Bears of the Midnight Sun

Today’s blog post comes to us from Jim Kinsey of Skull Bound TV.  Jim shares a behind the scenes story from a recent episode, “Bears of the Midnight Sun”.

Light rain fell on the four of us as we boated in towards a black mass feeding on succulent sedge grass four hundred yards away. The coastline stretched north as far as the eye could see. Razor clams sprayed thin streams of water towards the sky as the tide ripped out right before our eyes. Checking the wind we moved across an exposed reef towards the unsuspecting black bear that continued to feed in a sea of green. Reminiscent of a fattened up Angus bull I had to remind myself we were looking at a black bear. The surf continued to pound the shoreline behind us covering the crunch of shells beneath our feet. Soon we were within 200 yards of the old bear.  Jana laid her .300 WSM down on a big rock covered in seaweed and lined up the crosshairs on bruin’s massive front shoulder. I hit the record button on my video camera and waited for the shot to ring out. Young Taylor Wolhers first hunt was just beginning to unfold as this new huntress watched Jana line up on the first bear of their adventure.

Alsakan Black Bear Hunt

Jim, Taylor and Jana after a successful bear hunt.

Meet 10-year old Taylor Wohlers…she’s not unlike any kid you may run across at first glance. Look closer and you’ll find that she’s cut from a different cloth.  Taylor has followed her dad Ben since she was old enough to walk.  Ben’s taxidermy business and guiding has led Taylor on half a dozen bighorn hunts not to mention mountain lions, bears, deer and elk! Given the fact that she has been on so many adventures alongside her dad she’s never been the hunter herself. Through one of Ben’s mutual friends we got an invite to head north to Alaska in search of spring emerging bears during the first week of June. The plan was to meet her dad in Petersburg, Alaska after he wrapped up guiding brown bear hunters on Admiralty Island.  My plan was to film the entire adventure with my girlfriend Jana Waller, host of Skull Bound TV as she accompanied Taylor on the first hunt of her life.

Tickets were bought and soon the three of us were headed to meet up with Ben for five days of black bear hunting. You could see the excitement in Taylor’s eyes as we touched down in Petersburg. It had been over 30 days since she’d last said goodbye to her dad and now they were reunited and ready for their first father daughter hunt. Hunting is so much more than the kill. It’s about the adventure, camaraderie, discovering new areas and the species that inhabit them! Jana and I felt privileged to be a part of it all. With tags and fishing licenses purchased the four of us were ready to write our own adventure in the pages of time. Our home away from home the 52” foot  “ Chester B ” This fully furnished custom made boat is designed to stay out at sea for months at a time. Built in the 80’s all of us reveled in the warmth the diesel stove put off. Exactly what we’d need if Alaska dished out the weather it’s famous for.

The first night we cruised out to an area of shoreline where steep mountains met knee deep grass.  Rain spit on us and saltwater stung our eyes as rolling waves crashed over the bow of our boat. We cruised the shore cautiously looking for any signs of life. Seal ions growled as we passed a massive buoy bobbing up and down from the out going tide. Half an hour in to the hunt we spotted a great bear feeding at the edge of the timber. Taylor decided she wanted to watch Jana on the first hunt to get a feel for how the hunt might unfold. Jana nodded and eagerly accepted the first spot and stalk session. Soon we were kneeling 200 yards from the bear. Jana waited for several minutes with her rifle laid over her pack on a massive boulder. “ He’s a good bear”, Ben whispered as the waves continued to muffle our existence. Jana verified the distance again with her new Vortex Ranger 1000 rangefinder. “ He’s 201 yards. Jim you on him?’ I punched the record button and waited as the bear turned broadside on the screen of my viewfinder. The .300 short magnum barked, hitting the bear right through the bread basket. Running full speed he collapsed mid-stride 40 yards from where he last stood. “ I can’t believe how fast that went down”, Jana said as she turned to embrace young Taylor. “ That was awesome! Taylor said with a huge smile.”

Black Bear Hunting

Jana Waller, host of Skull Bound TV

All four of us made our way to the bear and noticed the grounded littered with fresh piles of bear scat. “ There’s more than one bear working this area”, Ben said as the black form began to materialize from the tall grass. “He’s a beauty Jana…way to go girl” I said still recording the action as it unfolded before the lens! The boar supported a big head and a slightly rubbed hide. This was Jana’s first Alaskan black bear and what a bear he was! Squaring 6 foot 1” we were off to a great start! With two tags left, I knew we were about to experience Alaska at its finest.

The next two days were unseasonably warm and sunny so we went fishing for halibut and other bottom dwellers. I thought this isn’t the Alaskan I know! I’ve filmed brown bear hunts on the peninsula to moose hunts and more and what I remembered most was surviving the rain and wind. If you don’t like the weather wait 5 seconds. There is no 5-minute rule in Alaska! With day four upon us the weather pattern shifted to overcast and rainy. Soon bears began to emerge from the impenetrable forest.  Three-miles from where Jana took her bear Ben spotted a big black boar tending a sow near the end of a shallow bay. “ You see that bear Taylor? Were going to try for him!” He said with a hint of urgency. With a gleam in her eye Taylor realized it was really going to happen.  This was her chance to try something she’d watch so many others do while tagging along with her dad. Quietly we boated in and got the wind in our favor and began to make a play on the two unsuspecting bears.

Moving through the forest we noticed fresh bear scat all around. A banana slug moved slowly across an old moss-covered log while we glassed from the darkness afforded by the towering canopy. Reminiscent of the movie Avatar the terrain was right out of a fairly tale book. A small peninsula separated us from viewing the two bears we’d recently spotted.  Quietly we approached the last place we saw both bears hoping they hadn’t left the massive grassy meadow. “ I see them” Ben said pointing with his right hand towards the two black objects nearly 300 yards away. The wind was perfect and now it all lay on Taylor’s shoulders. I put on a long lens on my camera and hoped to capture her hunt. Jana filmed with a smaller handheld camera and continued on with Taylor passing by me while I continued to get set up. I sat down and filmed both bears for the next 28 minutes while Ben, Jana and Taylor continued to close the distance. The big boar’s head swayed back and forth as he chomped down on the succulent green shoots. Ever so often he’d lift his head check the wind and look towards us if he heard something. Each time Ben stopped the stalk and stood motionless until he went back to feeding. Finally the sow walked off in to the timber leaving the big boar by himself.

Black Bear Hunting

Jana, Taylor and Ben and Taylor’s first hunt!

Taylor lined up on the bear only to have him follow the sow’s exit stage right. I looked towards Jana and we both shrugged our shoulders thinking it was over as quick as it had started.  Within minutes the big old bear did the unthinkable. He walked right back out and began to feed broadside at 168 yards. I hit the record button once again and waited nervously. Just then the rifle went off. The bear spun 360 degrees and darted off towards the dark timber. Just as he was about to enter  “no mans land” the bear fell just short expiring in seconds. “ I got him…he’s down! “  Taylor said as she stood and turned to hug her dad. Hugs followed to Jana as both huntresses celebrated a successful hunt! Taylor’s patience astounded me! With the tide quickly going out we tagged the bear and loaded it in our skiff. None of us wanted to be stranded miles from anywhere. We snapped some amazing pictures of her bear and then headed back to our camp.

Ben still held a bear tag and although we never thought we’d have a chance for take a third bear we continued to scour the shoreline as lady luck seemed to be shining on us all!  We put our binoculars to good use and began our search in a remote bay full of green sedge grass. Seconds in to the glassing session our search was over! Ben spotted a giant bear moving out from the timber’s safety to feed. “ You see that bear Jim?” Ben asked “I do…. that things a monster!”

Another plan was devised and soon we found ourselves 200 yards from one of the largest bears I’ve ever seen on the pad! This bears head was almost mythical looking. Ben’s eyes said it all as he peered through the Vortex Razor HD scope. The sheer size of this bear was intimidating. I leveled out the tripod and began to film the final chapter in what was becoming an adventure of epic proportions. “ I’m on him!” I whispered…. Jana continued to film on the second camera as the shot echoed across the small valley. The bear collapsed from a perfectly placed high shoulder shot! “ I think I just got a huge bear!“, Ben said, as he turned to the camera with a smile as big as the surrounding peaks!

Jana and Ben approached the giant black shape lying on its side in the grass. Outside of a circus bear this was by far the largest black bear I’d ever walked up on. We stood in awe of it shear size. Then we noticed the bear’s head had an unusual growth on the right side. Now I realize that what we saw from a distance was in fact an abnormality and not what seemed at the time the new world record bear! We’d done it! In fact we pulled off one of the greatest adventures I’ve been on in such a short amount of time. As we worked on the big bear I thought back to the last five days and how honored I was to have taken part in Taylors first hunt. Walking back to the boat anchored in a remote bay two velvet racked black tail bucks fed into the meadow and then it hit me…. Ben’s going to have his hands full with this up and coming huntress whose heart and soul is big as the “Land of midnight sun.”

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