Black bear hunting has always been a dream of mine. Growing up in Florida, black bear hunting was highly illegal due to over hunting and the entire population of black bears nearly being wiped out. Today the population in Florida is steadily growing, but hunting them is still illegal. All that being said, one of the top things on my hunting list after moving to Alaska was to chase black bears mowing down blueberries on the mountain side or chasing them on the coastal tidal flats. My year long wait to become a Alaska resident in July 2011 could not come soon enough. Watching my friends take black bears in the spring was only fuel to the fire.
After hearing reports of numerous sightings of black bears down on the Kenai Peninsula, I called Kyle and the hunt was on for that weekend. Waking up at 5:30am all week for work makes it hard to get up on Friday, but waking up at 4:30am on Saturday morning to go hunting was no problem. The drive down went by quickly as the sun slowly started to light up the coast along Turnagain Arm. We arrived at the first spot we had in mind only to find a couple guys already there starting to head up the mountain, undoubtedly after a black bear. We drove on down and saw a nice clearing on the mountain side. Lifting the binoculars it took all of 2 seconds to see what appeared to be a big belly-dragging bruiser of a black bear working his way through the berries almost at the top of the mountain.
We watched him for a little bit and studied the mountain, forming our plan of attack. Gearing up we knew we had quite the hike in store for us. We strapped on our Mystery Ranch packs and headed down the trail with high anticipation, knowing that the black bear would be there all day in his patch of berries eating till the sun went down.
We ducked off the trail and started our ascent through the thick, over gown Chugach National Forest. I have walked through many forests before, but this was by far one of the most majestic and stunning forests I have seen. The mountain quickly steepened and our pace slowed. From the thick patches of devils club to the many fallen trees from past avalanches our hike up the mountain was going much slower than anticipated.
Still, the image of the that big old black bear way at the top of the mountain kept us pushing on. After many water breaks we finally started to see an opening through the tress and knew we were close to the clearing we had seen the black bear in through the binoculars earlier. We slowly slipped through the clearing knowing we would spot him. We kept working our way up the clearing checking behind every patch of bushes, but to the bears luck he was nowhere to be seen. Everywhere we looked were big wide trails where the branches had been pushed over, further evidence that we were right on top of the bear’s locations. We knew this wasn’t his first visit to this spot and he had probably been a regular visitor for some time. Our hike had taken us right at 4 hours to climb 2400 ft. The only reason I can think that the bear wouldn’t have been there was that the updraft of wind had carried our scent right to him when we came closer. The area the bear was in was actually a lot steeper than it looked from the bottom. Not chasing after many black bears before, I was surprised at how steep of terrain he was in.
We decided to get up to a good vantage point and wait, hoping he would come back out for his afternoon berry snack. The views from the top were amazing and worth all the effort of the hike. After waiting close to an hour for the return of the bear and feeling rejuvenated after having some water and candy bars, we decided to make our descent back to the truck. The hike down was just as long, but still a great way to spend a Saturday. Even though we came back with no bear, getting out an enjoying Alaska is what every trip we take is really about and why we live here. This really is an amazing place.