-Journey to Valdez
As any hunter does, after missing a shot on their quarry, I felt a sense of desperation come over me and the instinctual crave for another shot opportunity. This feeling would cloud my agenda over the next four days of this spring Alaska bear hunt. After missing a large black bear while hunting with Vince Pokryfki, I felt the need to redeem myself. The feeling of redemption would be the clarity needed to help me succeed on the next leg of my two week bear hunting journey . Only stopping at the home base of operations in Palmer Alaska to do a confidence shot (sight in) with my 350 Remington Magnum. An eight hour drive to Valdez, gave me plenty of time to meditate and concentrate on the days past events.
Thinking deeply on developing a new game plan on how to harvest a black bear, I had one tactic in mind. Talking with the locals proved to be the most crucial piece of advice for the entire hunt. During the drive I called and contacted several locals and asked them if they had seen any bears in the Valdez area. The most popular reply I received was “the bears are everywhere down here.” The odds seemed to be in my favor and the phone conversations sparked my imagination; my thoughts became crawling with bears.
The drive to Valdez is full of breath taking views of mountains so big and vertical, they seemed to reach out and punch you in the face. An interesting place to hunt black bears for sure, the area looked to hold more mountain goats than black bears. Working off of previous knowledge and tips from the locals, I knew of two hunting locations near town that held big bears. These two areas provided great hunting, at a very steep price. The black bears littered the mountains, however getting up in a shooting position would not be a simple task.
After deciding via coin toss which of the two locations would be first, the hunt began from the parking lot. After only five minutes of glassing, we had already spotted four bears – one sow with two cubs and one promising boar. I proceeded to throw on my snow shoes and Barneys Pinnacle Pack frame and trekked a mile and a half to the base of the mountain. I kept my eye on the bear as I hiked up the 6000 foot nearly vertical mountain. Everything looked a lot different once I was on the steep mountain face hiking toward the last location of the boar. Re-locating the animal as you get closer to them is a crucial technique in hunting big game animals in Alaska. Finding the game is a small fraction of the battle, judging their size, closing the final distance for the shot, packing the animal out, and filling out your tag correctly are all parts of the journey.
As I proceeded to close the distance on the boar, I lost sight of him around 600 yards as he fed through an overgrown jungle of alder bushes. With a good vantage point on a protruding mountain shelf, I hunkered down on an alder stand waiting for the animal to show himself. I knew, if I gave him enough time, the bear would unknowingly walk right by me. He was completely unaware of my existence on the mountainside as I laid like a frozen predator in silence. Wearing “whites” (white jacket camouflage) to disguise myself on the snow shelf, the bear revealed himself around 300 hundreds yards. The only way to explain my vantage point was like Mark Whalberg in the movie Shooter. Yeah, the last scene in the movie up in the mountains (you know what I’m talking about), when Marky Mark Whalberg looks likes a chunk of snow. The bear walked directly towards my position. I waited like a patient spider on my web of snow. I had just enough time to judge the size and the sex of the bear.
From two miles away I predicted the bear to be a large boar black bear approximately 5-6 ft squared. I noticed the bear was not behaving like a large boar at all, a large boar usually takes his time during travel. This bear was moving quickly, and before long this large bear from far away, was actually a very small bear when up close. Judging the size of bears is very difficult, knowing the behavior of the animals helps. Small bears generally move much faster than larger bears, bigger bears take their time with no rush. Also, ear size, leg length, belly drag, skull/nose size, are factors that play into judging a bears size.
The bear walked within two hundreds yards of me before turning back up the mountain feeding back into the nasty tangles of alders. The bear was about two years old and about 4.5-5ft squared in size. This was not the type of bear I wanted to harvest, so he fed away from my position unknowingly that I had tapped cou on his head. It was awesome to watch the bear in his own element unaffected by human presence. Bears are the ultimate land predator and there is something to be said about viewing them in their natural element. Finding the four resident bears in the first hunting spot in Valdez, I decided this area only contained a small boar and a female with cubs. If a big boar lived in that area, I never found him and he lives on for the next outdoor enthusiast to enjoy. I decided to come down from my high vantage point and change locations to my second area in Valdez.
Sleeping straight up and down in the seat of a truck was an excellent alternative to sleeping on the 8ft of snow base in the Valdez area. Not to mention the frozen rain, now starting to pour as I neared the base of the mountain and the truck’s location. I arrived at the truck and made a Top Ramen package accompanied by a camel pack of water. An excellent meal and some much needed hydration was necessary for a great night’s sleep. I drove to my new location, which was just outside of Valdez, parked the truck and fell into a deep slumber. Waking up in the morning to more frozen rain, I knew it would be a great day of hunting. Already in position to glass for bears, I was confident I would find an early morning monster bear.
Breafast consisted on four gulps of water, and a peanut butter Oreo tortilla snack (a family hunting snack). After an hour or so of glassing with no bears in sight, we relocated. The mountains in Valdez are a site to behold. From sea level to 5000 feet, these mountains are nearly vertical. Avalanche danger would also be a preventative matter and precautionary step taken into account on any stalk or game plan. During the adventure, several “avies” avalanches made themselves known by a thunderous mega phone of power. Knowing the “avies” could sweep me into the white abyss, venturing above tree line would be the last resort to harvesting a bear. With a record snow fall in Alaska for the 2011-2012 winter, the snow was a critical factor in the spring 2012 hunt. Sticking to the roads would be one of the only options for this hunt.
After a two mile drive, the dirt road changed abruptly. We were coming across potholes so big they could swallow an ATV. Driving slowly to dodge the potholes allowed me to “bare eye” the mountainside. “Is that a bush bear?” I said to Bridger the Videographer, thinking I was fooled by a dark colored piece of vegetation. Stopping to verify what appeared to be a bear, the binos clarified that this was no bush bear. In fact, this was the mature black bear that I was looking for. Pulling the truck safely off the gravel pit roadway and finding a good parking spot was the immediate next order of business. Coming to a halt and coordinating a filmed stalk with Bridger, the bear was 1000 yards and feeding on a hill side. A large cottonwood tree grove separated the bear and the fiddle head fern hill side between the gravel pit and truck. The long stalk would take us far from the road side and deep into the cottonwood jungle, the bear was unaware of the impending inevitable. Closing the distance using gigantic trees to shield my movements from the bear was the key to taking an ethical shot.
Two hundred yards away, the crunchy snow gave the bear a direction to look at. The bear was now aware something was close, losing interest it went back to feeding. “If only I can get within 170 yards, I could take a shot,” I thought to myself. The crunch of the snow under our feet was too loud. Bear crawling to spread my weight out would be my only option. I slung my rifle over my back, a 30 yard bear crawl would prove its stealth like effectiveness. Using a move out of my Pennsylvania hunting career for whitetails, I popped up from behind the cottonwood and posted the rifle on the tree mass. Jacking a round into the 350’s chamber, the crosshairs found center mass on the bear in the blink of an eye. I aimed low on the chest of the bear to account for the extreme angle and to prevent shooting over the bear. I took a deep breath in and exhaled a thunderous breath from the rifle. The shot rang across the mountainside. The bear was struck by the final blow and fell 30 yards into a tangle of alders.
Waiting 45 minutes with no movement from the bear, I took a mental note of the bear’s final resting place. A short hike up an avalanche shoot to the bear’s location was exciting to say the least. Turning the power down on the scope to approach the bear proved unnecessary, however I was ready. The beautiful mature black bear had a jet black healthy coat. I was proud. Validating game tags, salvaging all of the meat from the bear, skinning the bears hide and skull were some of the final steps. Packing all the meat, hide, and skull back out to the truck wasn’t too difficult. Before long we were rambling down the road with grins from ear to ear. “Ring Ring”… My cell phone just getting into cell reception had five missed calls and five voicemail messages. Jason Semler called my phone and had a very important message. He said “I am in Valdez at the boat launch, you up to go hunting?” I called him back and said “I already tagged out and cannot hunt any more bears in Valdez this year. However Bridger has a bear tag, would you mind taking him out”? All of us being Colony High School graduates at some time or another, Jason didn’t mind going out and splitting the costs for this evening buddy hunt. He replied “right on, get down here to the boat ramp, we will fuel up and head out”.
Driving to the boat launch, Bridger had his black bear tags and hunting license already purchased. Having a premonition that Bridger would get his first shot opportunity at a big game animal, I told Bridger to get his tags at Sportsmens Warehouse before we left. Bridger having his black bear tags and his hunting license in his pocket would be hunting big game for the very first time. We met with Jason Semler at his boat, jumped in and motored off towards the majestic Prince William Sound.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 3 Of THIS BEAR HUNTING ADVENTURE.
Snippet Preview of next article.
Driving 8 hours back home to Palmer Alaska would go by fast. Bridger and I both grinning ear to ear with success, the drive was filled with laughter and stories. The next steps would be processing both the bear’s meat into delectable packages of edible goodness, and “officially sealing” the bears with Wildlife officials. All was completed successfully and everyone who took part in the adventure could not have been happier.
Stay tuned for the 2012 Alaska fishing season!!
-Photon 10X40 Russian made Binoculars
-Barneys Pinnacle Pack
-Hidden Antler Jersey
-350 Remington Mag.
-Mamut Champ Pants
-MSR Snow Shoes