Bears In Mind
As Spring Season and a ‘Fork’ in his Hunting Road Approaches, an Alaskan Bruin Hunter Debates Chasing Brown or Black Bears
BY JEFF LUND
Philosopher and paper salesman Jim Halpert, aka The Office’s John Krasinski, once asked, “Which bear is best?” A member of his enraptured audience opined that the question was ridiculous, to which Halpert responded, “False. Black bear.”
It is a little ridiculous because how can one define which bear is best? Is it size? Claws? Best story to tell at a campfire?
If you’re a hunter, once you get a black bear, do you just move on up to a grizzly, then Kodiak brown? Once you’ve pulled off the trifecta, then what?
Is it about the method? Those who chased blacktail deer with a rifle then tried a bow often say there is no other way in terms of rich adrenaline. But that’s a deer. This is a bear. The oblivious deer on the side of an alpine slope is eating leafy greens.
The oblivious bear on grassy flats is eating grass, but it could eat you. Shot placement goes from important to absurdly crucial, unless you like walking through thick underbrush after a wounded bear. So maybe black bear is best in that regard.
My high school basketball coach and hunting buddy was stalked by a brown bear. Well, maybe he wasn’t stalked; maybe the bear that started toward the truck he and his buddies were driving on a hunt on Admiralty Island was just curious. But it’s difficult to interpret intent, and it’s not exactly something on which you can ask for clarity.
I shot a black bear last spring – my first ever. I thought I was pretty cool until the editor and chief of my journalism class said she shot one when she was 10.
“You hadn’t shot a bear yet, Lund?”
My bear didn’t take a step. I approached the furry heap, poked it and took a breath. I took the hide to a taxidermist and ground the meat for bear burgers.
SPRING BLACK BEAR season is approaching, and who knows what I’ll do. I feel like I’m at a fork in the hunting road. There are areas of Southeast Alaska I can get an over-the-counter tag for black and brown bear. Last year there were a bunch of bears eating whale carcasses on beaches a short boat ride from town. They were easy prey for hunters. It was like nature’s bait station.
There is the temptation to move on to a brown bear. It sounds a little like the premise for antihunter arguments – the whole kill one thing, then move onto the next – but it’s pretty true.
If you’re passionate about something, there is always a deer level with which you must concern yourself. To the outsider it seems illogical, irrational, irresponsible or flat out wrong.
The casual runner doesn’t sign up for an ultramarathon in Death Valley. The passionate – or psychotic, depending on your perspective – do. For the same reason, a passionate hiker must come to terms with the pull of Denali or Everest, a trout fisherman must manage the pang of Patagonia browns or bonefish in Belize.
Do I want to tempt myself with another vortex? Or is experiencing hunting with the depth which I explore fishing just subcategories in a larger passion for the outdoors?
I surely don’t know.
NICK LYONS WROTE, “It’s a challenge for a lot of us to be content.”
The problem might be the connotation some create for contentment. It can be interpreted as stagnant. It can represent the lack of zeal.
In a world increasingly obsessed with bigger, faster, stronger and more interesting or minimalistic methods of pursuit, it’s hard to settle into a routine without seeing it as a plateau. After all, what’s the point of going down that road? Where does it end? Is it an unquenchable thirst for something that can’t be satisfied with another fish, a bigger fish, another bear, a bigger bear or a bear with a bow?
I have no answers. I guess it’s just a matter of being comfortable with how you put it all together, what you decide to chase and why.
I know I’ll go after another bear but I try not to get too caught up in what’s best because it’s all about the context of the specific adventure. There’s something in there about it being about the process and the individual definition of ambiguous words.
The world of outdoorsy is pretty simple; it just gets muddied up with ridiculous questions with no real answer, and the only one to whom you really have to answer is yourself.
Editor’s note: Jeff Lund is the author of Going Home, a memoir about fishing and hunting in Alaska and California. For details, visit JeffLundBooks.com.