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This is the bear hunting story as written by Scott Nicholson, my guest veteran to Alaska. See the post Iraqi Vet for the whole story.


Alaskan Black Bear Hunt of a Lifetime

This story starts many months ago while I was still stationed in Iraq for my second tour there. Not a place that you would expect to start planning an Alaskan black bear hunt as you could have guessed. And it all started like this.…

My wife Allyson, who is a school teacher in Temple Texas sent me an email saying that a gentleman had placed a message on Tradgang.com inviting an Iraqi veteran to come up to Valdez Alaska and bow hunt for black bears with him. I have to admit it; I told her that I really didn’t have the time to check into it with all that was going on in my present location. You see, I am an Army MEDEVAC pilot and we don’t have a whole lot of down time. I also figured that about a million other guys would be contacting him to accept this generous offer. Allyson persisted saying it was the chance of a lifetime so I finally sent him an email a few days later to feel him out and see what the situation really was.

Dave Armstrong, better known as “Dave in the bush” on Graybeardoutdoors.com turned out to be quite a nice guy. No one else had contacted him after multiple messages on Graybeardoutdoors.com or Tradgang.com yet so it looked like a hunt might be possible after all. Problem again was, I just didn’t have the time to make all the coordination necessary from my location in Iraq as an adventure like this requires. In stepped Allyson again. About four days later when I was able to email her again, she told me that she was emailing Dave about the hunt. She would also take care of the necessary coordination and that she had already purchased my plane tickets. Hunt on! You have to love a woman like that!

The 29th of May I was in an airplane on my way to Alaska for a hunt that I had dreamed about for my entire lifetime. Would my dreams come true or would I be disappointed after all the hours spent in front of the TV watching the Outdoor Channel?

If the flight up to Anchorage was any indication, it was going to be a fantastic trip, bear or no bear. The mountains around Anchorage are absolutely breathtaking. A bit of advice here folks after your arrival though. It seems that all flights arrive sometime in the afternoon or evening and there is only one flight into Valdez the next morning. Other people who are aware of this situation had obviously come prepared. People were racked out all over the airport in sleeping bags and some even had pillows! A lesson well learned if I ever make that trip again. You couldn’t see more beautiful scenery than you see going into Valdez flying up the arm of Prince William Sound. You fly between towering snow caped mountains with glaciers supplying numerous sparkling waterfalls along the route. Words just can’t do it justice boys.

My first surprise of the trip came as I walked through the doors to the terminal. Dave was standing there to greet me and with him was my best friend Todd Thorpe from New Mexico! Now, you have to understand, Todd is like a brother to me and I hadn’t seen him in almost a year and a half when his family stopped to visit my family and I after my first tour in Iraq. Seems that Allyson and Dave have been keeping secrets from me. Not to be the last of this trip either.




Steve Ray (Dave’s cousin), Todd, Dave and I loaded up in his truck and headed for the Prospector to pick up our tags and head out. Second surprise of the trip! Dave wouldn’t let me pay for the hunting license and bear tag. Seems that some great guys from Tradbow and Graybeards had gotten with Dave and helped out with the license fees, U.S. Forest Service cabin on Jacks Bay, food, and other necessary additional items. To everyone who had a hand in that, a heart felt “Thank You” goes out to you from me. You are very, very appreciated.

After loading up on last minute groceries items we were off to the Valdez docks to load up Dave’s 21’ Aurora and hit the Prince William Sound. Enter the US Coast Guard! We didn’t get clear of the port before the blue lights were on and we were pulling over to the curb so to speak. Got to love Dave though, he had every single item they asked for or checked and then some! We were back on our way in no time. And what a boat ride! Dolphins riding our wake, sea otters, and a continuous oration about the areas we were passing through from Dave that would make any tour guide envious.

The U.S. Forest Service cabin tucked in the back of Jacks Bay is post card material. No doubt about it, it is a little piece of heaven on earth. Snow capped mountains surround it with the bay in front and bald eagles circling the towering Sitka Spruce overhead. The fresh bear tracks in the mud beside the cabin just added to the magic. This is going to be good!



Camp set up and gear prepared and now it’s time to show the guys what a stickbow can do. Seems that Dave has been just a little concerned about not only my ability but my Black Widows as well. Ten minutes later, Grizzly Adams (Dave) is nothing but teeth and hair with a great big grin from ear to ear. I think we’re good to go! Load up and off we go for our first time on the stand, the heck with that jet lag stuff and no sleep in the airport.



Dave and his friend Bob had definitely done a lot of work to put this hunt together. When we got in to the bait site, it was perfectly set up. Located in a natural funnel area that the bears have to transition through and having dual stands set up 20 yards downwind from the bait showed obvious forethought and planning. Not to mention having to pack the bait from the beach into this remote area for the weeks previous to the hunt.

Todd and I had hardly even settled into the stands before Todd was tapping me on the head whispering “BEAR, BEAR!” Sure enough, a very large bear worked its way into the bait. I’m really glad we heeded Dave’s advice to wait and check for cubs because shortly after the first bear arrived, two cubs came out of the bush and joined the big sow. What a show! When she figured out that we were there, it was quite the experience to have her at the base of our tree woofing and popping her teeth! Gives you a whole new respect for the situation with a sow that has cubs. When things calmed down, they stayed and fed, slept, nursed, and wrestled in our area for the better part of that evening. And oh by the way, evening is until about 11 P.M. It only gets dark for about four hours and even then it isn’t truly dark. Try sleeping when it looks like daytime outside.

The same evening about 10 minutes after the sow left we caught motion in the undergrowth. Sure enough, another bear was headed in! Man what an area! When the bear cleared the cover and I got a descent look at it, I decided to hold off and wait for a bigger one. Todd decided it was a good bear and prepared for a shot. He liked the white chevron on its chest and thick black coat. Odd how an animal can maneuver all over the area and never once present a good clean shot opportunity. The boar ended up walking off with not a single shot opportunity. Back on the boat, Dave was thrilled to hear about our success and tell us about theirs. Steve had taken a nice boar early on in the evening. Congratulations and handshakes were passed out along with the telling of the hunt story. Back at the cabin, man, was I glad to see that sleeping bag!




Seven in the morning saw us eating a quick breakfast and loading up again in the rain. Oh yeah, did I mention that it rains about 24/7 in Valdez this time of year? Good rain gear is a must for sure along with good rubber boots. Everything is a soft mud, moss, or beach landings that involve some sort of extremely cold water.

Todd is the shooter today so I pack the backup and in we go after another beach assault in the rain. All is going well until we hear a bear teeth popping. We had accidentally slipped into the bait with the big sow and cubs there before us. Now what to do? Leave and sit on the beach until mid afternoon when the boat comes back or try to get into the tree when she is 20 yards on the other side of it. Long story short, 20 minutes later and a few hairy moments and we are in the stand and glad to be off the ground where she is. A new problem became obvious. She is cleaning out the bait and isn’t about to budge. We tried throwing pieces of limbs we broke off our stand tree, yelling, and waving our arms. All our best efforts resulted in us being treed for another three hours and her and the cubs cleaning up every last scrap of the goods at our station. Getting out of the stand ended up becoming an “I cover you” kind of maneuver until we were both out of the tree and backed out of the bait site.

After a quick bite of lunch, Todd and I were off to two different stand sites. Steve was going to video Todd while Dave was going as my backup and video man at the bait site where the big sow was last.

Good news, no sow on the bait this time and we were able to freshen it up and get in the stand. Bad news, here she comes ten minutes later and set up to the table. Every time Dave got ready to try something to run her off I got the joy of saying “Won’t work, been there, tried that” and watch as he tried every trick in the book to no avail! But we did get some great video of her eating all of the bait once again… Later that evening, when Todd and Steve came to get us in the boat we had good news again. Todd has taken a nice bear also! Man, what a hunt! Being able to see bears every time we were on stand is much more than anyone could ever expect. Anyone that has ever bear hunted knows though, the hunt is only the beginning. Once again, we are up until the wee hours of the morning capping out a bear and preparing meat. But what a good tired it was.

The next morning we decided to take a break and head back in to town to take care of meat and hides. It was refreshing to take a long overdue shower also. Did I mention what a small cabin smells like after four guys have hunted hard for two days when it’s too cold to open a window? Lets just say it was a better truck ride after returning to the boat from the house. Then back out to the cabin to grab my gear and back out we go. On the way, I spotted a nice bear feeding along the shore back in one of the many bays along the way. A quick assessment through the binoculars resulted in a unanimous decision by all that he was a shooter. Todd and I pick a route that will bring us up from down wind with cover and we head in to shore about four hundred yards away to give it a try.



Have you ever tried to stalk quietly over ocean kelp at low tide? Don’t try it, it sounds just like walking on bubble wrap. When you try to use the gravel strip, you get loud crunching and the brush is so thick in that area a stalk through the edge of the brush is out of the question. You guessed it, when we got up to the bear he went into the brush and stayed just inside the edge never offering a shot. But what a hoot to give it a try! Back at the boat we explained the situation to Dave since he couldn’t see it all from his location and then back in the boat we go again. If you hadn’t caught on yet, a boat is essential to hunting in this area.

Todd and I decided to get really sneaky now since I am the last guy in camp still without a bear. It’s time to pull out all the stops and get down to serious hunting. We had Dave stop out in the bay and rowed the small Zodiac to shore. Good idea but I had not accounted for the rough seas and wind. When we were trying to land on the beach a wave breached the back of the boat and hit me dead in the back. Ice-cold seawater filled the back of my shirt and the bottom of the boat, which filled my knee boots also. Todd was in front and was also wearing hip waders, which kept him dry. A quick discussion and I decided to go on with the hunt wet rather than waste the evening going to get dry gear. Five frigid hours later with no bears, I would come to regret that decision.

Dave and Steve have made good use of their time waiting for us again though. They went and pulled the shrimp pots and caught us more fresh fish for dinner. I can’t tell you how rough it is to eat fresh caught shrimp every night at hunting camp while sitting on the porch watching the bald eagles fly up and down the bay!

The next morning broke clear and cool. First nice day we have had and I had a great feeling about this. I practically ran the guys out of bed so we can get going faster this morning. The day just felt right.

We decide to do another stealth approach in the Zodiac even though the last one didn’t turn out so well. This one turned out great. We were slipping up the trail to the bait in short order. The wind was quartering and not the best to sneak into the bait but we did not have a choice. When we got within about 50 yards I began to glass the area and caught motion. A bear was in the bait and when he raised his head, he was huge! Bad news, the wind shifted and now it was going directly toward him. It didn’t take long for him to get nervous and start pacing around sniffing the wind and looking down in our direction. We stood motionless and waited for him to calm down enough for a stalk.

After what seemed like a lifetime, which was only actually about ten minutes, I was able to begin my move. After the second seeming lifetime in the last hour I had made it up to about 20 yards through the thick under growth but now the bear really knew I was somewhere up wind and stayed facing me for the next thirty minutes. I drew my bow and was ready three times when he would start to turn but he would never turn just enough for me to feel comfortable with the shot. Let me tell you, I was pretty discouraged when I had to let him walk out of there after a stalk within 20 yards and all that time.



After getting settled into the stand we had time to discuss the recent events and decided that there was just nothing else I could have done that would have made it turn out any better. Two hours later with a cold wind blowing in off of Prince William Sound we were both pretty cold and looking forward to the lunch pickup when I spotted motion coming in. A quick warning whisper to Todd and we were on! And guess who was back, the big boar! Man, I can’t stand it, he is sitting out of my comfortable range looking at the bait and trying to get our scent on the wind. Having circled around he now had our scent blowing directly in his face. He waited and watched for about five minutes then turns and walks away. A few excruciating minutes later he is back and starts the same game all over again of waiting and watching and smelling the breeze before slowly moving on in. When he finally turned broadside at 20 yards the arrow left the bow as if by its own accord. A truer shaft I have never loosed. It would be too hard for me to explain the excitement after letting that arrow loose and knowing I had just taken my first bear ever and what a great bear at that and on a dream hunt of a lifetime! It is beyond explanation. GREAT!!! A short blood-trailing job led me to him lying peacefully in the thick moss of the mountainside below a circling bald eagle. Man, I wish you all could have been there to share the moment.






The emotions of a successful hunt are incredible. It was a pure joy to be able to share the moment with Todd. We have shared many hunts in the past but this one by far will be shared in our memories for the rest of our lives! Words just cannot explain this whole experience. Sorry fellas, I wish I could have been more eloquent with my writing but hopefully you will get the drift. Thank you all for this hunt and the memories that will last me a lifetime!

Take care and God bless, Scott Nicholson
 

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First, let me say a huge thank you to you Scott for your service to our country.

Second, awesome story. Very well written. I loved reading every word of it. What an experience this must have been. I'm sure you will look back on it fondly for the rest of your life.
 

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Awesome. Cool pics and nice story. Good work Daveinthebush !!
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Video

What is cooler yet is that we have Steve's bear and Scott's bear kills both on tape. We have several hours of bear video including several of a sow and cubs.

If I can post it I will somehow.
 

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Well done Dave

My thanks to Scott and Steve for their service.

life is no joke but funny things happen

jon
 

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Great Story

What a great story. You really ought to submit to a magazine. North American Hunter comes to mind if you're a North American Hunting Club member.

Dave -- The meadow. Sawmill bay?
 

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First, Thanks to Scott and Todd for their service to their country. Being a retired Air Force vet myself, you are always thrilled when someone shows their appreciation for your sacrifice. Thanks guys,you are true heros!

Daveinthebush: It is especially nice to see someone go out of their way to say "Thanks" with a special twist. You have outdone yourself and in my book, you are a hero too.

Jim
 

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Very well written and very good thing you did on your part Daveinthebush. :D
 

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Scott; a lucky one

Everywhere I turn, I run into Scott. I was stationed with him for years at Ft Campbell and Hawaii. I still think that he cheated me when he sold all of his compound gear to me and went to traditional archery. Now I can't even surf the net without him showing up again...

Dave, from a soldiers point of view, what you provided was great. It really makes a difference.

Gary
 

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Gary

Gary: Scott turned out to be a perfect guest and has turned into a great friend. He is now in Fairbanks AK and myself or any of my friends that go through there have a place to stay no matter what. On a recent caribou hunt I stayed over night on both legs of the trip at his home. You will not find a nicer family or more hospitable hosts. I needed a backup release and Scott took me to find one. Helped me get the new one tuned and ready to go hunt caribou.

When Scott is in Valdez, anyone here that needs archery lessons receives them with no reservations. He helped me set up my traditional bow, my friend Bob's trad bow and lessons for anyone.

He is a true promoter of the sport and a gentleman. Welcome at my place anytime.

Welcome to the forums and I hope to hear more from you. As you have probably figured, I am a vet too. Doors open.....anytime. :D
 

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A good person

I first met Scott in the early 90's while attending a unit armors course at Fort Campbell, KY. Our paths have crossed many times and a few years ago, we were stationed in Hawaii together in units just down the street from each other. He is a very good person, although I must admit that I am a little jealous of his most recent assignment. I haven't been to Valdez since the oil spill when people were sleeping on the side walks waiting to get a job with the clean-up effort. I was lucky enough to make it on a black bear hunt on the Kenai Pennisula last month but I can't wait until I can move back to Alaska for good. Tell Scott that Gary Graham sends his regards.

Gary
 

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GREAT STORY & PICTURES!!!

To every one who has or is currently serving in the US military armed forces, a big THANK YOU!!

Daveinthebush, what a wonderful hunt / experience of a lifetime you have provided, Good Job!
 

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I just happened to look in this forum, never usually do, but boy am I glad I did. Let me add one more great big thanks to Scott for his service, especially for a Medivac pilot. They many time place themselves in harms way, without the chance to defend themselves, to assist others that cannot get out on their own, having had a dad and brother both wounded in two wars, WWII, and Nam, a BIG thanks. I entered service at the tail end of Nam (Army, 72-75) so I never went there.

To Dave,
You are a true gentleman, for you service to Scott and many others I'm sure. I have no doubt you were as happy as Scott when he got his bear. It's a joy one cannot explain to see someone else you helped be so successful. Like Scott said, that hunt would have been a dream, bear or no bear.

To Scott, if he has a chance to read these posts, what an excellent story, and yes you should send it off, I'd for sure try to send it to TJ or E.D. Thomas, since it was with the Black Widow. They'll eat it up, and they should. The fact it was done with a traditional bow and such a beautiful bear make it even sweeter. Nice work and congratulations!
 

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One of the best hunt reports I've read for a long time.

Really appluad you Dave for the true gentleman that you are. Well done.
Many thanks to Scott for all his work. Hard job

Regards from Australia
Sean
 

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Just started on this forum.Dave you will find a place in Heaven for sure. As a Viet Nam vet I can say how much this well mean to these young men years from now and it will change their life forever. I'm proud of all of the folks that step up and serve their country and equally proud of the Americans that say thanks.
 
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