With the sun at his back, Las Vegan Paul Harris hunkered down and began his final stalk on the large Alaskan black bear that stood feeding in one of “Bear Valley’s” open meadows. Harris’ only chance for concealment was a single large rock between him and the bear, but it would have to do. Keeping the rock between him and the animal, Harris made his way across the meadow.
As Harris inched his way closer, he couldn’t help but think that this was his last day to hunt and the last chance to fill the bear tag tucked in his pocket. Five others in his group of seven hunters had tagged their bears, but they were using modern firearms. Harris wanted to get a little closer to his quarry, so he was packing only his bow. And because this was a self-guided hunt, there was no backup gun in case his shot went awry and the bear got mad.
After what seemed like forever, Harris reached the rock and peeked over the top. The bear was still there, and much closer than he previously thought. Harris ducked down, knocked his arrow and prepared to draw, waiting for the perfect moment.
Harris said the hunters generally saw four or five bears every evening, and on one evening he saw 11. Because this was a spring hunt, the evening hours were when the bears came out to feed in the meadows, which are squeezed between the waterline and the still-melting snowline. After spending the early part of the day fishing, the hunters would split up for the evening hunt and take skiffs from the 83-foot yacht they called camp to the various places along the coast they wanted to hunt.
Harris and the others would use their optics to spot likely looking bears, then put a stalk on the bear they wanted. One evening, two members of the group stalked and killed two bears as they fed just 35 yards apart. Then a short while later, a third member of the group harvested his bear. Perhaps thoughts of those bears went through Harris’ mind as he waited behind the rock and waited for the right moment to draw his bow.
Harris peeked over the rock once more and decided the time had come. His was a stalk that covered more than 11/2 miles, and now the bear stood just 20 yards away. Harris easily came to full draw and settled his sight pin on the bear’s chest. He released the arrow, and it disappeared into the bear’s thick black fur. With a single arrow, the 7-foot bear was now his.
Harris and his companions were hunting bears as part of a combination fishing/hunting trip offered by an Alaska cruise company last spring. Their floating camp site came complete with chef-cooked meals and four state rooms. Harris was quick to point out that the cruise line offers transport services but is not a guide service. The yacht captain sees to it that the vessel is anchored in the midst of bear country; the rest is up to the hunters.
• HUNTER WRITES IN — Reader H. Strum writes: “Just finished reading your column about losing hunters. Each year we are losing more and more areas to hunt. I shot my first deer in 1966 on the Winecup ranch north of Wells. The only way I can hunt there again is if I get a tag in the draw. I no longer go deer hunting, nor do my friends, and it was a special time of year for us. Special interest groups such as ‘Friends of Nevada,’ etc., have managed to get thousands of acres listed as Wilderness Areas or study areas or whatever designation they can use to limit access. Now they are working to get the Gold Butte area a Wilderness Area using ‘pristine’ and all the other buzz words.
“The price of ammo is outrageous. A box of 20 (gauge) No. 7 steel shot, when you can find it, ranges from $10 to $16. The first year we had to use steel shot, A.B. Dick’s wanted $35 a box. With the added price of fuel, hunting is no longer the fun it was in the past, and that is truly sad.”
Shrum covered a lot of ground in that e-mail. My guess is that he expressed the thoughts of many other outdoor enthusiasts who are shifting their attention from the outdoor tradition to something else. If this trend continues, I can’t help but wonder: Who will then shoulder the conservation burden America’s hunters and anglers have so willingly carried for so long?
Doug Nielsen is an award-winning freelance writer and a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column is published Thursday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.