USA: Bears, Fires, Glaciers & "Becoming A Man" In Alaska

Alaska Luke

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Preface
One of my favorite things about this site is reading about hunting adventures in places very different from my own. I've especially enjoyed the stories about old India. With that in mind I thought some of you might enjoy the story of my spring bear hunting adventures in Alaska. I was motivated to type it up after a couple folks mentioned they were enjoying hunting stories because their own hunts were cancelled. With all that in mind enjoy.

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"I bet I can hold you if I put in a cradle."

The scrawny little 13 year old probably weighed 80 pounds and wasn't 5 foot tall yet. For some reason he wanted to try his wrestling moves on a grown man (me).

"Sure see if you can hold me" I said rolling onto the floor so the boy could put me in the wrestling hold I'd just heard of. He struggled to fit his arms around all 5 ft 8 in and 175 lbs of me. A few seconds later I popped out of the hold.

"I'm just too big for you." I said hoping I didn't make him feel too bad. I'd actually meant to fake struggle a bit more. Fortunately the kid wasn't intimidated.

"Yeah but you were struggling, you must be getting old. I bet when you were young you could get out even faster."

The boy's confidence and sassiness was growing on me.

I'd known Cody (not his real name) for about a year through Sarah, an occasional co-worker. Her two boys were buddies with Cody and they'd adopted me as their "uncle." For the past year Cody had been the friend who came over to play with Sarah's boys and occasionally to shoot with us but not someone I paid much attention too. He seemed more interested in the other kids then an "old" guy in his 30s. That seemed to be changing now. The previous fall for some reason Cody had volunteered to help us butcher 20 chickens one day, a long nasty job. His work ethic was impressive for a 13 year old.

Now after not seeing him for 5 months of Covid lockdown Cody was clearly seeking out my attention. First he wanted to try every possible combination of wrestling moves on me. After 30 minutes of this I lay on the couch to catch my breath. Soon Cody had squeezed onto the edge of the couch to show me funny pictures on his phone. It made sense when I thought about it. Cody didn't have a dad in his life and he'd lost a few friends lately as neighborhood dynamics changed. On one hand he needed an adult role model. On the other hand he also just needed a buddy of any kind to hang out with. His way of communicating that was to tease me and annoy me to get attention. With all this in mind I invited Cody to sit on my two bear baits with me. I thought the chance that he could kill a black bear or even a grizzly in relatively short order was high.

My bear season had already started earlier while Alaska was still in lockdown.

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I began by hiking up into the mountains in April and early May hoping to catch a bear as they were waking up from hibernation.

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I saw caribou, bear and moose but not bears. As the snow melted I knew bears would begin to move into the lower valleys were a spot and stalk hunt would be difficult. I switched tactics and put out two bear baits. One was in the forest, I assumed this would be better for black bears. The second bait had a ground blind and I assumed it would be a good grizzly bait.

One day I hiked out to the grizzly bait to drop some dog food off (my ATV was broken down). I only carried my 10mm Glock because I assumed no bears had found the bait yet. Well there was a grizzly there. Suddenly my 10mm seemed way, way too small. I backed away and ran home for my rifle. When I returned the bear had left. I began to spend evenings on the grizzly bait with both my ultralight 375 Ruger and my silenced 308.


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As it happened I didn't get a grizzly but one evening a small black bear showed up. The first shot staggered her. She seemed to have a hard time locating the source of the threat since I was using a suppressed 308. I reloaded and finished her off.

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The lockdown eased soon after I killed the black bear. I gave the meat to a friend who was out of work. The focus now was on getting Cody a bear. With school still going on (remotely) I began picking Cody up for weekend hunts. Our first weekends were busts. Between rain and wind and Cody being a wiggly kid on the stand we saw nothing. I was beginning to worry and Cody seemed to be losing hope. I questioned whether he was really enjoying himself or just going because his mom pushed him to get outside, or because he liked my attention and just went because it was the only way to hang out. To be on the safe side I took him to the shooting range after the hunting trip so that he'd have something to show for his effort. Cody was always happy to shoot things and I made sure he practiced a bit with my 308 to brush up his skills.

One evening I saw a family of 3 grizzlies moving in silently. I nudged Cody awake and pointed quietly. As he sat up the mother grizzly sensed something was off and ran off with her large cubs behind her. At least we'd seen a bear. Soon after a lanky looking male grizzly walked past. I whispered for Cody to wait for a clear shot. I was comfortable letting him shoot the grizzly with his 308 (I was backing him up with a 375 Ruger) but I didn't want him to make a bad shot. The grizzly appeared more interested in following the mother and cubs then the bait. He kept right on going without stopping and Cody couldn't get a clear shot through the trees. We never got another chance. Cody seemed to be losing hope. I decided to give him a break until I had bears coming more consistently.

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In early June I sat on the stand alone after work (Cody only came up on weekends to hunt). Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. The lanky grizzly was moving in like a ghost. I waited a few minutes to ensure it was not a mother with cubs. I was thinking the bear I was looking at was a 6 or 7 foot bear I'd seen on the game camera, probably a young male. I had to think a moment. There was a monster grizzly with a mate that I'd seen on the camera but only occasionally and not for a while. If I shot this one I'd fill my grizzly tag for the season and the monster would not be an option if I saw him. But there wasn't much time left to hunt. I quickly decide to take the grizzly that was available.

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My 375 came up in a smooth motion and I fired right behind his front shoulder. The bear rolled over with a growl and began to get back up. I'd seen bear do this and run so I knew I wanted to anchor this bear before he ran into the bushes or possibly charged me. I had a round in the chamber before the bear was on his feet again. I waited hoping for a clear side shot to smash a shoulder. Instead the bear turned towards me as he got up. Whether he was about to charge or run away I don't know but I didn't have time to waste. Instinct took over. The bear's head was down and towards me. A normal brain shot would be below the line of the eyes. In this case I knew somehow to aim higher so that the bullet would angle down through the skull into the brain. I was squeezing the trigger as the crosshairs settled on the bear's head. The 375 roared and the bear collapsed as if a switch had been flipped. Without waiting I quickly fired a second shot into the bear. He was down.

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When I check the bear I was surprised to find he was bigger then I'd thought. He wasn't super rubbed but his fur seemed to lay flatter or something in a way that made him look smaller then he really was. I was guessing he was a 7 foot bear as I looked at him.

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It wasn't until the next day that I measured the bear's hide. He squared an honest 8 feet. Not bad for a grizzly in my area. Fish and Game measured the smashed skull at 25 inches, not a record book bear but a solid size for what I could consider to be a grizzly (my area is technically brown bear country but I doubt this bear had much of the fish diet that helps coastal bears get huge).

I didn't feel bad shooting the grizzly because I knew the chance of having Cody and the grizzly cross paths was quiet small. The grizzlies just roamed more. But when another black bear began to come in regularly I knew it was time to get Cody back.

I called Cody at the house and asked if he was willing to try once more for a bear.
"Sure, I'd love to come" he said.
"I haven't worn you out? We can do something else if you're tired of hunting"
"No I want to try again."
I was starting to really like this kid.
I quickly drove down for Cody on a Friday afternoon. Cody said he was willing to stay on the stand all night if he needed too. I figured if we put a solid weekend into the hunt the chance was quiet hight we'd seen a bear. Cody settled in next to me with a book to read and a few games on his phone.

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After maybe an hour I saw movement and sure enough a young black bear was coming in hesitantly. I got Cody's attention and motioned him to wait on raising his rifle until the bear was busy eating. Things got tricky because the bear lay down behind the bait barrel and began eating food that was scattered on the ground by the grizzlies tipping the barrel over. The bear was half visible around the barrel.
I was nervous because Cody couldn't hold his rifle on the bear forever. If startled the bear might dart of through the trees without giving us a shot. But I didnt' want Cody to make a bad shot and have a wounded bear to track.

Finally the bear shifted foreword slightly. I whispered for Cody to shoot when he was ready. The silenced 308 cracked and I watched the bear spin and run through the woods in a circle past us. My heart sank. Had Cody missed? Or worse would we have a wounded bear to track (no easy thing to do).

"I hit him" Cody said. "I saw the blood on his side"

As we listened I heard a few thrashing noises just out of sight in the trees. It could have been the bear's last thrashings or it could have been the bear getting up to move farther away after laying down. I forced Cody (and myself) to wait. If the bear was mortally wounded I wanted it to lay down and die nearby. I would have felt a lot better if I'd heard the bear making a "death moan." Cody and I worked out that he'd shot the bear on the right side and seen blood on the left side as it ran away. So the hit was a pass through but I wasn't sure whether it was a clean hit or not. Cody was a good shot but it was his first bear and there was always the chance he messed up.
After a rather long 30 minutes I got down and walked into the woods to intercept the bear's trail. Sure enough there was a spot of blood. Soon we found the dead bear.

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Cody thought it was funny how I positioned the camera for our trophy shots to make the bear look bigger (yes people do that). To be honest it wasn't a huge bear, maybe 125 pounds. I told Cody it was plenty big for a black bear in this area. My first black bear and another friends bear had been similarly sized. Black bears in my part of Alaska don't seem to get as large on average because they have a skimpy diet.

Cody and I processed the bear meat the next day and I was ready to take him home. I assumed he'd be tired and ready to veg out in front of a TV like a typical teenager.
"I don't' have to go home, we can hang out" he said. I'd been around Cody enough to know that was more of a request. So I spent the rest of the weekend with him. We went shooting, we watched a movie and we celebrated with a shrimp dinner in Valdez. I was starting to get it through my thick skull that Cody liked the time together not just the bear killing. I wondered if maybe I should take him on a few more adventures before he moved to North Dakota at the end of the month.

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The next weekend I took Cody to the historic mining town of Kennicott. This area was a copper mining spot in the early 1900s. The gravelly area is the picture is not just dirt. Its actually a massive glacier covered in debris. Back in the mining days it was much higher, they say you could not see across the valley to the mountains it was so high. Its melted a lot in 100 years. After looking at the buildings (which Cody said looked like a place for a horror movie) we hiked out to the Root Glacier.

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Cody and I crossed the glacier with crampons and camped out on the others side. While I was setting up dinner, Cody figured out how to start a fire with my flint and steel kit. I joked about it as I took a short video of him, "Cody is a man now, he's killed a bear, he's crossed a glacier and he's started a fire without matches." Cody looked at me funny like I'd just told a bad "dad joke." But maybe it wasn't that...

Cody went on a couple other adventures before he left. We did some mountain biking and I took him on an 18 mile hike because he wanted to see how far he could hike in a day. I enjoyed giving him a good time and he enjoyed new adventures.

A few weeks later I talked to my friend Sarah on the phone after she had taken Cody over to her house to say good bye to her boys.

"Cody was so cute Luke" she said.
"What did he do"
"I picked him up to play with my boys and he said, 'Yep Luke says I'm a man now, I've killed a bear, I've hiked 18 miles and I've started a fire without matches, so I'm a man."

Well he may still have some growing up to do but I think Cody is well on his way to being a fine young man. I'm glad our time together gave him a bit more confidence.

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Randy F

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Great story, thanks for sharing it.

I love to see young people get excited about hunting. Well done!
 

tay50

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Alaska Luke, hopefully you find out how your time spent with Cody changed his life, I too mentored a young man in hunting and fishing. I worked with his mom and she knew I was an outdoorsman and asked if I wouldn't mind teaching her son how to bow hunt. My buddies and I shot a broad head league a couple days a week so I started taking him with us, for a 14 year old he done really good, he asked if we could take him hunting so we did. I kept him in within eyesight of my tree stand and low and behold a big 8 point walked past him, I kept saying shoot to myself, and no shot, the deer walked off, later I asked him why he didn't shoot, he replied I didn't think my bow could kill that big thing. The next day I shot a 10 pointer, and he helped track it he was so excited when we found my deer he was hooked forever. Long story short, I married a gal with 2 young boys and lost track of my buddy, 25 years later I'm grocery shopping with my wife and this guy walks up to me and calls me by my first name and its him. We exchange phone numbers, and are good friends, he thank me and told me I made him the man he is today by teaching him about the outdoors, he is an avid hunter and fisherman. He married a gal who has a young son, and is an outdoorswoman together they are teaching him about the outdoors. So the circle continues.
 

gillettehunter

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Great job. Hats off to you. Glad you were able to help him get his bear. He'll always remember that. Nice bears all around. Congrats
Bruce
 

Nyati

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That was a great story, thanks for sharing !
 

Uncle Sauce

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Thanks for sharing - great story and adventures you guys had together!
 

cpr0312

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Looks like a great time! Congrats and thanks for sharing!
 

Ridgewalker

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I really enjoy teaching kids about the outdoors. Excellent read and thanks for sharing it!
 

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