Bear Hunting

So there's a few opinions on this subject, and mine are somewhere in the middle. Basically there's the REI people and there's the Cabella's people. REI folks are usually sierra club members, they like to wear flashy bright colors, brag about how lightweight their gear is, and live by the motto, "leave only footprints and take only photographs". They definitely enjoy the outdoors, adventure, exercise, nature, and the serenity of being outside. The other extreme are the hardcore Cabella's guys. They're usually NRA memebers, they wear nothing but camo and blaze orange, brag about how big and heavy their animals are, and their motto might be, "Shoot first, eat later". They too love the great outdoors, the adventure, stalking prey, the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of achieving their goal. Obviously there is a spectrum here ranging from the greenie, bunny-hugging, vegan, barefoot walkers all the way over to the Rambo, macho, gun-toting, 4-wheeler rallying animal assassins. As with politics, I think both extremes are off the deep end.

I grew up to the REI side of the middle. I used to hate it when we had to control the squirrel population at the house, to keep them from destroying our insulation. Those furry buggers are pretty cute until you have to clean up a mess they've made, then it becomes a little easier to dispatch them. I even used to be some sort of a vegetarian. From about ages 8 to 12 I didn't eat cows or pigs. I had to compromise a fair amount, otherwise I would've had to cook for myself, which come to think of it I still have trouble with... I'm still not entirely sure what my reasons were for quitting meat. I think I mostly just didn't like it, but there was some sensitivity towards animals involved. Since going back, I'm definitely a full-on carnivore now, making up for lost time. I still love animals, but it makes sense to eat them too, that's just part of nature. If a baby caribou gets killed by a wolf, a wolf pup gets to eat...

Growing up as an REI person, I've never even tried hunting anything, except for the occasional pest control of those fuzzy-tailed rats (i.e. squirrels) It's not that hunting is inherently ill-natured, or bad, we just preferred hiking for hiking, camping for camping, and being experience rather than goal oriented. Besides, once you pull the trigger, the fun is over and you find yourself on a work trip instead of a fun trip.

And that brings me to this fall. My roommate, Clay, is from the UP of Michigan. He grew up on freshly killed deer meat. His dad is an accomplished professional taxidermist. Clay used to work in a butcher shop, turning dead deer into cuts of steak, roasts and sausage. When he moved up here, he started working for Ray Atkins as a load hauler carrying dall sheep for hunting guides, and is now himself a guide. He gets paid to take people up mountains after big full-curl sheep. Clay offered to take me hunting and teach me his skills just like I've brought him into the climbing and skiing worlds. After listening to Clay's hunting stories, I was totally up for it.

I also feel good about gathering food from the land. Alaska is becoming rare as a place where there are still enough wilderness resources that are managed well enough to support the needs of alaskans. Subsistence hunting is still a way of life here for many people, and that is something that I wanted to experience. I think it makes a lot more sense to harvest wild, natural, local meat than to pay someone to grow a cow in a box in oklahoma, pumping it full of hormones to be unnaturally heavy, butchering it in a factory, freezing it and shipping it to me 3000 miles away.

So on labor day weekend I went on my very first ever hunting trip. We practiced with Clay's rifle a bit, and I was able to shoot well enough, so off we hiked into the wilderness, gun in hand. Clay had suggested we hunt for black bear. This time of year their coats are beautifully full, and they're packing themselves with blueberries to get fat before the winter. It's also a manageably sized animal that isn't too much work for 2 guys to butcher and carry out.

We had about as easy of a hunting trip as might be possible. I think I'm in for some long, cold, wet, uneventful hunting trips if I go again, because I cashed in all of my beginner's luck in one go. Our first night out, a beautiful warm sunny evening, we hiked a few hours up a trail and over a ridge to get away from the road and people, where we might start looking for bears the next morning. We found an excellent place to camp, and set our packs down on the tundra. With our packs off, we decided to look up over the next knoll to scope out routes for the morning. As we crested the steep little hill, Clay dropped to the ground and dragged me down after him yelling in a whisper, "There's a bear right down there, 30 yards! Rack a shot!"

I put a round in the chamber, and we belly crawled up to the very crest of the hill. The black bear was eating blueberries and hadn't seen us until we poked the gun barrel and our heads up over the top of the hill, trying to line up the shot. It looked right at us for a bit, wondering what on earth we were, and what we were doing. I still couldn't see through the scope, and the gun barrel was still obstructed by the top of the hill, so we had to sit still. A few tense seconds later, the bear decided to romp off, it probably got wind of our smell. I don't blame it, I'd run if I smelled us too.

As I found the rapidly retreating bear in the scope, now at about 40 yards, Clay had the presence to yell, "Hey!" to get the bear to stop and look again. I lined up the shot and pulled the trigger. After that I had no idea what had happened. Ears ringing from the blast, staring up at the sun on the horizon, I didn't even know if I'd hit the thing. Clay was already celebrating though, because he'd seen it drop instantly and roll twice to the bottom of the hill. I missed the vitals that I was aiming for, but I accidentally got it right through the neck, killing it instantly. It didn't feel much.

I spent that night learning from Clay how to skin and quarter an animal, a valuable skill. We had a nearly full moon and decided to camp, and carry everything back in the morning.

We now have a freezer full of wonderfully tender, all-natural, organic, blueberry-fed black bear meat, not to mention a hide with thick, luscious soft fur, all for the price of a tank of gas and a bullet. With that kind of an introduction to hunting, I'm sure I'll go back.

So now, I wonder what that 8-year-old bunny-hugger me would have to say if he knew he would grow up to become a carnivorous bear hunter?


John said...

Great story, Karl! Hoping to taste the fruits (and meat) of your labors!

Anonymous said...

welcome to the cabela's side!

alex buetow said...

hell ya!! you duh man!