Jon’s Black Bear Hunt

alaska, bears, big game hunting, camping, DIY hunting, guns, hunting, meat, nature, public land, unguided hunting, wildlife

This past hunting season in Alaska I set out for a caribou and black bear. I decided to go on a solo hunt for the black bear segment of my 2011 expedition. The plan was to go out alone into one mountain valley while Austin would travel with horses to another mountain valley. He was in search of a moose and I would provide another set of eyes. I would scout the further away valleys and the mountainside he couldn’t see. Using pre-organized hand signals and optics, we would signal every evening with florescent orange what we had seen that day. While I was scouting for moose, I would primarily be hunting black bear. Once I got a bear I would hike through the valley and up to the mountain that he was set up on. We had hunted the area before and harvested animals in the past, but this year we wanted to go further and cover new areas. By separating we could see more country and explore un-hunted areas.

Some people would say it is crazy to go into the Alaska wilderness and hunt alone, and I definitely would not recommend it for everyone. I find however, that because there is less noise, scent, and objects to be detected, when I hunt alone, I see more animal activity. Of course you can’t hunt moose or caribou solo because of meat commitments, but all I had to do was hike out was a bear hide. I wanted to move undetected on the mountain and make as little noise as possible. With my camp on my back, I was mobile and could move wherever I saw the bears. I could hunt how I liked to hunt.

The morning of the hunt went according to plan. I was dropped off at the start of my hike would go 8 miles back to the mountain valley and then climb up the mountain in time to see Austin and the horses coming in across the valley. It was raining the whole hike in, but it finally cleared as soon as I got to the base of the mountain valley. I took advantage of the break in the weather to glass the mountainsides. No sooner did I pull my binoculars up, that I spotted a good-sized black bear on the closest mountain to me. This was not the mountain I was planning on hiking to, but the bear was completely focused on eating berries and probably would be until sunset. I would still be able to see Austin’s camp from the top of this mountain and signal. I put my pack back on and started running up the backside of the mountain. The bear was high above tree line and my plan was to hike up the ridge and gain elevation as quick as possible. At tree line I would drop my heavy, continue to hike the backside of the ridge and then quietly slip over the top of the mountain and be right above him. The stalk was going well and I could still see him feeding when I dropped my pack. I started to climb the backside of the mountain and was coming over the top, when I met a band of Dahl Sheep. About 15 ewes and lambs met me as I crossed the ridgeline. They had been feeding across the mountainside, and happened to come over at that exact time. The sheep ran off and I frantically tried to spot the bear. He had seen the sheep running and retreated down the mountain, to the alder bushes. The sheep busted my stalk but I knew he hadn’t seen me and probably didn’t go far. I slowly retreated back down the mountain and back to my pack. I sat all evening and watched for Austin to signal or see if I could spot the horses coming across the other mountain, but saw nothing. I ate a Mountain House and crawled into my bivy. I wanted to get up early the next morning and spot the same bear as he was eating his morning berries, little did I know what the night had in store for me.

That night, a storm moved in like I had never seen before. The rain was not too bad, but the wind was unbearable. At 3am it ripped my tarp off my camp and started to roll my pack across the mountain. I sprinted out of my bivy in the pitch black and scrambled for my camp. The wind was blowing so hard it hurt my bare skin. I quickly grabbed my tarp and wrapped it over everything I had, including myself. The next morning finally came and the winds didn’t calmed down. The rain was still off and on but the wind was still blowing hard. I was eager to hunt though and quickly started glassing the mountain I ended up on. Needless to say the bear never showed himself that day and not many other animals did either. I did see a cow moose and calf in the valley below, but no bulls.  Austin still hadn’t signaled and no sign of the horses. I was starting to wonder about them, but assumed the weather held them up. That evening the storm moved out and the sun finally came out.

The next day was beautiful, and the animals were out. I spotted a smaller black bear, black bear sow with cubs, another cow moose, and a big brown bear. I could even still see those pesky sheep that busted my stalk, but no sign of the bear I was hunting. I sat glassing and planning every possible stalk route once that bear did showed himself. I signaled and looked for Austin, but still no sign. I didn’t know why they didn’t make it back, but now the hunt was truly solo. I had two more days to hunt before I was supposed to climb over to meet them, but if they were not there, I would risk being stranded farther back in the mountains. I was torn about what to do, but decided to wait and see what happened. It is crucial not to over think or panic when hunting alone. You have a lot of time to think out there and you can over think things. If you are always worried about messing up or hurting yourself and are always thinking about the worst-case scenario, it can take a toll on your ability to hunt. Confidence is crucial when hunting solo. I knew I had the skills and supplies to survive no matter what. I would be fine and I needed to focus on bear hunting, not what Austin was doing.

It was the last morning before I was supposed to meet up with Austin, and my time to hunt was now dwindling. As I was drinking my morning coffee and planning my hike, I finally saw the bear. He was feeding early that morning and was 800 yards from my pack. He popped out further then I had expected, but I knew exactly which route I would use to stalk in closer. I grabbed my gun, chugged the rest of my coffee, and was off. I ran up the back of the mountain and this time kept my eye open for sheep. I came over right on top of him feeding, about 300 yards below. The wind was blowing up the mountain and he had no clue I was there. I turned on my camera and got within 100 yards. I set up for the shot and fired. I hit him and he went running back to the alders he was laying in before. It all happened so fast I was in shock. I waited for 30 minutes then went into the Alders after him. I was hoping he had died, but that situation is always tense. As I went in, I found him not far in the alders. He had run back to his the area where he was hanging out for the past couple of days, and was laying right there

When hunting alone, there is no one else to blame your success and failures on. Your success reflects on your skills and abilities. It is a risk to go into the Alaska wilderness alone, but it is such a unique experience. The wilderness will test you physically and mentally, and to overcome those obstacles with a successful harvest is a special feeling. As I was walking up to the bear, I was overwhelmed with emotion. It was such feelings of accomplishment. This area I was hunting is such a special area to me. I had taken another black bear two years before on another mountain, and had harvested my first bull moose in a back valley when I was 18 years old. The seven-mile pack out almost killed me, but that is another story. I skinned the bear out and started to think about where Austin and the other hunting party were.

I still hadn’t seen them and decided that it was too risky to go looking for them. I knew what day they were planning on being on the road and I planned on being there when they passed by me. As I was skinning the bear, it started to pour rain. I quickly finished skinning and started a wet and sloppy five miles back to the road. When I got to the road, I could access my voicemail and learned that Austin had a terrible horse accident and they never made it back the mountains. The plan had completely changed and I would meet them tomorrow. I was happy they were all right and that I had made the right decision. I hitchhiked to the nearest establishment and got a warm meal and a beer. I rented a room for $10 that night and met them the next morning. I was sure happy to see the truck pull up and couldn’t wait to hear about the wild adventure they had.

 

-Jon Dykes

 

 

 

 

 

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