Was I dreaming? It is just past mid April and I am on Kodiak Island! Before me lies miles of thickly laying brown grass, alders and snow patched mountain slopes. I have a Brown Bear tag in my pocket and it is mine. A 300 Winchester Mag hangs heavily in my right hand. I feel the cool sea breeze upon my face and the tidal sand squishing under my hip boots. There is a slight salt taste upon my lips. No this is real, I am not dreaming. This is a dream coming true!
When a soul dreams there is always a starting point, an awakening igniting the journey. Mine began with my parents raising my older twin brothers and I in a hunting camp at the heart of South Eastern British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains. Here I grew up to the age of thirteen. At four and five years I was living the perfect childhood. In this place surrounded by sky scratching spruce and tamarack, looking upon shamrock touched Goat ridges with misting fresh green alder slides, angling down from strong shouldered mountains. My spirit started its flight of huge dreams. Hunting clients in our camp would soon become aware of my imaginations flight. An enormous bull elk just walked out of the meadow past the clients cabin, massive Billy Goat slipped around the corner of that bluff just before they looked. Moose or a giant buck, no matter, I saw them causing those around me to laugh at my imaginations vision. In this period of my life is when my first real grizzlies came through our camp rousing my blood to a boil and sending my adrenalin to smacking my ears off the side of my head. Quivering my knees with excitement, I knew I was meant to hunt and guide bears among many animals for I did not feel fear, just desire. I would look into the faces around me and state in my five year old slang, “someday I am going to be a guiderman”.
During those growing days I was told stories of Kodiak Bears so huge they could step over trucks. How these bears loved to eat small children and could find kids no matter where they hid. I did not scare from the thoughts of these bears, only had visions of giant bears breaking through the cabin door and me scooping up a 30-30 win. saving the day. Imagination always in full flight carrying my wild dreams, the days, months, and years eventually brought balance to my stride.
Waves crashed the beach splashing away faded thoughts of childhood. I remember back waiting to hear the solitude cracked by the wine of the Super Cub bringing my guide Dave Pingree and the rest of our gear. We would pack in a few hundred metres from the beach and set up our bomb shelter tent with the rest of camp, complete our nightly Ban Radio contact with base camp and wait for our legal hunting time to arrive the following morning. Almost two weeks in a designated hunt area, granted to Master Guide Dic Rohrer on Kodiak Islands refuge, were to be mine.
Kodiak Islands Refuge area encompasses about two thirds of the 3835 square miles of the Island. An estimated Island population of 2650 bears is the managed number recognized by the “Kodiak Archipelago Bear Conservation and Management Plan”. An annual average harvest of 160 bears is taken on Kodiak and its refuge, around 6% of estimated population. It is stated in the management plan that even at this harvest level the bear population may well be at its max carrying capacity. It is also stated that a maximum sustainable yield is 10% or slightly lower, suggesting the refuge and the remainder of Kodiak Island is managed conservatively. This being the case hunters face a bright future of quality opportunity in the refuge. The unit my hunt was to take place in there is a suggested population of one bear per 1.4 square miles, enough to leave a smile on my face.
Dave and I had woke to rain, wind and low valley cover the first morning. Ideal conditions they were not, but here I was in the land of giant bears. Every moment on Kodiak is ideal in its own way. Each breath is full of anticipation. Each rain drop driven by the wind, spatting wetness upon your cheek, nose and eyes, brings to reality the feel of life. Our sight was free to scour the land and in doing so we located a mature sow and family of two moving among the Black Birch trees. Sitka Black Deer were found from our vantage knob. Worn deer trails felt the hooves of Stocky built bucks, already possessing two inch velvet antlers. Exceptional growth for April “though this area of Kodiak is known for some of the best Black Tails”. Fox of all colours ran the beach for clams and the meadows for voles. Eagles road the wind currents around us and Magpies searched alder thickets for their days meal. Pushkie ‘Cow Parsnip’, pushed a green tinge through the earth. Evidence of springs forgoing journey. We remained hunkered and happy behind our slickly rigged blue tarp weather break. Chelikoff straights layed at our flank separating us from the Alaskan Peninsula. The comfort of our ten foot sq. tent plus a good meal ended our day.
The bobbed grips of my hip boots dug into the damp earth as my breath quickened. North East up a near ridge approach to a high bench was our route. The mid day breeze thankfully cooled our faces as we climbed. The morning had dished out fowl weather and we now faced a perfect afternoon. Off the far outside point of the bench a perfect view at an eroded trench faced mountain dropping off into the ocean awaited us. These trenches or draws were greening with Pushkie creating exceptional bear habitat. Keying in on the wisest way to hunt bears Dave and I settled in on that great vantage point sitting about 500 feet above sea level, allowing an Eagle eye into the bottom ends of most draws.
Rewards can come quick when bear hunting. A few thoughts of brief dreams just started to pass through my mind when there he was our first opportunity of quality size. Three quarters of a mile away rolling around the corner of the mountain was a solid nine foot bore. He slumbered down across the mountains steep grass face into the first erosion draw. Suddenly two hundred yards below us in a perfectly imaginable alder opening was a blond sow. It was interesting watching her antics, rolling and eating off her belly. Explosively an unexpected burst of speed carried her downwards crashing through alders in her path. Two bears broke out on the tidal beach at the bottom of the draw, our original sow hot on the heals of another sow of equal size. My surmise of the situation was that the second sow stumbled into the feeding grounds of the first causing her to be a little upset. Competing for the first greens was the story of the day, soon we witnessed a second chase episode. The nine foot bore was putting the run on a smaller bear, down on to the beach they also went. Doubling back up a few draws closer, that scared little bear never stopped until it cleared the mountain peek. Our niner bear, we will call him, quit about a third of the way back up. Before long two more bears, both about eight and a half foot bores, started cat and mousing each other. In and out of draws about half way between us and the last place we seen the niner bear. This persuite edged over a steep angled draw into maybe the primest looking cut on the whole face, only to have both bears exiting the way the came in a matter of a minute later. The curious part about those two is how both kept looking back over their shoulders. It was not niner who was making them nervous. He was still a fare distance farther over. Dave and I had been intriged by the last bear reactions, though it would not amount to anything. As fast as we were seeing bears we stopped seeing bears. I guess that is what makes them the interesting creatures they are.
Day three we decided to go the opposite direction along the beach. Tide just starting to crawl back up from its lowest depth for the next twelve hours, presenting us with packed wet sand and easier walking. Hiking along that morning I remembered the mental note I had made of how amazing Chelikoff straights simmered the night before. I thought of how few were as lucky as me seeing Chelikoff and one of its amazing sunsets. How few are wise enough to go witness the outdoors while their body was able. I mentally thanked my parents fore the awareness they in stowed in me .
Two and a half miles of beach and half a mile inland trudge positioned Dave and I on a great vantage point over looking beaver pond meadows. The far side of these meadows met with the slope of the mountain and its diverse camouflage. You would think an alder face mingled with openings bare of leaves and new vegetation would provide easy looking for bears. How I wonder do you look at such a face and suddenly there is a sow with two yearling cubs. I guess you sum it up by saying Brown Bears hair is the neutral colour of April on Kodiak Island. We ended our day with four bear sighting and a wet attitude from the rain and our perspiration. Entering our tent we were still swaying from the wind gusting we received on the walk home. It was still food for thought to add to my character.
A fog blanket brought a morning bite and lack of visibility. I mentioned to Dave I was happy right where I was at in the tent. A good book and comfortable sleeping bag, why fight mother nature, she’ll let you know when it is time to go. Dave was in agreement. To many hunters come on hunts and try to pressure their guides into dumb scenarios. The guide will go most of the time because they are mentally tough enough to face the onslaught of bad weather. They will do this to educate their client. My one peace of advice is to go with the flow, listen to your guide and work with the weather and all will work out in the wash .
April this far north light starts at about five and goes to about ten thirty, that is about seventeen and a half hours of hunting light. Dave and I decided to concentrate our energy towards the afternoon hours. By two thirty the fog was broke up substantially and the afternoon was feeling quite refreshing. Warmth had surged through my body like something special was about to happen, call it hunters instinct, sixth sense or wild imagination I have always tried to listen to this feeling. My father calls it listening to your gut. There was just a good feel in the air. I had looked at Dave and stated that I felt lucky about our afternoon. He pretty much said the same. We discussed our options and ended up being on the same page of figuring. Having seen so much action day two we decided quite quickly that a repeat visit to the trenched mountain might well be wise. It was on both our minds what the two cat and mouse bears had been looking over their shoulders at. Packs were grabbed and we headed out swiftly and determined, before I ruined the moment by forgetting my binoculars and had to run a couple hundred yards back to camp.
Wind in our face we decided to walk the beach and climb up the five hundred feet one ridge past our previous perch. Forty five minutes of excitement, Black Tails eating kelp twenty feet away and viewing numerous folds in the land where bears may well have been, we were starting our climb. Fifteen minutes of tangling dead grass and grabbing salmon berry bush we were in a great location to see bears, feeling a bit like the Eagle who had sat watch near by. Once in a comfortable glassing seat I was in the habit of dumping the annoyances out of my boots. Sometimes I wonder if hip boots are magnetic the way debris seems to work into them . Other than that I have to admit hip boots are not half bad to hike in. They brought us the distance and back.
Spotting three or so hours with deer being our only rewards Dave and I decided to back track a step or to closer to the beach. On the way up this ridge we had noticed a small role that allowed a good view of the beach and the bottom end of all the draws. Turning our focus we quickly picked up a friend peering at us from the back side. One hundred and fifty yards farther along our ridge with the wind filling her nostrils was a mature sow. Being not in the visiting mood she dove into the groves of thick alder that swallowed most of the draw. The flight of a ticked off bear is always a wonder. Country is engulfed under their feet, alders, hills, mountains or not they eat the terrain up. Dropping down then swiftly up our spooked bear fortunately never spooked the rest of the hillside.
Reaching our lower destination it was only a matter of seconds and four bears were located jostling along the beach. A blond sow with three one year old blond cubs. We were busy enjoying our small family circus when it happened , the best way to describe a big bear is instantaneous. No warning there he was our no brainer bear. In the middle of a brown opening at the top part of the cat and mouse look back draw. One glance through the spotting scope I looked over at Dave and said with a quiver in my voice, “if I get the chance I will take that bear”. This bear was sitting on his butt with his head hung low looking casually our way. Extremely apparent at nine hundred yards in the middle of the brown grass. Dave had flicked an excited look my way and said, “a giant chocolate chip in the middle of a vanilla cookie”. I had to laugh because Dave hit the nail on the head.
We waited until the big fella committed his giant slumber gate to the down hill coarse of the draw. Feeding out of sight still three hundred yards from the beach we began our stalk. Down off the ridge over a not too nice silt face onto the beach and rising tide. We needed to get pass the mouths of numerous draws without causing the flight of another bear ending our hopes. The second element required was for that big fella to let his belly lead him to better greens by the beach. Hitting the beach I remember my butterflies being checked by my greater desire to having a success story at the evenings end. We were hot footing it pretty good along the slippery rocks. About three hundred feet lay between salt water line and main land. We were angling steadily towards the water and if we reached the tide edge straight out in front of the draw this would hopefully grant us a view in at the bear. The wind had been blowing into our faces and slightly towards mainland, another reason to stay as close to the water as possible. Potential good fortune also came in the form of rocks. Several large salt slippery rocks were offering favourable rifle rests. Being straight out from the cat and mouse draw we only had to then locate our bear and take the prime opportunity. Time did not keep us held in suspense long before we could detect movement farther up the draw. Was it him? Was this finally my time? I set my rest, my well travelled and many adventure experienced external pack. Loaded my rifle and levelled my breathing while Dave identified it was our bear only a few steps from an open chance. Dave had then stated to me don’t be scared to keep shooting. I had remarked back that I did not come all this way to shoot once! He stated that it sounded good to him. I had time to settle a few hundred life thoughts through my scope, think of a couple dozen friends who would loved to have been along and then there he was. My heart as steady as possible I concentrated on making my shot exact. I remember the big bears down hill two thirds pose. It has been engraved into my memory for eternity. The shots rang out four in succession covering the uphill one hundred and seventy five yards. My dream of a giant Kodiak Brown Bear had become a reality.
Dave let out a yes when we worked up and set our eyes upon the bear at close range. I was full of extactic smiles. Eight and a quarter inch front pad and an eleven one half hind foot. Our bear squared ten foot even and had a near perfect hide. The ban radio reported happy news on day four of my dream hunt. Dic Rohrer with his twenty one foot boat picked us of the beach the following morning. Sharing in our excitement Dic also reported the news of his clients successful hunt. Guide Hiram J Newcomer returned to camp in the evening with client Roger Donahue and news of their success in taking a ten foot two Brown Bear. Sam Rohrer and his client were looking or a huge bear or nothing and came close twice. What a hunt, I shall never forget.