Alaskan bear tales…
His breath with the smell of dead flesh washed hotly over my face, as we stared at each other with only a couple feet separating us. Though only a young black bear cub his paws on the log separating us had claws that could rip your face off. With his snout bobbing up and down he sniffed the air trying to figure out what I was. Bears this far out in the wilderness have never encountered a human and he was curious.
When I decided to move to Alaska I was offered a job as an assistant hunting guide. Back on the East coast the extent of my wilderness experience was fishing in some remote areas and chasing deer through the woods, now I was asked to help hunters bag their first Alaskan black bear. Les Cobb, owner of Lost Creek Ranch, and I had spent the better part of the month setting up hunting blinds at remote bait stations. Now we were going back and checking them every day looking for activity. It had been warm and light enough now for a couple weeks so the bears were emerging from hibernation, and they were hungry. We found that about four of the stations had good activity and this worked out well because our first hunters were due to arrive in a couple days.
I don’t know if it was inexperience or the feeling of having a loaded 357 on your hip, but the first few bear encounters that I had were anticlimactic. It had become for me a job and the bears were the product that I was selling. With patience and a strong sense of respect for the bear it was just another day at work. For our clients it was a whole different matter. Most of these men did not only have to save enough money to afford the hunt they also traveled between 5 and 13 hours to get to Alaska. After a night at the lodge we gave each hunter and an orientation then had them demonstrate their firearms proficiency.
This was doubly important, first because we had to know their skill level to insure they could make the kill and secondly based on that proficiency we would assign a guide depending on just how good they were. That first year was amazing for me to see that some clients who had the best gear and expensive rifles had no idea what hunting was about. Having a wounded bear charge you after it was shot can be dangerous and we had to know who would place the shot dead on the money.
All in all that first year we averaged about 22 black bears for 20 hunters, and no accidents. The “job” for me became after the first week like a buddy hunt. We were assigned a hunter sometimes for the whole week they were there and during this time between nights at the lodge and hours in the blind I became friends with many of the hunters. It was because of this bond I was able to share in their excitement of bagging their first Alaskan black bear.
No matter what I have written you can never fully understand what bears will do in any given situation. A good example would be the Fairbanks man who was killed by a bear, in early June, defending his wife at their cabin. Then again we have a man who after feeding a bear was later attacked by the bear. Where I live near Livengood we have had black and grizzly bears roam through the homestead. And just down the hill from here a grizzly broke into one building after being chased from a neighbors home. When you live out here you are in their home and must at all times expect the unexpected.
Below is the short video I posted a while back showing a bit of our spring bear season. I do think the hunters at the end may have been a little tired and confused.
Working with and learning from Les Cobb was an experience that I will never forget.
From gold miner to hunting guide he was a true Alaskan.
Les died doing what he loved
preparing to hunt bears.