Tag Archives: featured content

When Polar Bears Were Hunted

Polar bear 1

 

The following story appears in the April issue of Alaska Sporting Journal. Photos courtesy of Paul D. Atkins, the Steve McCutcheon Collection and Wien Collection of the Anchorage Museum, the Boone & Crockett Club, 

By Paul D. Atkins

The phrase “cheating death” is often overused here in Alaska, but to the guides, outfitters and hunters of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, it was an everyday occurrence, especially in Northwest Alaska.

Men risked their lives, fortunes and namesakes to venture on and above the pack ice in search of the infamous and most glorified predator of all – the mighty polar bear.

This was a time when Alaska was new and uncharted for the most part, a time when the great gaming lands of the Arctic were unspoiled and plentiful. Like Africa in its glory days, Arctic Alaska was full of big game during this era, and there were liberal bag limits and few regulations. Those thrill-seekers who wanted adventure got it, and if you had the financial means to do so, then searching for the iconic white bear was at the top of your list.

Polar bear 5

 

NOT MUCH WAS written about polar bear hunting, especially those hunts that took place here starting in 1952 and ending in the early 1970s. Stories passed down from generation to generation and those told in biographies are about all you can find these days, if you’re lucky. But if you were to pick up a Boone & Crockett record book and turn to the section on the subject, you would find a list that isn’t too long, but is full of bears that came from this region of Alaska.

Kotzebue, where I live, is located on Alaska’s northwest coast, 33 miles above the Arctic Circle and about 200 miles from the Russian border. Most residents are Inuit Eskimos, the great people of the north known for their subsistence lifestyle and masterful skills on the ocean and rivers that flow through this part of the state.

It was during this timeframe when Kotzebue became known as the polar bear hunting capital of the world. Men from all parts came north to pursue Nanuk – as the bear is known in the Inupiaq language – and find adventure in one of the most remote places on earth.

Bears were plentiful too; so much so that the current No. 1 and No. 2 record-book animals were taken on the same day by two hunters from totally different walks of life. Of the approximately 141 bears listed in the book, an incredible 72 came from this area. Many more were never entered, and if you talk to the old timers who were here at the time, some of those bears were records too.

Stakes were high in those days. Hunters who came here wanting to fulfill their dream risked it all, whether it was climbing into a Super Cub for an all-day ride with the chance of running out of fuel or braving the extreme cold, which were both detrimental to their success.

Wien-Destinations-Kotzebue  Front Street   Arctic Adventures Club

WHAT ABOUT THE guides? The polar bear hunters were led by a special group of men. Guides were brave souls who loved what they did for a living and the challenges the Arctic brought them. They were hardcore men who were all excellent pilots, blessed with the ability to fly in all kinds of weather conditions; plus they had the eyes of eagles.

These guides knew the land from top to bottom, but more importantly they knew ice and how an ocean can freeze and refreeze again and again. They could spot tracks from the cockpit of their plane, and some were so good they could tell you how big the bear was from the air before they even saw it in the flesh. Guides valued their reputation of being able to put their clients in a position to take a good bear, no matter the cost.

Sometimes, those costs were high. Losing planes to open leads in the ice or having a big boar do what it wasn’t supposed to do and charge the hunters or the plane itself were all common pitfalls. Close calls were the norm, but most survived; it was classic Arctic Alaska toughness!

Polar bear 2

A TYPICAL POLAR bear hunt, if you could call it typical, wasn’t much different than any other guided big game hunt up here today. But in those days there were 737s and no Alaska Airlines, and all flights in and out of Kotzebue were through Wien, a major company of the day. Hunters arrived at the airport, where they met their guide and were then taken to a hotel, or, in most cases, a cabin located along the beach that was owned by somebody in town, if not by the guide himself.

Most hunts started in early April and took place on the pack ice between Kotzebue and the eastern border of Russia. In preparation for the hunt, guides would load their Super Cubs with plenty of fuel, gear and their client. Gear was just as important then as it is today, and the ability to survive in all conditions was always a concern. Big heavy parkas lined with fur, mukluks or boots, plus sealskin mittens were the norm for both guide and hunter, in addition to the big rifles cleared of oil and able to function in cold weather.

The majority of hunts were conducted using two planes, one serving as a spotter and the second to place the hunter in a position to get a shot. This sometimes became tricky and dangerous, especially when leads would open up in the ice after landing, leaving the group scrambling before the plane and men were sucked under. Scary times!

Polar bear 4

Even though the sea ice spanned hundreds of miles, it was a very competitive time for most outfitters who were all in search of the same thing. It was, of course, a much different time than today, but that is how it was done. Bears still had to be tagged and only one bear per hunter was allowed. Big crowds would gather in front of town when a plane landed, all wanting to see another great bear.

It was a glorious time, to say the least, an era that we will never see again. Polar bear hunting was closed after ratification of the Marine Mammal Act of 1972. Even though there are still plenty of polar bears, only Alaska natives can hunt them now. Occasionally, these days, when the sun is high in the sky and the ice is deep, a lone wandering bear will stroll into town, usually lost, but still a cause of great excitement.

On a final note, most of the men whose names we see in the record books today are gone, and, sad to say, most of those great guides are also no longer with us. They are mythical ghosts who are as much a part of the Alaskan culture as anything we are known for.

Alaska is affectionately called The Last Frontier, and never was it a more fitting description than in the heyday of polar bear hunts. So the next time you’re in a sporting goods store and you see a mounted polar bear, take a look at the fine print and you’ll know what I mean. ASJ

Editor’s note: Paul Atkins’ soon-to-be-published book, Legends of the Ice, which will detail more of this amazing time in Alaska, features stories of the great guides and hunters and more photos of the time.

 

 

The Breach Salmon Documentary Heads Out On Tour

Salmon documentary poster

 

Our cover story for the May Alaska Sporting Journal is a profile of director Mark Titus’ fantastic documentary about wild salmon, The Breach. Titus announced the following stops as his film will screen throughout the Lower 48 over the next month:

First stop is the Dubuque International Film Festival this Thursday throughSunday.  The Breach is nominated for Best Documentary and we couldn’t be prouder to be screening in Iowa. 

 Our #eatwildsavewild tour then begins this coming Saturday the 25th in New York.  Every stop on the tour will have a Q&A with special guests and a surprise giveaway, and a reception immediately following the Q&A featuring local chefs preparing Wild Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon.  

 Here is the final schedule with all the links to get tickets.  (GET TICKETS).  Go out and get some…

 New York, NY – 04.25 6pm – The Rubin Museum of Art – 

GET TICKETS

Panel to Include: Chef Tom Douglas!  All the way from Seattle…

 

Boston, MA – 04.26 – 2pm-  Theatre 1- 
GET TICKETS

 

Washington D.C. – 04.28 – 7pm – Goethe-Institut – 
GET TICKETS

 

Raleigh, NC –04.29 6pm  The Rialto Theatre – 
GET TICKETS

 

Miami, FL – 04.30 – 630pm –  O Cinema – 
GET TICKETS

 

Chicago, IL – 05.03  12:30 pm – Gene Siskel Film Center – 
GET TICKETS

 

Minneapolis, MN – 05.06 7pm  Showplace Icon Theatre — 
GET TICKETS

 

Denver, CO – 05.07 630pm  Landmark Mayan Theatre -— 
GET TICKETS

 

Boulder, CO – 05.08 – E Town Hall – 
GET TICKETS

 

San Francisco CA – 05.12  530pm – The Bay Aquarium – 
GET TICKETS

 

Berkeley – 5.13 630pm – Brower Center/Goldman Theater – 
GET TICKETS

 

Seattle – 05.15 630pm  – Seattle Art Museum (SAM)  – 
GET TICKETS

 

Portland – 05.18 6pm – McMenamin’s Kennedy School – 
GET TICKETS

 

Salt Lake City – ****Special Additional Screening**** 05.19 – Utah Film Center Tickets forthcoming from Utah Film Center

 

Santa Monica, CA –05.20 7pm – Cross Campus – 
GET TICKETS

Dierick’s Tsiu River Lodge: A Family Tradition

Eric 654
Terry's 2nd round of pic 098
Dierick’s Tsiu River Lodge has been Family owned and operated since 1997. Greg Dierick has been fishing this river since he was a boy. Greg and his father, Ed, built the lodge on the Tsiu River after over 40 years of fishing here in this Alaskan wilderness paradise. The Dierick family’s experience on fishing on the Tsiu River is the same experience they want to share with you. The fishing lodge is located 120 miles north of Yakutat, Alaska nestled between the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountain Range and the Gulf of Alaska.
DSCN0386
tsiuriverlodge.com
(907) 784-3625

Experience Kvichak Lodge’s Trophy Fishing

181_preview_048_48

 

The Kvichak Lodge is located approximately 240 miles southwest of Anchorage in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, trophy class rainbow trout, coho salmon, chums, kings, pinks, arctic char, pike, grayling and dolly varden in addition to experiencing indescribeable beauty in one of the most pristine regions in the state.

774_preview_8_G 774_preview_002

The lodge is situated about one half mile from the mouth of Lake Illiamna on 12 acres of Kvichak River waterfront. Our lodge was the first lodge built and in operation on the Kvichak River, giving us one of the best locations for convenience to the community as well as easy access to the best spots on the river.

kvichaklodge.com

(907) 230-6370

A Day With A USFWS Officer

USFWS 1

The following story and photos are courtesy of ASJ correspondent Steve Meyer and running in the April issue of Alaska Sporting Journal, on sale now:

By Steve Meyer

It seems most every hunter/fisherman has thoughts of becoming a game warden. How cool would it be to go to work every day and be outdoors around the scene we love the most?

My opportunity came in the late 1980s with an offer to work for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Sitka. Life circumstances wouldn’t allow accepting the job, so there will always be the “what if” thoughts in the back of my mind.

But about the same time, Rob Barto started his tenure with USFWS, working as a seasonal employee for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

“It was a great time working seasonal,” Barto says. “I learned the fishing spots and had plenty of time to enjoy them, and during the offseason I could go South and work other seasonal stuff, or just hunt, fish and trap.”

But eventually we must all grow up – a real shame – and Barto became a full-time wildlife enforcement officer with USFWS in the Kenai.

The Kenai refuge sprawls across some 2 million acres of “Alaska’s playground,” the Kenai Peninsula. The terrain runs the gamut from coastal mud flats to mountain glaciers; a large percentage is accessible only by foot, horseback, boat, airplane and snowmachine in winter when snow cover allows.

Five full-time wildlife enforcement officers are assigned to monitor outdoor activities on the refuge. The hot spots where the most activity occurs include the Swanson River/Swan Lake Road, the Skilak Lake Loop (where hunting is prohibited except for some small game archery and a youth hunting season for small game), Skilak Lake, the Kenai River, the Russian River, the Tustumena Lake area, and the Caribou Hills.

The variety of outdoor pursuits on the refuge include wildlife viewing, bird watching, skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing, boating, mushroom gathering, fishing, hunting and trapping. With such a broad spectrum of activities, refuge officers wear a lot of hats. Duties range from tracking down moose poachers to answering questions about the local flora and fauna from the many visitors to the area, so they have a rather full plate. Refuge officers are also commissioned by the State of Alaska and have authority to enforce all state laws, as well.

USFWS 4

PARTNERS IN (STOPPING) CRIME

Some refuge officers have special additional duties/skills above and beyond the norm; Rob Barto is one of them. He patrols the Kenai refuge with Rex, a canine officer and one of only eight dogs in service on national wildlife refuges across the country.

Rex is a 5-year-old golden Labrador retriever and is the only one of these canines certified in wildlife detection. He is trained to detect all of Alaska’s big game species, plus walrus, seal and polar bear. Rex is also trained in article recovery and human tracking.

The pair will travel to other areas, such as the U.S./Canadian border and some of the coastal Alaska towns where illegal trading in wildlife is suspected. Barto and Rex have also worked with our Canadian neighbors to the east in Dawson City, Yukon Territories. They will be working in Whitehorse in the Yukon this spring.

Having a canine partner is a rather significant commitment for the dog’s human partner. Besides the obvious of making the dog a member of the family – feeding, watering, housing and providing exercise – there is the ongoing training. Canines in the law enforcement world have training sessions every day and, for the most part, more than one. It is part of the maintenance of the canine certificate that makes what he does acceptable to the court. Working dogs need to be worked or they lose the excitement and drive for what they are trained in.

Training sessions must be documented (more paperwork). Barto and Rex go to local schools and put on demonstrations for the kids; it’s a great public relations service and Rex gets to do what he does.

Rex travels with Barto in a nicely built kennel in the back of his work SUV. He often rides with his big Labrador nose pressed up to the partition between the front and back seat, watching for some excitement that might employ him.

He is a typical Labrador, with a big otter tail always wagging and what one always thinks is a smile on his face. He is friendly and has the diplomacy so loved by dog folks who know his breed.

USFWS 3

 

A DAY IN THE FIELD

Having the opportunity to spend a shift with Rob Barto and Rex was a pleasure and an eyeopener. His training sessions where he displayed his talents of finding small pieces of game and other articles hidden by his partner seemed picture perfect. What becomes obvious while watching the two work together is the bond they share.

We headed out towards the Skilak Loop area to check on ice fishermen and anything else that might be going on. A vehicle headed in our direction blipped on the radar gun at 73 mph in a 55 zone. Barto turned around and stopped the speeder and explained that while they don’t make it a point to stop every speeding vehicle, when there is one that is clearly excessive, they pull them over.

“There are enough people dying on the Sterling Highway as it is,” Barto says.

The individual driving was not being reckless but just driving too fast. He did have a suspended license for nonpayment of child support. In Alaska, when one’s license is suspended a notification is sent to the individual with no guarantee the person actually received the notice. With that, the first time an individual is stopped and the suspension discovered, an otherwise arrestable offense is instead turned into an advisement. Henceforth, that person caught driving would be taken to jail.

Within minutes of the first training session I attended in my law enforcement academy, the instructor made a statement that has rang true ever since: “Approach determines response.”

Barto was pleasant when he contacted the driver, who was equally pleasant and apologetic in his failure to pay attention to his speed. With that, he chose to write the speeding ticket as a federal violation instead of a State of Alaska violation. That was a new one on me; I had no idea that such a thing existed. Barto explained that there are many regulations on federal property, including the refuge, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service land, that mirror the state regulations. In the case of the speeding ticket, the difference was no points would go against the driver’s state record with the same fine. So Barto elected to write the ticket federally and cut the guy some slack.

 

Photo by U.S. Fish and Widlife Service

Photo by U.S. Fish and Widlife Service

CHALLENGING A MYTH

The point in telling that story is that the general public often has a misconception of law enforcement officers in general. They believe that officers are out to get them (I won’t deny there are some like that) and when confronted, they become less than cordial, and that rarely works out well.

That reminds me of what I used to tell newcomers in the business: “It’s OK to be nice until it’s not OK.” In other words, why treat folks any less than with decency, unless they respond in such a manner that decency clearly isn’t going to work?

My experiences with game wardens over the years have always been positive, and the Kenai refuge’s officers have been no exception. Across the board they have always been very appropriate, helpful with questions and are just generally decent officers who share the same love of the outdoors.

Of course, there are sometimes rather humorous aspects to being a refuge officer. A common violation along the gravel roads of Swanson River and Tustumena Lake is hunters shootinggrouse while they stand on the road eating gravel that aids their digestion. To help combat this, enforcement officers will set out decoys – mounted spruce grouse that appear alive until you watch them for a few seconds. Normally, the officer watching the bird will be able to stop the “hunter” before damage is done; but it’s not always the case.

One frosty morning, a pickup pulled up and the driver stuck his .300 Winchester Magnum out the window and blew that mounted bird to bits before he could be stopped. Another time, a guy recognized what the decoy was and pulled up right next to it, grabbed it and took off down the road. He was caught down the road, and fortunately for him, the officer recognized that boys will be boys and didn’t ticket him. There are some people out there who would initally scream out “entrapment.” How about just don’t commit the violation?

I often hear hunters complain about the refuge’s officers, claiming they’re tree huggers and don’t understand hunters. I would say the opposite is true. Confusing some administrative policies that really have nothing to do with the decisions made at the local level with those who are tasked with enforcing regulations is throwing stones in the wrong direction.

All of them enjoy the outdoors as much as anyone in their free time. They hunt, they fish, they trap and live wholesome rural lifestyles. They are active with kids in the community, and some are hunter education instructors. Rob Barto and his 11-year-old daughter, Emily, have been running a trapline all winter, walking 8 miles twice a week.

What can possibly represent us outdoors lovers better than that? 

Editor’s note: For more on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, check out its website (fws.gov), Facebook (facebook.com/usfws) and Twitter (@USFWSHQ).

 

 

 

Not Ready To Hunt Alaska Yet? Try Nevada

 

(Bighorn sheep photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Wildlife) 

Lower 48ers in the West who are dreaming of hunting in Alaska – and how would any hunter not want to stalk moose, caribou or bears in the Last Frontier at least one time? – and are looking for an alternative closer to home, why not try Nevada?

Here is some info from the Nevada Department of Wildlife on applying for the upcoming season’s big game tags. The deadline is April 20:

If you’re interested in hunting big game in Nevada this year, the Nevada Department of Wildlife wants to remind everyone that the big game application process is now open. 
Nevada offers a good variety of big game opportunities for deer, elk, bear, pronghorn antelope, mountain goat and bighorn sheep. The Silver State is one of just a few states to possess three sub-species of bighorn sheep (desert, rocky mountain and California). Deer, elk and antelope offer additional options for weapon type (rifle, archery, and muzzleloader), sex (male or female) and season dates. 
Again this year, NDOW is offering some combination hunt options that allow sportsmen hunting in predetermined areas the chance of hunting a cow elk simultaneous to hunting a mule deer, and one that allows sportsmen the chance to hunt a cow elk while also hunting bull elk. 
The deadline is Monday, April 20. Online applicants have until 11 p.m. Sportsmen looking to apply for the hunt online can visit www.huntnevada.com. Hunters that choose to use the traditional paper application must use the U.S. Postal Service to submit their applications, which must be received by the Wildlife Administrative Services Office by 5 p.m. to qualify.
To help hunters understand the application process and make informed choices, the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) provides a vast amount of information. Hunter’s can find population reports, draw odds and harvest statistics, maps, Hunter Information Sheets and much more on the agency’s website at ndow.org. 
The 2015 quotas will be set by the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners at their May 15 and 16 meeting in Reno.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) protects, restores and manages fish and wildlife, and promotes fishing, hunting, and boating safety. NDOW’s wildlife and habitat conservation efforts are primarily funded by sportsmen’s license and conservation fees and a federal surcharge on hunting and fishing gear. Support wildlife and habitat conservation in Nevada by purchasing a hunting, fishing, or combination license. Find us on Facebook, Twitter or visit us at www.ndow.org.

ASJ Cover Boy Defends Iditarod Title

alaska_cover

Cover image courtesy of Albert Lewis, seespotrun.com

This is shaping up to be a great week for Dallas Seavey. The cover subject of our March issue of Alaska Sporting Journal  just defended his 2014 Iditarod title with his third overall championship.

Here’s some of the Associated Press report via ESPN:

The Alaska musher crossed the finish line in the Bering Sea coastal town of Nome at 4:13 a.m., completing the route in eight days, 8 hours, 13 minutes and 6 seconds. That’s about five hours longer than the record he set in winning the 2014 race.

“Obviously going into this race, the big hubbub was all about the new trail, right?” Seavey told a packed convention hall. Concerns were about the “warm, warm, warm winter” and conditions on the Yukon River.

In fact, a snowmobile sank on thin ice on part of the route mushers were about to take. Some were considering buying rain gear.

But then winter came back to Alaska, and the trails became much more like one would expect for the Iditarod.

“We saw a lot of 40-, 50-below zero, snow,” said Seavey, of Willow. “This was a very tough race. It was not the easy run that a lot of people had anticipated for the Yukon River.”

Seavey’s father, Mitch, finished in second place Wednesday, followed by Aaron Burmeister. Behind them en route to Nome were Jessie Royer and Aliy Zirkle.

To win this demanding race three times in four years – his dad Mitch won the other – is a testament to not just Dallas Seavey but the dogs in his team (Alaska Dispatch has video of him crossing the finish line in Nome).

Seavey’s adventures in Alaska continue this Sunday night at 10 p.m. Pacific in the season finale of his National Geographic Channel series, Ultimate Survival Alaska.  Seavey’s Endurance team was in last place among the four teams, but anything can happen in the final challenge. But he’s already won the show’s season competition already, so his legacy is secure. And winning another Iditarod by the age of 28 puts him among the sport’s elite mushers, with seemingly plenty of races ahead of him.

Here’s Seavey to the Fairbanks News-Miner:

“The wins are a result of doing what we love. It takes a whole team to get us here.”

Finally, here’s our story on Dallas (Photos by Dallas Seavey and National Geographic Channel):

Dallas 2

 

By Chris Cocoles

Not including Dallas Seavey’s “home” squad – with wife, Jennifer and daughter, Annie – he is a vital leader of two teams that are a huge part of his life.

Seavey, who turns 28 this month, is a veteran of the National Geographic Channel series Ultimate Survival Alaska (the season finale will air on March 22 at 10 p.m., 9 Central, with new shows on Sunday nights). He’s appeared on all three seasons, leading Team Endurance to the title in season two last year and welcomed two new teammates for season three, which wraps up this month.

“It was intriguing because we were traveling across Alaska, living out of a backpack and seeing some of the most unique and strange terrain that this state has to offer,” Seavey says. “And that always takes a level of creativity and ingenuity to work your way through that environment. And it was particularly intriguing to us because that’s what my family has grown up doing.”

And for essentially the entire year, particularly the 10 or so days of the Iditarod that define the sport starting on March 9 when the race will start from Fairbanks due to low snowfall, Seavey is carrying on his family’s distinguished tradition among Alaska’s sled dog-racing community. He’s mushed his dog teams to win the sport’s premier event,  in both 2012 (when, at 25, he was the race’s youngest champion), and 2014 (when at 8 days, 13 hours, 4 minutes and 19 seconds, he won the race in record time; quite a contrast from inaugural winner Dick Wilmarth needing over 20 days to complete the course in 1973).

It’s quite the busy life, but it’s exactly the way Seavey prefers his days to go: raising and racing dogs throughout his home state, conquering mental and physical challenges in the Alaskan bush, and introducing Annie to dog mushing, which three generations of Seaveys have thrived on since the 1960s. The family has dominated the last three Iditarods, Dallas’ two titles sandwiched around his father Mitch becoming the – wait for it – oldest winner of the 1,000-mile, “Last Great Race on Earth” at age 53 in 2013, his second title. Dallas’ grandfather and Mitch’s dad Dan Sr. was one of the founding fathers of the Iditarod’s inaugural race in the early 1970s. With Seaveys winning the last three races, it’s a golden era for the family

“There something to competing with your dad. And especially since my dad and I were very close,” Dallas Seavey says. “When I was with my dad in 2013 at (the White Mountain checkpoint), only 77 miles to go and him within striking distance of his second Iditarod win, it was a neat experience.”

It wasn’t the first time Seaveys had shared the stage.

Dallas Seavey 3

WHAT’S A PRODUCER’S dream? Cast two brothers in a live-action series where contestants are thrown into the middle of nowhere and given a challenge to get to a destination faster than their opponents. At 26, Dallas was already a household name in Alaska based on his 2012 Iditarod win and, when approached by National Geographic to do Ultimate Survival Alaska, convinced older brother Tyrell, then 28, to join him.

Surely, the siblings would provide compelling conversations and, maybe, if the show was lucky, some epic arguments as they decided on a plan of attack for whatever rivers needed to be crossed or mountains needed to be climbed. Except it wasn’t quite a family feud.

“We’ve always worked together,” says Dallas of his and Tyrell’s jobs at their dad’s kennel. “And that’s a different relationship when you work with somebody rather than having to co-habitate in the same building. And a lot of siblings are, I suppose. They don’t force you to interact beyond a certain degree. But we were always solving problems and being forced to work together. So I think we hatched out most of our differences by the time we were 12.”

Dallas called it “silent communication,” when conversations about how to approach the tasks at hand would almost become telekinetic mojo between he and Tyrell. Dallas considered this as two battle-tested Alaskans who knew exactly what problems lay ahead in the area’s topography, potential weather issues that confront them or the odds of accomplishing the goals with the limited tools and supplies they were given.

So in sync with each other were the Seaveys, when they plotted their course, they were encouraged by the cameraman to interact a little more. But that “we may not be flashy, we are effective” technique fit well into the equation. Bring together a small group of alpha-type personalities who all feel like their way is the best way, and you’re sure to get disagreements.

“It’s the Seavey way to just get the job done; not a lot of flair, not a lot of extra conversations,” says Dallas, who came back the next season. As one of three members of Team Endurance, Dallas and his mates, Eddie Ahyakak and Sean Burch, beat out the other three-person teams to win the competition with complete strangers he’d never met before filming began. For season three, there’s another entirely new team in place – mountaineer Ben Jones and heli-ski guide Lel Tone. But for Seavey, the spirit of the show as far as he is concerned is intact.

While everyone has a background in some semblance of adventure sports to, in theory, handle the terrain – an earlier third-season episode saw the teams try to cross the swift currents of the Talkeetna River – it’s as much a mental as it is a physical grind. Seavey went so far as arguing the psychological effects can sink you more than having the fitness to traverse the Alaskan bush.

“Yes, you have to have the physical talent to do this stuff. And that’s not easy, but we almost take that for granted. The people who are out there are outdoor, active people,” he says. “But the real game comes down to the mental side. One of the major factors that gets often overlooked in these group situations: Here we are, warm and well fed and watered. But now let’s try it when we’re cold and miserable, and probably haven’t slept properly in several weeks, and are severely malnourished. Hunger is one of the biggest attitude changers out there.”

All the factors combined provide a thinking player’s game that has brought Seavey back for more of his second career on Ultimate Survival Alaska on top of success as a professional dog musher.

“Creativity and challenges are what I thrive on. That’s what I do when racing the Iditarod. We try to recognize a problem, break it down to its most basic elements and solve it,” he says. “Whether it’s building a new racing sled or coming up with new strategies in the Iditarod, it’s problem solving. There’s definitely a mad -scientist aspect for when you come to a crossroads of a problem that you don’t have an answer for.”

Dallas dogs side shot

DALLAS SEAVEY WAS at a crossroads once. Though his promising wrestling career was pinned by injuries, he knew the family business of rigging up dogs to a sled and traveling fast through the snow. Grandpa Dan did it; his father Mitch did it. It was what the names Andretti and Unser were to motorsports, Sutter to hockey, Williams to tennis and Manning to football. A Seavey is expected to successfully race dogs through the treacherous Alaskan wilderness.

“My granddad moved to Alaska in the 1960s to be an ‘Alaskan.’ When he helped start the Iditarod, it was as much fun to plan the race as it actually meant to go do it,” Dallas says of Iditarod Hall of Fame inductee Dan Sr., who as recently as 2012 competed in the race, at 74 years old. “They were trying to figure out if it was possible to run 1,000 miles across Alaska.”

The race has now gone international after its early years usually featured Alaskans only. Most of the members of the Seavey family, including Dallas’s wife Jennifer, have competed in at least one Iditarod. The Seavey kids were home-schooled, mostly so they could have access to the tasks of maintaining the Seward-based family business of raising and racing sled dogs (it’s now known as Seavey’s Ididaride Racing Team and Sled Dog Tours).  Mitch cared for more than 100 dogs at his kennel, and oldest brothers Danny, Tyrell and Dallas – they also have a fourth brother, aspiring singer Conway Seavey – were given various duties to make sure the dogs were fed and exercised.

Dallas made his Iditarod debut in 2005 at just 18 (the minimum age to compete) and was the youngest musher to finish the race, coming in 51st. But it wasn’t until 2009 that he was actually “competitively” racing in the event. He still seemed like a longshot to win the 2012 race, given that most previous winners were in their 30s, 40s or even 50s (Seavey said the average age of the previous 20 winners was 42). Conversely, his kennel, made up of dogs he purchased from his dad and other fellow mushers, was just 3 years old at that point. So it wasn’t as if he was known for grooming championship dogs.

“I was competing with these teams that had been going for 20 or 30 years. It’s a refining process, where you’re continually breeding from the best to the best of the best for the dogs. These dogs are just insane athletes. We were way behind the eight ball there,” Seavey says.

“It certainly seemed like from the outside, a 25-year-old racing in his fourth competitive Iditarod saying, ‘I’m going to win it and become the youngest winner ever,’ must have seemed either extremely arrogant or naïve; probably both. Maybe I was just naïve enough, just dumb enough, to believe that I could win the Iditarod. It doesn’t mean we have a lock on this race. But this was the first team I had that I knew had the potential to win – if we did everything right.”

Check. Seavey’s win was remarkable given the historical odds were so against him. This had been a sport where Father Time – like his dad – was an advantage over youthful enthusiasm. But here was the 25-year-old, a year before his father was dismissing the trend of mushers his age, winning the Last Great Race on Earth. He sat below Nome’s famed Burled Arch, sharing the stage with two of Seavey’s five lead dogs from the race, Diesel and Guinness. They were covered in yellow roses and showered with cheers from the crowd on Nome’s Front Street. Man and dogs were exhausted after such a grueling race (talk about ultimate Alaskan survival). He hugged both dogs, feeling as though winning the race was simply a bonus for appreciating what they accomplished.

It’s what this race is all about and carrying on the family’s legacy as some of Alaska’s storied sports’ personalities.

“It’s an incredible feeling. For 355 days a year I’m a dog musher, and to develop these dogs to their highest potential and to make each dog the best athlete that their genetic potential has allowed them and help them maximize that potential. That’s what a dog musher is, in my mind,” Seavey says. “For the other 10 days a year, give or take, we are focused on not necessarily winning the Iditarod, but running the best possible race. And if I run the team to the best of their ability, that is a goal met.”

Dallas 3

UAF Rifle Team Places Second in NCAA’s

Photo courtesy of Alaska Fairbanks athletic department

Photo courtesy of Alaska Fairbanks athletic department

 

In this month’s issue of Alaska Sporting Journal we have a package on the University of Alaska Fairbanks rifle team, which has quietly been a dynasty with 10 national championships. The Nanooks were ranked second in the nation when they hosted the NCAA Championships last weekend in Fairbanks.

UAF finished second to No. 1 West Virginia:

Many members of the team are also hunters. (UAF )

Many members of the team are also hunters. (UAF )

 

Alaska won the smallbore championship last night, holding off West Virginia by an impressive twelve shots, but it was unable to overcome the top air rifle team in the nation, as the Mountaineers rallied to defeat the Nanooks by two overall shots, 4,702 to 4,700.

“Coming in we knew that we were probably the top smallbore team in the country,” said head coach Dan Jordan. “We shot really well yesterday, but we came up just short today. West Virginia shot a phenomenal air gun today. We can’t do anything more than what we did. Both teams shot really well this weekend.”

In third place overall was Texas Christian University, who matched Nebraska’s 4,667 points, but hit 13 more 10x-shots to clinch the tiebreaker. The Cornhuskers did place in the smallbore competition, as they were in third place after last night’s action. Jacksonville State was the Championships’ fifth-place team and also went home with a trophy, as it finished in third place in the air rifle portion. Kentucky’s tally of 4,657 was good for sixth-place, while the United States Air Force Academy and Murray State placed seventh and eighth, respectively.

Alaska’s Tim Sherry placed eighth overall after finals, to lead the Nanooks, following up on his fifth-place individual finals in smallbore, last night.

Maren Prediger of West Virginia was the top individual following finals, as she topped a full contingent of Mountaineer medalists. West Virginia’s Michael Bamsey placed second overall and Garrett Spurgeon was the third best shooter. Spurgeon was also named the NCAA Championship’s Top Overall Performer.

Sherry’s 596 was the highest shot total of any Nanook, qualifying him for finals. Mats Eriksson and Ryan Anderson were Alaska’s next best shooters, as they each scored 592 points. Lorelie Stanfield and Sagen Maddalena rounded out the Nanooks, with respective shot totals of 589 and 588.

Here’s our story on the team’s coach, Jordan, who was paralyzed in a climbing accident but does not let his physical limitations slow him down from coaching or enjoying the outdoors:

Photo by Dan Jordan

Photo by Dan Jordan

 

By Chris Cocoles
University of Alaska rifle team coach Dan Jordan says he really hadn’t been challenged much by the time he’d reached the summer after his sophomore year at the same school.
In May 1999, Jordan had just completed his sophomore year on the Nanooks rifle team when he and a close friend and teammate, Amber Darland, went rock climbing north of Fairbanks.
“I was climbing and my safety pieces broke out, so I fell about 60 feet,” says Jordan who was asked by rescuers, was he allergic to anything. In a Denver Post story from a few years back, he recalled deadpanning an answer that would reflect on his ability to handle such a life-altering tragedy: “Rocks.”
He was paralyzed throughout his lower body.

012

 

JORDAN GREW UP in rural Franktown, Colo., not far from Colorado Springs. His family wasn’t into hunting or guns, but young Dan “was infatuated with hunting and shooting from the time I was a little kid.”
His parents put Jordan into the local 4-H club so he could learn gun safety from those who did know something about firearms
He would spend endless hours shooting targets attached to hay bales in nearby cow pastures. He’d hunt with a fellow football player and his father, who was their high school coach. Jordan referred to his coach as a “mountain man” who took the boys on an epic elk and deer hunt and slept in teepees; they wore buckskins and lived out a Grizzly Adams/Jeremiah Johnson experience.
“In the winter we shot in cow and chicken barns at the fairgrounds,” Jordan says. “When I went to the state fair and saw Olympic-style shooting, I was enthralled by it.”
Jordan went to Alaska for college and was an All-American in both smallbore and air rifle in 1998 and 1999. He didn’t have a care in the world – until May 23, 1999, the date of the accident.
“I’ve always looked at it as my life was very easy before that,” he says. “I was pretty athletic and school was always easy for me. I never had to work hard at anything. So I looked at it as I finally had a challenge in my life; it’s something I’m going to have to work at.”

Dan Joordan and his wife, Amber

Dan Joordan and his wife, Amber

THREE DAYS AFTER his fall, Jordan was flown closer to home in Colorado, but after surgery and spending almost two months rehabbing in a Denver hospital – “I got tired of being there,” he said – he told his parents he wanted to return to school in Fairbanks that August. Mom and Dad understandably wanted him to delay going back so soon and adjust to life in his wheelchair and skip a semester.
“My kind of mentality was, I would rather come up in August or September and learn how to negotiate my way around, rather than come back up in January where everything was snowy and cold,” Jordan says.
“I came back somewhere around Aug. 26, got all settled in and told my parents I was leaving to go moose hunting. So one of my teammates took me and we went moose hunting and slept in the back of his Suburban. So I guess you can say I got right back into it.”
That included training for and competing in the Paralympic Games. At the 2004 Athens Paralympics, Jordan left Greece with a silver medal in the smallbore three-position shoot.
The drive to regain the post-fall form and be accurate enough to compete in the Paralympics, let alone make it to a medal ceremony, became an obsession, much like every other obstacle he suddenly had to dodge.
“I never did it for anyone else,” he says. “I love shooting.”
And now he regularly hunts and fishes around Alaska from his wheelchair.
“One of the biggest things in life that makes me happy is just being outside,” he says. “Even when I was in the hospital days after surgery, my parents would get me in a wheelchair and just take me outside just to sit and see some sunshine.”
Steve Jordan would take his son fishing in the months after the fall, so you can imagine how emotional even a stoic Dan became on that first Alaskan moose hunt.
“Being able to come back and get back into hunting again, that’s what recharges my batteries.”

2010 Bear Hunt 057
GET TO KNOW Dan Jordan and you hope you can come away thinking similarly to his attitude. To hell with the challenges his condition might have prevented. To hell with the “why me” reaction so many of us might have screamed out if something of this magnitude was inflicted upon us.
“I never had a depression phase; I never went through any kind of anything,” Jordan says. “After surgery when I woke up, nobody had to me that I was paralyzed. You knew it. It was just, ‘OK, now what?’”
It started with the friend who watched his fall in horror. Amber Darland and Dan Jordan were already close friends, and it was Dan who had been futilely “kind of chasing her at the time” before the accident.
“Then when I got hurt, she kind of started chasing me and I didn’t want anything to do with her,” says Jordan, who was a year ahead of her in school and moved back to Colorado after graduation. They were separated again for a time being, but eventually their paths crossed back in Fairbanks for good.
“It took about 10 years of chasing each other,” he says.
Now they’re married, and Jordan has happily accepted that his accident wouldn’t define who he is.
“Things may take a little bit longer and I may have to get creative with how I do some things,” he says. “And there are some things I just flat out can’t do. But that’s part of it. So be it.”

 

Alaskan Huntress Hillarie Putnam (Part II)

Hillarie Putnam 1
Here’s part II of our chat with Alaskan hunter and actress  Hillarie Putnam, currently available in the October issue of Alaska Sporting Journal: 
By Chris Cocoles
Hillarie Putnam knows she can hang with the guys and be just fine, thank you.
The 26-year-old big-game hunter, actress and docu-series television star still doesn’t understand why women who hunt like herself are sometimes questioned for their motives.
“Where did this idea come from that says every woman has to look (a certain way)?” asks Putnam, who recently wrapped up a stint on The History Channel bear hunter show, The Hunt. “If you play sports, you have to look like a man; if you’re in business, you have to look like a man. It’s this crazy thing. That’s probably why we’re so confusing to so many men. We have all these different elements to us.”
Don’t put any label on Putnam, who’s tough enough to take down a Kodiak brown bear – which she did on The Hunt – but also pulled off the role of Tracy Lord – the one made famous on the big screen by legendary Katharine Hepburn – when she was one of the stars of the stage version of The Philadelphia Story in Portland, Ore.
“Being able to play that role was phenomenal. The (character) has an affair on her fiancé the night before she gets married while she’s still in love with her ex-husband,” Putnam says. “You look at what she’s doing, and you realize the time period it came from is pretty long ago. We look at women who make those choices today, but we’ve been making these same bad and good decisions for years.”
Putnam has plenty to keep her busy in a hectic schedule. She co-owns a talent agency in Portland, Red Thread Entertainment, and is working with TV executives in Los Angeles to develop her own outdoors show from a woman’s perspective.
In part II of our chat with Putnam, the Wasilla resident, who splits time among Alaska, Seattle and Portland, talks about her earliest hunting memory, a once promising career in sports, acting and her ultimate dream job.
Hillarie Putnam 2
Chris Cocoles Can you share one of your most memorable hunting or fishing trips?
Hillarie Putnam I remember my dad and I went to Pioneer Peak (Chugach Mountains, near Palmer) when you could still just get a tag and go sheep hunting there. Now you need a permit. It was just he and I and I had super short hair; we climbed up, and even now he still gives me a run for my money when we’re climbing up a mountain. But I could not keep up then; I think I was 8 or maybe 10. I remember finally getting up to the top and pitching a tent. Every time we stopped we kept eating blueberries and he kept telling me how great it would be once we got to the top. This sheep and goat hunting is my favorite type of hunting to do. You get up there and it’s such a wonderful feeling. You put forth the effort to get there. And then you have all this stuff you can look down on. On that hunt we didn’t get anything or even really see anything. It was just the element of being above the rest of the world for three days where no one can reach you. I’d wake up every morning and my dad was cooking breakfast outside. You throw your stuff in a light pack, hike around the mountain range and come back. It’s such a special moment. You’re the only ones who remember it. We didn’t bring any smartphones or cameras of any kind. The only two people who remember that climb are my dad and I.
CC And you enjoy the roughing it too?
HP There were no sat phones back then and I didn’t grow up climbing with a GPS. We would go out and my mom might not hear from us for three days, and if we were weathered in she might not hear from us for five days or a week. You really missed the people you were away from back then. I don’t know if you miss people the same way. I went to (an outdoors store) and I thought, “This is wrong. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. There are packets of soda!” You are supposed to go out there and suffer. I miss what it’s like to daydream about a pizza. Then when you get back, you can have it.
CC How patient do you think you have to be as a hunter?
HP In Alaska that’s a big thing. A lot of (hunters) come from Montana or Michigan and they’re used to deer hunting from a (deer stand) or in a blind. There’s something drawing the animal to you. So you wait, but it’s not the same as it is in Alaska. If you hunt on ranches or have guides, there is a lot of wandering around and trying to find the creatures. But in Alaska, there are so many creatures, a lot of times it is just about finding a good spot and seeing what happens and waiting. It’s like moose hunting, which is calling them in and seeing what can come to you. And most of the time in Alaska when hunters aren’t successful they just don’t have patience.
CC You were quite the athlete back in high school in track and basketball, correct?
HP  I won the state title in three events and I did the high jump, long jump, triple jump and hurdles. I had colleges that had scholarships for me. I was looking at UNLV and Michigan State for track and field.
CC Were you a forward in basketball?
HP I played all five positions. I’m 5-9 so a little short inside, but I was an aggressive defensive player. What I lacked in size I made up for in aggression. I played some point guard too and I was a coach on the floor, for better or for worse [smiling]. I didn’t realize it when I was in school, but now that I’m older, I realize that I wasn’t a big communicator. I liked to wake up at 5 a.m. and go run or shoot hoops, and I kind of expected everyone else to do that. Now I realize that who wants to do that at that age?
CC You played lingerie basketball, like the Seattle Mist (of the lingerie football league)?
 HP Exactly. A friend of mine is the quarterback [laughs]. A lot of people said, “Well, that’s pornographic.” But it’s interesting. When I first went in there I thought to myself, “I have to be careful about what this is.” But these women were successful (NCAA) Division I ballplayers. These girls could play basketball and some of them are mothers and some are doctors. Every night after they get done with their regular lives, they come in and play this game but wear feminine clothing. And they look like beautiful women.
CC But acting seemed to overtake sports, and you went to college at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles. What was that like?
HP The school just focuses on having an entertainment career, and our final project for our career course was putting together an original (subject) that you think would do well in television. Everyone in the class and the faculty voted on the best, and I actually won. It was based on a female hunting travel show that went around the world highlighting different locations that had women who were standouts. And now, seven or eight years later, I’m hopefully able to write a show that will do that. The more you look back the more you realize everything you’ve done is preparing you for what’s about to come your way.
Hillarie Putnam 4
CC One of your biggest movie roles to date was in The Frozen Ground, which had quite an impressive cast. How did that go with some Hollywood heavyweights?
HP The person who was the most fun to work with was 50 Cent (nee Curtis Jackson, who plays a pimp in the serial killer film that takes place in Alaska). He was remarkable. His persona is he’s this bad boy who sings dirty songs that people grind up to each other in the clubs. And then you meet him and he’s the most polite, well-mannered and sweetest guy; he’s kind of a little shy. But I was blown away by how professional and sweet he was. I was in a holding room with him and (co-star) Vanessa Hudgens. She was super bubbly with high energy, and it was interesting having that experience with them.
CYour big scene was with Nicolas Cage, but you had a memorable meeting with one of the other stars of the movie, John Cusack.
HP (Cage) just showed up and did it, and he had a big entourage, and a lot of them flew in and out to shoot their scenes. But Cusack, I had a very interesting interaction with him. There ended up being a scheduling conflict and the director told me to come down and hang around the set for a while. But there was a scene where I was just standing there watching the production. He gets up from the table and walks over to this pillar where I was and then he walks out the door. But he walks up to me as “the killer.” They yell, “Cut!” and he looks at me to try and figure out who I am. And he’s still in character and hasn’t flipped back to John Cusack yet. So I’m standing against the wall and I’m like, “John, this is really strange. I kind of feel like you want to rape me. So can you please turn on your other face to we can have a conversation.” But he was very sweet, and every little girl grows up with John Cusack in Say Anything.
CC Talk about the motivation to succeed that you seem to have and how it pertains to being Alaskan but with some Hollywood roots.
HP The kids I grew up with, they don’t seem to have average lives. Friends I went to school with, some are bush pilots and they have three different companies where they’re air-taxiing people around. They just have this intense drive and ambition. I think that’s why I liked L.A. There are big dreamers and they’re a little weird. I was just down there visiting friends, and they work five jobs and live in tiny apartments. And they truly believe, to their core, they are going to make something of themselves and there is something bigger than them. And that’s what I run into when I’m in Alaska.
Hillarie Putnam 5
CC Do you enjoy the camaraderie of being outdoors with friends and family?
HP It’s always learning more about each other. Some of my best relationships in the entertainment world have been at Crystal Creek Lodge (907-357-3153crystalcreeklodge.com), a fishing lodge in King Salmon, Alaska, in the middle of nowhere. When the guests come out you’re up in the early hours to go fishing. You have crappy weather, but there’s something about the idea of being remote and cut off from the rest of the world. You actually have to look somebody in the eye when you’re talking to them.
CDo you have any long-term goals?
HP There’s this dream of Alaska – what Alaska is and what you can do there. And when you want to give someone the Alaskan experience, you kind of rise to living how Alaska breeds its humans to be. So that’s the ultimate goal for me is to have a lodge of my own.
CC What it is about Alaska that everyone loves enough to do TV shows there?
HP I think the reason why Alaska has been so on fire lately, (the outdoors) is all you have up there. I think people long for that. It’s wonderful for entertainment where we’re at right now with media and have information at the snap of a finger. For years and years – and I hope it will continue to be that way – Alaska is such a turn-on to so many people. If you talk to tons of people, it’s always a bucket list. If not to get hunting or fishing or snowboarding, it’s at least to go on a cruise. It’s untamed, and it’s fascinating to me that it’s still out there.