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Another bear in the yard?

June 10, 2014

bear2As we stared at each other with only a couple feet separating us his breath with the smell of dead flesh washed hotly over my face. 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. Beathis far out in the wilderness may have never encountered a human and he was curious…

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The knock on my cabin door was unexpected, for living out here one does not get strangers just stopping by. When I opened the door I realized it was a neighbor and he simply said…that a grizzly was just seen walking down towards one of the buildings on the property. This visitors social interaction may seem rude to outsiders but up here essential information always comes first before pleasantries. And having a bear of any type only a couple hundred feet from the cabin is very essential.

Living anywhere else and having a neighbor stop by would no doubt be a cause for a diversion from normal life but here it meant that I now knew to not venture outside without having my gun with me. It would be like someone coming to your home and saying that there were armed people breaking into a house next door, the only difference is that instead of calling 911, out here we have to take care of ourselves.

It is now a day later and no one has sighted the bear again so either it has moved on or has found a home and will reappear shortly. Having my 44 with me now almost all the time has made me think back to when I first arrived in Alaska and “learned” about bears. Quite a number of you are new to this blog so I am re-posting a blog written in May of last year about my first exposure to bears, enjoy!

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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.

*footnote
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, in early June, defending his wife at their cabin. 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.
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2014 8:23 am

    Hey Pete – Yep, the ole bruins are just a way of life in Alaska and that’s doubly true in rural situations. Last October I saw the south end of a north bound grizzly in my ‘back yard’ and I found some fresh scat a few weeks back on the edge of my property. In addition a neighbor told me her son had found ‘bear sign’ maybe 500 yards further east on East Barge Drive a few days back so they are definitely out and about. I remain careful now that its bear season again but I also remain very cautious around the ubiquitous moose as well. Meeting either ‘up close and personal’ is not something I hope will happen; I’d much prefer to see them from the safety of my house or car. If I’m out walking I hope any viewings are from at least a couple hundred yards distant! But I am very concerned about running into either large mammal when they have young in tow. I generally have the dogs with me when I’m outside and this is a double edged sword because while they can detect the animals long before I can can due to their amazing sense of smell they could also irritate bears in particular if they bark and get excited. We see both grizzlies and black bears in this area but it appears both are largely just passing through and I hope that’s how it remains as I sure wouldn’t want them setting up house in my area. I do, however, love the realization that such large mammals live and ‘work’ right in this immediate area; somehow it just wouldn’t be ‘Alaska’ without them…

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  2. June 12, 2014 9:14 pm

    It turns out this was a fairly large grizzly and was a little bit less than 11 feet from my daughter with her grandson, sitting in her small Snack Shack she operates. As luck would have it, she and the bear scared each other about equally and we have not seen any sign of the bear since.
    Usually a bear establishes a circuit, taking between 10 days and 2 weeks to complete that circuit all summer. So we shall be watching and paying attention.

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  3. Terry permalink
    June 13, 2014 9:53 pm

    Whoa! Considering your story about the neighbor’s sighting news and Rosalyn’s comments, I’m sure you all will all be on the lookout! Take care.

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