Nin Ridge Guides
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Well, it felt like “ground hog” “winter” again in Alaska, another mild temperature version that is increasingly the norm. Some areas on the mainland had significant snow but Kodiak's accumulation was pretty much limited to above 1000 feet. Similar to last year the first adult bear seen was a big sow with two really large cubs I assumed to be 3 ½ years old. The mother bear wasn't rubbed, but the cubs were bald and ragged. Before we even left base camp we'd seen two sows with a total of three cubs and two lone adults, one of them really small that visited base camp several times, and a big bear that chased the sow and cubs briefly before moving on. All were seriously rubbed except the two sows. As a side note to the above; the first time I remember seeing rubbed cubs was about twenty years ago after an exceptionally mild winter. Since then I've seen rubbed cubs many times, so in my life time of bear hunting mild winter weather has altered the habits of some family bear groups on Kodiak. Our first hunter this spring was Sam Humphrey of Dubuque, Iowa. There weren't any resident hunters in the field yet in my area so we took a spike camp over to Horse Marine Lagoon so that we wouldn't have to deal with the tide each day or use up a lot of fuel traveling from our base. We began Sam's hunt on April 14th. We saw three single bears the first day which was the only nice day we experienced for quite a while. The biggest one of the three disappeared before we could get the spotting scope on him and despite our best efforts of concentrated glassing we never saw him again. The second day we could have taken a fairly big - but not yet full grown – boar that came by our lookout 300 yards below our position. He had a decent hide too, but I told Sam I thought he was only about 5 or 6 years old and likely had a skull measuring about 24 inches – a little smaller than what we usually take. Sam made it clear he was more than willing to take this bear, but I thought, it's only the second day, we'll see bigger ones. While we were discussing what to do the bear drifted into thick alders and eventually reappeared five or six hundred yards distant where I took a couple of photos with my 65X super zoom (see photos). Had we known that Sam would have an A-fib heart event the next day, where he wouldn't be able to get his resting heart rate below 80-85 beats a minute, we would have obviously made a different decision. By the end of our third day of hunting Sam was feeling uncomfortable and told us he needed to find out what was going on. He knew he had an A-fib problem but had never experienced a continuous event for this length of time so just like that the first hunt was over. It wasn't an emergency situation according to Sam, so we didn't treat it like one, but I felt a little nervous never-the-less. Our final clients of this spring flew in on April 30th. I would be guiding Preston Moon of Seattle, Washington, a repeat client who had taken a beautiful – and big – bear with me in 2012. That bear had, had a 27 8/16's inch skull and this time Preston wanted to try for 28 or better. With him to photograph his hunt was Jinhyo Kwak who was a pretty good packer in addition to his photo duties. Our third client for this spring was Howard Baccash from Milford, Connecticut; my guides Kiche and Andy would be guiding Howard who was hoping to get a bear with his compound bow. Kiche would be packing Howard's 375 H&H just in case. The May hunts were dominated by rain and high water, but worse than the rain were persistent winds out of the South or Southwest which are at right angles to these valley's orientations. On many days we had to just hunker down to try and control our scent. A big bear that smells you is a gone bear. Late on the 5th day we saw a large 10' plus looking bear chasing a sow and two cubs up the mountain wall behind our lookout. The slope is only a few degrees off being a cliff and all four bears were laboring. The thing that stood out on this bear, besides his having a perfect looking hide, was his nose; long, thick, and ridiculously squared and blunt on the end. Yeah, I was feeling confident this bear would go 28”, and maybe a lot more. Problem was, the afore mentioned wind was bashing against our side of the valley which bounces gusts up valley, down valley, and in this case was pretty much pushing our scent towards these bears, and even though we were a strong map mile off, I was nervous about them catching our scent. Bottom line; we never saw this bear again. Preston named him “Roman”. It was an unusual day thereafter that the bear we called Roman didn't come up in our conversation. Our eyes stroked the mountains to the north ever hoping to see him again. Three days after seeing Roman a big bear with a decent hide came walking our way from the East. I guessed him to be in the 9 ½ – 10 foot class (plenty big for anyone who has never taken one) but not big enough to interest us – especially after seeing Roman. I took a few long range photos of him (see web site). On our last day of the hunt (May 15th) we saw another really huge looking bear. He also had a perfect hide. He was scent tracking another bear when I spotted him. He soon jumped the other bear which looked to be a lone sow. Despite his size he definitely wasn't Roman as he didn't have the “nose”. The one thing that really stood out on him was how wide he was between the ears; he had a very wide head. For once we had a wind we could work with, if only the bears would stop traveling. Preston was anxious to attack every time the boar lay-ed down, but I didn't believe he would continue to snooze, and sure enough time after time he would get up again and continue after his girl. I told Preston, “I don't care what that boar is doing, if his girlfriend doesn't stop walking neither is he.” As the day wore down the sow kept walking, and, in the end, climbing, until she was up into the snow at the edge of a large white bowl. It was disappointing watching them climb into the night, but still a treat to see a bear of that size over many hours. The last time we saw the giant he was plowing up the headwall and just short of crossing the summit. To get a bear like that you do have to have a little luck which we didn't have. There is at least one photo of him and probably his girlfriend at my web site though they were never close enough together to be in the same picture. Meanwhile, Kiche, Andy, and Howard Baccash had been seeing way more bears than us. They often saw 20 plus a day, including several really large ones, but many sow/cub combinations padded their numbers. Their standout story was witnessing a fight between two sows. The bigger sow had two cubs, the smaller sow just one. The battle which ebbed and flowed for an hour or more had a savage edge when the larger bear grabbed a hold of the smaller sow with her mouth and threw her down the mountain side. They used their paws, swinging them like clubs, and despite the one bear consistently getting the worst of it, she didn't readily back down. At one point the two cubs of the bigger bear chased the single cub of the smaller bear up into a cliff where the single cub fought the others with his or her back against the rocks. They thought for sure it would be killed - but somehow it survived. They said it was hard to watch at times when it seemed one of the bears might be getting killed. One really large bear they had stalked got away when he caught their scent and ran up river around a corner, then angled up and over a rugged white mountain to disappear for good. They were struggling with the same south and southwest winds that had hurt our chances. Usually on Kodiak you get a pretty good variety of wind directions. By being patient you'll eventually get some wind you can work with. While strictly true this year too, it wasn't until the 14th day of their hunt that the wind gave them a good chance. At the end of a stalk that got them 206 yards from a bear they thought would go well over 10 foot a shot was fired that spun the bear around. Kiche and Andy didn't think the bear was hurt much as he seemed to be most interested in trying to pinpoint where the danger was coming from. He didn't know, and came towards the hunters. Just as Howard was firing his second shot the bear dropped out of sight into a ravine. Now the bear made their position and crashed off into thick alders which gave him pretty good cover as Howard got off one last round. There was a blood trail, but not much of one as the bear headed up hill, only to break back down hill when he ran into their scent where the guys had walked earlier that day. Once he started back down there wasn't any blood to follow. Everyone was disheartened by this ending. On Kodiak and the adjacent islands if you lose a wounded bear, that is your bear, you can't shoot another one. Hopefully the bear survives. The guys thought there was a pretty good chance he would, but you can never know for sure. Not our greatest spring season for sure.
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