I recently got back from my Coastal Alaskan black bear hunt yesterday. We were hunting on one of the islands which is more or less due South of Juneau. Ironically only black bears inhabit the island we were on yet a short distance away on the ABC Islands off the coast of Juneau it's only brown bears that reside there. A very peculiar dynamic in my opinion. That said, the black bears on this island grow to the size of some interior Grizzlies. Unfortunately I never laid eyes on one of the monster 8 ft plus black bears but I did see a lot of bears and was fortunate enough to harvest a 7 ft 5 in boar the second day of the hunt. Weather was, well, really really wet. I had set out to harvest a 7'6" bear or bigger but given the weather and the threat of impending severe weather that would hamper our efforts, I wasn't going to hold out. As the old saying goes, "don't pass up the first day what you would gladly shoot on the last day".
This was a yacht based hunt. We would stay on the yacht while not hunting and then ferry over to the island to gain access to various streams to hunt. It was prime time for the Salmon run. Rivers were stacked full with fish and boy did it smell like it. We landed in Juneau on Monday, Labor day. We were supposed to fly out on Tuesday in a Super Beaver. We actually attempted it but after about 30 mins inflight as we were flying a narrow canyon the weather at the opposite it posed an impenetrable wall of darkness. The captain quickly banked right and then hard left. I thought I was going to lose my breakfast. He skirted the plane around the North side of the island and attempted to circumvent the storm to the East. No luck. We headed back to Juneau for the night.
Next day it was looking like we would be stuck in Juneau another day. We had already lost one day of hunting with the prior delay and had no desire to be down two. Our outfitter didn't want that to happen either and she went above and beyond to get us to the boat. She switched carriers and put us on a Pilatus with IFR and flew us down to the thriving metropolis of the Kake. There, two of her guides ferried the weeks prior hunters on an hour long skiff ride across the ocean bay to drop them off and pick us up. The ride back was brisk and damp but was quickly forgotten by the multitude of hump back whales breaching the waters surface and the surrounding beauty of the islands.
Home was an 85 ft yacht with a chef on board. I may never sleep in a tent again. Weather had moved in quickly that evening so we got settled in to our rooms and had dinner where we discussed activities for tomorrow.
Slept in til 0800, had a really nice breakfast and took it easy till around 1200 when we packed a lunch, loaded up the skiffs and headed out into open water over to the island and the make shift rifle range. I was hunting with 3 other hunters, none of which I had met before. We were all curious as to how our rifles had faired with the "white glove" treatment of our gun cases on the airlines
. I was shooting a Blaser R8 Ultimate in 375 H&H. One shot and it was dead on from left to right and just a half inch low. That was good enough for me and my guide. My guide and I loaded back up in the skiff and drove around to a different part of the island. We took small stream up to an old logging road and started walking when to the river we would be hunting for the evening.
This is a true rainforest and the undergrowth and tree canopy lived up to it's definition. Thick thick vegetation. Visibility was at best 15-20 yds all the way down off the road to the river. No way could one hunt this with any reasonable success. Once at the river we checked the wind and that determined the direction we would begin walking, always into the wind. We spent 99% of the time in the water. Walking on dry land left scent everywhere and left the possibility of being heard while walking. The river was loud both from the speed of its current as it weaved over boulders and downed trees as well as from the frenzy of thousand of spawning salmon making their way up stream. The depth of the river varied from ankle deep to just above my belly button. We were climbing under, over and walking on top of wet slick 5-6 foot diameter trees when the river became too deep. Anything to avoid getting up on the banks. At times I imagined I was in Navy Seal training. We were in the water that much. An hour sit in 4 foot water was common. Fortunately the water wasn't too cold with waders and thermals on underneath.
The river on this day ended up being the widest of the two rivers I hunted. Typically 30+ yds wide with some down stream visibility that stretch upwards of 75 yds. On this day we saw a total of 7 bears 6 being immature boars and one huge sow that we met head on in the dark on the same log approaching each other as we hiked out. When she got within 5 ft of us, I out loud said "oh $&#?' and she spun and bolted. Yea......I was scared. Early that day we had a young boar get to within about 8-10ft but I could see him and if he made a move it was going to be lights out.
Second day we went about 15 miles into the interior. I was astonished that the river we would be hunting, though quite more narrow at 15 yds in width, still had thousands of salmon doing their thing. The water was a lot more shallow but the over hanging vegetation and timber down on the river was more prevalent. We first saw a rear end of a big bear that still had some brown coloration to it. My guide mentioned some older bears on the island typically will have a slight brown tint to them. Unfortunately we couldn't get around the downed timber in time enough to see what exactly it was. About 5pm the wind had switched directions and we turned with it and started back down stream but into the wind. About half way back down the river my guide spotted a boar on the opposite side of the river walking towards us. We were completely exposed where we stood, without any cover to get behind or lean up against. She hastily turned and went back away from the bear to a massive root system that was upturned when the tree it was attached to fell over across the river. She climbed up it with haste. I was less graceful but made it up and quickly pulled my pack off and placed it in front of me to use to stabilize my rifle.
By this time the bear was in the middle of the river and headed to the same side we were on. She had estimated the size to not be quite 7'6" but a mature bear. What she didn't know yet was if it was a boar or a sow. She told me to wait until she new what it was before giving me the green light. By this time the bear had fish and went to the bank. This is common behavior by the bears. They typically do not eat the fish where they caught it in the river. The look for a nearby rock bar or head to the bank and cover to eat. He came out again and by now my guide knew it was a boar. She confirmed, "it's a mature boar. He won't likely be 7'6" but he will be close. What would you like to do". I responded that I would take him if given a shot. By this time he darted back in the woods. A few seconds later and he was back in the water. She asked that I not shoot because she wanted to confirm it was the same bear and not a new bear. She confirmed it was the same bear and by now he had gone back onto the bank. I waited at the read, one eye looking down my scope the other eye open watching the bank. I saw his rear end along the edge and figured he was getting ready to come back out. He turned toward the river, head coming out first. I knew this was it and told my guide I was going to shoot if he takes two more steps. I waited for him to move his front leg forward to expose the sweet spot and when he did I fired. It was as thought a Strawberry flavored soda can when off when the bullet impacted. Nothing but reassuring pink froth exploding from the bear. He spun and ran. The question was, where. We sat patiently waiting for about 15 mins. Probably 60 seconds after my shot though we did hear the infamous "death moan" and all but were certain we had a dead bear. Just needed to find him.
By this time I realized something was flowing down my forehead onto my nose. I immediately knew......I had been "scoped" for the first time.
But I didn't care, it was part of the adventure and now I can show people my scar from being 'attacked by the bear that tried to kill me".
Lots of blood found on the log that was behind the bear. There there was noting in any direction. I stayed put and my guide worked in a zig-zagging pattern for a bout 20 minutes and finally gave me the thumbs up to come to her. It was done. Shot was 3 inches behind the crease of the front leg. Both lungs and half the heart were blown out.
I have specifically hunted black bears three times now. "Third times a charm" I guess. It was a great hunt but physically demanding. Black bear can be checked off the list now.