By Lisa L. Price
Photos Courtesy of Gary Joseph
Cold Bay, Alaska, turned out to be aptly named. On day two of his archery brown bear hunt - just as it had on the first - the wind bit so strong, it drove the icy October rain in a sideways wall at New Yorker Gary Joseph and guide Greg King of Frosty View Lodge Outfitters.
As the day faded, they began to think of the three-mile walk back to base camp, which would be dismal in the relentless rain. That's when they spotted the bear.
"It was moving down the same trail we'd come in on, and we hurried to get downwind of it, where I could get a shot just after it passed us," Gary said. "But at about 100 yards away, it got a whiff of our scent and headed for cover."
The trouble was, the cover the bear hurried toward was the same patch where Gary and Greg had set up their ambush. As the bear closed the distance to within 30 yards, Gary came to full draw and held, watching for a chance to shoot.
But although the bear stopped, it faced him directly, its head seemingly out of proportion to its massive body. It made eye contact with the men, then swapped ends and jetted into the undulating brush.
"My comment at the time was, 'Oh well, that was a good practice run,'" Gary said. "We'd seen lots of bears - small ones and sows with cubs - but that one was a shooter and really improved a rainy day."
It was a thrill they needed to sustain them through the remainder of the hunt. On days three and four, the rain continued without a break.
Determined, hunter and guide went out each day, walking miles to positions a couple hundred feet higher than the valley floor, to squint through rain-splattered binoculars and look for bear.
"Conditions were horrible: always wet, fording streams and rivers, noisy, and raining all the time," Gary said. "On day five, it rained so hard that we actually stayed in the cabin until midday."
The rain didn't stop then, but it slowed enough that they could venture into the wilderness. They climbed to a spot they'd visited earlier, where they could see a half-mile in three directions.
Greg, his binoculars trained on the left fork of a stream, saw something that lifted his spirits. Along the banks of the stream, he could see the carcasses of fish, which meant the silver salmon were running.
And where the salmon were running, the bears would go. They stayed at the lookout for about 15 minutes, and soon were rewarded by seeing a massive brown bear working the stream.
"He was about a half-mile away, in the stream, fishing, and the wind was in our favor," Gary said. "There were islands of alders in the stream, and when his travels took him behind one, we'd make a move."
Working carefully, they closed the distance in about 10 minutes, although they had to navigate several streams during the trek. Finally, they were close enough to track the bear's progress using the sight of his massive dark back, visible above the underbrush surrounding the stream.
When the bear went behind an island, Gary slipped forward. As the wind whipped the alders and thigh-high brush back and forth like palm trees in a hurricane, suddenly only two things were perfectly still: an archer at full draw and a massive brown bear, looking right at him from 15 yards away. It was only an instant, but it was one of those instants that lasts a lifetime.
"As the arrow hit, it let out a growl and roar that will stay with me the rest of my life," Gary said. "After all that time, it happened unbelievably fast.
"I didn't have a bit of nervousness and adrenaline shock until after taking the shot," he added. "I was focused on making the shot count."
The bear ran away through the stream and up an embankment, covering about 50 yards before disappearing into dark cover. They found 9 inches of Gary's arrow.
Thinking of the three-hour walk back to camp, the men decided to give the bear more time and to return the next morning.
"It was a sleepless night, to say the least," Gary said. "It rained all night. We knew there wouldn't be a blood trail."
In the morning, they somehow covered the same distance in an hour and a half. They found the place where they'd last seen the bear as it dove into a dark patch of alders laced with chin-high undergrowth - not a confidence-inspiring place to look for a huge brown bear that carries an arrow.
But Gary soon detected a slight odor. Zeroing in on it, he found his bear.
"The weather was terrible, but we never gave up. Greg knows the area so well and gave me a top-notch hunt, despite conditions that were challenging," Gary said. "To stalk so close to such a huge bear was a great thrill!"
-- Reprinted from the November 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.