My brother, a data analyst from LA, is about to visit us in Alaska and from what he can see on TV he’s in for a wild ride. I’ve lived here for only a short time, but the rest of my family are wildlife experts and they have an entire week planned for my brother and his friend.
I’ll try not to brag, but Prince of Wales Island is by far the rainiest area in North America, so when you get a straight week of sunshine God has given us mercy. That was the week these two came to visit. It started quite laid back, some kayaking in front of the house, some drinking. Well, a lot of drinking. But the next day was hunting.
We headed up the mountain Sunday afternoon and climbed up to the alpines where we planned to camp overnight. There was five of us; One very experienced hunter, one experienced hunter, me, and the newbies. They had no idea what hiking a mountain was like. Shrubbery and mud were the main characters. But after a few hours, we made it up the mountain, exhausted as we could be. When we climbed the steepest section we began glassing and saw nothing for a while so we continued up the mountain. As we were walking, out of nowhere the experienced hunter saw a buck, about 350 yards from us. He was a magnificent creature, sitting down and looking our way but not noticing us at all. My brother and the very experienced hunter got closer and shot. Nothing happened. The buck got away. But they swear they at least injured him, so we followed his track and when we got up to where he was we saw no blood and no trace of any animal. But a few yards away, behind a small hill was the dead buck. He didn’t go very far. We took the ceremonial pictures and my brother looked astonished, excited and confused at having killed something. At the peak of the mountain, we saw a patch of snow which is where we took the deer so he can keep over night.
The next morning we were to split into groups. I, with the most experienced hunter and my brother and his friend with the experienced hunter. We woke up early and my buddy asked if I slept well and I said yes. “Yes, I could hear it” He responded.
We ventured off, silently looking in the distance for anything that may seem like a shootable deer but there was none. According to my buddy, the weather was too hot and the deer were most likely down the mountain where they could cool down. A whole climb wasted. But at least the view was beautiful.
The day after that we headed to the cabin. A cabin with no electricity or running water – what a treat! On our way up to the mountain we had seen two black bears, and heading to our cabin we saw another three so needless to say I was on high alert. However, the main thing I was concerned about was the bathroom situation. I know right? NO. RUNNING. WATER. In the middle of the woods, no one ever cleans the outhouse, the waste just sits there for years. I decided not to use it and instead do my business in the woods. What about the bears though? Oh God just imagine a situation where I am squatting Chinese style and a bear attacks me from behind? What would I do? Shit myself? Hm.
The solution was right there. I took my brother’s .44 Magnum pistol and a roll of toilet paper deep into the woods where no one could see me do my business. Every morning for a week. Who can say they’ve taken a pistol to do that? Although I did ponder the worst case scenario. Would I chase the bear with the pistol mid-poop? I think I would hear the bear coming far in advance but I feel that squatting may compromise my accuracy.
A few days late some of the guys continued hunting in their four wheelers and I decided to take a break, and so did one of my brothers. Since we were bored we decided to kayak across the water where our sister in law told was a home stead. * We went across toward the mouth of the river and found no home stead. We did find that the water had become very shallow and it was harder and harder to paddle, and it was then that we realized that bears hang out by the mouth of the river so we paddled as best we could back to the cabin. A few minutes after we got back we saw a bear right where we were and a few seconds later we saw a second bear emerge from the forest. Soon the two bears stood up and began fighting. We could hear the roaring across the water. We weren’t scared but fascinated. It only lasted a few seconds, but the bear that won got the right to remain at the mouth of the river.
The next day our sister in law came to the cabin to drop off some supplies so we asked her if she could take us, and we decided that it was safer to go as a group. There was seven of us and nearly all of us were armed. We shot a few times across the water to announce ourselves to the bears and went on. We hiked around the beach and as it turned out my brother and I were completely in the wrong place. The sun was starting to fade away, in Alaska that’s a slow process but the homestead looked quite far. After a long hike, we made it to the tall grass, where the bears love to hang out. The sister in law, someone who shot her first bear at the age of 12, told us that bear often nap in the tall grass and when we reached trails she told us this is where the bears had been walking recently. There was also fresh bear poop all over. For some reason we followed the bear trails. Why are we here again? We shot a few more times just to be sure.
My heart was racing.
We continued and up a small stream. Behind some tree was a small house. The size of a dorm room. The wood had become gray, and inside was a small kitchen and two bunk beads. No doors, no windows and it had been ravaged by bears already. All around the house was bear poop and foot prints. When suddenly, across the stream, a few hundred yards away we saw a bear, then a much smaller bear next to the big bear. It took us but a few seconds to realize it was a mama bear and that it had spotted us. We were in her territory. We were told to hurry, so hurry we did. Then the bear started moving toward us, so move forcefully we did.
We made it to the cabin alright, but slept with one eye open.
*A person’s or family’s residence, which comprises the land, house, and outbuildings, and in most states is exempt from forced sale for collection of debt. This specific homestead was built when people began migrating to Alaska. A local history teacher says the person who lived here used to raise cows and sell dairy products to the miners that settled the town.