We headed back down to the beach. The mountain greenery had exploded since being here just a few days earlier. We came across some skunk cabbage dug up by a smaller brown bear. It was one of the first times I’d actually seen the foot prints in the mud of these digs, as it was a recent dig and there had been no rain for a week. I wondered if this was the young brown bear that was terrorizing some residents of a nearby island with summer cabins. Not really for any bad deeds, but merely by it’s presence, much of which has been discovered on web cams. Bears have been coming and going from the island long before people put their cabins there, and long after the cabins were built, but were not under the modern surveillance, so they went unnoticed from the cabins that are used only part time by all but one of the island residents.
I took Nick, the son of my inlaw’s cousin, hooter hunting today. He had deckhanded on his uncle’s seiner for several years, and just finished his marine biology degree at UAS.
A glorious day about 70 degrees, sunny and a slight breeze. We went to Admiralty Island where Bob and I got 2 birds and missed out on two others a few days earlier, when birds hooting all around us. Not sure why, but we couldn’t hear any birds hooting as we climbed up the hill. Usually, you can hear birds up on the ridge, but if those birds were calling, they were barely audible. I noticed (again) I’m getting old, as Nick could hear birds further away that I could not.
About half way up the hill, we stopped to listen, then took off our packs for a drink of water. We started talking- one of the joys of hooter hunting, because you don’t have to be quiet as the birds don’t care – and sat there a good half hour or more. And then a bird hooted about 50 yards away. And another one answered 100 yards up the hill from that one.
We had to negotiate a train wreck of dead falls to get to the tree the bird was calling from. As we got close, I could see ahead there was a deadfall across little swale I could duck under to get to the tree the bird seemed to be in. As I neared the deadfall, the bird exploded from his perch on that deadfall, to a nearby tree, landing low in the tree. Nick saw it right away. It was still so close that when we tried to get in position for a shot, it exploded again, flying to a nearby tree below us to a low branch. We moved down in the bird’s direction, and Nick soon saw him, again in a low branch.
Nick had my .22, and was getting a rest for a shot. I had the 12 gauge further down the slope and would be back up. Nick kept trying to shoot, but the gun wasn’t firing. I asked him to look at the shell from the chamber to see if it had a dimple in it so we’d know if the problem was the ammo or the gun. No dimple, he said. He finally, told me to take the bird, which I did.
As soon as I shot, Nick realized he was actually moving the safety in the wrong direction. I felt bad for him as I know what it’s like to use an unknown gun for the first time. I should have checked the gun when it wouldn’t fire but we were too anxious to get the bird.
I showed the bird to Nick, put it in my pack, and we climbed half way from our position to the upper muskeg at the base of the mountain to try for the second bird we’d heard. We spent another 30 minutes waiting there, and eating some smoked salmon Nick had made with cohos he caught from the beach in Juneau last summer, using his mom’s smoking recipe. It was very good. The bird never piped up.
We worked our way up to the lower muskeg. We could hear birds rather softly hooting further up on the ridge, but there wasn’t time to get to them as I had to get back for scouts.
We saw a lot of scratching on the muskeg up there. Just barely scratching of the surface, and not deep down digging. Don’t remember seeing this before. There were lots of these little ~ 3 ‘ x 8’ scratches. Seemed like a brown bear would have scratched deeper but maybe they have that dexterity. Nick noticed a last little patch of snow, so I plucked and cleaned our bird, and packed it with snow to cool it down.
I was happy to see the boat floating nicely at anchor when we got back. Finally, a trouble free end of trip. Just pull the anchor and go. Except the anchor was hung up. We could budge it a foot or two once in awhile, but it would not come free. Finally, Nick stripped down to his boxers and tee shirt and waded out. The anchor chain had fouled in a tree on the bottom. I saw the tree on the beach when I set the anchor on , but didn’t figure it would be a problem – why didn’t it float? He freed the anchor and brought the boat to shore. I told him to just hop on the boat and I would hand him his clothes and gear. But, too late, he realized why I was telling him this – all the barnacles on the rocks. He felt a pain in his foot. As we were motoring away, he saw he cut his foot in the meaty pad underneath the base of the toes pretty deeply, but it did not bleed and was incredibly clean. He got out his first aid kit and dressed the wound.
Back at the launch ramp, I handed Nick the bird. He thought I should have it since I shot it, but I told him shooting isn’t the tough part – seeing the bird is, and he’d done that. He looked excited to try his first grouse.
Andrew and I were to go hunting on Friday, the last day of the season. I got a text from him when I got home. He said more Covid 19 had been discovered at the prison, where he sometimes works as part of his job. The state was going to test all the staff and prisoners, including him, and he did not know who the infected people were so he could not guess if he had been in contact with them. Did I still want to go hunting with him? We decided it would be better to wait to do something else, as the birds had gone largely silent. I also told his son not to attend scouts tonight until we had Andrew’s results back. Andrew seemed relieved with my answer.