Big Bears On The Big Spit


Our transport to and from the Big Spit.
Our transport to and from the Big Spit.

The float plane just kissed the water in Kiliuda Bay. This was “home” for the next nine days, and my second attempt for a Kodiak Island brown bear. I was headed to the “Big Spit,” and I noted the large, flat landmass protruding into the crystal blue water with a stream dumping into the bay. From where we landed, I saw the ocean only a few miles away through the islands of mountains.

My guide, Johnny, and I spent the balance of the day setting up camp. It dipped down into the 20s overnight and the next morning broke clear and cold with frost. We walked a short distance to a glassing point and looked down on the Big Spit and the mountain just above camp.

Glassing for big Kodiak bear.
Glassing for big Kodiak bear.

The next few days turned ugly with wind, rain and/or fog and we decided to hunt the next drainage over. Morning started with water going over my knee-high rubber boots as we crossed a stream, so I sat the entire day in wet, cold rubber boots, glassing in the cold rain and fog.

We hadn’t seen a shooter bear in days and I was really starting to think this just wasn’t meant to be. Between the two hunts, I had already accrued a total of 16 days in the field chasing my dream and on the fifth hunting day of this trip, it was super foggy. We couldn’t see 60 yards in any direction and we sat in camp wasting a few hours waiting for the fog to lift before deciding to give it a try.

I spotted a single bear across the drainage maybe a half a mile away. It was about 1 p.m. and he was working his way across the mountain about half way up. In the amount of time it took to confirm it was a bear and to alert Johnny, the fog rolled back in and he was gone! Poof! Just like that — lost in the fog. I could not believe my luck after hours and hours of glassing, days on end. My emotions were racing, and I really hoped this was not my one opportunity for the week disappearing before my eyes.

bigspitbearssunriseFriday dawned clear and cold. We made the short walk to glass above the Big Spit and again saw no bear, just a few deer. My spirits were pretty low. It was day seven and we saw the boar in this drainage two days ago. I decided that if we had a second chance at him, I would make good on it.

I was admiring the beauty of the day and was thankful the sun was finally shining. I was just taking my pack off to settle in when only 200 yards away I saw a bear walking a nearby ridgeline. He was in the open and heading downhill toward the stream at the bottom of the drainage. I quickly alerted Johnny and he confirmed it was the bear from two days ago. He was a shooter in my book, especially at this point. His hide was beautiful and I will never forget how majestic and powerful he looked as he disappeared into the small valley between us.

Johnny suggested we quickly and as quietly as possible slip down the knob we were on to try and cut him off. We moved only about 60 yards downhill and decided to wait him out there.

The author and his reward for an arduous hunt.
The author and his reward for an arduous hunt.

From my spot, I felt confident I could cover any escape route. A short time went by and Johnny snuck back up the hill a little to be sure the bear hadn’t given us the slip. Within minutes, I heard twigs snapping in the thick alders a short distance from where I stood. The bear must have heard us moving down the ridge in an attempt cut him off and now he was coming to check us out. My senses were on red alert and my heart was pounding. I chambered a shell, put my finger on the safety and was keen to any sound or movement. Several minutes passed when I caught the bear moving up the hill toward me. At that exact moment, he stood on his hind legs and looked right at me from a mere 70 yards. I quickly put the crosshairs on his chest and just as quickly he dropped back to all fours and disappeared in the tall grass.

I kept my gun up as my mind raced. Did he see me? Smell me? Did he spook? A few moments later his head and neck appeared above the grass a few yards closer. I quickly dropped the crosshairs to his shoulder and pushed the safety. Boom! He was gone. At the crack of the shot, he dove off the knob the way he came. Now all was silent and I jacked another shell in and waited while the bucks down the hill stood watching this unfold.

The thick brush made seeing the downed bear nearly impossible.
The thick brush made seeing the downed bear nearly impossible.

Since the alders were so thick, we made our way out to where I had first spotted the bear in the open and so we could see into “our” side of the small valley without actually walking into the alders. We gave the bear about a half hour with no sight or sound of it. My mind started playing games and I was a nervous wreck knowing that the hunter may have just become the hunted. This is a massive animal with extreme strength, claws bigger than my fingers and attitude beyond belief — especially when wounded — and it all happened so quickly, I couldn’t even be sure I connected.

Johnny and I glassed the alder valley and slowly made our way down toward the bottom of the drainage in the direction the valley flowed. We slowly eased our way closer and closer into the alders, trying to get a glimpse of the bear. I was feeling pretty confident that he was somewhere in that alder-choked valley; however, I was unsure if he was dead, alive or hunting us.

How could I have blown my only chance at a mere 70 yards? I was wearing myself out and it would be dark in a few hours. After another half hour, a bear eased out of the alders about another hundred yards up from where we last saw it, but within moments a cub popped out right behind her.

Here's the reason we waited to be sure he was down for good.
Here’s the reason we waited to be sure he was down for good.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder how I could have missed. Johnny said they rarely die with one shot, so why didn’t we hear a death moan or crashing through the alders after the shot? I heard the bear walking up the steep bank in the alders, but I couldn’t hear him run through them after the shot? None of it made sense, so I told Johnny we needed to go back to the exact spot the bear was standing when I shot. That’s what I always do when following up a shot, but the way things played out here, it was just the way things went down.

I took Johnny to where I was standing and where the bear was standing. He didn’t walk 10 yards before saying, “There he is!” My bear hadn’t run 15 yards and was piled up in some brush under a small tree. I could not believe it! Floored with emotion, I nearly buckled to the ground. I had fulfilled my dream. The .375 apparently busted his shoulder and he was dead on his feet after the shot. It was the wildest roller coaster ride of emotions I ever had hunting, and fortunately the ride came to a happy ending.– Bill MacFarland

 

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