As we boarded the plane in Jackson, Mississippi the temperature was a smoking 91 degrees on that mid-May day. My dress was a tee shirt and a pair of lightweight khakis. When I got off the plane in Ketchikan, Alaska, the temperature was a chilly 31 degrees, a 60-degree drop in temperature. I quickly rustled through my Realtree camo carry on backpack to retrieve my jacket. What a difference two time zones, several thousand miles, and a big jump in elevation can make. The airport taxied us to the docks where we would meet up with our floatplane and pilot. The docks were completely covered in ice and we had to trek across them 100 yards to the check in station. It looked like a Jeff Foxworthy production of “Rednecks on Ice” as four Mississippi boys skated and skidded across the docks. It was our first Alaskan adventure and a successful one at that, though we did obtain a few bruised bones and egos along the way.
The floatplane flight up the Alaskan coastline and over the chain of islands that make up the southern part of the state was a sight to see in and of itself. The snow-capped mountains mixed in with the deep blue sea were truly a spectacle that will display in my mind forever. The landing in the Prince of Walls harbor was as smooth a touch down as I have ever experienced on any flight. As we were unloading our gear, a couple whales passed by and waved their tails at us, as if to say welcome to Alaska. We were then taxied a few miles to our home for the week, Shelter Cove Lodge, which sat right along the harbor. The view again was breath taking. The cool Alaskan breeze coming across the bay with snow covered mountains in the background in addition to several bald eagles flying around turned this mental work of art into a priceless master piece. As the other guys went to pick up our rental cars, an SUV and a 4-wheel drive truck, I went with one of the employees to set out some crab traps along the harbor. Later on that evening as we sat down for supper, which included some fresh Alaskan crab, I told the guys we have not been hunting yet and I have already had the time of my life. The others agreed and one spoke the words all of us were thinking, “It doesn’t get any better than this!”
Since we were not on a guided hunt, we had two game plans for our black bear hunt. The first plan was to hunt some of the cutovers on the National Forest land hoping to catch some bears feeding on the fresh vegetation. The second plan was to rent out a fishing guide’s services to carry us out into the bays on low tide and look for bears feeding along the shoreline. The first morning we all went out to a near by location on the National Forest to shoot our rifles and bows. Once we made sure that our equipment was good to go, we headed up the mountain road in our vehicles to scout out some potential hunting spots. We did not make it far to find the road being completely blocked off by the snow. This was not good because the place we wanted to hunt was another 6 to 8 miles away by truck and another mile or so by foot. So plan A was a bust. It was time to put plan B into motion.
We went back to the lodge and contacted the fishing guide service to see what they had available. Before I go any further in this story, let me tell you about the relationship the guide service and the lodge had. The lodge provided hunters and fisherman (or anybody else for that matter) with lodging and meals, while the guide service took care of the fishing and hunting duties. It was a great relationship that these two different businesses had going on. During the month of May the fishing is very slow, so the fishing guides take bear hunters out to give them another month of work. The month of May is a great time to bear hunt because they are just coming out of hibernation. Their skin and fur is in excellent condition and they are very hungry so lots of bears are on the move. They love to rummage around the shorelines during low tide to see what the sea left them for supper. Also, since the mountains were mostly covered in snow, the only vegetation growing was near the shoreline. Luckily for us a guide was free for the whole week, and after lunch we boarded a boat and hit the water.
The tension was in the air as we were finally off to pursue an Alaskan black bear. The sights and sounds in those bays were again breath taking. As we glassed the shorelines for a big shooter black bear we saw an abundance of wildlife. Several Sitka Black-tailed deer were spotted along our journey. Many groups of seals were seen piled up on some of the small islands we passed. More bald eagles were spotted fishing, flying by, fighting among themselves, perched in trees, on the rocks; well they were just everywhere. After only a 30 minute boat ride we had seen lots of critters and finally our first of many black bear sightings. It was a sow and two small cubs. It looked as if the cubs were seeing the world for the first time as they ran back and forth playing along the shore. We looked at several bears for the next hour in search of a shooter until we found one. It was a giant boar with a big white patch on his chest.
John, the oldest of the group, was up first. Our guide slowly and quietly maneuvered the boat to the up-wind side of the bear and around a point that was out of sight of the big boar. Mark B., another guy in our group, and John boarded the small inflatable raft and paddled to the shoreline. Our guide slowly and quietly maneuvered the boat back out to where we first glassed the bear so we could keep an eye on him. We were about 350 to 400 yards away from the bear and the hunters. The cool thing about this vantage point we could see the bear and the hunters all at the same time. We watched them make their way up the shoreline and around the point toward the bear. The hunters crawled the last 50 yards to a washed up log on the shore. This gave John a 150-yard shot and a good rest. The big bear never knew they were in the world as John dropped the bear in his tracks with his Remington model 700 30-06. What an amazing stalk! It was an awesome sight to watch John’s hunt and kill of his first black bear unfold before my eyes.
After we loaded up John’s bear and the raft, we headed up the shoreline again looking for another shooter bear. As we were speeding up the bay we hit an outcropping of rocks. No one was hurt or even thrown out of the boat. The rocks were low enough that the boat itself was not hurt, but the entire lower portion of the motor was torn off. The only other fishing guide on the water that day was on the other side of the bay from us some 100 miles away. So we had to limp our way back to the lodge with a 15-horse power emergency motor. It took us the rest of the day to get back to the lodge, but hey it was better than paddling. However, the next day we were in a new boat and ready to do some more black bear killing.
I wish I had more to tell specifically about my bear hunt or any of the other hunts for that matter. The truth is all of our other hunts pretty much went the same way until all of us filled our tags. There were a few stalks where the bears busted us or they simply went back into the thick woods before we could get a shot on them. But after only a few days hunting we all had killed our first black bears. We did take one day and do some trout fishing in one of the nearby rivers. Between the four of us we caught over 100 fish, but we could not keep any as non-residents. We did help one young local teenager out by catching him a mess of fish since he was having trouble catching any himself. You would have thought he won the lottery. All in all this was the best outdoors adventure I have ever been on to this day. It is one I have been trying to top for some 11 years now.
I would like to say to any sportsman, or just anybody who loves the outdoors, to make plans and visit Alaska at least once in your life. I will never forget my Alaskan black bear hunt for many reasons. The obvious reason is pretty much described to you in this article. The other reason is a little more personal. You see the fourth member of our hunting group, Dennis, who was like a second father to me and my cherished hunting partner, died tragically later on that year. We have hunted and fished together all over the nation. This, unfortunately, was our last hunting trip together. A treasured memory that is still bittersweet, even as I relive these wonderful memories to you in this article. However, I long to go back to Alaska in the fall one day, but this time to pursue one of those Sitka Black-tails. That was the plan Dennis and I had made for our next hunting adventure as we were on our fight back to Mississippi. Maybe things will work out in the near future for those plans to become a reality. However, if it does not the time I was able to spend in Alaska is forever etched in my heart.
What hunting adventure have you been on that you would define as your: Best Outdoor Adventure? The Tecomate nation would love to hear about it. Visit us on the website http://www.tecomate.com and though our social media pages http://www.facebook.com/tecomate.
God Bless and Happy Hunting.
Posted by Mark Newell