A Trip Away From Phone

Friday evening June 7th 2019, I settled into my seat and watched passengers board the flight to Seattle. Sipping a glass of soda water, my phone rang with a call from Joel Moyes interrupting the conversation with my longtime friend Keith Goyen seated next to me. “Hey man where are you at?” was the first words I heard. “I am on the plane preppin’ to take off”. “I just got a call that our Guide was shut down and we may not be hunting”. A brief explanation with as much detail as Joel had available, filled my ear. The option of a full refund and reimbursement for our canceled flight, should we choose not to go, was presented to me.

Looking at this situation, with the experience that sometimes the worst possible event yielded the best possible outcome, I decided to stay the course and head on to Alaska with all plans up in the air. I went to Alaska for a bear hunt the year before not knowing what to expect and now I am heading back with the same anticipation. Not knowing what the end of the week would be I figured there is the seed of an equal or greater benefit somewhere in this.

Arriving in Wrangell Saturday Morning, the Guides let us know there was nothing they could do until Monday because they needed to have the Game and Fish open to let them know what rules are that they had to live by at that time. We knew for a fact they could not be hunting Guides. Fishing was still on the table. With that being an option, 3 of us set out for fishing spots with a good friend Jeff Murtaugh aboard his new boat while the other 2 stayed with the Guides to fish off their boat.

Monday 6/10 brought in new information from the authorities. We were able to get tags for Wrangell and Etolin Islands. Without boats, we had to use the few relationships we had on the island to get access to a truck and a couple quads. The interior of the island was filled with more great picturesque landscapes, but a lack of bear activity. We did find some sign, but didn’t see any physically. Black tail deer were running around in abundance. Toward the end of the day, just before dark some encouragement came our way via a Black Bear cub ducking into the trees. Seeing a live (albeit unhunt able) Bear, did end the day on a positive note.

Returning back to the town of Wrangell, we were met by friends who were able to get us boats for the remaining part of the week. Keith and I are in the smaller of the two. Joel, Floyd and Blake on the larger. Every day we were hit with a new challenge, each member of the hunting party kept looking forward to the time all things just worked. Each boat crew saw their share of mishaps, from running aground on shallow rocks and Blake ending up in the water to me being dumped off the boat at the docks in full gear.

The final day of the hunt we were down 1 boat and Keith was very sick. Straws were drawn and it was Blake and I heading out on the smaller of the two boats. Loaded up and speeding out to our hunting grounds, I put my feet up on the dash and looked at the snowcapped mountains in the distance toward an unknown outcome hoping for another great story to share.

Late in the day, cruising around the southwest end of Wrangell, I could see what appeared to be a black spot moving in a cove on Etolin across the channel. I alerted Blake to stop so I could check it out with my binoculars. Sure enough there was a black bear moving in the cove. We raced across to the cove to the north and anchored the boat on shore. Blake hopped out first. I handed him his rifle and sent him off toward the bear while I anchored the boat.

Dragging the anchor out as far onto shore as I could, I dropped a large rock on the anchor line, grabbed the gun to back Blake up and moved on to where we saw the bear. On foot was much further than what we saw from the water. No matter, we pushed forward as fast as we could without drawing attention to ourselves. Getting closer we found a large rock that protruded up from the beach where we were able to see the bear moving around in a stream bed. We could only see his back on occasion so it was decided Blake will move in to get a shot and I will keep an eye on the bear, waving hand signals to him. In the time it took to get Blake positioned in line with where the bear was, it walked into the forest where we could not locate him. Disappointed we hiked back to the boat.

Coming around the point where we left the boat it looked like it was sitting out in the middle of the cove. I knew the tide was coming in and thought in that 60-70 min we were gone we may have to wade in up to our knees to retrieve the anchor and pull the boat into us. Not the case anymore, it was 40-50 yards off shore.

I put my right fist in my left palm, looked at Blake and said “Loser goes swimming”. ”Two outta three or just one round?” asked Blake. “One round” I replied. As if it was rehearsed we both did rock, then we both did paper. I stayed with paper and Blake played scissors on the third go. So be it. I was back in the water for the second time on this trip. Taking off all non-essentials I waded out til it got up to my waist and then the shivering started. I was taking quick gasps of air as the cold water inched up my abdomen. Forcing myself to calmly inhale and purposefully exhale, I made it in up to my shoulders and still had 20 or so yards to go. I pushed off with my feet and swam the rest of the way to the boat. Grabbing onto the stern I pulled, as my body shivered and struggled to get out of the water and in the boat. Climbing in I rushed to the front to see the barely visible anchor still under the rock. Pulling upward it freed itself. Piling the line up with the anchor in the bow I started the motor. The depth finder read 11 feet to the bottom. The anchor was at least 2 feet above the waterline when I left the boat. 13-14 feet of water came in during that short time we were gone.

I pulled my rain gear on as a wind barrier and Blake piloted us back to the marina. We were leaving Alaska, busted. No fish, no bear. The previous year we had nothing but success, but that is hunting. You can go with all things against you for days and then that perfect moment happens. It isn’t every hunt you experience that perfect moment. Maybe 20-30% of the hunts have that precise combination of preparation and luck, yielding a successful wild harvest. 20-30% is not a lot, but it is enough to keep this dedicated conservationist coming back to endure the 70-80% that leave a hunter with nothing but a story to tell.

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