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Thread: Kodiak Brown Bear Hunt... Pictures Soon

  1. #1
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    Default Kodiak Brown Bear Hunt... Pictures Soon

    Just returned from Kodiak today after taking my son (he drew the fancy tag) to Uganik Island/Terror Bay for what turned out to be a very quick hunt. We had to wait until the very end of the season because he had his finals for his first year of college to get out of the way... and that worked in our favor this year, in a big way. Many hunters failed to see any bears this years because the cold, very late spring did not flood their dens like normal years.

    The season starts April 1 and runs to May 15 but you get just your choice of a 15 day window during the season. Go early and the bears may still be sleeping... Go late and the hides may be rubbed and ugly as trophies go.

    Anyway, Riley and I left Kodiak on Tuesday the 7th at noon to catch the tide at Whale Passage. After 35 years of hanging around Kodiak and 20 years of owning a boat there I still always get the tide backward so we beat head-on into the rips and all the way through the pass. Truly confidence-inspiring for any teenage son looking at his old man. He slept much of the way around the island, so he really had nothing to complain about.

    Once around Outlet Cape we entered the infamous Shelikof Strait where all good storms go to be born. But we had an absolute mirror for an ocean and the flattest ride I have seen when transiting the area, tide rips in the pass excepted. There was just a high overcast so it was fairly warm and bright. We had just a minor glitch on the ride when we found the midship bilge pump going continuously and Riley did not notice it while I took a short nap. So I had to crawl down between two large running diesels and reconnect the hose, which instantly solved the problem... But the space is small and I am not... And it was very hot between those engines.

    Anyway, we got to the start of his hunting unit and turned SE intending to drive 10-15 miles before dropping the anchor for the night. We would be looking for bears the whole way. Inside Cape Uganik on the north side is a small reef and we turned inside it and stayed offshore about three-quarters of a mile. I thought I saw motion on a beach just ahead and Riley immediately found the bear that was doing the moving.

    We got a little closer and he decided it would be the bear he would like. Just a mature bear on the smallish side. After we determined the hide was good and there were no places for cubs to hide on the beach Riley got in the Achilles raft and paddled silently to shore, using a couple large "castles" of rock to hide his approach.

    I could not anchor the boat without scaring the bear away and wanted to stay close enough to follow the action.

    When he got close to shore he paddled out into the open, but the bear had already sensed his presence and when he peeked around the corner of the castle rock the bear was staring at him from about 50 yards. The bear had to go up nearly vertical rock to get off the beach and Riley rolled it right back onto the beach with his first shot.

    Because brown bears are brown bears he elected to pay a little insurance and give the taxidermist a little job security as a hole mender.

    He paddled back out to the boat as I set the anchor and we got our cameras, knives, gloves, and such ready. The bear fell on open beach, near the top of a fairly steep grade. A smooth rock made a perfect prop and we were able to turn the bear enough and roll it on top of the rock from above. It worked out well and would have been impossible to get the bear on top of under almost any other circumstances.

    After many photos with several cameras we rolled the bear off and took away the bear rug... A very long furred, very fluffy sow of seven feet with just a hint of golden tips on a light-medium brown background.

    Because it does not get dark until almost 11 we ran into a very protected anchorage for the night and ate ribeye (beef not bear!) steaks panfried in sweet mustard. It was very good.

    The next morning we had a hearty breakfast of hot reindeer sausage and cream cheese omlettes before continuing through Uganik Passage East and peeking into Terror Bay. At Hellgeson's; one of the bear camps around which much Kodiak fame and lore has been lived, loved, lied about, and at least in part fantasized; we saw two more bears on the beach. A sow and her older cub with badly rubbed hides were digging in the sand and flipping rocks. A little farther inside we saw two foxes, a true red and a cross. We almost missed four hunters sitting on a rock and glassing for bears just a bit farther inside. At that point we turned and left to avoid disturbing their hunt.

    The raft was stowed back on the swim step about halfway to the unit boundary at Naugolka Point and we ran back to town in the same dead flat seas we had the day before. Even the tide was right through Whale Pass on the ride home.

    Riley fleshed the skull and made an interesting discovery. The nuchal crest is a horizontal ridge of bone projecting from the rear of the skull and well over an inch long on brown bears. Muscles attach here and longer nuchal crests mean more leverage for jaw muscles. The nuchal crest ties into the sagital crest which does the same thing along the top centerline of the skull. On his bear he found a thumb-sized chunk of the nuchal crest broken out. A couple inches away hidden in the muscle of the skull was a lead bullet turned into a flattened banana and encased in scar tissue.

    The headache that bullet must have produced would be a good test of ibuprofen...

    Will try to get some photos up soon.
    art

  2. #2
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    That is a very cool story. I can't wait to see pictures. Thanks for sharing, Hap.

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    Well, finally got a little bit of uploading done...


    Riley with his bear. The land in the background is Raspberry Island and the point on the left end of it is the SW corner. Not far out of the picture to the right on Raspberry is Onion Bay. Raspberry has a large herd of Roosevelt elk. Almost all of Kodiak's mammals are transplants as there were only bears, bats, and voles there before the introduction programs of the 1940s. They planted mountain goat, Sitka blacktail deer, elk, caribou, marten, red squirrels, fox, beaver, muskrat, ptarmigan, and ermine successfully, while transplants of dall sheep, moose, pheasant, and mink failed.



    Riley working on the skull... The chip in the nuchal crest is visible, just to the right of center at the very back end of the skull.



    The bone fragment from the nuchal crest and the bullet as found.
    art



    A view showing how steep it is to get off the beach

  4. #4
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    Thanks Art & my Guide Riley, for sharing your experience with all of us.
    Ya done good Riley on the big Brown. Really nicely done photos Art.

    Denny

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    Thanks Denny! He is a bit taller than when you last saw him... But take a look at the last picture and the length of those fingers. I cannot buy gloves long enough and his fingers are nearly an inch longer than mine!
    art

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    Why do they stay on the beaches - is it for hunting in the ocean?

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    Quote Originally Posted by herefishy View Post
    Why do they stay on the beaches - is it for hunting in the ocean?
    Actually that is a really great question. When we bought our boat in '93 we had been spending significant time around Kodiak for many years. Early on sea otters were rare as a result of overhunting for the Russian fur trade. By the time we bought our boat the otters were common. Surprisingly enough the otters are the primary control on almost all species in the area, including bears. One anthropologist has theorized they were the single greatest check on human populations, too.

    Sea otters eat sea urchins and will clean them out of any place they are found. Sea urchins nibble the holdfasts on kelp causing the kelp to grow lots of extras. The extra holdfasts produce kelp better able to handle storms and rough weather. Without urchins kelp beds shrink. We drove past a former kelp bed at Three Brothers Rock just west of Ouzinkie (you-zinc'-ee) that used to cover several square miles. Fifteen years ago you could easily count 500 otters at a time. Now there are virtually none.

    The otters have moved on to other areas looking for food.

    With the death of the kelp bed the other animals that rely on kelp are hurting. Herring spawn on kelp fronds; young fish hide in the kelp until they grow large enough to handle open ocean; many birds rely on kelp beds for feeding; and the list goes on.

    Sea otters also eat every trace of food in a given area, often completely eliminating clam beds and mussle shoals. Sea duck populations around Kodiak are a tiny fraction of what they were 20 years ago.

    Now, after all my rambling here is the answer to your question. Land mammals on Kodiak that do not hibernate rely on the beaches for food. Deer eat the washed up kelp to help get through the winter. There has been little kelp the last few years coupled with heavy snow and the winterkill has been horrible. Foxes used to be incredibly common, now they are literally rare. Many bears, especially huge old boars used to go through winters without hibernating because they could eat all winter on the beaches. Now they cannot and virtually all hibernate. By hibernating they lose out on potential growth for that season.

    Right now there is very little for bears to eat on the mountainsides. They are on the beaches waiting on some grass and skunk cabbage to start feeding on, while hoping something washes up for lunch.

    Kodiak brown bear are extremely good at catching fish and fighting one another... They do not do much "hunting" of anything. There are no marmots or ground squirrels for them to dig up. They are built for strength and power, not speed... But trying to outrun one might be a real bad idea!

    Sorry for the long-winded answer, but the whole story (or rather the brief but biased view I just gave) I find really interesting and hope you do not mind digging through it.
    art
    Last edited by hap; 05-25-2013 at 06:25 AM. Reason: typo: bought our bought? freud knows how much "boughts" cost

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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnScott View Post
    Art -

    That is a way cool story and neat set of pix - and that from someone who has no interest in hunting.

    Also really enjoyed all the narrative about the sea, the area and the wildlife.

    John
    Thank you!

  9. #9
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    Having never encountered a Kodiak, or any other bear, in the wild. It is a little hard to grasp that animal as being on the smallish side although I know they are huge animals. A really good recollection of the hunt and the trip to the hunt. You should be writing an occasional or regular article for one of the hunting-fishing mags.
    It's easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled. Mark Twain

  10. #10
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    Helped a friend last spring on a bear in the next bay over... It absolutely dwarfed an 8 1/2 foot sow he was with. It was incredibly big and well over 10'... a number which I almost never use relative to bears because they are extremely rare.

    I have been published more than a few times in hunting and fishing magazines and books.

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