I’ve just returned from a week in the “bush.” Meaning, no cell service, no internet, no TV, no traffic, not much other than the sound of mosquitos buzzing and fire popping. What an amazing experience! I caught my first Pike fish! The fishing was insane! Literally almost every cast and that’s not a joke. We cut and chopped our wood, slept through rain, cold and some wind at times. Corey and Laura even taught me how to trap beaver! It was so cool searching for the right dam or fresh slide and then setting traps. We even got one the last night when we pulled the traps! So cool! Corey and I skinned the beaver on the boat from cover of bugs while we waited for “Brutus” the bruiser of a bear to expose himself. Corey has been hunting this massive bear for years but he’s very smart and doesn’t hang around long. He seems to be a proficient killer so he’s not dependent upon bait. Anyway, more bear stories to come, back to the beaver. After skinning the beautiful hide, which is worth about $100 before tanning, etc. I decided that I couldn’t just let the beautiful tail go to waste. It’s one of the trademarks of a beaver, how could I just toss it? So, I had my little boy moment and found a way to carve/hollow the inside and possibly use it for another purpose. This actually sparked an idea in Corey’s head and we all began inventing new items we could make using the tail.
But it was on our second night, my first time hunting with my bow in Alaska that the real adventure began. Corey dropped me off on a lower part of the river and walked me into “the spot.” It’s legal to bait bear until July 1 so he had set up food stations prior to my arrival. And yes, as stupid as it sounds, I thought it would be an awesome idea to stand over the food and wait for one of the top land predators in the world to approach me. Corey dropped me off around 8pm and I stood motionless and silent for several hours. So you know, all I had was my clothes, a little water, a granola bar, my bow and arrows and a .44 pistol. Yes, that’s it. Again, I know, seems pretty stupid right? I stood there for some time with an increased heart rate and an occasional adrenaline rush from the sound of something walking behind me through the trees. And then, with a subtle turn of my head, something black was now where I hadn’t seen black previously. I must’ve stopped breathing and the shakeing started. It was a big black bear and it had just turned midnight so the sun was almost completely down. He approached slowly, lifting his nose and smelling the air. A few steps at a time then, he slowly turned back. Wow, I thought, that’s the closest I’ve ever been to a black bear, 20 yards! I thought he may return so I stood quietly in the mosquitos, waiting for my next chance. And about 15 mins later, he returned, except this time he wasn’t moving with caution. He came straight in and stopped right below me. Literally 12 feet from my feet (4 yards). I couldn’t see his head and didn’t want to move, but was shaking thinking maybe he’s looking up at me and thinking about climbing. Then, he moved towards the bait. I watched him for some time. It was nearing total darkness inside the thick forest and I couldn’t wait any longer. I drew my bow back at 11 yards and nailed him! Perfect shot! He only ran about 40 yards! 12:22 am on June 6, 2016! I was so excited and so relieved. Now I just wait 30 mins and go find him. Not as easy as that. I put my headlamp on and tracked the blood, oh with just my pistol by the way. Finally, there he was. Honestly, I thought he was much bigger but I guess your first encounter always seems bigger. Not that he was small, must just be they seem huge when they can jump on you and kill you and have you completely eaten so quickly.
So now, it’s about 1am and I’m cleaning a bear, exposing the smell of fresh blood in what’s nearly total darkness so I can’t see a black bear approaching and all I have is a pistol. Corey’s plan was to hunt the other bait and meet me around 2am. So all I had to do was stay alive for another hour. I finished cleaning the bear and made my way to the rendezvous point on the river. I’m not sure what’s more scary, having a bear walk in on you while hunting, or the feeling of being hunted in the dark in the middle of the night? 2am rolls around and no Corey. No big deal maybe he shot a bear too. 3 am rolls around along with cooler temperatures. Still no Corey. I hope he’s ok. Now my mental state changes. I’m not happy being alone in bear country at night with only the pistol and the smell of blood on my clothes. 4am rolls around and I’m cold, trying to stay out of the wind and standing every now and then to stay warm, doing jumping jacks. I talked to myself a lot, or yelled, hoping to scare off any wolves or bears that may be nearby. 430am rolls around and concern sets in. Maybe he fell asleep? Maybe he had boat trouble? Looks like I’m stuck out here and there’s no one close by to find me. At this point, I thought about the Alaskan Scouts and what they went through. I knew I was in no similar situation. I had nothing to worry about. But the thought or feeling that no ones coming to get you and you’re all alone, is not a comfortable one. Eventually Corey arrived at 5am in his boxers. He had fallen in the cold river and while driving in the dark he made a wrong turn and ended up putting his boat on shore. It was all good, we were all safe and we ended up getting my bear out and back to camp, going to bed at 8 am.
One of the coolest experiences of my life no doubt. I’ll never forget the feeling of being on the ground in the middle of bear country at night in Alaska’s bush. Thank you Corry for a lifelong memory and sharing it all with me. We prepared the bear coat for a rug and needed a place to store the meat. Corey and I, using and axe to chop the tundra and a shovel, made a perma frost fridge. It’s so cool how you get under the tundra and literally can’t dig. It’s an ice block. We scraped the dirt with the shovel and ice crystals appear. It’s truly frozen ground. There’s our meat fridge! We ended up cutting up all the meat and we’re going to season and smoke it before I leave. Bear sausage/pepperoni is supposed to put on more muscle than any other meat… We’ll see about that. Good times with good people in Alaska! Thank you Corey and Laura Leigh for all your insight, knowledge, hospitality and friendship. I’ll truly never forget it! I love you guys!! Can’t wait to run into you a little farther up the creek…