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Lost Hunter Subsisted On Berries, Bird

Photo by Kristine Sowl, USFWS

Photo by Kristine Sowl, USFWS



Hunters and anglers get lost in Alaska all the time, sometimes with tragic results. But a reported happy ending  for 49-year-old Charlie Hull.

From KTUU:

“Every time [people] come back from moose camp there’s always a different story and that’s what I said before I left. I want my own story,” said Hull. “I wasn’t expecting this.”

The trouble began last Saturday, Hull said, when he told his fellow hunters he was going for a short walk to look for moose around 7 a.m. He quickly became surrounded by fog, he said, and couldn’t see more than 15 feet. 

He was wearing sweatpants beneath neon green rain pants, two layers of shirts, a sweatshirt, a beanie and rain boots at the time. The only other items he had were two guns and a Bowie knife. …

He slept in the cold without a sleeping bag and lived on fresh river water and berries. On Tuesday, the third day of the ordeal, he used a rifle to shoot a spruce hen, he said. 

“Believe it or not but grouse ain’t bad, raw grouse is not bad,” said Hull.

Here are the Alaska State Troopers dispatches on the case:




Surviving Wild Alaska Constestant Charged In Fatal Wreck


National Geographic Channel

National Geographic Channel

My story last year with now three-time Iditarod winner Dallas Seavey was one of my favorites projects. I enjoyed Seavey’s candor and admired his skills as both a dog musher and his overall outdoorsman skills. Seavey even teamed with two other men, Sean Burch and Eddie Ahyakak, to win the National Geographic Series  Ultimate Survival Alaska in 2014. But tragedy offscreen struck when Ahyakak was involved in a July 2014 car accident on the Old Richardson Highway. The other driver was killed in the wreck, and Alaska State Troopers announced Wednesday charges will be filed against Ahyakak.

From the Alaska Dispatch via the Fairbanks News-Miner:

Online court records list Eddie Ahyakak, 38, as charged with criminally negligent homicide in a case first filed Tuesday. The date of the offense — July 29, 2014 — is the same as that of a wreck in which Alaska State Troopers said Ahyakak’s Ford F-350 pickup crossed the center line of the Old Richardson Highway at Mile 12, colliding with a Chevrolet Suburban driven by 59-year-old Ernest Ford.

Ford died at the scene, while Ahyakak was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for treatment of serious injuries. Troopers closed the highway for about five hours as they investigated the crash.

The show has endured multiple terrible moments. In May, former cast member Jimmy Gaydos (Gojdics) was found dead from to a gunshot in his Fairbanks home.

Hunters Should Be Wary Of Train Traffic

Photo by Kolmkolm/Wikimedia

Photo by Kolmkolm/Wikimedia

A really informative story from the Alaska Dispatch on hunter safety regarding railroads.  The author of the story, Doug Engebretson, is the chief operating officer for the Alaska Railroad. 

Here are some of Engebretson’s thoughts:

I grew up hunting with my own father, and ever since my sons were old enough to join me on moose hunts, I’ve continued that family tradition with them. Even now that my children are grown, we still head into the backcountry on moose hunts, and it is a time I cherish. We’re as eager as anyone to have a season that includes plenty of birds or a moose for the freezer, but none of that is worth risking our lives. The best hunt is always one where everyone comes home safely.

At the Alaska Railroad, many hunting enthusiasts like me are aware of the prime hunting grounds around our tracks, but all Alaskans must be sure to follow the law when it comes to track safety and Alaska Railroad right of way. You may think using the tracks as a path to access your favorite hunting spot seems harmless, but that could not be further from the truth. In fact, on average, 500 people in the United States die each year on the tracks. Even when the Alaska Railroad’s summer service subsides, we run dozens of trains along the Railbelt every single day. Having people on the tracks not only endangers their lives, but it puts the safety of Alaska Railroad employees and passengers in jeopardy.



Caribou 1


Editor’s note: The following story appears in the September issue of Alaska Sporting Journal 

Story and photos by Steve Meyer
The apparitions ghosting out of the brushline in the early morning haze that blanketed the mountain valley slowly became two caribou bulls some 700 yards away.
Surveying the options for cover to make a stalk didn’t take long: There wasn’t any. The stunted blueberry bushes and lichen that comprise most of the vegetation on the northern slopes of the eastern Brooks Range might lend concealment to a snake, but not much else.
A prayer to the hunting gods – “Please let them come this way” – may not have helped, but when the pair of bulls turned and started our direction, it seemed worth the small effort. The capricious and unpredictable mountain wind was generally quartering across our right shoulders and would eventually intersect the path of the two handsome animals.
As they came closer, the binoculars confirmed both bulls to be mature, respectable representatives, all we were looking for. Around 400 yards out, the mountain landscape concealed a draw that took them out of sight, allowing us to move rapidly closer, and when the antlers rose out of the draw, the caribou were at 175 yards, nicely confirmed by Christine Cunningham’s 10×42 Swarovski rangefinding binoculars.
The bull on the right appeared slightly larger than his buddy, and Christine settled into a solid sitting position for the shot. On they came on a dead course to intercept our wind. At 125 yards, the larger bull’s head went up and he turned, ran a few paces and stopped broadside to Christine’s position.
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CHRISTINE CAME TO the hunting arena in 2006, crawling through tidal duck muck with a borrowed shotgun. A hunter wasn’t born that day; she had been a hunter all of her life, but she had never had the opportunity to unleash the passion for nature’s most honest relationship until the moment in time that allowed her two clean misses on a pair of fast flying wigeon.
Bird hunting became her immediate passion, and with an extended family of three chocolate Labrador retrievers, two English setters and an Irish setter, hunting time was booked solidly in the bird department.
Big game hunting was always in the back of her mind, but time just seemed to pass too quickly to engage in yet another outdoor endeavor. When Christine met Emily Thoft through the rapidly growing community of female hunters, things began to change.
Emily and Matt Thoft own and operate Silvertip Aviation, L.L.C. (907-676-0421silvertipaviation.com), an air taxi/ transporter service, and Orvis Outfitters, a big game outfitting and guiding service. The Thofts are registered Alaska big game guides and pilots, and during the late July to August big game season, operate out of their lodge on the Ivishak River, on the northern slopes of the eastern Brooks Range.
When asked about hunting big game, Christine had explained the difficulty of giving up time from the bird dogs once upland season began Aug. 10. Emily solved the problem by advising Christine that caribou hunting in their area of operation opened July 1, and that they would be up there around the end of July. A hunt scheduled for 2014 was derailed when a litter of English setter pups entered this world, but there was no problem changing to 2015, and so we scheduled a July 30 fly-out.
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LOGISTICALLY, HUNTING IN the Brooks Range – particularly the northern slopes – requires a bit more of a commitment than the typical Alaska resident fly-out with a transporter or guided nonresident hunt. For our hunt we would drive the Dalton Highway, otherwise known as the “haul road,” from Livengood to Happy Valley. It was a trip of some 335 miles of broken pavement, potholed gravel, narrow bridges and lots of semitruck traffic. Traveling the Dalton is a story in itself, and our two-day adventure on it was a great experience.
We arrived in Happy Valley, an abandoned pipeline camp with an airstrip that services several air taxi operations. There we were met by Matt in his Cessna 185 wheel plane. Unlike many parts of Alaska, wheel planes are prolific in the far north; the terrain lends itself to these marvelous machines. The aircraft was limited to 60 pounds of gear per person, so loading the 185 was quick and the view that materialized as we gained elevation was in itself worth the trip.
After we landed on the Ivishak River, which serves as an airstrip for the Orvis Outfitter Lodge, we unloaded gear for the next stage of the trip, a Super Cub flight into hunting country.
Our destination would take us into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 19 million acres of one of the last truly wild places on the North American continent. Sadly enough, ANWR is in constant political and corporate turmoil over the desire to develop it. Words and photographs cannot adequately describe the wildness exuded by this magnificent chunk of real estate; being on the ground in it is a life-changing experience for anyone who embraces wilderness.
As I made the first flight in with Matt in his highly modified PA 12 Cub, caribou and grizzly bears dotted the landscape below. The “airstrip” where we elected to begin the hunt was a shale-strewn ridge surrounded by mountains and guarded by a gorgeous blonde grizzly bear in a creekbottom some three-quarters of a mile from where camp would be.
I set up camp with a backdrop of roaming caribou in the high ridges around the site. They were seeking the high ground where wind keeps insects and heat at bay. When Christine arrived on the second flight, the caribou had started to move down the shale slopes into the surrounding valley.
Since we had flown in, hunting could not start until after 3 a.m. the following morning. That was OK, as it allowed us time to soak in the silence and beauty of our playground.
The area was flanked on the north by rugged blue-gray shale slopes and jagged rocks. It was more of the same to the south, where the valleys below were blanketed in lichen – a mainstay of caribou diet – blueberry scrubs and salmon berries.
Scattered throughout the valley were shed caribou antlers, bleached white by weather and sun, revealing that herds spent time here in the winter. These antlers are considered artifacts and are not to be taken or even moved from their natural resting place.
As we sat in front of our tent a young cow caribou came prancing up the slope to the west, displaying the innate curiosity that has a way of ending badly for caribou. Christine waved at her and she ran back and forth, coming to around 50 yards from us before she caught a whiff of our scent and trotted down the valley to the east.
Later in the evening we scouted the area to the south and spotted a very respectable bull caribou feeding along, oblivious to our presence. We weren’t looking for a record-book bull; a mature representative animal that would provide winter meat was Christine’s goal.
This bull filled the bill just fine and Christine was excited and insisted we just go back to camp and find him in the morning. That was OK, except that with caribou, the odds of them being in the same area the next day are not great. Caribou don’t know where they will be tomorrow; they move constantly, and often it is a matter of cutting off their direction of travel to get a shot.
 Still, the odds were in our favor. The caribou had come to the valley off the surrounding ridges, it was fairly late in the day, and it seemed likely they would bed down in the vicinity.
There were numerous calves amongst the cows and young bulls in the valley, and the grizzly that we had seen flying in was only a quarter-mile away from some of the cows and calves. He could be a game changer.
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SLEEP WAS FITFUL. This time of year and this far north it does not get dark – more like dusk – and we tossed and turned, all the while listening to the periodic “click” sound caribou hooves made as they trotted by the tent. We could legally hunt at 3 a.m. but elected to wait until 4:30 for the sake of not getting overanxious.
We sought a vantage point overlooking the valley that bottomed out at a brush-choked creek. Dotted around the valley were caribou, most still bedded down, and only their heads and small antlers visible. But there were no bulls. We climbed over a knoll to overlook the area where the bull had been the night before. The valley floor was such that any caribou bedded down there would be visible; there were none.
From that spot we could see caribou cows and calves starting to move southwest towards a pass that would take them up onto a steep shale ridge. We theorized that if the bulls were still in the area, they were probably bedded down along the brush line of the creek and would eventually follow the cows and calves. We moved to another viewing area where we saw the aforementioned bulls.
Anxiety, buck fever or whatever one chooses to call it is a very real dilemma, especially for the first-time big game hunter. Many are the stories of disastrous first shots and they are hardly gender specific. But Christine is an accomplished wingshooter and had been practicing shooting from field positions all summer with her .300 Weatherby, reliably hitting vital zone targets out to 300 yards.
The sound of her shot blended with the “whack” of a solid hit; heart-shot, the bull staggered and started the typical run. When Christine hit him again, it dropped the animal.
We walked up to the gorgeous bull and found the light gone from his eyes. Christine knelt beside him, stroking the soft velvet of his antlers, unable to speak. After several minutes she looked at me, her face breaking out into a familiar smile. It left no doubt that this was the beginning of many more hunting adventures for big game.
It is rare to have a first time for anything and have it go perfect; this was one of those times.
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Obama In Alaska: Is That Salmon Spawning Or Glad To See Him?

President Obama handles some salmon during his visit to Dillingham. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

President Obama handles some salmon during his visit to Dillingham. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The President Barack Obama 2015 Alaskan Tour got a little messy when the POTUS visited subsistence fishing Alaskan Natives in Bristol Bay’s rich salmon ecosystem. He also got a hand’s on look at the salmon industry.

From The  Alaska Dispatch:

The first stop was on Kanakanak Beach, named for the Yup’ik word for westerly. Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, and Mae Syvrud, a subsistence fisherwoman, stood in boots and waders by subsistence setnets. Obama, dressed in a black outdoors jacket with no easily visible logo, was given some orange gloves then picked up a silver salmon.

 “I didn’t catch it,” he told the press pool. “I didn’t want anyone to think I was telling fish tales.”

 He talked with both women a while, about fish and about fishing, about how to pick fish from nets, about what kind of salmon is caught, Hurley said later. It was impossible to hear most of what was said. She said she thanked him, for protecting Bristol Bay.

 Obama last year declared Bristol Bay off-limits to oil and gas leasing. The Environmental Protection Administration is fighting in court to use its powers under the Clean Water Act to prevent a mega-mine in the Bristol Bay watershed like the proposed Pebble project.

 In this small town of 2,300, almost everyone fishes or has family who does. Alaska Native, fishing and environmental organizations as well as the city council have taken a position against Pebble.

 The women picked a flopping silver and handed it to Obama. A stream squirted out of it. “Uh oh. What happened there?” he asked.

 It’s a spawning salmon, the women told the president.

It got on his shoe, the president said, and that generally is not what you want on your foot. One of the women said something to him. “She said he was happy to see me,” he said to laughter.

Obama also talked to reporters about wild salmon and the potential threat to Bristol Bay if the controversial Pebble Mine project is greenlit.

From the Associated Press:

The president’s visit to the fishing operation came with a serious goal of promoting the importance of environmental protection.

“If you’ve eaten wild salmon, it’s likely to have come from here,” Obama told reporters. “It’s part of the reason why it’s so critical that we make sure that we protect this incredible natural resource, not just for the people whose livelihood depends on it, but for the entire country.”

Obama also stopped at a grocery store, saying he wanted to call attention to how the difficulty of getting goods to Alaska causes high prices.

“You’re looking at prices that are double, in some cases, or even higher for basic necessities like milk,” he said. A half-gallon of milk at the N&N Market cost $8.99 and a large bag of Doritos went for $7.99. Obama said his administration is exploring ways to address the situation.

Dillingham, which sits on an inlet off the Bering Sea, is the fishing hub for Bristol Bay, a world-renowned salmon fishery. Obama’s visit to the town of fewer than 3,000 people briefly placed him at the center of a roiling conflict between fishermen and developers who want to build a gold-and-copper mine called Pebble Mine.

Obama In Alaska: Hiking A Glacier

President Obama gets a first-hand look at Resurrection Bay. (FACEBOOK/THE WHITE HOUSE)

President Obama gets a first-hand look at Resurrection Bay. (FACEBOOK/THE WHITE HOUSE)

President Obama is making an historic trip to Alaska this week. The POTUS is  discussing the effects of climate change with various Alaskan policticians and other prominent citizens of the state. On Tuesday, he toured Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula.  He also had a chance to hike on the threatened Exit Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park.

From CNN:

The roaring, high speed three-hour tour across the pristine blue waters of Resurrection Bay near the town of Seward brought the President within 50 yards of endangered Steller sea lions, whose population is only beginning to recover after decades of decline.

A National Park Service ranger accompanying reporters on the journey said the melting glaciers, combined with other non-climate factors, have impacted the sea lions’ diet.

“All of the wildlife that depend on this ecosystem are impacted by fresh water being put back into the ocean,” Ranger Colleen Kelly said. …


Earlier in the day Obama hiked to the edge of the aptly named Exit Glacier inside Kenai Fjords National Park. The glacier has slowly melted away over the last two centuries. But its retreat has accelerated in recent years, losing 1,000 feet of ice in the last 10 years.

Obama took note of the National Park Service signposts that mark the glacier’s steady decline by year. A “2005” sign stands where tourists could once touch the edge of the ice a decade ago. Then glacier has shrunk considerably since then. The latest marker, “2010,” now looms a few hundred feet from Exit’s nose.

“This is as good of a signpost of what we’re dealing with when it comes to climate change as just about anything,” Obama said, reiterating scientists’ concerns that the vanishing glaciers are contributing to sea rise along the nation’s coasts.

“We want to make sure that our grandkids can see this,” he added.





Obama In Alaska: More Icebreakers Needed



President Obama is making a historic trip to the Last Frontier as the first POTUS to visit our 49th state (before he left, he commissioned Mount McKinley to be officially renamed Denali to honor the state’s native roots. While a highlight meet be his trek with survival poobah Bear Grylls, Obama’s primary focus on this three-day trip is on climate change, including the need for more icebreaking ships to combat retreating ice and opening up more waterways.

From the New York Times:

On the second day of a three-day trip to Alaska to highlight the challenge ofclimate change and call for a worldwide effort to address its root causes, Mr. Obama’s proposals will touch on one of its most profound effects. The retreat of Arctic sea ice has created opportunities for shipping, tourism, mineral exploration and fishing — and with it, a rush of marine traffic that is bringing new difficulties. “

Arctic ecosystems are among the most pristine and understudied in the world, meaning increased commercial activity comes with significant risks to the environment,” the White House said in a fact sheet issued in advance of an announcement by Mr. Obama in Seward, where he planned to hike toExit Glacier on Tuesday and tour Kenai Fjords National Park by boat.

“The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search and rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability,” the statement said.

The aging Coast Guard fleet is not keeping pace with the challenge, the administration acknowledged, noting that the service has the equivalent of just two “fully functional” heavy icebreakers at its disposal, down from seven during World War II. Russia, by contrast, has 41 of the vessels, with plans for 11 more. China unveiled a refurbished icebreaker in 2012 and is building another.



Introducing Newbies To Fishing

Photo by Scott Harris, Sitka Conservation Society

Photo by Scott Harris, Sitka Conservation Society

Here’s a neat story courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture  about the U.S. Forest Service and Sitka Conservation Society teaming up to host a “Fish Boot Camp” at Tongass National Forest.

Tamar Theurer, from Port Protection, Alaska, learns how to set up a fyke net for monitoring fish abundance on the Tongass National Forest. (Scott Harris, Sitka Conservation Society)

Tamar Theurer, from Port Protection, Alaska, learns how to set up a fyke net for monitoring fish abundance on the Tongass National Forest. (Scott Harris, Sitka Conservation Society)

Here are a few highlights from the project, courtesy of Nat Gillespie of USFS and the Sitka Conversation Society’s Andrew Thoms:

Tongass National Forest staff, local school districts, a local conservation organization, and the University of Alaska have undertaken a joint project to figure out how a forest can be managed to create jobs and other economic opportunities and guarantee the long-term sustainable yield of the Tongass’ fisheries resources.

For thousands of years, the Tongass has been occupied by humans, supported by the bounty of salmon and other marine and forest resources of the Pacific coast.  Today, salmon and fisheries continue to be the core of Southeast Alaska’s economy.  Staff at the Tongass National Forest estimate that the Tongass produces over 25 percent of all salmon harvested in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean and is responsible for over $1 billion of economic activity a year. Given the historic and current cultural and economic importance of salmon, it is only logical that entities within the region are thinking about a salmon future.

“The Forest Service, the University of Alaska Southeast Fisheries Technologies Program, school districts on Prince of Wales Island and the Sitka Conservation Society came together to host the ‘fisheries technician boot camp,’” said Andrew Thoms, executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society.  “Our goals were two-fold: first, we wanted to give youth on-the-job experience by working as part of a team monitoring salmon returns and spawning in a recently restored river. Second, we wanted to give students an idea of the jobs and careers available to them as land managers, essentially serving as stewards of the amazing salmon resource that the Tongass National Forest produces.” 

In the program, students received hands-on training in fish capture, fish identification and tagging of juvenile salmon out-migrating to the ocean. Students received both college and high school credits for the experience.

Not only does the project collect valuable data for the Forest Service, but the students are also gaining a great deal.

Tamar Theurer, from Port Protection, Alaska, was one of the students selected for the program.

“I learned how to clip adipose fins and I learned how to identify different types of salmon and other fish,” Theurer said. “I learned more about the environment and habitats of fish and birds; and oh, I also learned my trees! Some of them at least. I want to go into fisheries, so not only will I have knowledge of how to do these things but I can also use this experience on my resume.”


Get The Breach On DVD



Earlier this year, we profiled Mark Titus’ fantastic wild salmon documentary, The Breach. The film is now available on DVD.

Here’s a note from Titus, the director and writer of the movie, with some other tidbits about future screenings in Washington State:

I’m excited to report The Breach is available for purchase on Amazon today.  You can pick up your copy by clicking this link right here:  BUY DVD 

 And there’s more exciting news.  The White House has confirmed the President will  be visiting Dillingham in Bristol Bay the first couple days of September.  We’re sure hoping to get him a copy of the film to watch during the commute from the greater DC area.  Here’s the article:  PRESIDENT OBAMA IN BRISTOL BAY

 As for the goings-on in the next couple months, we’re thrilled to be screening at the Port Townsend Film Festival Friday, September 25that the Peter Simpson Free Cinema at 12 noon.  15 minutes later, another screening begins at the Northwest Maritime Center – 12:15.  Final screening will be on Saturday the 26th at 3pm at the Rosebud Cinema.  Here’s the website:  THE BREACH at PORT TOWNSEND

 Next up:  the Icicle Creek Center for the Arts on October First at the Sleeping Lady Resort in Leavenworth on October 1st at 7pm.  Here’s the link:  SLEEPING LADY

 Two days later, we’re proud to announce The Breach will screen at the Ellensburg Film Festival on October 3rd at 12:15.  Here’s the link to that goodness:  ELLENSBURG

 And for now, the last date to report is a screening at the Friday Harbor Film Festival.  The Festival runs November 6th 7th and 8th.  Check this link on September 1st for date, time and tickets.  FRIDAYHARBOR