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 Continue reading SCI Pathfinder Hunt With Keegan McCarthy Of Coastal Alaska Adventures
The gray sky hung low and brought with it the wind that whipped the ocean spray from our skiff against my face and stirred the water into tumultuous swells. Gone were the near perfect sunny days and calm seas that marked our arrival in Southeast Alaska and Continue reading Gray Skies and Black Bears
I have wanted to hunt bear in Alaska since I started hunting 50-plus years ago. And now my guide and outfitter Erik Johnson was saying to me: “Shoot that bear!”
In the fall of 2008 I received a brochure from South End Adventures explaining their hunting opportunities. It sounded very good but I wanted to think about it a little more and discuss it with my hunting partner. Then in the spring of 2009 I received their brochure. It was spring turkey season, and I was going to hunt with Jack Nelson in Morrill County, Nebraska, so I took the brochure with me.
As Jack and I discussed this trip we decided it was just what we were looking to do ̶ hunt giant black bear, fish for halibut and salmon, catch prawns and Dungeness crabs plus see beautiful country. I called Erik and Tam Johnson of South End Adventures after talking to several references, who were very complimentary. I booked their last spring bear hunt, which was at the end of May 2010. What an adventure this was going to be!
I thought about the trip all winter, and I started working up loads for my .416 Taylor. I thought this would be a great bear cartridge. After trying several loads, I settled on the Barnes 300-grain Triple-Shock, powered by IMR 4350 powder. This load shot very well, and I knew it would do the job when the time came.
We were to arrive in Ketchikan, Alaska on May 22 to depart on our hunt. We would be hunting Prince of Wales Island from a 65-foot vessel, the Tamarik. We were met by our guide and outfitter Erik and assistant Jake Barfield. The drive to the dock area was quick and soon we were on the boat settling in for our trip. Jack and I had separate cabins, each with shower and bathroom. Tam prepared a great meal, we filled in all the necessary paperwork, and I went to sleep dreaming of a big black bear.
Our first morning dawned damp and cloudy with a little breeze as we departed for Prince of Wales Island. The trip was very enjoyable, lasting about four hours. We stopped briefly at Moira Island to make sure our rifles were still properly sighted in after the plane ride. Both our rifles were still dead on, and we were ready for bear.
Prince of Wales Island is very temperate and very mountainous, covered with brush and trees. We spent that first afternoon cruising offshore looking for bears prowling the beach. We also fished a little, catching several quillback rockfish and setting out some crab pots and shrimp pots. This time of year the days are very long as it stayed light until after 9 p.m.
We brought the Tamarik into a small bay and anchored for the night. After a brief planning session Jack and I went with Jake in one skiff, with Tam and Erik following in the other. There was a light rain falling. Not enough to make it miserable but you knew it was there.
We saw our first bear feeding on lush grass on the beach. After glassing for a couple minutes, we decided this was a small bear so we continued into the bay. As we rounded a small island we saw two more bears. Even I could tell they were much larger than the first one we had seen.
We beached the skiff on the small island and set up with our binoculars to glass. As we watched, another single bear appeared on the beach. We were probably 600 to 700 yards from the beach where all the action was taking place. The pair appeared to be a sow and boar. The single was a very large bear, probably a boar. The pair finally walked into the woods, but we could still see them at the edge of the trees.
We decided we should get a better look at the single bear. I won the coin toss between Jack and me, so I was up first. Erik, Tam and I got in the skiff and headed toward a place on the beach where we could see and stalk the bear. Jack and Jake stayed on the island to watch.
As we neared the beach we could see the large boar very clearly. He was huge, but his hide was very badly rubbed and would not make a suitable rug. As we got out of the skiff and started to walk toward this large bear, another bear came out of the woods. He looked very good at 400 to 500 yards so we began our stalk.
As we got near, he walked back into the woods and disappeared. He was a nice bear. The two original bears then came out of the woods. First the sow and then the boar came running down the beach toward us. As we watched they again disappeared into the woods. Even the large badly rubbed bear had disappeared from the beach.
We continued walking along the beach through the trees. As we came to an open area, we saw another bear, number six on this beach. We settled in the trees and glassed the bear. It was only 90 yards away, feeding on the grass toward us.
I had my rifle settled onto the bear, but Erik said he wasn’t sure about him. Its ears were too close together, and both he and Tam thought this was a sow. All of a sudden the bear turned and beat a hasty retreat into the trees and was gone.
What had happened?
Then, a large bear appeared. It was the huge, badly rubbed bear from before. He was feeding toward us. He must have frightened the sow off. Again we looked this bear over very carefully. He was a very large bear but so badly rubbed. He continued to feed towards us and was 34 yards away when we saw another bear walk out of the woods. Erik looked at the bear.
“Shoot that bear,” he whispered.
My shot was blocked by some branches, and I tried to get a clear shot.
“You need to shoot soon,” Erik urged, “or the bear will go back in the trees!”
The rubbed bear had now walked into the woods ̶ Man, he was close!
My bear was 78 yards away and slowly feeding toward us. At 74 yards, he presented a great broadside shot.
I pulled the trigger gently ̶ CLICK.
What a sickening sound.
The bear heard the click and looked directly at us. I jacked in another shell as the bear lowered his head and continued to feed. This time the .416 roared, and the bear dropped in his tracks.
As we walked up to the bear I couldn’t believe he was down. He was a beautiful, coal black bear with a white star on his chest. As I stood over him and knelt down to lift that huge head, I marveled at the sheer size of this beautiful animal.
What a trophy for this boy from Nebraska! And this was just the first day. We had nine more days of hunting for Jack’s bear as well as fishing.
We later green scored the skull at 19 14/16 inches and the hide an even seven feet. After the drying period the bear scored 19 10/16 SCI. What a trophy! I slept very well that night.
To this day I don’t know why my rifle didn’t fire on that first shot. That evening we took the bolt apart and there really was nothing wrong. Luckily, everything turned out perfectly.
The next day we continued to search for another bear. We saw eight. We made several stalks on bears that disappeared and got up on a couple that had rubbed hides. We also continued to fish. I was having a great time fishing and going with Jack in the skiff, trying to get on the right bear. On the third day I caught a really nice 60-pound halibut. We caught yellow-eye red snapper, ling cod, black sea bass, and a variety of bottom-dwelling rock fish.
We continued to cruise Prince of Wales, looking for bear and fishing. What beautiful country this was. The weather cleared up, the wind was calm, the seas were calm, it was perfect. We cruised south, rounding the southern-most tip of the island. As we looked for bear and fished, Erik saw a pod of orcas. We glided through this pod for 30 minutes or so, getting tremendous pictures. These are amazing creatures and they seemed to really like having their pictures taken. They glided under the boat and came up to breathe less than 10 feet away. They finally tired of us and off they went.
Retracing our steps back around the cape, we entered a beautiful, large bay. The walls along the entrance to the bay were steep and high. According to sonar, the water through these narrows was 760 feet deep. We found a nice calm bay, anchored the Tamarik and headed out in the skiffs for the evening hunt. We saw no bear.
As we cruised back toward the Tamarik, we saw a bear feeding on the beach half a mile away. From this distance it looked like a very good bear. We got to the beach and began our stalk. This was really a great bear and one that we wanted to take.
At 110 yards Jack settled his .416 on a rock and took a shot. The bear was hit hard but ran for the woods. Another shot and he was gone. It was nearly dark, so rather than push him farther into the woods, we decided to come back in the morning.
The next morning, Erik and Jake took up the trail and after an amazing job of tracking found the bear. He was a huge, old bear with most of his teeth gone. The green score of the skull was 21 2/16 inches with a hide that squared seven feet, five inches — truly a great bear.
We will find out the true age of the bear this next spring from the Alaska Game Commission, but Erik and Tam thought he was 25 years old at least. What a bear! Our bear hunting was over.
We continued to fish, catching halibut, ling cod, yellow-eye and a couple of very nice king salmon. This was such a memorable adventure — everything I had anticipated and more. I cannot imagine a finer group to hunt with. Tam, Erik and Jake were wonderful hosts, outfitters and now friends.
They were knowledgeable and capable hunters who knew the game very well. They were excellent at judging the size of the bear and quality of the trophy. Our beautiful bear rugs will be arriving soon from the taxidermist and will only help to make the memories stay vivid. I would love to go back on their fall hunt — maybe someday.– Richard Ashwood