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Dances with Bears

January 20, 2011

After spending many years fishing hiking and camping in the woods of Pennsylvania, being in the wilderness of Alaska in my 50’s was like being a child in a candy store. Making a living was something else all together. If one wanted to live and work in the woods, you had to find an occupation where you could make a years salary in the little over the three months the country was not covered in snow.

I had met Les Cobb when I hired him to outfit and guide two of my companies episodes for our outdoor television series. Before we parted company he offered me a job the following spring as an apprentice hunting guide. In Alaska one has to apprentice for three years before you could apply for a full guides license. It seemed an ideal match. Working four months of the year and learning a craft while living in some of the most remote wilderness Alaska has to offer.

Below, and in the future, will be some reflections from that apprenticeship. At this time I had not started my fishing charter business and was focused on learning the country and the hunting guide business. With Les I was exposed to spring bear hunts and fall moose hunts, these written meanderings come from some of those adventures.

It was an early spring morning, with cool air causing the whole river to mist like boiling water in cold air. It would be two weeks before our first hunters would arrive and Les and I were running the boat down the Tanana river checking on bear activity at the bait stations we had recently put in. We pulled in to shore, tied up the boat and walked to our hunting blind. After a few hours a number of black bears began to arrive. Sometimes two at a time but mostly they came in alone. Every now and then one would be in eating the bait and another would stand off at a distance and wait till the other left.

By mid day, after watching the different bears, Les said in a quiet voice that no large bears would be coming and told me get my camera out. He proceeded to crawl on all fours, the 30 yards up to the bait, as a bear stood off to one side. While he was crawling he shook his head from side to side and every now and again grunted. I could not imagine what the bear was thinking as he watched Les move toward the food.

The small 4 foot bear watched as Les got to the bait barrel and proceeded to dig into the food. I have to digress a minute for those who do not understand the nature of bears. A bears claws even on a small one can be quite lethal. They are sharp and can do a lot of damage. It would only take one lucky swipe of the bears paw to rip open a vain and cause massive bleeding or death.

Watching Les ‘talk’ in grunts with the bear as he edged closer to the barrel, was like watching a lion tamer get ready to place his head into the mouth of a lion. After a few minutes of this interaction, Les slowly reached into his pocket and presented the bear with a candy bar. He took a bite and offered the candy to the bear.

During this time I was indeed filming the action but never lost the presence of mind as to where my gun was. I knew if the bear made any aggressive gesture it would be up to me to stop him dead. However this was not to be the case. The bear accepted the candy and at that moment another bear made his presence known, causing the first bear to disappear. I mean that almost literally. I have seen many bears when they were shot turn and cover the 30 yards towards our hunting blind in a matter of seconds. You can not believe the speed of these animals no matter how large they are.

When the bear was scared off Les rose up looked at me and just smiled. To him it was just another way to spend an afternoon. To me an adventure I will always remember.

Bait stations…hunting by placing food out in the open near a hunting blind. Some people find baiting offensive. Over the years I have learned otherwise. If you are tracking an animal for hours and sometimes days and finally come up on the animal, your tendency is to shoot the animal no matter if it is of the quality you would like. Baiting gives you the opportunity to ‘choose’ the best animal for harvest. Weather you are looking for a good fur or a large quantity of meet, it allows you to pass on animals that do not meet your requirements.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jon permalink
    January 21, 2011 2:12 am

    Neat story And I’m certainly looking forward to more. Thanks Pete.


  2. Del permalink
    January 21, 2011 4:37 am

    Ole Les Cobb. I remember him. Was a long time ago. is he still out there?


  3. ccrmom permalink
    January 22, 2011 1:51 am

    My son was in Fbnks in 2009/2010 and he and his wife both took black bears over his baiting station. He had several bears come in, as you describe. One day when he had a hunting partner with him, his partner was bound and determined to get a bear. A mama and cubs came in, and my son practically had to arm wrestle the guy NOT to take the mama. If he did, the babies too would die. That is NOT ethical hunting in the eyes of my son. He persuaded his buddy not to shoot, and they enjoyed watching as mama and babies had lots of opportunity to enjoy the bait. A little later, a larger male came in, and his buddy got his prize after all. Baiting is a good way of keeping the more agressive black bears under control.. PROVIDING they are used in an ethical manner. Thanks for the memories.. great reading, and viewing.. I have passed this on to my son to enjoy too. Mary Ann


  4. Rosalyn permalink
    January 22, 2011 2:58 pm

    ccrmom, your son did the right thing. It is illegal to shoot a sow with cubs. Since it was over his bait, he would have been responsible also in the illegal shooting. Congratulations on raising an ethical hunter, he is a better person than most.

    Del, Les died a year ago in September 2009.


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