All posts by Chris Cocoles

‘Just The Way It Goes Sometimes’

Photos by Paul Atkins

The following appears in the November issue of Alaska Sporting Journal: 

BY PAUL D. ATKINS 

Dang it,” I whispered as Lew made his way around the corner where I was standing. The big bull moose – the only one we’d seen in like, forever – had disappeared into the willows and was gone. 

“How can a bull that big, with such a huge wingspan and massive body, vanish so easily?” I asked. 

“I don’t know,” Lew said in a frustrated tone. 

But he did vanish, leaving us with nothing but a trail of river water and some mighty big hoofprints in the soft gravel we were now standing on. Choosing to chase him was a decision we had to make in only seconds to decide, but it made sense. Moose meat is much better than bear, even though we had a good bear coming towards us from the other direction. I guess it’s just the way it goes sometimes.

 

I’VE HAD TO MAKE a lot of those last-minute, split-second decisions throughout my time here in the Arctic, moments I’ve wished I was somewhere else rather than where I was. I’ve lost count, actually, of all the times I went left when I should have gone right, but, oh well, hindsight is 20/20, as the old saying goes. It’s also hunting and I’m reminded of it quite often, especially when the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 rolls around.

My first fly-out, do-it-yourself drop hunt ended the same way. A few days before that fateful day, we flew north to a place that is well known throughout this region, the infamous Kelly River. 

It lays about 90 miles north of Kotzebue and was once known as the premier spot for hunting moose, bears and caribou. It was on everyone’s hit list in those days, and if you wanted a chance at all three species, then the Kelly was where you went. It was also the first time my wife Susie went with me. 

We had a great time, even though the rain poured for most of the trip and finding a piece of dry firewood was next to impossible. We hunted hard, glassing and searching every day for what would be hopefully my first moose. Like all hunts in Alaska we had choices to make, whether right or wrong. The biggest were, where should we go and in what direction? 

We decided to hunt north of camp and searched from a small hill that gave us the best advantage. It was futile and in the four days we were there we didn’t see anything except for mosquitoes and an awful lot of blueberries. 

But as it seems to go in these scenarios, on the day we flew out, which was the evening of Sept. 10, 2001, we saw from the plane what we had missed. Immediately we knew we should have turned our attention south. Three big bulls with massive headgear were feeding in the low-lying willows not far from camp, within easy packing distance of the plane. Crazy, right? Just the way it goes, I guess. Chalk that one up on the learning curve.

MY HUNTING PARTNER LEW Pagel and I have experienced this more times over the years, choosing to hunt this river drainage over that one, the far mountain instead of the closer one. Now, I’m not complaining; we’ve had good luck more times than not. But many of those decisions were based on weather more than anything else. 

Like today, for example. The wind is killing us – it’s blowing 30 mph and whitecapping Kotzebue Sound. Sure, we could risk it, and in my younger days I probably would have. But not today – too dangerous. Many will go anyway and get wet, as well as risk swamping their boat, or worse. So here we sit waiting, watching Weather Underground on our phones and hoping. It’s like being in purgatory. 

Just recently Lew and I were hunting bears in a prime spot that we’ve hit many times before. It’s legendary for big grizzlies and one of those places with muddy sand bars deepened by bear tracks and half-eaten dead fish laying everywhere. It’s a great spot if you want a grizzly; this is where you go.

We eventually made it there in the boat and camped at our normal spot, one that we’ve used for years. Our plan was to grab a quick MRE and then boat upriver that evening to sit and wait. Unlike most hunters who come north and stay for a week or 10 days, we only had the weekend, so our plan was to get in and hunt hard. 

The weather was great – no wind or rain – making for one of those perfect evenings when bears like to make their way to the river for supper. The fish, flopping and going crazy in the current, were a blessing too: big multicolored chums slapping constantly – creating the proverbial bear dinner bell – and trying to get to who knows where.

We took the ride upriver, made landfall and anchored up. It was primetime  for us too and we were ready. In no time we had a bear swimming the current towards us. He was further up than we were, but the current was pulling him towards a small island 300 yards away from where we sat watching. 

Lew asked me if I wanted to move the boat to the south end of that island. I looked and yes, there was a perfect sandbar that actually provided cover and would make for an easy shot from that distance. I hesitated, thought it over and finally said no.

Looking back I should have said yes. I just didn’t think he would come directly at us. I figured he would go the other way into the wind, but I was wrong, and my decision proved to be one I would regret, especially after getting a closer look at the size of this grizzly. He was huge, but with my indecision it was too late to move. The sound of the motor would have ended our hunt and he would have left in a hurry.

We watched and waited as the big bear headed straight for the sandbar. “Damn,” I whispered. For a moment I contemplated wading to the spot, but I knew the current lay deep in a small part of the river and my hip boots weren’t up for cold water, and neither was I. All we could do was watch and hope. 

He kept walking without a care or scent we were there, stopping here and there to dig at a dead fish. I had brought both my bow and rifle on this trip. From where we were he was 334 yards, too far for either. Finally, he walked along the sandbar, which would have been an easy 30-yard bow shot. But I wasn’t there to make it. All we could do was watch as the bear turned north and walked out of sight. 

“It’s just the way it goes sometimes,” I told Lew.

WE FELT EMPTY AND decided to float downriver back to camp, but like all things in the Arctic, when dusk approaches weird things can happen. After pulling anchor, we began to drift, using a wooden pole to keep us off the bank and out of the willows. 

Looking ahead I could see him – a big bear walking the edge of the bank looking for fish, stopping and posturing like he owned the place. No doubt he was big, but not as big as the one we had just left and the one I was still thinking about. Could it be that two bears were within a short distance of each other? 

In Alaska you can shoot from a boat or raft, as long as the motor is off. Our motor was off with me scrambling to find a good rest for a shot. I finally achieved a decent rest on the back of the swivel seat and peered at him through the scope. I needed him to stop, and not only would he not stop but he began to run towards something to his left. 

I raised my head to look and could instantly hear Lew say, “Sow with cubs.” Boars will eat small cubs, and these were small and so was the sow. The big male was trying to catch one of the cubs and the sow was attempting to warn him off in another direction. She did a good job as they played getaway in the willows. It was utter chaos! Bears were darting in and out of cover in every direction. I slipped the safety off the 7 Mag and waited for the big guy to stop, but he would not. 

It was then that Lew touched my shoulder and pointed downriver maybe 200 yards. Four more bears had made their way to the river – one on our left and three on the right. It was a “bears gone wild” episode and we sat there in awe of the show! For most this would be a sight to see, and believe me when I say it was. I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to just slip the safety back on and watch.

And so we did. We watched until dark as bears growled, chased each other and fought like crazy. We watched them pull fish from the water, devouring them as fast as they could, all the while eyeing each other from a distance. It was an incredible evening and not something we wouldn’t soon forgot. 

Many might think this way: “Well, you didn’t get a bear.” No, I didn’t, but that evening we got a lot more than that. This was an Arctic adventure like no other and a front-row seat in Bear 101 class. I guess it’s just the way it goes, but sometimes that way is good enough. ASJ

Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author from Kotzebue, Alaska. He has written hundreds of articles on big game hunting, and fishing throughout North America and Africa, plus surviving in the Arctic. Paul is a monthly contributor to Alaska Sporting Journal.

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s A Scare For Your Holiday

Photos by Larry Hatter

Happy Thanksgiving. Rather than bore you with feel-good stories about turkeys or family fun, here’s a terrifying encounter for some caribou hunters on Alaska’s North Slope that is appearing in the November issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

BY LAWRENCE E. HATTER 

Memories of the hunt have a way of fading like the colors of fall as Old Man Winter approaches, but some are indelible. 

I’m confident as I stand in the barren land north of the tree line; no sun shines as brightly as one setting somewhere beyond the Chukchi Sea. I can also attest to this: There is no sight more blood-chilling than a large, male grizzly thirsting to gorge himself upon human flesh.

Such was the scenario unfolding before our little group of hunters who had made the long trek to the Brooks Range in search of the ever-wandering caribou herds. An orange- and red-glazed North Slope, once alive with hundreds of the nomads, had grown silent with the dusky evening’s approach. 

There was no sign of life in the drainage presently, except four weary hunters on their way back to camp and one skulking assailant concealed a mere 20 yards distant in a stand of buck brush. The only sign of his presence was the autumn breeze caressing the bronze-colored hair adorning his shoulders and a set of expressionless eyes fixated on our every movement. 

THE TRIP INTO THE North Slope had been without incident. Our final destination was a several-hours’ flight from the Dalton Highway and likewise if we’d originated from Kotzebue. This was as far as removed from the modern world as any of us had ever dared wander. 

That afternoon, as we prepared our quarters for the week, we paid little heed to an inquisitive grizzly skirting the rim of the basin we’d chosen for camp. After all, this was his country and this far from civilization, he likely had never encountered a human being. It was only natural to investigate, then push on in search of some blueberries or a straggling caribou.

 The evening passed quickly and we rose the next morning with all the vim and vigor that typically accompanies the first day of a hunt. Overnight, a heavy fog had blanketed the tundra and visibility wasn’t at its peak. Regardless, we anxiously donned our gear and headed afield.

As is common with an initial foray into a new area, we spent that first day acquiring a feel for the territory and making our share of blunders. I vividly recall being perched upon an outcropping that overlooked the Noatak River. I was so deep in thought as I looked out over one of Alaska’s most remote landscapes, I completely ignored the telltale click-clack of caribou hooves behind me. 

When I finally came to my senses and glanced over my shoulder, I saw only the tops of several sets of antlers cresting out of sight. I made a feeble attempt to scale the ridge and hopefully find the group of bulls in view, but as everyone knows, you can’t catch caribou once they are ahead of you.

A large hummock approximately a half-mile behind camp was our rendezvous that evening. Everyone had seen caribou from a distance but had failed to connect for one reason or another. After a brief discussion, we made the decision to head toward camp. All our stomachs were grumbling in anticipation of a few meager rations after a long day afield.

Author Larry Hatter during a less stressful moment.

 

MIDWAY BACK TO CAMP, the well-defined caribou trail we were following came to an intersection, which resembled a ptarmigan track. On the off chance we might yet encounter a caribou before dark, we agreed to briefly part ways. I would take the left-hand spur and Jim the right. My brother Miles and father would continue on to camp. 

A brisk, five-minute walk found me ascending the last few yards of a knoll that afforded a commanding view of the valley. It appeared I wasn’t the only hunter with an interest in the view from this location, as evidenced by several piles of decaying wolf scat. 

As I turned to scan the direction of my ascent, the sequence of events that unfolded can only be described as surreal. An ominous figure had appeared on our back trail and was moving in our direction with fevered intent! 

His nose clung to the soil like a bloodhound, inhaling every ounce of human scent the dank earth could afford him. His intention was clear. He meant to overtake my companions as they marched toward camp, and with the amount of ground he was covering with each stride, it would only take seconds!

At that point my senses had slowed to a gel-like state. I remember cold sweat kissing the hairs on the back of my neck. My heart pounded so loudly that it was almost inaudible when I yelled, “Grizzly!” Unfortunately, my scream was choked by an overwhelming state of panic and the garbled concoction that emerged didn’t carry much discernible volume.

By this time the bear had cut the distance between he and his prey to a mere 50 yards and with the attack imminent was at a full charge! Once more I mustered what saliva my suddenly parched mouth possessed and with every last bit of breath I belted out, “Grizzly!” This time my cry rang out like a beacon and froze both men and bear in their tracks – no more than 30 yards apart.

As I stumbled off the hillside, I fully expected the bear to turn and run. But to my astonishment, this wasn’t the case. Even though he was aware we had detected his presence, he merely crouched as low as possible and slunk his way into the brush beside the trail. He remained motionless until I reached my bewildered partners.

Action must be taken decisively in a situation such as this. Our first move was to gain some elevation and distance between our adversary and us. This was easier said than done; as we moved so did the bear, his head tilted and ears pinned. When we paused he instantly found a small impression to obscure himself. 

For the next several minutes we waited anxiously. The brute would raise his head slightly to gauge whether we were still staring in his direction, and then he would quickly recoil when he saw the whites of our eyes. If there was any question before, there was none presently. 

We were being hunted!

 

AFTER MAKING A CAREFUL circle around the situation, Jim finally caught up with us from the flank. Considering he carried a grizzly tag and we had a problem bear in need of immediate attention, it was quickly decided he would take the animal. 

I remember the bruin watching Jim intently as he made his way into shooting position, carefully calculating his next move. But his lack of urgency would cost him his prey and his life. 

The rifle cracked, the bear rolled, only to rise once more in a frothing rage! Instinctively we reached for our weapons, but a follow-up shot rang out from Jim’s 7mm Mag and the threat was neutralized. 

I still ask myself questions about the events of that day and, I suppose, the answers will always remain in doubt. Was this the same bear we had seen circling our camp that first evening? Had he waited patiently for our group to separate, before executing an assault? Did he have a taste for man flesh? 

In my mind, that scenario doesn’t seem likely, but then again, most details of this story are an anomaly. 

In retrospect, I believe he had never encountered men before, knowing only that these gangly creatures were well below him on the food chain. More than likely, he was just another predator hastily filling the fat reserves necessary to see him through another harsh Alaska winter. 

I know only one thing with certainty: The bloodshot eyes of a salivating grizzly will remain etched in my mind long after the Arctic sun has turned his withered bones to dust. ASJ

Editor’s note: Larry Hatter and his brother Miles run guided trips for Miles High Outfitters in Grangeville, Idaho. They offer big game hunts for elk, mule and whitetail deer and predators. For more, check out mileshighoutfitters.com or call (208) 739-0526.

Save Bristol Bay Wants Alaskans To Keep Fighting

The following press release is courtesy of Save Bristol Bay:

Dear friends of Bristol Bay:

Some of you might be wondering, how did the results of the midterm election change our ability to protect Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine?

Before diving into what’s new, here’s what’s unchanged: Most Alaskans, from across the political spectrum, recognize that constructing a massive, permanently damaging mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay fishery is a culturally senseless and economically irresponsible idea.

Still, this election will have implications for our work. First, we will soon have a Governor for whom Pebble’s CEO himself campaigned. Second, despite truly incredible volunteer-driven efforts of its backers, Ballot Measure 1, which would have protected wild salmon habitat statewide and provided a higher standard that Pebble Mine would have had to meet, failed to get the votes that were needed to be put into law.

While disappointing, the fight is far from over. We’ve always known that the path to protecting Bristol Bay needed to be multi-pronged, and the ballot measure was just one of several strategies.

The silver lining? In speaking with thousands of Alaskans leading up to the election, one thing became and remains crystal clear: Alaskans agree protections for wild salmon are needed – especially in Bristol Bay. It’s in how we implement these protections where we disagree. On election day, we learned that the ballot measure wasn’t what Alaskans wanted. But we also learned in the process that, with respect to our salmon, we have more in common than we differ.

Regardless of who is in office, our community of Bristol Bay advocates continue to hold the power of shaping a fish-filled future for Bristol Bay and Alaska. But our power is in numbers and we need you to stay with us.

With new leadership, our ability to demonstrate continuous, wide-spread public opposition to the ill-conceived Pebble mine proposal is more important than ever.

A key way you can help ensure this is a success is simply to stay informed and to participate.

Do you use social networks? Please follow us. The updates and calls to action we post to our facebook page and send out via email truly make a difference for this campaign. It may seem insignificant to send an email from one of our automated forms to a decision maker, but they each make a difference. We’ll never waste your time or ask you if it isn’t truly important.

Ask your friends to get involvedFor many in the Lower 48, helping to protect Bristol Bay can be as easy as signing our pledge and responding to the quick and easy requests we send out in our emails. An informational video of what’s at stake and short pledge are available for you to share on your social networks or through a quick email at this page.

Have an idea or a question? We always welcome thoughts from our community. Call our office any time (907-770-1776) or reply to this email.

Together, we will ensure the fish-based cultures and jobs of Bristol Bay are protected. Thank you for your support, and we look forward to continuing to work along-side you in 2019 and beyond.

Sincerely,

Team SBB

P.S. Show your support with a ‘No Pebble Mine’ sticker! Order one here.

Sled Dog Racer, Dogs OK After Collision With Car

Photos by Seeing Double Sled Dog Racing

 

In 2014 we introduced you to the Berington sisters, identical twins Anna and Kristy from Wisconsin who became sibling rival but best friend Iditarod mushers after moving to Alaska. On Tuesday morning, Kristy Berington on was involved in a harrowing accident with her dog team when a pickup truck collided with her sled.  Fortunately, Kristy and her dogs appear to be OK.Here’s more from the Anchorage Daily News: 

A preliminary investigation revealed that a Volkswagen SUV rear-ended a Chevrolet pickup near Mile 12.5 of the road, troopers said in an online dispatch. The truck rolled, left the roadway and hit a sled dog team on a nearby trail, troopers said. Troopers got report of the wreck shortly after 11 a.m. …

Andy Pohl identified the musher as his wife, Kristy Berington. Berington and her identical twin sister, Anna, are well-known Iditarod mushers. They operate a kennel in Knik. …

“As of right now I have only spoken with Kristy briefly, she is obviously shaken up and is now very busy taking care of the rest of the dogs that were there at the crash,” Pohl said.

Kristy Berington later posted a Facebook message to  she and her dogs were well after the scary accident.

Kristy Berington

2 hours ago

Thank you all for the concerns and well wishes after this mornings accident. It could have been a complete tragedy. My neighbor and I were running teams together like we always do. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I will share all of the love and prayers with the dogs. We are all okay.??

 

 

 

 

 

Measure 1’s Salmon Protection Platform Didn’t Resonate With Alaska Voters

ADFG photo 

Alaska might be famous for its wild salmon, but one of the hotly contested Election Day decisions that would, in theory, help protect the state’s salmon runs, didn’t sway the state’s voters enough to pass it.

Measure 1 was beaten rather soundly in a race that saw its “Stand For Salmon” contingent being outspended by a wide margin by a mostly oil  and mining company-backed “Stand For Alaska” group.  Here’s the Anchorage Daily News with more:

A ballot measure designed to boost protections for salmon and other fish failed by a large margin Tuesday night amid an onslaught of heavy opposition spending by powerful oil and mining interests.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting by 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, Ballot Measure 1 received 145,997 votes against, and 83,479 votes in favor, a 64-to-36 margin.

Both Stand For Alaska and Stand for Salmon issued statements early Wednesday morning, via KTUU TV:

“Today, tens of thousands of Alaskans raised their voices to protect wild salmon and the rivers they call home,” wrote Stand for Salmon spokesperson Emily Tallman. “While Ballot Measure 1 did not garner enough votes to pass, Alaskans across political and geographic boundaries united in support of stronger salmon habitat protections through the ballot initiative.”

“Our diverse, statewide coalition was a major factor in the outcome of this campaign,” wrote Stand for Alaska spokesperson Kati Cappozi. “Never before has such a broad coalition organized around a statewide ballot measure. More than 550 Alaska businesses across the state, Alaska Native corporations, labor unions, trade groups, and tens of thousands of Alaskans were part of the Stand for Alaska effort.”

Here are some other social media reactions:

 

 

What They Are Saying About Ballot Measure 1 On Election Day

 (BRANDON HILL)

This is an even more important than usual midterm Election Day, so regardless of how you’re going to or you would vote, please get out to the polls today or your ballot dropoff stations with your votes.

One of Alaska’s most talked about votes today is Ballot Measure 1, the “Stand For Salmon” initative that if passed would help protect more salmon habitat in Alaska. Here’s a little bit of the buzz on social media as decision day arrives:

 

Hunters Provide Samples To Aid M.ovi Research

The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game: 

(STATEWIDE) — Thanks to hunters this fall, expanded efforts by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to learn more about Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, or “M.ovi,” received a welcome boost. Providing specimens from the field, hunters from around the state helped the department collect laboratory samples from more than 330 Dall sheep, 110 mountain goats, 100 caribou, and 100 moose.

“Hunter cooperation is crucial to our efforts to learn more about M.ovi distribution and prevalence in multiple species statewide,” said Director Bruce Dale. “We’re really still at a starting point, and the more we discover about M.ovi in Alaska the more we realize how much we have yet to learn.”

A bacteria known to occur in domestic sheep, goats, and wild sheep and goats in the Lower 48, some M.ovi strains have been identified as pathogens in Lower 48 bighorn sheep pneumonia outbreaks that have led to die-offs. The bacterium was detected earlier this year for the first time ever in Alaska Dall sheep and mountain goats. It was subsequently discovered in a Fortymile caribou found dead of pneumonia. That animal’s death marked the first — and, so far, only — case where M.ovi has been implicated in wildlife respiratory disease in Alaska.

The presence of M.ovi bacteria in the nasal passages of an animal does not mean it is or will become sick. More than 100 known Mycoplasma species exist, including M.ovi, and evidence suggests that virulence — the ability to infect and cause disease — varies between M.ovi strains. The ability of M.ovi to cause pneumonia is impacted by multiple stressors including poor nutritional condition and/or environmental factors such as extreme weather. Both domestic and wild ungulates can carry the bacteria while showing no signs of illness. No pneumonia outbreaks or die-offs in Alaska wildlife related to this bacterium have been detected.

Of the samples collected this fall from hunters, road kills, and department wildlife research projects, more than 800 have gone to the USDA Agricultural Research Services Laboratory with 375 of those having also been submitted to the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Pullman, Washington. The samples will be analyzed and the department will provide updates as results are completed.

For more information about M.ovi findings in Alaska, see the frequently asked questions of the department’s website at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=hottopics.movi

Fill Your Bucket List, Alaska Style

Photos by Paul Atkins and Lew Pagel

The following appears in the October issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

BY PAUL D. ATKINS 

“I want to hunt sheep; been wanting to for years.”

“Do you know what it takes and where to go?” 

“You do know that getting a Dall sheep is at the top of my list and I really need to get one as soon as possible.”

Have you ever heard somebody say something like that or had that conversation? I’m sure you have. Even though it sounds cliché, maybe you ponder it as well; I know they’re in my thoughts.

Having a bucket list isn’t something new and whether it pertains to hunting, fishing or even seeing the sights of the world, we all have one. 

There was a time that I wanted to set foot in every state in the U.S. I’ve gotten close – 42 out of 50, which isn’t too bad. Maybe someday I will. The baseball fan in me also wants to see every major league ballpark before I die. I haven’t yet – not even close – but it’s still something I’d like to do. 

Hunting and fishing, and more specifically chasing a certain species, is the same way. Many have accomplished such dreams, completing Super Slams of this and that, whether here in Alaska, North America or around the world. But of all the guys and gals who have accomplished these feats, I’ve never heard one say they were done or didn’t have something else that was on their list.

In Alaska, a bucket list can be long and take years to accomplish, but the chance of success is readily achievable and can be done under the right circumstances and with a determined set of goals. Surely there are many of you out there who scoff at the idea because putting meat in the freezer and enjoying time with family in the outdoors is all you need. I envy that and respect those individuals who chase that dream. Heck, for most of us, that is what we all want to do anyway. 

But there are some of us who like to pursue different species and test our skills against the elements, the environment and the animal itself. I know I do. I also think that a person can do both – have fun and stock the family larder.

WHEN I FIRST ARRIVED in Alaska, I wanted to hunt caribou more than anything else. I dreamed about it for years and to be honest, caribou are what drew me to the part of the state I live, Kotzebue. The Western Arctic Herd was huge in those days. If you wanted one, this was the place to be, but they were hard for me in the beginning. 

It took three years before I had any luck. Though the bull was small, I was happy that I had accomplished my goal. I’ve taken many since – more than I can count – but it was that first small bull that holds the fondest memory.

Next on my list was moose, the holy grail of hunting for many here in the state and even out of state. Moose are big, formidable creatures that can weigh close to a ton, and until you’ve been close to one you can’t fathom their sheer size. What’s more impressive or more intimidating is the amount of work it takes after you get one down. Hunting them is a grand experience, but when they say the work begins after the shot, they’re right!

I was able to mark moose off my list early, in only my second year living here. Like that first caribou, the bull wasn’t big; he was small, but with subsistence rules and wanting moose meat, I pulled the trigger and filled the freezer. He was and still is the best eating moose I’ve taken in all my years here in the Arctic. Young bulls always are.

Even though I could cross him off, I still yearned for that magical 60-incher that everyone talks about. I searched, hunted and explored every inch of Northwest Alaska trying to find one, but I never had the opportunity until many years later. 

Before then, however, I was lucky enough to tag along on many moose hunts and kills with friends and family, ones where big bulls seemed to fall in their laps. It was incredible to see: huge bulls, some over 60 and 70 inches, were taken, fulfilling their dreams of taking “the big one.” I shared in those accomplishments and that was enough, but like I said, it was only recently that I accomplished that same goal.

MOOSE AND CARIBOU WERE the big two for me, and for many there isn’t anything else or better. But eventually your mind starts to wonder, what else can I add? What other opportunities are there where I can be successful and, if so, can I do it locally? Or do I have to venture off to other parts of Alaska in order to get it done? And that is what’s great about the Last Frontier; yes, you can! 

Alaska is big, with an abundance of wildlife spread across the state. Combining this with following the rules and having the right tags, most of us have the ability to hunt those species wherever we choose.

Bears came next for me. With such a large population – one that seems to be ever increasing – black and brown bear both came off the list pretty early. I was able take my first grizzly here in the Arctic 20 years ago, then a brown bear on Kodiak, plus numerous black bears down south. They were fun hunts and something I’ve truly enjoyed. 

I do know that taking a grizzly bear or at least hunting for them is on the bucket list of many people. Over the years I’ve been told numerous times by hunters everywhere that “hunting a grizzly” is the number one animal they want to take. They also ask if I have a guide license. I don’t.

Most hunters know that as their list gets shorter, each item requires more effort on a wide variety of fronts. Maybe it’s time and money due to those species being very expensive to hunt and requiring a lot of time to achieve the goal. 

Maybe it’s the tag and the difficulty of drawing one in order to just get the chance to go. It could be any of the above, but for the most part – and you can bet on this – it will involve mountains and your ability to climb them, or at least conquer some obstacle.

 

ANIMALS LIKE WILD SHEEP AND mountain goats are lifelong dream hunts for most, but for some they aren’t at the top. They’re down a bit for me – say, No. 9 or 10. 

It’s not that they’re tougher to bag or harder to kill. Rather, it’s getting to where they live and then outsmarting them. That is only half of it, as you still need to get them field dressed and back down the way you came up. It’s just a fact of life and isn’t for everybody.

I was lucky with sheep. In the old days and not that long ago, we had a very healthy and populous herd here in the Arctic. Numbers were good, which allowed us to hunt sheep on a subsistence tag just about every year. They’ve since dwindled due to weather and a variety of other reasons and the season has been closed. 

It was a blessing, though, and the five rams I did take in those days accounted for some of the greatest and most adventurous times of my hunting career. Sheep hunts are like that – experiences that aren’t really about killing, but about accomplishing goals and enjoying the time there. However, if you do get lucky and get to mark a sheep off your list, then you’ve really accomplished something.

Like sheep, hunting mountain goats has become very popular these days in Alaska. A lot of guys are achieving that goal every year. With ever increasing numbers you can hunt them just about anywhere, and on Kodiak Island the population has exploded. Tags are pretty simple to get, and with a two-goat limit, why not? 

Nonresidents still need a guide, but bagging a goat isn’t as tough as it used to be. You may have read my recent goat experience (Alaska Sporting Journal, November 2017). It took me three trips to get it done, but I finally did it. Though I was successful and it was the pinnacle for me, I don’t want to do it again!

THERE HAVE BEEN PLENTY of other goals on my list that I’ve been lucky enough to fulfill. Muskox for one, but only due to where I live and the ability to draw a tag. Many say you get one every year and I do, but it took me 10 years of filling out endless applications to get my first one. 

It has been a blessing and the meat from these guys is the best in the business. Lately muskox have become my moose for the year.

Like many, I’ve taken wolf, fox, lynx and the underestimated snowshoe hare, and yes, they were all on my list. But there are also a few others that have eluded me. Buffalo, or bison, is one of those and at the moment ranks at the very top (as it does for many Alaskan residents). The Department of Fish and Game has done an excellent job when it comes to the bison herds we do have. 

Due to excellent conservation methods and management practices, the herds have expanded, which has produced some incredible hunting if you’re lucky enough to draw a tag. I have not, even though I’ve been applying for years. Maybe next year.

A bucket list doesn’t just apply to big game; it can also include waterfowl and even fish. I know several sportsmen and -women who devote their entire outdoor experience to chasing ducks. With all the species we have here in the state, it’s a no-brainer. These dedicated waterfowl hunters value the experience just as much as they love to pursue our feathered friends, and they know their stuff.

If you don’t believe me about the fishing effect, head to southern Alaska during late spring and summer. Anglers from all over the world come to fish these waters in hopes of hooking a world record or in most cases just catch a variety of species that you can’t get anywhere else.

Some even travel the state in pursuit of taking the “Salmon Slam,” or come up here to the Arctic in hopes of landing a few of our species. Like I said, most bucket lists are long and varied.

These days, my list is much shorter, but there are those species that I would still like to chase. Bison, as I mentioned, but there are others. Polar bear is one, but not until I win the lottery and get my passport updated to hunt them in Canada (subsistence hunt). 

One of the more common ones however, or so they say, is the wolverine. To be honest, I’ve only ever seen one in all my years up here and that was while I was camped on the Omar River cooking breakfast. We were hunting caribou and he decided he liked bacon, I guess. Before I could reach my rifle, he was gone, but it was still cool to see.

BUCKET LISTS AREN’T FOR everybody, but I believe that deep down in our souls we all have one. Maybe it’s simple, like getting your kid his or her first caribou or moose this fall, or maybe it’s just to get a bigger bull than you did last year. Maybe once in your life you’d like to limit out on ptarmigan in one day. But ultimately it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re out there having fun and enjoying what our great state has to offer. ASJ

Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author from Kotzebue, Alaska. He has written hundreds of articles on big game hunting, and fishing throughout North America and Africa, plus surviving in the Arctic. Paul is a monthly contributor to Alaska Sporting Journal.

 

 

 

Rancher Says Kodiak Island Bears Are Killing His Cattle

A Kodiak Island rancher says the island’s iconic brown bears are responsible for the deaths of 30 head of cattle around his property. Here’s more from the  Associated Press via the Anchorage Daily News :

Rancher Chris Flickinger said the number of his animals killed by bears is way above average and has hit him hard financially. Over the last two weeks, bears have killed a cow, a bull and two calves at his property near Pasagshak, he said.

“It’s hugely significant,” Flickinger said. “It’s definitely a pretty big loss.”

Bulls are worth up to $1,500 while some cows are valued up to $2,000, he said.

Flickinger said he tries to scare bears away when he encounters them but was forced to shoot one more than a year ago.

Under state law, killing a bear is permissible if done as a last resort in “defense of your life or property.”

The local paper, the Kodiak Daily Mirror,  had the first report on the story.