The Bear Facts

October 5, 2008 by  

The Bear Facts

P.O.W. Blackie

P.O.W. Blackie

By

Thom Cantrall


The sun had passed its zenith and the tide was busily filling the inlet slowing the fishing to the point that it was time to find other things to do for a time. Besides, after four days of fishing, the freezer was full and there was no more room to store the salmon we caught. Those fish caught in the morning had been filleted, wrapped and stuffed into the overcrowded freezer awaiting our trip home in two more days.

From the sleeping area of the cabin came the rasping and wheezing sound of men sleeping. The thought came to mind that, perhaps, there had been a woodcutters competition scheduled without my knowledge, but after careful investigation it was revealed to be no more than four men snoring contentedly, probably with visions of thirty pound salmon running through their minds.

Taking advantage of the lull, I took my gold pan and loaded my carcass into the little Geo Tracker available for our use and headed for the tiny, no-name creek I had spotted in one of my earlier perambulations away from camp.

One Huge Blackie

One Huge Blackie

This creek showed on my map as being short and fairly steep, falling from some high country that gave every indication of containing mineral and I was excited to do some test pans.
As is my usual wont, I wanted to know as much as I could learn about the stream before investing time and energy into the testing to increase my chances of finding mineral by eliminating prospecting in unproductive waters. To this end, I turned the Tracker up the old, semi- overgrown logging road that seemed to parallel the stream up the mountain. About a half mile off the main road, the logging spur veered sharply east and up a short ridge, away from the stream. As I reached the peak of the ridge, I stopped to look out over the basin through which the creek meandered.

To my utter dismay, the creek flowed out of a very beautiful and very substantial lake! It was quite scenic and picturesque to behold, but it destroyed my hopes of finding any color in its waters, let alone the Mother Lode every prospector expects to find with each pan he washes! Any gold in the stream would settle out in the lake and not be carried further down stream.
Disappointed but not disillusioned, I continued up the road, past the

The Tracker

The Tracker

lake and into the upper reaches of the now tiny rill. I now had nothing particular on my mind, but was merely on an exploring trip, seeing what I could see of this vast and beautiful country that was Alaska. Presently, I left the cover of the timber and entered an area of almost alpine beauty. There were extensive meadows interspersed with a multitude of beaver ponds, with a tiny stream vigorously working its way from one pond to the next as it made its way down the slope toward the lake I’d seen earlier. Between these diminutive ponds, stands of spruce and hemlock with an occasional pine struggled to make a living in the damp, boggy soil. As I left this area, I entered a region that had been logged several years ago. My best estimate would be six to eight years had elapsed since it was logged. The stumps of great Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock and Red Cedar stood as silent testament to the great stand of timber that had once stood here. Everywhere, there were young trees growing in the comparatively drier soil, giving promise to the great stand of timber that would soon be found here again in a very few years. Today, though, it was at the prime age for wildlife as the brushes were growing in great profusion at just the age of maximum tenderness and nutrition. The small Sitka Blacktail deer indigenous to Southeast Alaska were everywhere! They obviously found the young brushes to be succulent eating and were making good their effort to get their share.

P.O.W. Bear

P.O.W. Bear


As I continued higher on the mountain, I was watching very closely as the blueberry and huckleberry brushes were becoming more prevalent and berries in this area generally means bears! It was not long before I was rewarded and I spotted a lone black bear feeding on the ripening blueberries growing in profusion around him. A lone bear probably meant it was a boar as, carefully as I watched, I could find no evidence of young ones or of this bear paying heed to what could have been another bear. This bear had evidently either not seen me, or did not consider me a threat, for he continued his foraging even as I parked my vehicle and began a short semi-circle to insure the wind, such as it was this clear, calm day, was completely in my favor. It is said that if a leaf falls in the forest, the eagle will see it; the deer will hear it and the bear will smell it! His olfactory sense is that superior!
Slowly and carefully I began to pick my way across the old logging unit. The first thing I discovered was that the brush that appeared chest high from the road was much taller than it had appeared from the friendly confines of the Tracker and I often found myself in a jungle that was only possible to see out of by looking straight up! Where possible, I used down logs to traverse the rugged terrain. At other times, I was on my belly, crawling under the thick brush. For more than an hour I sneaked across the three hundred yards (270m) I had estimated him to be from me when I began this exercise. I had no idea if the bear was still in his place as I crept up on him. It certainly would not be the first time I had executed the “perfect” stalk only to find that my quarry had long since bugged out for more friendly, if not safer, confines.

At just under what I judged to be one hundred yards (90m) from the bruin, I crossed a sizeable log and was able to peek over the brush to see my bear still contentedly munching in his berry patch. Quietly, I dropped back down off the log and continued my stalk, now spending more time on my hands and knees than on my feet, slowly, but inexorably closing the distance separating us.
At fifty yards (45m) from the bear, I came upon a doe and fawn, also feeding on the succulent and tasty berries and had to stop my stalk and move to where I could, without being seen, toss a couple of rocks into the brush near them, but not so close as to scare them. My aim was to cause them enough distress to leave, but not enough to spook them, thereby spooking my main quarry, Mr. Bear. As my right (throwing) shoulder is completely inoperative due to the lack of a rotator cuff which has been destroyed by arthritis, I had to fling the stones with a kind of underhand motion. It was not pretty, but it was effective as the stones landed close enough to catch their attention and alert them that not all was well within the kingdom today and that it was perhaps prudent to move on to more receptive climes. The result was, as I had hoped, they simply moved off into the brush, not panicked, but merely wary.
With their departure, I continued crawling through the re-prod (newly planted) timber and brush until I figured I should be within bow range of the big bear. Although I was totally unarmed, my original goal was to see if I could get within range of my bow without him sensing my presence. At that point I found a large stump that I felt I could scale fairly easily. Doing so afforded me a magnificent view, not only of my immediate vicinity and Mr. Bruin, quite in view at a range of between thirty and thirty-five yards (27-32 m), still enjoying his fruitful repast, but across the island to the east, the straits and on towards the mountains on the mainland east of Wrangell and Petersburg.
To say I was stunned would not do justice to that moment. It was absolutely the most magnificent panorama I could ever hope to view. I was so enthralled, I momentarily forgot my bear. I used the rest of the roll of film in my little Nikon camera on the view, temporarily forgetting I had come to see the bear.
When my sanity returned after a short hiatus, I judged the bear to be in the “nice bear” class on the Twangg Universal Scoring System. The levels on this system are quite simple and don’t involve a lot of superfluous measurements as to most other scoring systems in use today. It simply goes from “little bear” to “good bear”, “nice bear”, “great bear”, “OH MY GOSH” and the ultimate is “Faints Dead Away”. I use this same scoring system on all major game species and some fish. It’s the most universal system ever devised. For safety’s sake, when applying this system to the Grizzly Bear, Ursus Horriblis, any class above “little bear” should be done while vacating the area the bear inhabits! Further, it is recommended that any larger Grizz in the TUSS scale be estimated from film taken while retreating!
This was definitely a lone boar and would measure between five and one half and six feet. He weighed between three hundred seventy five and four hundred lbs. on the foot (bears don't have hooves). He was a very nice bear... maybe even a "great bear" and, if I had been so inclined and so armed, he would have been a very simple target. As it was, however, all I wished to do was to watch him and learn something of his traits from close observation.

Fall Blackie

Fall Blackie

All too soon, a vagrant wind betrayed my presence to his ultra-sensitive nose and he began a slow, careful, tactical retreat. I got my camera reloaded in time to get only a couple of longer range shots, but he will live forever in the view screen of my mind.
As I retreated in my turn to my vehicle after his departure, I pondered God, Life and Bears and our place in the overall scheme of things, a scheme that we all too often don’t understand or cannot comprehend, but suffice it to know that such places and such creations do exist. That is sufficient unto my soul for the present... perhaps for always.

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