Sunday, May 22, 2016

We're Going on a Bear Hunt....

If someone had told my newly engaged self that in 10 years I would be a homeschool mom and Army wife, living in Alaska, hunting moose poop and bears and loving all of it, I would have thought they were nuts. None of that sounded like me. Much to my surprise every one of those is true. That last one - the bear hunt part, not the loving it all part - didn't become true until just yesterday.

My husband has always enjoyed hunting but hasn't done much of it since we married. Getting stationed in Alaska proved to be the exact push he needed to get back into hunting. Moose, caribou, bear, dahl sheep, and fish are all absolutely delicious additions to our table.

Going on a bear hunt
Well, ok, the jury is still out about how delicious the bear is but I'm willing to give it a try. Which is exactly why I found myself out bear baiting (which is not only legal but the norm here in AK) with my husband. He already had the stand set up and had taken both of our children as well as his mom out to check out the stand. In the perhaps truest Alaska-style date night we were headed out after my husband had finished work for the day to restock the bait station and check the trail cam to see what kind of activity had been captured. He was anxious to see if the momma grizzly and her two cubs that had visited earlier had returned or not (hopefully not!). The fact that it hasn't been getting dark until after midnight made a "night" trip like this not only doable but enjoyable, especially for a night owl like myself.

The nearly hour and half drive north was uneventful, other than some ridiculously slow service at McD's, but absolutely gorgeous. Once we finally arrived at the area we were going to park the truck before making the eight-ish mile trek on the four wheeler to the bait station. We'd nearly made it there when we came across another hunter on his quad. After chatting with him a bit, he told us his station was about 4 miles past our first one and very close to our second one, much to my husband's dismay. The hunter was rather colorful but seemed nice enough and we let him head out in front of us on the trail since he had farther to go.  Just a short ways up and about a tenth of a mile to the first bait station the hunter stopped his four wheeler and jumped off waiving somewhat wildly.  We pulled up behind him as he excitedly exclaimed "I saw a Blackie!"

My husband jumped off our four wheeler, grabbed his rifle and the two of them headed down the path tracking the black bear's prints in the mud while I trailed a safe distance behind. The fresh tracks were extremely exciting to see! About half-way down the trail the black bear's tracks veered off into the woods but we continued on the little bit farther to the bait station. My husband immediately checked his trail-cam to see if there'd been any activity at his stand.

Bear Tracks

My Foot compared to one of the bear tracks
From the trail cam
Not only was there bear activity, according to the time stamp, the first black bear had showed up a mere couple minutes before we did and was most likely scared off by the sound of us coming up the trail. It was also definitely not the same one the hunter had spotted. Our plans to merely bait the two stands and do a little work on the second stand changed very quickly! What had previously been a bear baiting tripped turned into a true bear hunt.

Up in the stand with the bait barrel behind me
I climbed up in the tree stand while my husband and the other hunter made their way back to the quads. The other hunter headed out first and my husband pulled up to the stand. He handed me the SD card from the trail cam and my computer so I could pull the pictures off while he restocked the bait barrel. As I sat there enjoying nature and the excitement of our change of plans I realized I was hearing rustling noises that were most definitely not my husband. I felt it was pretty imperative to get his attention, while not leaving the stand, and let him know. I had no idea if what I was hearing was a large or small animal so he asked me to be his eyes and ears.

This left me doing a combination of keeping an eye on my husband, fiddling with my computer to get the pictures downloaded, and checking the woods behind us for movement. The noise my husband was making dumping dog food around and into a metal can made it harder to hear movement so I was slightly startled to look up and see a black bear standing on the trail maybe five feet from the back of the four wheeler just watching us. Excitement shot through me and I began to whisper loudly, "Honey! Honey! Honey! HONEY!" Which did literally nothing to garner my husband's attention and the snapping of my fingers was just as ineffective. I did manage to catch the bear's attention and she glanced briefly up at me before averting her gaze back to my husband and the food he was distributing. I finally spoke a loud "HONEY!" while grabbing my phone so I could snap a picture of the beast that stood less than 10 yards from my safe haven. This time my husband looked at me expectantly.
"There's a bear!"

"There's a bear!" I was back to whispering loudly as I pointed to just beyond the four wheeler. Surprise and excitement registered on his face seeing this magnificent animal that was both hunter and yet prey standing so close to us. He pulled his rifle, which was slung over his back, around, took a couple of steps forward, and took careful aim. The black bear turned as if she was going to go back down the trail, took a couple of steps and just stopped as though debating what to do. With a calm, steady hand my husband fired. The shot echoed through the woods and the bear took off down the trail. My husband told me to stay put in the tree stand, which I had no issue doing, while he cautiously approached the trail to see where the sow had headed. Within seconds we heard a sound that eerily resembled a sad Chewbacca cry and then silence.

My husband motioned to me from the trail and told me that it was safe to come down while the reality of what had just taken place hit me. Tears filled my eyes as I climbed down. I knew that the bear would serve a good purpose to fill our freezer and our table with meat but that didn't ease the sadness of knowing we had taken the magnificent beast down. I feel no shame for my part in her death but I also feel no shame in my tears for her either. Life is a beautiful thing and taking it, even needfully, is something that I don't take lightly.

When I caught up to my husband he immediately noticed the tears in my eyes.

"Are you crying?" he asked.

"Yes," I choked out. "This is why I could never be a hunter."

He smiled understandingly not chiding or teasing me for my emotions. "It's a pretty solemn thing."

Mercifully it had been a clean shot through the heart and the bear had passed within a couple minutes at most, not suffering long. There was an odd mixture of sobriety and exhilaration as we checked over the bear and brought her back the couple yards to the trail so we could load her up on the quad.

We headed back to the stand so I could finish up with the pictures while my husband loaded up the bear and finished unloading the bear bait. I checked time stamps of the pictures from the trail cam and from my phone camera and realized, to my incredulity that from the time we first saw the tracks to the time we took down the bear it had no more than 30 minutes. For a trip that had originally been planned as a Bear Bait Date things had taken a drastically exciting turn.

Checking out the pics
My husband eventually joined me in the tree stand to talk about our little adventure, check out the pictures, and figure out if we wanted to hang out for a while or go ahead and head back home. While we conversed we started hearing more rustling in the woods. We eventually figured out that it was a squirrel when I saw it scamper across the forest floor and up a tree. We shrugged it off until it started chattering angrily at something out in the woods. My husband cautiously descended from the stand with his rifle while I, once again, happily stayed safely in my perch. After doing a little scoping he looked back at me to tell me there was another black bear out there. He did a little zig-zagging in our station area but couldn't get a clear shot and the bear decided to retreat a safer distance from us. Which was ok because we hadn't come prepared to take back one bear much less two!

We finally decided to finish packing up and head back with our sow secured to the front of the four wheeler. The way the whole situation played out felt so surreal. It worked together for an extraordinary date that will last as a both fantastic memory and a phenomenal story for many years to come.
Getting ready to head back

So gorgeous here
Getting "Masha" loaded up in the truck

One of the amazing veiws

1 comment:

  1. What an exciting adventure! You are making memories that will last a lifetime. In 1973, when I was 17, my father and I went on a bear hunting trip to Canada. Our first out, while we were up in the stand, a beautiful black bear walked into the clearing. I took the shot, and missed. It went high and the bear took off. Not 60 seconds later a second bear walked into the clearing. I aimed lower and shot. I could tell that I had hit it, but it also took off into the woods. I heard the same Chewbacca cry that you did. This shot was also clean through the heart, so it died quickly. Two of my cousins were also on the trip with us. The four of us each grabbed a paw to pick it up to carry it back to the trail. There must have been air trapped in the stomach or lungs because, when we lifted, there was a grunting sound. You never saw four people drop something so quickly! I'm so happy for you, Jeremy, and your kids for everything you are experiencing in Alaska.