The following appears in the May issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY BRIAN WATKINS
The story of this bear hunt runs four years long.
I had just started baiting in a new spot on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. The hunt started off slow, as it does most times with bait. We’d glimpse a straggler bear here and there, but nothing consistent.
It was a late spring that year, so the bears popped their dens late and immediately headed for moose calving grounds. I decided to leave the bait alone for a couple weeks and see what was coming in on a trail cam I’d posted. When I came back to check it, there was a plethora of bears. But one bruin stood out; it was obvious he ran the territory.
He was always pushing bears away and claiming a “hot” sow when she arrived. I named this bear King Tut, because he was the ruler. I never laid eyes on him that spring, but I kept tabs on him with the trail camera. He was smart and never showed himself while I was around.
THE FOLLOWING YEAR, KING Tut seemed to be a ghost, only showing up in the middle of the night to eat. I sat countless hours in hopes he’d make a mistake. I patterned him and still couldn’t connect. He was smarter than me.
I tried different methods to trick him and failed. His dominance showed throughout the spring, as he ate in the best hours for the bears; the two hours of dark that hold in the Alaskan spring.
I hunted hard, hoping he would chase a sow into the bait, but I still had yet to lay eyes on him.
This bear began to occupy my brain year-round. I’ve always sought to kill a giant brown bear, and he was the one I wanted. King Tut was the ruler of my valley and I hadn’t even laid eyes on him. For two years he was all but a figment of my imagination.
On the Kenai Peninsula, the brown bear season lasts until May 31, with the black bear season running until June 30. In the third year of trying to meet King Tut, he didn’t even appear on camera until after brown bear season closed.
I’m not sure if he had been out killing moose calves or simply had changed valleys to show dominance somewhere else, but in mid-June I finally got a peek at this magnificent animal.
I had been sitting for six hours when two sows in heat came in. It was a circus of bears all night long. Boars chasing sows. Boars fighting and posturing. The woods were alive with massive brown bears circling my stand.
They pounded the ground, which shook like an earthquake. They pushed trees over. It was mayhem. After hours of relentless posturing, King Tut showed. Because it was the first time I had laid eyes on him,I was in awe – my eyes wide open and jaw down to the tree stand.
He came in, looked directly at me and circled my stand for over half an hour. He was showing that he was, in fact, King Tut. Other bears came in but backed off. It was a wild display of dominance. Not being able to shoot him made it that much more special.
To see the culture and social structure of the bears was astounding. Tut had chased a sow into the woods and bred her. The roars and screams fed the imagination of how it all went down. That was the wildest night I have ever had in the woods.
It’s one that I’ll remember until the day I die.
YEAR FOUR WAS ONLY 11 months away, and I was ready. Tut knew where I sat and knew my smell. I figured he distinguished me in year three as a non threat because I ended up watching him during several nights on the stand.
My brother Kevin wanted to hunt my bait with his pregnant wife Samantha and I, so we planned to try for Tut. Memorial Day is usually the best weekend to hunt bears, since they show up more and more the later spring gets. And it’s also usually near the end of brown bear season.
I left the bait alone for a few days to rid it of my scent. We came in around 5 p.m. to check the bait and trail cam to see what was around. Usually the bears start coming in around 7, so it should have given us plenty of time to get set up. I put Kevin and Samantha in the stand and went to check the cameras.
Twelve bears were coming in; one of them was the king himself, Tut. He was coming in the middle of the night again, so I told my brother it would be a long sit. I went back to pick up dog food to restock the bait.
As I was coming back into the area, I heard Samantha say, “Bear! He’s right next to you. Don’t move.” It’s really thick where I bait, so I couldn’t see anything. The world seemed to stop spinning and got quiet.
I was within 15 yards of a bear and had no clue it was there. I dropped the bag off my shoulder and grabbed my pistol.
Boom! Kevin shot. Boom! He shot again. I saw the bear through the alders and sent a couple rounds his way. As my heart raced, the bear thrashed through the woods – luckily away from me.
The wood grew silent and we waited an hour to see how bad the bear was hit. I didn’t know whether it was Tut or not, just that it was a big bear. We crawled through bear trails and followed blood.
We crossed into another finger of the valley and heard a bear. It was breathing heavy and grunting loudly. It was within 50 yards, but we couldn’t see him. He would bluff-charge our direction and back off. The entire time we held guns facing his direction. We backed out slowly and gave him more time. There were bubbles in his lungs, so we figured he had one lung hit. We gave him two more hours and headed back in.
My brother carried a .300 Win. Mag.; I had a 10mm pistol. It felt like a peashooter, but we went anyway. When we got to where the bear was, he was nowhere to be found. My brother went into the valley bottom looking for blood, while I crested the top. When I came over the mountain, I smelled bear.
I found blood and got back on his trail. He was sitting down like you would at a dinner table. I fired three rounds and imagined him charging me. I turned and ran down the mountain, crashing and rolling to get away as fast as I could. Kevin screamed for me. He could only think that an all-out battle between the bear and I was taking place.
I tumbled down the mountain to my brother for backup, and as I calmed down I realized the bear was nowhere near me. My heart raced and I felt panic, but all was well. We went back up and the bear was laying on his side. My brother had to finish him off.
We realized we had finally outsmarted the king himself.
HE WAS THE BIGGEST animal I had ever seen. To be in his presence was surreal. This bear had battled in this valley for years. It took all our strength together just to roll him on his side. King Tut was laid to rest.
To honor this magnificent animal, I got a tattoo of him on my arm. Half of his body fades into pine trees, as I picture him being one with the mountain. He will forever be a part of my hunting career. ASJ