Feeling Manly

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“The Man”

I felt as though I had follow up to Jennifer’s “Feeling Pretty” blog…

As I sit in my chair in the cabin reading her blog, I’m sparked with all kinds of emotions. I start to contemplate…..Hmmm, when was the last time I’ve even taken a bath?….and with that thought I yelled, “Darling, I need to feel pretty! Fetch my bath water!” With that said, my pot of water was boiling away on top of the wood fire. I proceeded to pour the water in our 5-gallon shower bucket….as I’m pouring cup after cup of hot water on myself, making sure not to get carried away, ’cause I only get about 18 cups per 5-gallon bucket….I’m projected into an old spice commercial…Wrestling bears and slaying salmon, while flying on an eagle….as I near cup #14, I realized that my shower had been as short as a commercial. I step out and the cold autumn air coming in from the window hits me and for some reason I don’t feel any prettier. Instead, I feel more more manly!!! I guess we all have different struggles living in a remote cabin in Alaska.

My struggle lately has just been trying to learn the new skill of bear hunting. How manly can one man feel than when he is grizzly bear hunting, one-on-one with a man-eater, in his backyard?!!! Having the privilege of growing up in southeast Louisiana aka.”Sportsman’s Paradise” has been a blessing. I was also blessed with a great father and grandfather that forged the skills of hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation into my soul. They passed down and taught me the basic knowledge of hunting and to respect all of God’s creatures. So, I was confident that I’m manly enough to go hunt this beast.

I’ve always felt at peace and in my element while being in the woods, however, I’m learning that no hunting I have ever done growing up has prepared me for hunting in Alaska. Not only are the animals different here (They are alot larger and they can kill you), but the mountainous terrain is equally as challenging. It has definitely been a struggle to feel manly and be at peace in the Alaska bush while hunting north America’s largest predator. I’ve enjoyed viewing these magnificent creatures from the safety of my boat, 15-feet from the shoreline.

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“The Beast”

As brown/grizzly season approached, I spent countless hours cruising the shorelines and spotting bears…. watching their patterns, their reactions to me, and how much and what they are feeding on, times, etc. I’ve also been keeping logs on the times of the day when I see them. I’ve actually been able to get one large sow that has two 1st year cubs get pretty accustomed to me in the late afternoons. She no longer scurries off with the cubs when she sees me. I can sit for hours now and watch the 3 feed without them fleeing. I feel as if they have now conclude that I’m not a threat. It will be fun to watch the cubs grow up over the next 3 years. 90% of all the bears I’ve observed on the lake were big sows followed by 1 or 2 cubs. I saw only a handful of boars in the last 2 months. Most of the time, I was looking through binoculars, watching 15-foot bushes spread apart and shake as something very large walked right through them. This would go on for hundreds of yards down the hillside. I always hoped that they would eventually come into an opening, but it never happened.

I was getting discouraged about hunting for a big grizzly boar on the lake. I realize now how exact the local “Tlingit” natives are about describing their land. I’ve heard that they call this lake “the land of sow and cub”. I have a theory that all the big boar bear were all closer to the fast moving river and streams where the fish are still silver and full of fight and life, as if the big grizzly was kinda manly and only wanted to be near the action, and that the mommy only wants to stay as far away from the big grizzly bears as she can to protect her cubs, thus pushing them over to the lake.

I was shocked to learn that a male grizzly will eat 30 to 40 cubs in his lifetime. I’ve learned that they do this so the female can go back into heat and he can breed with her again. That sounds pretty manly! The fish that make it to the back lake have made it to the end of their long journey and to the end of their life so they are more lathargic and are easily picked off by the young cubs.

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“The Cubs”

But, I have seen males and females everywhere and I’m no biologist. It’s just an observation and a theory.

As the season opened on the 15th of Sept, I’ve come to the conclusion that I think I’m manly enough to go stalk one of these monsters in the woods. Although I never hunted a creature of this magnitude, I sure have become an expert on bear attacks. In the last 2 years, being here, I’ve read every bear tale and bear attack book published. With story titles like, “Come quick, I’m being eaten by a bear”, “Bear attacks of the century”, “The grizzly skull cracker”, and “Dinner bell bears”(I could go on and on), you would think these books would be counter productive to building up my manly courage to go after these animals, but something deep inside was drawn me to read these stories. Maybe it’s in my genes from dodging predators with large teeth eons ago. I don’t know, but I have gained a lot of knowledge on what to do and what not to do if I was ever attacked.

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“The Terror!!”

I also learned a lot about the mistakes people make and actually provoke an attack, and what mistake they made during the attack. I also really love recanting the stories to people as if they were my own, and seeing that same fascination and disbelief in their eyes..and hearing that proverbial “woooow!” Needless to say, I have gained ultimate respect from viewing these animals in the wild and researching them. With that I decided I had to leave the lake and make my way to the river near the bottom of the mountain in the Porcupine Creek area. If I wanted a big boar, I was gonna have to go live in the bears’ domain. Manly enough, right?

My plans were to take enough food for 3 to 4 days, an air mattress, plenty of blankets, and a little stove. I planned on hunting in the morning and evening, and sleeping overnight in the back of my truck under the safety of my cab. I thought I would feel safer than being in a little tent. I told Jen to stay home and stay pretty. I’m not coming home till I get a bear!!

So as I’m leaving the cabin, the “Stupid List” comes into my mind. The “stupid list” is like “it’s stupid to drive a car without wearing a seat belt”, or “it’s stupid to ride in a boat without a life jacket”, but in Alaska #1 on the stupid list is: “stupid is going hunting by yourself”! I didn’t care. I took a 5-gallon bucket shower that morning and I was feeling as manly as ever!! Nothing was gonna stop me. I was on a mission!

I secured my boat to the river bank and drove about 20 miles to a place where 4 different salmon streams merge and where chum salmon litter the shallow waters…it was a bear buffet! Fish were everywhere. As I pulled up to park, there was a young sub-adult feeding 100 yards from me, and I knew this was a gonna be good spot. I backed the truck up and started to make camp, so I wouldn’t have to do it in the dark when I got back from my hunt.

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“The Bait”

But, as a began, I saw about 4 piles of bear scat and tracks heading right to the salmon stream from behind where my truck was parked. I picked a spot that was a direct trail from the forest behind me to the creeks across from me. That’s when I thought maybe I’m not so manly ’cause I ain’t sleeping in this bear path. Jeremia Johnson might have been disappointed, but this coonass wasn’t getting eating by nothing! Not tonight, not never! So, I commenced to packing back up and decided to just move when I get back from the evening’s hunt.

With gun loaded, binoculars, warm clothes and a full ghillie suit, I crept into the woods on high alert. I was amazed and intimidated at how many bears were in the area. They had been feeding on all of the chum salmon. The air stunk of dead salmon. Chewed up, torn caucuses were strewn about everywhere.

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“The Ghillie Suit”

I now positioned myself with my back against a tree in hopes that the bear would come from the forest that I’m facing and not from behind me. I’m totally concealed in the ghillie suit and pretty confident that no animal can spot me. As I’m not worried that the bears can see me ’cause they have poor eyesight, but more worried about my scent. Bears have amazing noses, so for a week I’ve been soaking clothes in scent killer in preparation for these hunts.

As I sit on the ground, I wish I had a tree stand so I could be 20-ft up the safety of a tree, instead of being on the bears’ arena floor. I start to reconsider this whole manly thing. After sitting for about an hour, of course, growls and roars start coming from behind me. With every snap of a branch and whoof from a bear, I sink and morph into the tree. I’m praying that I’m so camouflaged that the bears will just walk right passed me and not even notice me. Hoping that he doesn’t want to for some odd reason just take a bite out of a random tree. At this moment, my feelings of manliness turn into feelings of stupidity. Just as I’m remembering the “stupid list”, I’m calling myself “you stupid son of a …”  2 large objects appear from the tree line. It’s 2 large bears at 75 yards. They were walking down into the stream, and they started chasing and grabbing salmon. They recover their catch and retreat from the stream to eat on dryer ground. Just as I’m glassing the 2 bears, trying to choose which one I’m gonna take, my manliness kicks in, and, of course, it says “go bigger!” Us men always seem to want big!… Big trucks, big guns, big TV’s…what is this manly “big thing” I ask myself? All of a sudden, another bear pops out of the bushes to the other side of me. Great, now my exit to the east is blocked by a large bear and my exit to the west is blocked by 2 larger bears. The salmon stream they are feeding on is in front of me and the thick brush that they are all are coming out of is behind me.

I watched the 3 bears for over an hour and I saw several others in the far distance. I was very thankful they were keeping away and that I was only trapped by 3 bears at this time. As 7:30 pm approached, the sun started falling quickly behind the mountain. I thought surly the darker it got the more bears are gonna come out. All of the sudden, the 2 large bears to the west of me break out into a brawl over a fish. It was super-intense to watch. I think to myself, I’m definitely not going that way!! I get up and head towards the single bear, although I don’t want to shoot this one for he was the smaller of the 3, and my manliness is telling me that I have got to get a bigger bear.

The state of Alaska allows each resident to harvest a brown/grizzly bear every four years in my area, so if I have to shoot this smaller bear, I can’t get another till 4 years later. When I say small bear, I’m talking 5-foot, 400 lbs, can easily maul me! As I get closer to this bear to pass him, I notice he is preoccupied with catching fish and hasn’t even noticed me 50 feet away. Every time he looks up I freeze in place. I felt like I was in a Caddyshack movie or a cartoon. Because I was in a ghillie suit, i looked like a big bush. So, I would move slowly with both eyes on the bear and when his head came up, the bush  stopped moving. This went on for the next 10 mins even though it felt like hours. The camouflage and scent lock worked, and the bear never noticed me, or at least didn’t seem to care. I think maybe he just didn’t feel like eating a bush that night and much rathered the salmon.

Once out of range from the bear, my manly pace picked up to a brisk walk. I didn’t want to scare off the bears so that I could have good hunt the following morning, so I was scurrying along as quietly as possible. At this point, it’s pitch black and I can only see about 5-feet all around with my headlamp. For some reason, the “stupid list” keeps popping into my head as I’m darting out of the brush, in complete darkness, in bear country. Right then, the truck comes into view. I’m moving towards it as though it’s a ribbon at the finish line of a long race. As I make it to the truck, I hear bears splashing and roaring as if they are fighting in the streams over fish. I start to laugh out loud. Then I look in the truck and see my big spot light sitting on the passenger seat. In my manly state of mind, I decide I’m going to go over to the creek and spotlight them in the water, just as I used to spotlight for little bullfrogs in the swamp back in Lousianna. Thank God at that very moment, I had an epiphany—
manliness and stupidity…..I think are the same thing!

Now that I have been awakened by a miracle and I didn’t run down that stream with the spotlight in hand, I get out to higher ground. I move down the road about 10 miles. As I park the truck and kill engine, I get out and hear bushes breaking and branches falling. Something big is running hard through the woods. I had got out of the driver side and left the door open and walked around to the front of the truck over to the passenger door when I heard the crashing in the woods. I never once stopped my stride. I didn’t have to stop and listen to see what it might be. I just kept walking right passed the passenger door around the back of truck and slid right back in the driver seat. I felt like I was in a Chinese fire drill.

From an arial view, it would have looked like I stopped, got out, ran around the truck real fast, and then took right off. I finally decided that 10 more miles up, I can sleep right on the highway next to 3 roads and 2 bridges. That’s gotta be less bears right?Last year, Jen and I were told of all THE places in our town, that one was the place where a local saw the biggest bear of his life, which was odd ’cause it’s a wide open gravel pit with a little pond, and quite a few cars pass on all the roads and cross the bridge frequently. And, there is so much construction with the completion of the new bridge going on, I thought that no bear would be around for miles.

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“The Final Campsite”

One thing I was shocked about is how hard it has gotten for me to drive in the dark. I hardly every drive at night because we live remotely, and you can only get to our house by boat, and you have to cross the river to get to our lake, and that has to be done all before nightfall. That’s why I had to sleep out if I was gonna make an evening hunt. You can’t cross the river at night. It is too dangerous. Actually, this was the 3rd or 4th time in 365 days that I have driven a vehicle after dark.–Funny thought–

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As I pull up, I step out into the mud and I look down at what I’m stepping in. Of course, I see the largest bear tracks I have ever seen! the top paw measured 10 inches across. They say for ever inch of paw print that’s a foot of bear. Now the paw print is an impression left behind from the pads on the paw that contact the mud. There is another inch to inch and a half of flesh on each side of the pads which is the bear’s feet. This was a 10 to 12 foot bear and the mud was fresh, so it passed thru this spot early that morning.

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“think i need a bigger gun”

I felt like I had no where to go to get away from these bears. After all, I’m in bear country. At least I can see 360 degrees, 100 feet in all directions at this location. I make a huge fire and trust that I will be safe in my hard shell cab on the back of my pick up. Still, I know I won’t be able to sleep well. This is when I hate myself for reading all those bear attack books. It seems like a majority of attacks happen at night and a lot were in tents. Surprisingly, I slept very well. When my alarm went off at 4:45 am, I told myself I would stay in bed till 5 then get up. Exactly 15 mins after the alarm went off, I hear a steady slow thumping! I immediately knew it was a bear! This wasn’t the small pitter-patter of running on rocks that a wolf or coyote would make. This sounded like an elephant walking, and Alaska is not known for elephants. I could tell the bear was coming to investigate the truck, maybe he even caught the scent of a protein bar wrapper I had in the main part of the truck.

At this time, the blazing fire I had going had long went out some time around 2am, so it was pitch black. The steps were getting so close that I could hear individual rocks slide out from underneath the creature’s paws from its weight. Time stood still. I think I was literally able to stop my heart from beating for about 5 seconds so that there wasn’t a sound on earth around me! That damn “stupid list” popped in my head in those 5 seconds “stupid is leaving your .338 rifle in main part of truck ’cause it’s too long and cumbersome, and sleeping with only a glock 40 cal instead”. They say a bear of that size attacks you and if that’s all you have, you’re better off turning the gun on yourself and make it quick. All I know is, I’m gonna unload every bullet in this bear before he eats me.

Then I hear a loud, deep, “RUUUUFFF”!!! It felt and sounded like 2 feet away.  I’m thinking that the only thing between me and a monster bear is 1/2 inch of fiberglass. I immediately turned my flashlight on and started banging on the roof of the cab with the glock, and I start yelling “HEY BEAR!!!” with the flashlight scanning back and forth along both side windows and large back window. Everything was condensated and fogged up. I felt like I was in a coffin freaking out or in a scene from Jurassic park. It took all my manly emotions to swing open the back window and to bring on what I thought would be a grizzly flying in to devour me. I dropped down the tailgate and fired off 3 rounds in the air, hoping to scare it off. I sure was awake now! I turn the truck on, all lights on the inside, headlights, turned radio on, heater full blast, and I even turned on the windshield wipers to make more noise.

Now it’s 5:30 am. I had to make my way in the truck 10 miles up the road. It was so foggy and I could only see about 20 feet in front of the truck as I was driving. Out of the darkness and fog in the middle of the road, appeared a large running grizzly bear. I was so shocked, I put on the brakes and came to a complete stop. It kept running and disappeared back into the darkness and fog beyond the high beam’s reach. I progressed forward. The figure came back into view further up the road. I stopped and again, it never slowed down and disappeared back into fog. This was a very big bear and I thought this was the bear I scared a few minutes earlier at camp and now started down the road.

..Or, I should say, “the bear that scared me at camp”?, but that wouldn’t be manly. The 3rd time I caught up with him, I didn’t stop. I positioned myself about 10 feet on the bear’s heels. I looked down at the speedometer and I was doing 35 mph. I was amazed at the size of this animal. I was checking out the size of his pads on the bottom of his paws, every time he left the ground, with each gallup. He turned in full stride and looked back at me. I could see his mouth open and he growled back at me just as a huge wad of slobber flew from his mouth and landed of hood of truck. I was amazed he was not darting off into the bushes on either side, left or right. Finally, after about 2 miles, he disappeared into the bushes on the right and that was it. I tell you what, I felt pretty manly chasing down that bear. He’s lucky I didn’t run his ass over for scaring the shit out of me at camp, but then again it would have destroyed my truck.

Now that I was feeling manly again, I was ready for my morning hunt, but not until the sun was up completely. I stepped out of truck at 7 am and started to walk up the salmon stream. At 7:15 am, I walked up over a mound and at the same time a nice 6-year old male boar walked over to meet me. We stood about 50 yards apart staring at each other. At that moment in time, all my instincts kicked into motion and I knew this was a good bear to take. After 2 months of scouting and hunting, I was ready. I instantly made a clean kill shot!

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“The Hug”

I know that I joke about feeling manly in this blog and by no means taking this amazing and beautiful animal made me feel anymore manly. Instead, I feel grateful and humbled to have had the opportunity to hunt and be surrounded by such a awesome beasts. I live in a country favored by the biggest carnivore that walks the earth and feel more and more connected to this country every day. The grandeur of this country is beyond description. Everything came together to make this a truly special experience!

NOTE:  I spent much time reading about and researching these animals and felt confident that I could accomplish this hunt alone. I don’t recommend anyone to ever hunt these animals alone. I set out to prove my manliness to myself and I suggest no one be as stupid. Thanks for reading about my struggles to feel manly!!!!

One thought on “Feeling Manly

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