Whales, kelp, and a cinnamon bear

Jeff and I went south again today in search of kelp and a black bear. Once we left Gastineau Channel, I think we saw one or two other boats today. We knew where the kelp was after the last trip, and on our way there, we found another bed so we stopped and got what we wanted and piled it into the cooler. The kelp is growing fast now, and we got some real trophy stipes.

We continued on, seeing lots of whales. We saw 15 total today, with 2 cow/calf pairs.  We went to look for a bear in Limestone Inlet, and there were 5 whales in the narrow bay. There is a hatchery release of chum salmon there. The smolt have already been released since the net pens are gone, but apparently the smolt stuck around and the whales were taking advantage.

On we went south to a long creek flat bordered on either side by steep hills. That was our destination, as today we were going to look around this flat rather than cruise lots of beaches. Jeff thought it looked the good last time we visited this place. After I anchored the boat and rowed to shore in the punt, we started walking up the big flat of grass. Not 5 or 10 minutes of walking and I spotted a bear on the opposite side. It was eating grass along the tree line at the base of the hill. We sat down under a tree to be out of sight – not that the bear would have spotted us some 500 yards away – and watched.

I initially thought it was a brown bear. It was brown, and had what I thought was a hump. But Jeff wasn’t sure. The bear was continuing to come our way on the opposite side of the flat. We decided to head to the other side now while we had time and hope the bear kept coming all the way out to our position near the ocean.

The creek through the grass flat was deeper than my knee boots. Jeff forded the river in his hip waders, and I stayed put. There were some huge boulders here at the mouth of the river, spread out across the flat, making perfect cover for us.

As the bear continued our way, it would go in and out of sight behind rocks, or in the brush, but eventually it was visible again, and it kept coming up along the edge of the woods, ravenously eating grass.  As it got close to us, I watched though Jeff’s spotting scope as it hopped up and over a rock. I saw its paws and saw it was a black bear. A cinnamon bear.

A couple times the bear ran a few steps forward and looked nervous. He always looked back where he’d come from and not our way. Like maybe there was a bigger bear in the area. We never saw another bear, although from all the grass cropped on the flat, there surely could be one in the area.

He kept coming toward’s Jeff’s position. Jeff was prone on the top of a rock with a perfect rest and watching the bear move his way. When the bear was about 100 yards away and broadside, Jeff squeezed off a .338 round. I saw the shot go through the middle of the bear, maybe a tad high and a tad back from the heart, but certainly a shot through the boiler room. The bear kind of hopped just a bit and ran into the brush.

I headed over to help Jeff find the bear and take care of it. I went upstream to find a spot to cross in my knee boots, but finding none, I just waded across and got wet.  I met Jeff at the brush line where he thought the bear went in. With the sound of the rushing creek, we couldn’t hear any brush crash when the bear ran in. The brush was a tangle of devils club and alder, with a few big spruce trees here and there, and big craggy rocks. There were only a few paths you could take to go up hill in the tangle.

We looked for blood or hair and found none. Jeff indicated the spot he hit the bear and where the bear had run into the brush, but I didn’t see any sign of busted brush. We both entered the brush side by side about 20 yards apart, heading up hill. The slope uphill was gradual for about 20 yards, and then turned steep. I couldn’t conceive that the wounded bear could have gone up the steep hill, but we didn’t see any sign.

We regrouped, and this time we paralleled each other going side hill, venturing much further on either side of where the bear entered the brush, but again, no sign. I didn’t think we could have missed it and thought somehow the bear must had gone up the steep hill.

By now, the tide had turned and was starting to rush in. I needed to back to the punt before the tide got too high and move the boat over to our side of the cove. I had to cross the mouth of the creek. I was already wet, and so was prepared to wade. As I got to the middle of the creek, the water was up to my belly, and I thought the other side would shallow up to the bank. It didn’t. It was a cut bank of sorts. I got to my nipples and was on my toes, between swimming and wading, when I got to the other side and up the bank.

I rowed out to the boat, pulled the anchor, and moved the boat to the other side of the cove, where Jeff met me with our packs gear. I had spare clothes in the emergency bag on the boat. The clothes were vac packed in bags, and so were fresh and dry. As I changed, Jeff said he wanted to go take one more look near the beach for the bear and would be back in an hour or so. I said to fire off a round if he found the bear.

As Jeff returned the 1/4 mile to the spot the bear went into the woods, I changed out of my wet clothes into dry ones, and hung the wet clothes up on the bars of the roof rack. Then I muscled the punt up onto the roof rack and secured it. Next I got out my gun case and started to case my rifle when the shot rang out. I dropped everything, put out the anchor with a line tied to it, and ran the line up to a tree. The tide was rising so the boat would float right here by the shore.

I walked back and found Jeff just finishing gutting the bear. I held on to the bears legs as Jeff finished removing the innards. The bear had been less than 10 yards from where Jeff hit him. He’d run into the brush, and fallen under a log. The bear was right there all the time. It’s one thing to go hunting and not have a chance at game. It’s worse to shoot, know you hit your target and not find it. We were elated.

By now, the tide was really flooding. After wading the creek mouth over an hour prior, I knew I could run up the creek not far from our position and load the bear. Jeff and I floated the bear across a slough into the creek.  This was easier than dragging it, and helped to cool the meat down and wash out the body cavity.  Jeff loves bear meat.  He gave away much of his first bear so he was grateful to get his second bear as the season closes tomorrow.  He mainly cans it, which ensures it’s fully cooked as bears can carry a parasite that can be passed to us humans.

Jeff continued to the rendezvous site, while I returned to the kill site to collect our packs and Jeff’s rifle, and headed for the boat. We were both happy campers now and the walking was easy.

I picked up Jeff and the bear, and we headed for home, reveling in our luck and grand adventure.