Pilot and partner, Cole Hawkins, had just dropped me off on a small knob I would call home for this hunt, and before the drone of the cub engine disappeared I already had two bear spotted. By the time our heads hit the dirt that night we had 6 grizzlies spotted and the outlook was good…..real gooooood ! My clients for the Spring 2016 Alaska Peninsula brown bear hunt were siblings Calvin and Jessica Bensenhaver. Calvin, a physical therapist in West Virginia, and Jessica, a cancer surgeon in Michigan are both home-grown West Virginians and no stranger to hunting. They had booked a ten day brown bear hunt with our outfit, Revelation Mountain Outfitters, for an experience of a lifetime. I felt confident that after many conversations, texts, and emails that this duo was fully up to the task. With Calvin and Jessica now in camp we had glassed up a total of 6 different bear by the time the tents were set up. Needless to say we carried our mile wide grins to bed with us !
My plan for the opener was to climb to a high rocky point and look into the valley where 5 of those bear had disappeared. I believed the lead brownie was a sow in estrus and that one of those suitors might be visible by morning. Calvin’s silence and Jessica’s “This is Crazy!” said it all as I fell asleep with all the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas Eve.The next morning we were greeted with wind blowing 40+ and we ate quickly though I doubt either of us three cared a lick about food. With confidence at 11 on a scale of 1 to 10 we approached the rocky point. The moment I put the Leicas to my eyes and as if a script had been written the night before, I excitedly whispered……I’ve got two bear! Now, it’s perfectly normal for a client to get excited when game is spotted. All the pre-planning, phone conversations, bush flights, and general grandeur of Alaska contributes to a client feeling “jacked”. Well, I’m here to tell you that I experience what can best be described as “hyper-jacked” which is followed by total calm. I may even speak in tongues when I spot game ! I don’t know…..ask my clients.
The two large boar, one chocolate, the other blonde, were feeding out of the wind at the edge of the alders where they met a small marsh. They were 1/2 mile out. I’m not sure my clients were quite ready for things to happen so quickly, but after letting them get a 2 minute eyeful through their binoculars I broke the silence. “We’re going on a stalk and you’re both going to get a shot !” A familiar voice whispered nervously……”This is crazy! ” Yes it was and we were looking at two great bear and going to try to pull off a double on a 2 on 1……on the 1st day of the hunt. With game plan set and my finger tracing an imaginary stalking route we made our move. Closing the 1/2 mile gap to less than 100 yards we sat scanning the brush for some sign of movement…..something brown. Knowing all too well that these two giants could be anywhere after intermittently losing sight of them during the stalk I was on edge. That feeling is an important element of any hunt, and we were all experiencing it.
After an hour I decided to relocate to a position where we could be above and safely down wind of where it was believed the bear were bedded. In place, and not more than 50 yards above the alder jungle, we glassed; hoping to spy a patch of fur. An hour passed…..there he was. Asleep amongst the tangle the blonde rolled, stretched, and changed position less than 40 yards away. While we waited for what ultimately ended up being 5 1/2 hours the 2nd bear, a chocolate monster, showed himself just once, but it was enough to give away his position and for us to formulate a plan. Our strategy was simple. When the blonde, a seemingly more restless bear, got up to feed I was confident…..no, I knew, that the 2nd bruin would follow. We would wait until they both left the safety of the alders and fed on the nearby vegetation. The shot(s) would be less than 60 yards. With the recital of instructions to Calvin and Jessica for the 20th time peppered with a dose of “speaking in tongues” , again…….we waited. I mentally ran though all the scenarios and had all escape routes covered. I checked my scope and verified a chambered .416 round in my Ruger while also struggling with the temptation to video the event. For me it was a no brainer. I turned my head slightly as if to counter the cramping and caught movement. Not 100 yards above were 4 young grizzly cubs fresh on the den and I knew trouble wasn’t far behind. When she raised her head for the dirt pile my 1st reaction was not one of “tongues”, but rather a very clear “Oh S[-]i# ” ! ! Curve balls……..yeah, I love curve balls. I stood up to make sure she was aware of our presence, but we held our position. We had nowhere to go if she did charge so we watched those little silver collared balls of fur and enjoyed the display.
As if on cue, and some 5 1/2 hours later, the blonde bear stood up and slowly weaved it’s way through the dense maze. Ten seconds later the 2nd giant emerged not 30 yards below us trailing close behind. They came together, posturing unlike anything I had ever witnessed and we three in unison muttered “WTF’s”. Were we about to witness a fight ? Their movements suggested otherwise as they slowly moved in unison towards the alder fringe. They revealed their massiveness with each step and we did our best to conceal the pounding in our chests. This was going to happen………a simultaneous double on brown bear ! When the two shots rang out both bear managed 4 slow steps back into the alders and laid down not more than 6 yards from each other. A true outdoorsman judges the outcome of their adventure in many ways, but rarely by the kill. Months of planning, emails, phone conversations, and “inspiration directed” texts all aid in creating that once in a lifetime experience. The shot…..the kill…..these are, but anti-climatic in the overall scheme of things. Memories are created by much greater events; those often taken for granted. I do believe experiences that create memories are the only things we will ultimately take with us some day and be the only carry-on on our last adventure. Calvin and Jessica……thanks for providing one more great memory that I hope to take with me !
We made it back to camp later that night only to be met by 60-70 mile per hour winds, one flattened Hilleberg tent, and the other missing. Oh, and yes, 3 people can sleep comfortably in a two man tent when they wreak of bear ! It’s all part of the Alaskan experience.