Alaska Spring Bears 2012
Alaskan adventures if survived, tend to leave individuals smarter than when they embarked. That being said, the Alaskan learning curve is basically vertical, and surviving means adapting and learning very quickly. Do it yourself adventures bring a whole new challenge and dimension to any hunt. This year’s DIY spring Alaskan bear hunt proved just how difficult, yet rewarding these self-planned adventures can be. The mission of this three-leg journey was to successfully harvest a black bear, a brown bear, or both.
The first leg of the three part adventure across South Central Alaska was with fellow Sourdough (Alaska resident) Vince Pokryfki. Vince and I headed north of Talkeetna, Alaska in his riverboat. We worked our way up a network of connected rivers to our destination; Game Management Unit 16A-16B. Our objective was to thin out several bears from his moose hunting area. This would allow more moose fawns to live, meaning more trophy bull moose to chase in the fall. For this hunt, Vince wanted to settle the score on his terms. Vince was equipped with his custom “Dan Ryan” primitive bamboo-back osage long bow and self-made port orford shafts and double bladed Eskimo Zwickey 125 grain broad heads. Vince then proceeded to hook me up with 6 home made Grizzly Stick shafted arrows with Zwickey double bladed Death Wish broad heads. I accompanied Vince with my own home-made longbow to settle the terms of our claw-to-stick fight.
Vince and Austin with flannels and bows
I named my home-made long bow “Hybex.” This bow was made back in my high school days in collaboration with Vince Pokryfki and Bowyer(bow maker) Dan Ryan. I also brought my trusty 416 iron sighted Remington Magnum, a gun my Dad used back in his registered Alaskan guide career. This massive caliber could do the trick if necessary to back Vince up if anything were to go wrong. I kept the 416 shouldered across my back as means of back up. All members including the videographer, were packing heat. Vince also had a 454 Cassull on his hip, and I had a chest holster equipped with a 44 Magnum. It’s safe to say that we had one small arsenal of weaponry that we planned to employ if necessary.
Vince P Moose Hunting Picture
The reason we came so heavily prepared was due to the fact that Vince has much experience with the wildlife in that area. Vince has taken many moose via longbow in this area over the years. Most of these years he has came back the following morning to find brown bears on the moose carcass. Not only have his hunting grounds been invaded, his fishing grounds have as well. Last fall a bear charged Vince at his secret fishing hole in broad daylight. In Alaska you have to learn to co-exist with wildlife in their habitat. Vince has learned to do just this; he fishes during broad daylight hours and leaves mornings and evenings alone to let the bears have their turn at the fishing hole. The charge occurred during a blue bird sunny afternoon. Vince has never hunted brown bears until now. This is interesting because he has had the opportunity to take many bears in the past. He has made the decision to finally hunt bears because. He has over 20 years experience with not just the bears, but all of the wildlife in this area. He takes family members to these areas, and he wants to make sure they are safe. I want to help Vince in this area and do our part in bear management. Taking our quota of bears in the big picture is minimal. However, hunters such as Vince and I can make a difference in the population of a particular area. Collective groups of hunters need to be successful in many regions across a GMU to make an effective difference on animal population.
Vince caught this “Chromer” salmon at his secret fishing hole.
In essence, Vince and I are attempting to do our part. The adventure for this journey began at Fred Meyers, to get our hunting tags/licenses and secondly to get food for the trip. We gathered our favorites, including Oreos and granola bars and off to the boat launch we went. We got to the boat launch that Vince described as an “Alaskan boat launch.” We arrived on a steep gravel road access to a boulder farm style riverbank. The closer we got to the river, the worse the launch looked. Vince was confident the whole time, I followed suite and was excited to finally start this bear hunt from the riverboat. Vince expertly flung the boat in the water as I held the rope tied to the front of the boat. The boat swung to the side of the rocky riverbank, Vince parked the truck and we both jumped in and fired up the Evinrude. There were a few moments of silence as Captain Vince pushed the throttle forward and threw that baby on step. We were cruising up river and hunting bears in no time.
Boat in action, on step and moving up river.
At any given point you can see game animals or bears in Alaska and we were prepared. We cruised up river to the point of attack, where last year Vince was charged by an aggressive bear. We found a suitable flat spot where Vince has made moose hunting camps in the past and set up our camping site. The tent and kitchen were up and running real quick. After camp duties were taken care of, we grabbed our bows and off we went. During spring time, bears are not usually concentrated to food sources such as salmon streams or berry patches. Bears can roam up to 50 miles per day in search of food. Coming across one of these post hibernating bears is basically the combination of perfect timing and a great location. Vince and I did not hunt over a bait station, but hunted via spot-and-stalk.
River beaches and endless miles to stalk.
We walked what seemed like endless miles of braided out river until we stopped to glass for meandering bears walking the river beaches. We found many black and brown bear tracks, however we hadn’t spotted the owners of the tracks. After two days of walking the river beaches with no luck, the game plan had to change. Instead of walking the rivers silently, we cruised the river and searched for bears from the boat. Not a bad game plan, the only down side would be the noise from the boat’s engine. This noise would alert any predators of the dangers that our longbows poised. Our bows would be rendered useless at this stage, as the element of surprise had flown out the back of the boat. On the third and final day, I switched from my longbow to the iron sighted back up rifle.
Austin carrying Bridger across the creek. Team work is dream work.
With the new game plan in mind for the final day of the adventure, we ambled on up-river. If a bear showed himself, we would have to park the boat, bail out of it and set up on the river-bank for a long shot. Hopefully a bear would be tolerable of our presence and stand just long enough for an iron sighted shot. Extending the distance of my “smoke bow” fumed new excitement into the air. A close encounter was long overdue.
Austin and Bridger near the boat landing ready for the stalk.
“Hey Vince, is that a boulder bear?” I asked, thinking I had been fooled by a dark colored rock. The rock started to move… “BEAR, BEAR, BEAR!” I whisper yelled to Vince. He immediately steered the boat towards the rocky riverbank, and in a moments notice I flew out of the boat like I was storming the beaches of Normandy. The videographer (Bridger VanNess) was in close pursuit and I sprinted along the rocky beach to an abstruse log, an excellent shooting bench. The large sized black bear was around 170 yards away and was moving up a large embankment towards a thick, endless grove of crisscrossed spruce and alder trees. The bear paused for a moment. I aimed the front pin of the iron sited 416 Rem Mag toward the bear; covering much surface area of the black dot. The black dot stopped near the top of the alder choked hill, I took a breath and slowly pulled the trigger doing my best to steady the steel bead. “BUHHHDOOOOOM” said the 416 Rem Mag. The bear paused another second looking stunned before bolting deep into the “peanut butter” like alders.
Vince backing me up with his custom long bow.
The bear looking unfazed by the 250 grained bullet, I didn’t feel confident with the shot and felt it was a 100% miss. Although I wasn’t confident with my shot, I wanted to be the ethical sportsman and check the surrounding area for signs of a wounded animal. After a short boat ride and a three-minute hike, I found myself standing in the bear’s footsteps. After circling the area multiple times and conducting a thorough investigation for any signs of a wounded animal, Vince and I concluded the bullet never found its mark. The bear was safe, however the bear learned to fear humans now more than ever. I was extremely bummed, as any hunter would be, feeling like I let myself down as well as my hunting partner. Missing an animal is a hard feeling to describe, only a hunter who has been there and done that can know the feeling. A clean miss is better than a wounded bear, and any hunter who hasn’t missed hasn’t been in the woods long enough. Knowing the animal was not wounded helped relieve the large burden I was carrying. It was now the last day of the hunt and our focus turned to taking down camp and preparing the boat for our departure.
Tent and campsite.
Just before leaving, Vince and I took a few moments to reflect on the trip. Even though there was no kill during this trip, Vince and I still had positive morale in the special memories we both made on that trip. Hunting with an iron sighted rifle is difficult, and hunting with long bows is even more difficult. Vince and I both believe that the kill of an animal is the physical representation of the memories made on a hunting trip. However, in no way does the kill of an animal represent the endless laughs and fun times Vince and I spent together. To say the very least, Vince, myself, and Bridger had an awesome time together. We made memories that will last a lifetime. I want to personally thank Vince for taking several days away from his family and work to take me on an unforgettable journey. I will never forget the delicious camp food, the authentic Alaskan stories, the real life facts, and the camaraderie that Vince shared with me. I already asked Vince when our next hunting adventure would be. He said he is always game to go play in Alaska.
Coffee and laughs with Denali
With seven days left of my spring bear hunt, I set my sites to a new hunting area. I drove eight hours to Valdez, stopping only at my home base in Palmer to exchange rifles. I needed to switch from the iron sighted 416 to the 350 Remington Magnum with a 4-14x Leupold scope. Now we were off to Valdez in search of beach combing monster black bears. I had spoken with several locals in the area who all said “bears are literally everywhere down here, some of them live in the streets.” With a scoped rifle to extend my shooting range, a new excitement came over me. Venturing to Valdez was the second leg of this three-part journey….
Boat ready for launch.
…..Stay tuned for the rest of this three part spring bear hunting adventure….