The Alaska Brooks Range sky looked like buttermilk poured over a fudge sundae. A spattering of sleet gave warning of a storm approaching the Atigun River area.|
I had just waltzed a newly arrived covey of sheep hunters upriver to a spike camp near the area they would be hunting. The men had brought far too much gear, thus, in the interest of shedding some unwelcome extra weight and to facilitate packing for them, I had left my rifle and sidearm at base camp.
Now, hurrying back down the canyon alone and unarmed, I kept a keen eye out for grizzlies. We’d been having trouble with several of the destructive bears for the past week.
I had traveled about a mile from where I’d left my hunters and assistant guides, when darkness overtook me. Snow was falling heavily now and the temperature had dropped dramatically as the storm approached.
Seeing the white blur of one of the tents at another of our spike camps, I exited the stream bed, climbing the steep bank. By this time, damp with perspiration, I had begun shivering. Hypothermia can be dangerous, and so I immediately crawled into a sleeping bag to regain body heat.
Wind had begun to whip the flaps of the wall tent furiously, and I dozed off listening to that hypnotic sound. I awakened with a start to a loud crash at my head, just outside of the tent’s door flap. Extending my arm and hand from the sleeping bag, I pulled the flap aside to see what might have made the noise.
Less than an arm’s length from my face, staring directly into my eyes was a grizzly! My peripheral vision picked up two smaller bears a few feet to the right of the large bruin; yearling cubs. The monster bear was a sow, and mother of the two. Her head seemed at that moment to be the size of a large washtub!
At my side lay a cast iron skillet, my only weapon. Clutching the handle of the skillet and raising it, I slammed it against a boulder used to weight the tent’s flap down. At the clang of metal on stone the mammoth sized grizzly did a backward crow-hop, emitting woofing sounds as she jumped.
I repeated the action, yelling “get out of here” as the pan hit the rock again. The mother bear and her cubs faded into the snow filled dark of the arctic night.
It became obvious then that the crashing noise had been caused by the bears knocking over a makeshift table stacked with cooking utensils and a pan of fresh caribou meat. I was not prepared to challenge them for the potential meal. Lowering the door flap, I exited my sleeping bag, crawling under the back wall of the tent and lighting out down river towards base camp.
At daylight, armed with my rifle, I made my way back to the scene of the bear visit. Neither the sow grizzly or her cubs had returned during the night. The caribou meat was intact.
Does this story require a ‘moral’? I think it does. No matter that your rifle weighs in at nine pounds, never, but never leave it behind in grizzly country!
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