There are few sunny, 60-degree days in Southeast Alaska where winds are so calm that the mountains reflect as clearly in the ocean as they appear against the blue sky. These are the spring days every Alaskan tourist dreams of. But for the bear hunter, it’s a double-edged sword. Warm, quiet weather challenges the stealth of any stalk; but even so, one can’t help but appreciate the beauty and comfort factor when compared to the more typical days of freezing rain and wind-blown whitecaps. So began this brown bear hunting adventure, hosted by who I consider one of the world’s finest outfitters — Keegan McCarthy of Coastal Alaska Adventures.
But this adventure really begins earlier at the SCI Annual Hunters’ Convention back in February 2016 when Dr. Gerald Warnock became the winning bidder on the Pathfinder Hunt package. The package included a southeast Alaska boat-based hunt for brown bear and, time permitting, a black bear as well. The hunt package was for two hunters; Dr. Warnock and a disabled individual of his choosing. The package also included videography of the hunt by Mike Rogers, Jr., and his crew for airing at a later date.
“When I purchased the hunt, it was with a mind to invite Eric Swanson, a long-time supporter of the Southwest Washington Chapter of SCI, who regrettably has been a paraplegic for well over 20 years,” said Dr. Warnock. “I had hunted with Eric once before in Manitoba, Canada, and found him to be an extremely tough individual, ethical hunter and a really good sport. Eric, of course, was delighted at the opportunity and, in the end, showed all of us what determination paired with a great attitude could do.”
When the hunt was originally booked, Coastal Alaskan Outfitters was using a 75-foot expedition-type craft, the Sikumi. Just a month before the planned hunt, owner Keegan McCarthy purchased a new 100-foot Broward yacht, the Golden Eagle, that they drove up from Seattle only four days before the planned departure for the hunt. The new yacht was purchased to insure comfort and luxury even during those harsh Alaska days during the hunting season.
There were three hunters on the boat: Dr. Warnock, Eric and John, a hunter from Colorado who was the only paying client on the trip. Keegan donated the hunt package for Dr. Warnock and his guest to the SCI Foundation as a contribution to the Pathfinder Program.
No expense was spared by Keegan and his team. Every detail of the hunt was well planned and executed to the highest degree of professionalism including the incredible food, expertly prepared and beautifully presented by the onboard 5-star chef.
Going above and beyond is just the normal course of business for Coastal Alaskan Outfitters. Keegan made sure that all preparations were made for his special guest including having a second, smaller wheelchair — that he flew in at his own expense – available for navigating narrower spaces below deck where the accommodations were located.
There were record snowfalls in Juneau over the winter, and spring came late to southeast Alaska. Even so, the first five days of the trip were sunny and warm – quite unusual for that region. As Keegan and his team had feared, many of the bears were still in their dens and no hunting opportunities arose. On the sixth day, John spotted a big bear, but his shot was unfortunately misplaced.
On the seventh day, Eric spotted a seven-foot bear walking toward him on the beach. Though his permit allowed him to shoot from the skiff, as a seasoned hunter with impeccable ethics, Eric elected to pass on the 25-yard shot, hoping he would get another chance.
Much to everyone’s disappointment, a major storm hit the next day, forcing the hunters to spend the time relaxing on the 100-foot yacht. The harsh weather simply precluded leaving the safety of the large boat on the 18-foot skiffs.
The next day ended on a successful note, as Dr. Warnock took his bear just as the sun went down. It was a beauty, and the most lushly furred bear he had ever taken. As happy as he was, it was not the reason he had come on this particular hunt, making the moment bittersweet.
The final day of the hunt loomed large. The skiffs had averaged nearly 300 miles each over the course of ten days. Time was quickly running out, and Eric still had not taken a shot at a bear. Even though the trip would be remembered as a once-in-a-lifetime experience either way, no hunter wants to leave without filling his or her tag.
As the morning turned into afternoon, we spotted a large bear. The plan was to assist Eric, a 200-pound man, from the boat through the water to a spot on the beach from which he could take a steady shot. The beach was very unfriendly with barnacles, mussels and slippery seaweed – difficult terrain for any hunter to traverse, even with the aid of a walking stick. Still, two of the men helping with the hunt, Cayenne and Jesse, helped Eric 100 yards inland and carefully set him up where he could get a shot as the bear approached.
With daylight running out on this last hunting day, Eric made an excellent shot, taking the bear cleanly at nearly 200 yards. He was helped to his quarry for some quick photos, then carefully back over the treacherous beach and finally back to the boat. Eric’s bear turned out to measure a whopping nine feet – a huge bear by any standard!
The next morning, the anchor was pulled at 4:00 a.m. and the long cruise back to Juneau began. That evening, the hunters flew home. All in all, it was a perfect trip and, at the conclusion of it all, everyone agreed that Eric was “one tough son of a bitch and a great shot.”
SCI Foundation Pathfinders are people faced with challenges that require finding new ways to live and be engaged in outdoor activities. These inspiring and determined individuals also donate time to help their communities and promote hunting for other disabled hunters. To learn more about this and other SCI Foundation programs, please visit SafariClubFoundation.org.–Dennis Treadwell, Marketing and Communications Manager, SCIF