pint of ice cream especially for me. We talked about the evening’s hunt and the idea to stay extra. Larry mentions that Cheryl had talked with him about doing some shopping in Sitka when we arrived tomorrow afternoon. Dale says we can get up early and get a good morning hunt and still be back in time to be in Sitka before the shops close. Cheryl was the reason we were on this brown bear hunt, it had been her decision that I should head to Alaska to hunt them. It was something I had talked with her about many times over the years, this was her gift to me. I told Dale that I had had my 10 day hunt and as much as I’d like to stay and hunt in the morning it was Cheryl’s day tomorrow. I certainly owed her that. Dale agreed and we officially ended my brown bear hunt. We spent the rest of the evening telling tales of the hunt and of hunts past. There are stories and pictures of Old Ben Forbes. Dale and I swap stories of farming, the Navy and his fishing.
Although I did not shoot a bear, I certainly felt that it was my option and decision that made it so. Dale is without a doubt one of the most professional and ethical men I’ve every hunted with. His operation is superb and the equipment in good repair. Lori was wonderful and added greatly to the experience. Her patience, recipes, and experience certainly added a lot to the comfort and humor of the trip. Larry was a marvelous fella, his wit was a nice diversion and offered some sparring, a good and decent man. Levi helped out greatly and we’ll miss his jokes.
I hope to some day head back up to Sitka to visit Dale and his family, maybe to hunt or just wander about.


Epilogue

As to recalling the events, I kept a daily journal and that helps me recall the situations.

I've hunted with a fair number of outfitters and, of course, during their discussions with potential clients the success rate issue usually comes up, it is the tangible metric. I am a bit concerned that my no-bear situation will adversely, and in my mind unnecessarily, affect Dale's operation.

But, I also consider that I have met a fair number of hunters that don't have a kill each paid hunt. I have personally become more interested in the hunt than the kill, on several of my latest black bear hunts I've passed on all the bears we've stalked or spotted. I've also passed on many buck whitetail in Alberta and Wisconsin, unless it is truly a monster and I feel it is a fair situation I will no longer shoot. Sometimes I worried that I'm getting soft, an unwanted byproduct of living in our Politically Correct (PC) and motherly values society but I quickly come to my senses and attribute it to a change in my hunting values.

Had I had a few more seconds I certainly would have killed the monster bear on evening 9. The situation had been set and co-hunters were in agreement, it would have been a good kill.

I find no fault on Dale’s part, nor anyone else for that matter, as to my non-kill. I’m sure had we gone into the other cove the morning of day 11, I could have easily killed a bear to fill my tag, just as I could have on nearly any previous day.


Dave King
Damascus, Maryland
 

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Well written, informative tale. As to the ending, I would rather go on a hunting trip than a killing trip any day
 

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Good read very informative. I'm about due for a hunting trip. Every couple years, I get the itch to go on a nice trip. I have been on plenty of hunting trips and passed on game. On some trips I was looking for a trophy animal. I passed on some nice game. I enjoy getting out on the hunt. The game is a bonus.
Jim
 
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