The following appears in the July issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY PAUL D. ATKINS
The bear’s wet hide and piercing eyes are still burned into my memory. The way he rushed us only to stop just a few feet away is a constant reminder of how close we really came to having a “big” problem.
Then there was the way he tore our raft apart the night before, leaving ragged pieces of rubber scattered on the gravel bar in front of our camp.
What great memories of an incredible hunt on the Wulik River! When I reflect on it through my journal, photos and eventually the taxidermy work, it helps me reminisce about this particular hunt each year. But I cherish every one.
THERE ARE A LOT of ways to remember your hunt or any adventure, for that matter. But nothing captures it better than writing it down, taking a few pics or the ultimate – and if it’s worthy in the hunter’s mind – a piece of art placed upon the wall.
Like most young boys in the 1970s, my dad was a huge influence in my life – he still is, actually – when it came to the outdoors and being in it. Dad was a hunter – literally a hunter. He grew up on a farm where they didn’t have much, so hunting played a huge role in putting meat on the table. Well, as time passed and things got better my father ventured away from home and went west to the Rocky Mountains, where he pursued mule deer and elk. Eventually he headed to Alaska for caribou.
I was present on many of those early hunts and remember them vaguely, though not clearly. I wish I could recall them. There are a few photos laying around of those glorious days, plus a couple heads on the wall. But there just isn’t enough to properly tell the whole story, especially considering nothing was written down.
One thing my dad did take along was a tape recorder, a big old honking thing that probably weighed a ton and took up a lot of space in the gear bag. The stories that took place inside the walls of those tents and around the campfire each night were and still are solid gold. These were glorious tales of what it was like in the good old days out west and up north. I just wish he would have scribbled down a few words to go with it.
Anyway, if you’re like me this stuff is close to the heart. And if you’re also like me and your plans include an adventure in Alaska this fall – or anywhere, for that matter – then here are a few things that can and will make it a much more memorable and fun experience. Remember that in the end memories are all we’re going to have anyway.
Keeping a journal of your hunt, whether through writing or photographs, has always been popular. Long after the shot, when the freezer is empty and the head on the wall has gathered dust, memories sometimes get blurred and details are lost.
Capturing those memories while in the field is a great way to catalog the hunt for generations to come. It also provides great material for a story or an article that you might want to submit to a magazine or a web page.
Journaling may sound quite simple, but most don’t do it, even though years later they wish they would have. Bringing along a notebook, a writing utensil and then recording your thoughts is easy and will be worth their weight in gold years later.
Each night before you crawl into your bag make it a habit to write down the events of the day since they’re fresh in your mind. Maybe nothing of interest happened, but in the end it’s the little things that make certain hunts special. It will help the hunter relate the story when they return home or maybe help in planning for a future or similar hunt next year.
Small stenographer notebooks are ideal. I have stacks of notebooks from years’ past. Each time I open one up I can remember details that I may have forgotten years later. It also provides me with information about a particular hunt – what gear we packed, what we needed or didn’t need and maybe even what the weather conditions were like that particular week. These details will not only help me be more successful next time, but for sure to make the hunt more enjoyable.
PRESS RECORD AND SPEAK
As I mentioned, another method is to tape record your thoughts rather than physically put them from pen to paper. Unlike the monster my father carried, these small hand-held devices fit easily in your pack and are simple to use.
Each night – whether in your tent or walking around camp – just press record and talk about the good, the bad and the ugly; just make sure you have extra batteries for longer trips.
Like I said, my father recorded his hunting experiences in the old days, something I’m so glad he did. When I listen to them now, I can go back in time to those days with him and also cherish them with my son Eli.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the pursuit or taking of an animal – something we’ve all done and is great in its own right – that we forget the minor details. Some of those details could be the weather or the colors you saw or maybe how the river froze overnight and you couldn’t fish. Those details are so critical that years later you and your grandkids will really appreciate them.
Notebooks and recorders are not the only way to store memories these days. Laptops and smartphones are showing up more and more in Alaska camps. With the constant advancement in technology, hunters are able to see, hear and produce on the spot. Battery life is a huge concern, of course, but with the availability of solar power kits, recharging during the day is easy.
Last but not least is a photo journal. Bringing along a good quality camera should be as important as taking your rifle or bow. Being able to capture the moment or moments will enhance your experience days, months and years later.
There are a lot of great cameras out there, but it takes more than a great camera. It takes some creativity and imagination. There’s no end to what you can produce while in the field.
Point-and-shoot cameras are a big winner. They fit easily into your pocket or pack and can be accessed at an instant. One of my favorites is to take photos of camp and events that surround a hunt.
Capturing these moments may seem irrelevant at times, but they become keepsakes. Photos of coffee boiling on a fire or a skillet full of bear steaks cooking in their own grease may seem simple, but they’re great reminders of the times you spent on that river in Alaska. It will also make you wish you were still there.
For many of us the experience is just as important as the harvest. And if you’re really into preserving those memories, you probably have a tub full of camera gear like I do. GoPros, digital SLRs and camcorders are a must on every excursion. Though cumbersome to haul around I’m glad I have them, especially after I return home. Remember, the picture you don’t take is the one you should have.
Smartphones are also a great way to take and store photos, video and just about anything else you want to in the world of capturing an event. I’ve actually filmed entire hunts, taken all my photos and then used them not only on social media pages, but also produced them for entire articles and books. We’ve come a long way, baby!
Last but not least is taxidermy. I’ve written about this before, but nothing compares to capturing the entirety of an event as a good piece of art hanging on your wall.
It’s more than a memento; it’s a reminder of the time spent pursuing an animal of your choosing, the sweat, effort, time and money and sometimes danger involved in its taking.
Most hunters remember each of their adventures afield like it was yesterday. Certain details are etched in our minds to never be forgotten. The head hanging on the wall above the fireplace, in your cabin or in your office will be that reminder of a time you were hunting in the great Last Frontier, and choosing the right taxidermist will play a big part in that memory.
Years ago, taxidermy was not nearly as good as it is today; not even close. Back in those days one local guy did the work and whatever he produced was about as good as it got, and whether you liked it or not you pretty much had to accept it.
Taxidermy has become an art form, with the mounts produced being so lifelike that some are almost hard to believe. Just take a walk through one of the bigger sporting goods stores and you can see exactly what I’m talking about.
THAT BEAR DIDN’T GRAB us that cold rainy day, but he got close and I have the video to prove it. Now the bear is a rug on my floor, but the photos and memories, which fill my laptop and notebooks, are what I cherish the most. 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.
Sidebar: CHOOSING THE RIGHT TAXIDERMIST
Not all taxidermists are created equal, but here are a few tips for choosing the right one to produce something very close to what you witnessed that day in the field:
1) Use somebody who is familiar with the animal itself. Most taxidermists are hunters themselves, and if they have actually hunted the animal you harvested, this is a big plus too. They know what the eyes and nose should look like on a bear or sheep, the way the ears should be set on a moose.
Remember, you wouldn’t take a caribou to somebody who only does birds or fish; it could be a big mistake.
2) Location is another important factor. If you take an animal in Alaska and time and money permits, I would have it done by somebody in the state. Again, good taxidermists will know the finer details of what the animal should look like and make it as real as possible. I had to learn the hard way.
Long before I moved to Alaska, I came up here to hunt. On my first outing I got lucky and took a pretty nice caribou bull. I wanted to have it mounted, so I took it back to the Lower 48 and had the local guy mount it. It looks like a Jersey cow.
3) Price can be a big factor and should be considered before making your final decision. This is often the most limiting factor for us hunters. Some taxidermy work can be very expensive, depending on what you choose. Taxidermy as a whole is pretty much a business. But you usually get what you pay for in the end. There are bargains out there, but make sure you do your research before you decide who to use.
4) The reputation of the person doing the work also has to be considered. Any good taxidermist will have a good reputation for producing quality mounts. But how do you make sure? Usually they will have a website that tells a little about their business and some pictures of their work, so check there first.
If you like what you see, give them a call and schedule a visit. Being able to see a finished product or one in progress could be a deciding factor in your decision.
5) Ask a lot of questions. It’s your money and your animal that is involved, so you have every right to ask as many questions as you want. Several that come to mind include, Do you have insurance in case something happens to my mount while in your shop? Do you guarantee your work? How long have you been doing this?
Lastly, you need to ask about the time frame. Good taxidermists are usually backlogged and good work usually takes some time. I have seen it anywhere from six months to one year, but you still need to ask. I once had a blacktail deer mounted that took almost three years to get back. If not for my constant contact with the guy, I would have probably never received it. In the end, if you’re satisfied with their answers use them. If not, look elsewhere.
Remember, choose a taxidermist that has the ability to make your animal look the way it did the day you took it. It’s an investment and even though he or she will only have it for a short time, you will have it forever. PA