By Allen Keith
-- It was February 2005, and my father asked me what I wanted for Christmas. With the holidays still 10 months away, I knew he had something different up his sleeve this year. You see, at 34, Christmas gifts from Dad had long since been switched from new guns, bows and bicycles, to things I really need these days, like new tires for the truck. I knew this year's gift wasn't going to consist of any old tires.
"How about we go to Alaska before I'm too old to make it?" he asked. Needless to say, I was speechless, a feat in and of itself! With that, we began to make arrangements and before too long, we were slated for Sept. 1-10.
Mike Litzen of Litzen Guide Service would be our fearless leader. After many days of travel, we arrived at our desolate destination. The little jaunts in Super Cub aircraft were about as exciting as some of the hunts I'd been on! I was dropped off at my spike camp, where guide Ben Thimons waited. He was ready to help me close the gap on my quarry. I had tags for moose, caribou, and grizzly bear. I was ready to get started.
From day one, I realized there would be many highs and lows, and much frustration. The bull moose we were seeing were mostly under the 50-inch spread minimum enforced in Alaska. When we were lucky enough to see shooters, they were too far away to cut the distance. Alaskan terrain is very tricky.
Through a 60x spotting scope, it seems as though you could just run down the hill and take off after the game, but you'll quickly find that not only is judging distance in that kind of setting very different from the deer woods of Tennessee, but the alder bushes have some say-so in the matter. Up high, the ground looks nice and flat. Down low, tearing through the alders is like wading through cement. It's both time consuming and physically demanding.
On occasion, we saw some nice young caribou, but no real trophies. Keep in mind, the caribou migration happens primarily in Canada nowadays, and seeing caribou in Alaska usually means seeing a maximum of three or four animals at a time. I considered taking a couple of the bulls we saw, but Ben would quickly remind me that the smaller-racked caribou weighed just as much as their more desirable big brothers, and that we'd be sacrificing several days of hunting time to pack meat back to camp.
We had also seen a few nice bears, both blacks and grizzlies, but again, distance prevented any success. On day nine, I had already decided that I would most likely be going home empty-handed, and that was okay. I saw more wildlife during this trip than most people would ever see in a lifetime. I had no idea what my last day would have in store for me.
Speaking of the last day, we were scheduled to hunt a half-day since Mike would be flying in to pick us up at noon. In fact, I contemplated using the time to pack up and be ready when he got there, but at the last minute decided I would look back at my decision and kick myself if I didn't hunt. Good choice on my part.
We grabbed up our packs and headed off to glass. Low and behold, as soon as we sat down we spotted some caribou. Nice bulls this time, shooters even! I was going to get an opportunity after all! They were about a quarter-mile away, so we needed to work fast.
After zipping up the spotting scope, we stood and started our trek down the peak. Only 10 steps later, I placed my hands on Ben's shoulders, slowly forcing him to crouch down.
"What is it?" he said.
"A griz. A good one," I whispered. The caribou were forgotten about immediately.
We had to get downhill quickly because the wind wasn't right, so we dropped our packs and headed off. After putting ourselves about 100 yards ahead of the bear, I lay down on a flat quartz rock in the prone position.
The bear appeared exactly where we thought it would, and I let the .340 Weatherby magnum take over. The first shot was perfect, but it wouldn't be enough. We walked over the knoll where the bear was last seen.
"He's gone! We'll never find him now. We'll never see a blood trail in all of these red blueberry leaves," Ben exclaimed.
Then I spotted the bear lying in some alder bushes. I could see its dark fur behind the yellow foreground. We approached with caution. The bear didn't move a muscle. When we were about 10 feet away from him, the bushes started to shake as the bear attempted to stand. I fired again, and it was all over.
It took us about 20 minutes to pull the bear out of the alders. We took photos like the paparazzi on red carpet night! There we stood, an hour away from quitting time, and I had taken a grizzly bear!
This is by far and away the most exciting thing I've ever experienced and will probably be the pinnacle event in my hunting career for many years to come. There is a moral to this story, however.
I like to quote the late Jim Valvano; "Don't give up. Don't ever give up." My story goes to show that every minute we spend afield could prove to be the most memorable one we will ever experience.