The following appears in the July issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY PAUL D. ATKINS
Isat and watched silently as the sun started to disappear beyond the hills, dipping ever closer to the horizon.
The big oak and sycamore trees that surrounded me waved in the hot afternoon breeze, providing some relief.
It was a scorcher in Oklahoma, but even so, it was still good to be back home in the woods, especially sitting in my old treestand overlooking the old pond that sits in the back pasture. It was peaceful and quiet, something I needed after a long flight from the North Country. That feeling didn’t last long, however; something big was moving towards me through the brush and to the bottom of the tree.
Now, the thing that came in through the brush was a hog and was as wild as any grizzly I’ve encountered. He moved slowly in stealth mode, if you will, and like a lot of bears from my past, it seemed like he almost had a sixth sense. I watched from my tree, carefully gauging the distance to the small corn feeder placed below me. Finally, at dark – or as dark as it gets here in Oklahoma – I carefully drew the BowTech and placed the pin on where I needed it to be. The string dropped and the boar only went maybe 30 yards. Now, if only I can do that on a
big grizzly come this fall. Practice makes perfect. Be prepared!
KEEPING SANE IN DOWNTIME
For me, the offseason is bittersweet; it always has been. For sure I would rather be in Alaska chasing bears – either down the beach or over a bait pile somewhere in Southcentral or Southeast. But with the COVID-19 situation, I am not able to.
Both of my bear hunts, plus my annual halibut fishing trip, got cancelled back in March, even though now it looks like they all could have happened.
Oh well, it’s time to prepare for the fall anyway, and for me that means honing my shooting skills by hunting hogs and going to the range, getting gear ready for fall bear camp upriver, and maybe trying to get in a little better shape.
PREPARATION FROM AFAR
From where I’m sitting, upriver is about 6,000 miles away, but it’s a place that I constantly think about and prepare for each July. It’s hot here in Oklahoma and the humidity is brutal, but the thought of what my longtime friend and hunting partner Lew and I will experience in early August is what keeps me going and in the right frame of mind. Plus, it pushes me in terms of hope and the unexpected excitement that surely will be had.
Preparing for the fall has become a tradition for me, and even though it’s only July, I know I can never start too early. That’s because as soon as I step off the plane in Kotzebue again, I will immediately be boarding Lew’s boat for another adventure.
For those who don’t know, hunting in the Arctic is more than just a leisurely jog out your front door and then home again. It takes a lot more prep than most hunts do. You have to have the right gear and make sure it’s in order and it works, especially when you’re 100 miles upriver. You can’t just turn around, go home and get it.
WORKING OUT THE KINKS
So how do I get prepared, or at least start my preparation? Well, first I need to work on getting in shape. Being cooped up for the last five months has added some extra pounds in all the places where I don’t need it. That means hitting the gym – it’s applicable since they’re now open – and working with weights and the treadmill every day. It’s hard at first, but as soon as you start to see improvement, it comes naturally.
We all need to exercise for sure and more often than not, most of us are out of shape, even though we still believe we can take on anything the great outdoors has to offer. If you’re like me and are planning a trip – or in my case, several trips – to the Alaskan wilderness, you need to condition yourself for it.
And it doesn’t matter whether it’s the mountains or the tundra; you will definitely need to be in shape. Most people show up not knowing what to expect, but there are some who know what it feels like shooting an animal in the deep stuff a mile from camp. It hurts, I promise.
Sheep hunting or any hunt where you have to go up, for example, is about as tough as it gets, and even if you are in shape, it can be very, very demanding. On the other hand, if your hunt plans include only caribou, you still have to be able to navigate long distances through some pretty rough country, especially if the tussocks are knee-deep and far apart.
TALKING ABOUT SHOOTING PRACTICE
Secondly, I need to shoot, which means both with a rifle and bow. I try to shoot every day, even though trudging outside in the 90-plus-degree summer heat of Oklahoma is no fun. The humidity is a killer too. You begin to sweat long before you even think about pulling back your bow.
Early mornings and late evenings are best, but it’s still hot. I try to focus on the positives: how cool the Arctic air will feel once we get to camp in August and September. It’s where the thought of an extra layer or maybe gathering more firewood feels much more pleasing.
For most of us, practice is pretty much a constant, whether you hunt with a rifle or a bow. So, long before you go trekking
through the tundra, you’ll want to make sure you can effectively hit what you are shooting at.
This is where practice comes in and should be in a variety of situations. Knowing for certain your “effective range” is probably the biggest positive or negative, depending on how you look at it.
For example: Most shots on caribou, moose and even sheep will seldom be from a standing upright position. It has been my experience that you are usually on your knees or sitting flat on the ground with the wind and rain blowing up your backside. Bowhunters and rifle hunters should practice from these positions as much as possible and do it while wearing the same gear you will be hunting in. This means a full pack, rain gear and waders. This will give the hunter a better feeling
of what to expect when the moment of truth arrives. It’s kind of crazy to see me in full camo with a backpack on while lying on our lawn or up in a tree here in Oklahoma shooting each summer. My relatives think I’m crazy.
FIND A PLACE TO SHOOT
Down here and in most states of America’s Heartland, finding a place to shoot a bow is easy: backyards and 3-D shoots run amok. It’s easy to get dialed in, but not so much when it comes to sighting in your rifle.
Nothing compares to the vastness of Alaska and its wide-open spaces. What looks like 200 yards there looks like a full mile here. Now, I’m speaking from my own experiences and what I’m used to in the offseason. I usually focus on my archery
gear while I’m here and save shooting the long gun for once I get back to the Arctic.
Whatever the case, shoot as much as possible, have a good rangefinder and focus on what you’re aiming at. That’s what I try to do here, even though I wish I were standing on one of Kotzebue’s beaches doing it instead.
CAMP ITEM CHECKLIST
Third in my being prepared list deals with camp. It’s true Lew and I have about every piece of gear that you could ever imagine and possibly need on a do-it-yourself type hunt. We have enough tents, stoves, tables, chairs, knives, saws, tarps, game bags, pots, pans, utensils and weapons to supply an army. But like usual, there is always something we forget, or wish we had. Paper towels and toilet paper are
a good example, and so are plates, but that’s another story. Here’s how we do it. All our gear is locked in a Conex, a large storage/shipping container, that sits outside Lew’s house. Each summer, while I’m here and he’s there, I have him go through and check to see that everything is in order. It might have been easier to do it before I left, but it has
become part of our offseason ritual . It gives us a chance to communicate and plan, which adds excitement for what’s to come and to plan accordingly. Either way, we can work on what we need. If we’re missing something, then I can pick it up while I’m here and bring it north when I return in late July. It’s a lot cheaper; believe me! Whatever you decide on you adventure, you need to plan long before you start the boat or get on a plane to head out. While bear hunting last spring,
Lew forgot his binoculars. It happens and I can tattle on my best friend, but without them he was lost. So was I.
I needed his eyes and two sets are always better than one, no matter the situation. He didn’t forget them the next time and we saw bears in places that were hard to see. It all worked out, but you have to make sure you have what you need.
We do the same with food. I make a list (I’m very fond of lists) and if there is something that we specifically need, I buy it, put it in a tub and bring it north. For example, we cherish MREs, practicallying living on them while at hunting camp or in the boat. They’re relatively cheap, but to get them shipped to Kotzebue costs more than the meals themselves. Pop-Tarts are another! The rest of our list can be bought at the local AC.
THINKING ABOUT HOW TO GET THERE
Lastly, transport is also important to have figured out. This year we may try something different and add a plane ride to our hunting plans. Flying out versus taking the boat – which we will still do plenty of – necessitates a whole different planning agenda and requires a new set of rules, specifically on what we can and cannot take.
Weight is restricted, and if we get a couple of caribou or maybe even a moose, then it’s even more so. Your list gets shorter for sure and probably will need to be scrutinized several times before you get it right.
If an Alaskan hunt is in your future or it arrives maybe as early as this fall, now is the time to start preparing yourself. It’s an adventure of a lifetime and creates memories that you’ll cherish forever. The feel of the tundra; the smell of camp smoke; that long, hard stalk that produced the big bull that now hangs on your wall and filled up your freezer. All were made possible due to good planning. Make yours today! ASJ
Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author from Kotzebue, Alaska. He’s had hundreds of articles published on big game hunting throughout North America and Africa, plus surviving in the Arctic. His new book Into the Arctic will be on bookshelves this summer and available online. Paul is a regular contributor toAlaska Sporting Journal.
DON’T TAKE IT FOR GRANTED
One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve made is taking my shooting skills for granted. I consider myself a decent enough shot that usually my rifle is dead-on – or at least it was last year.
The bears and the muskox all went down easily, so why should I even think that the same rifle and even my bow wouldn’t shoot the same this coming fall? They’re both stored safely in their cases and haven’t been touched since March. All I need to do is grab them and go, right? Not true; I’ve had too many misses in the past to just call it good.
A couple of years ago, Lew Pagel and I were at bear camp in late August. After a late dinner, we decided to cruise upstream and see if we could catch a grizzly taking a midnight stroll. I was carrying my trusty old 7mm, which I’d used 100 times before. It has probably killed more stuff than the plague, so why not this time?
The problem was I hadn’t used it in two seasons and took it for granted that it was on. Of course we found a bear – a big boy casually walking down the bank – not 100 yards from where we were sitting.
At the moment of truth, I threw up my rifle, found him in the scope and felt the recoil slam into my shoulder. Nothing! The bear looked in our direction and before I could get a second shot off, he was long gone into the willows.
I came to find out the rifle was shooting high and to the left. Hindsight cost me a super nice grizzly. Lesson learned; sight in that rifle, no matter what. PA