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Beaver Dam Bear

Read about the unique end of an Alaskan brown bear in a beaver colony.

We spent the early part of the day working our way toward what we had hoped was a vantage point to glass a neighboring river system, but without success. The terrain was just too gradual to afford much of a look over the brush that we were clambering through, and it seemed to roll on forever, so we finally decided to head back to an overlook on a nearby creek about a half mile from our camp. Thomas Butcher and his father Royal had come into bear camp with me on the Alaska Peninsula late on the 2nd of October. We had planned on being in camp on the 30th of September, but as is often the case in this part of the world the weather prevented us from our goal. We had found this nice little point on the creek the evening we flew in, and I liked the view, and after a mid afternoon meal we headed up through the brush behind our camp to spend the evening glassing from this point.

After wandering through the bush for awhile we finally found the same point again and we settled down to do some glassing. We were positioned on a bluff about 150 ft. above the creek with a huge beaver colony out in front of us, so I took a few readings with the rangefinder to the beaver lodge and a couple of other prominent landmarks. After taking the readings I sat down and opened a candy bar and started to glass, and eat! “Thomas there’s a bear, there’s a bear!” Royal proclaimed excitedly and things started to move very quickly. Royal had indeed spotted a beautiful dark, charcoal colored bear, and it was moving right across a beaver dam in the colony before us. I scrambled for my rangefinder as Thomas tried to get into a decent shooting position. I could hear the guys commenting on the bear being huge, and by this time I gave up on my rangefinder since I had already took a reading from the lodge behind the bear. My estimation was the bear was around 450 yards, a shot that one doesn’t usually take at brown bear, but Thomas had assured me he had taken quite a few animals at this range, and the amount of time this bear would be in open sight appeared very short. I put my glasses on the bear and figured it would go 8ft., and before I could really even think of giving the go ahead to Thomas, he shot! The dark bear let out a “woof” and arched his back upwards at the impact. Instinctively I told Thomas to shoot again as I tried to keep my eyes on the bear. The second shot rang out and there was a flash of movement from the bear, a splash of water, and then the bear was simply gone! Things simply happen fast in the final moments when the shooting starts and I assumed the bear had dropped out of sight into the high willows that surrounded the complex of ponds and dams. The one thing I was sure of was the fact that Thomas had hit the bear and the bear was somewhere down in that jumbled mess.

It is funny how things get confused and different impressions get made in one’s mind in the midst of adrenaline pumped moments, and it quickly became apparent that the three of us had different ideas about where the bear may or may not have traveled to. First we really could not agree precisely as to where the bear had been when Thomas shot, and rather than send one of the guys back to the point to give directions, we all three continued to scour the area for a sign of the animal. Royal suggested that maybe the bear had not been hit, and I would have considered the theory, had it not been for the loud vocalization the bear had made. The physical reaction of its body could have been from fright at the shot landing in front of him, but I just could not believe the bear made the sound he did without being hit. We waded back and forth, and fanned out in a grid pattern in an attempt to cover the awful mess of beaver engineering, and the only thing that even hinted at a bear was a fresh mess of berry filled scat and a couple of tracks on one spot of mud on a dam. We searched the area repeatedly for several hours, and finally darkness was close at hand, so we headed back to camp with a lot of questions in our minds. One thing we did agree upon when we returned to the point that evening was the location we all believed the bear was at when the shot was fired. We decided that Royal would remain on the point in the morning and give directions, until Thomas and I could get down to the point of impact. I was totally convinced that the bear was down in that mess somewhere, but it was still a night filled with thoughts of losing an animal.

The next morning we followed our plan and had Royal remain on the point as Thomas and I worked our way back toward the main lodge of the beaver complex. By this time we had a better sense of where we wanted to look and we quickly headed to a dam about 100 yards in front of the main lodge, and as we started toward the edge of this dam Thomas glassed back to see if his dad was giving any signals. Thomas said Royal was signaling that we should continue toward the creek as we had surmised, and as I crossed a short stretch of beaver dam I let out a laugh, and said “I can’t believe it!” About 15 yards away was what appeared to be the body of a beaver on the surface of the water, but I knew immediately that it was our bear. Thomas scrambled over to where I stood, and excitedly shouted back to his dad, and I continued to laugh. It was simply one of those situations that I occasionally find amusing, and of course I realized we had an interesting job before us. The bear had actually traveled less than 5 yards from the spot where he crossed the dam. He had not dived into the willows at all, but straight into what appeared to be around 8 feet of cold, cold water, right in front of the beaver dam, and now he was actually floating. Of course this explained why we had not seen him the previous evening, at least it made sense to me. The bear had hit the water and sank like a millstone that evening, and we simply walked by the location several times without seeing any trace of his body at all. Apparently the gases in his body built up during the night and the body came floating to surface, howbeit a very small portion of his body was visible even then. It was certainly a sight to see, but it was even more fun trying to get the body out of that abyss of a beaver pond. This was one of those times that an 8 ft. bear seemed a lot nicer than a 10 ft. bear, even so, the bear was a truckload to get up out of the water onto a small spit of mud where we could take photos and go to work on the hide.

This is all we could see of the floating bear on the following day, just below the beaver dam

Sometimes you recognize a certain paradox in nature, and this seemed to be one of those times, at least in my mind it was. The silver tipped bear had wandered through the beaver colony undoubtedly looking for a protein rich meal, and in the midst of his quest to take a beaver he died in a cold beaver pond. I imagined the beavers would use those bones in the maintenance of their dams some time in the near future. We were happy to find our bear in the midst of such a mess, and I am sure the beavers appreciated our intervention.

Tony Dingess

Tony and Thomas with the Beaver Dam Bear