Anyone who knows me knows I am a firearms enthusiast. You might not know that I am part owner of a firearms training school called Southwest Tactical Defense Group. Because of this, my son Noah has been shooting firearms since he was seven. Although Noah has sent thousands of rounds down range, he has only fired at paper and steel. Noah has never seen what a bullet does to soft tissue! He has never had to realize what taking a life was, No matter how big or small. That every time a trigger is pulled, there is an irreversible consequence. So for a few years now, I have wanted to take Noah on a big game hunt so he could see just what that bullet does on the business end. Guns are not how video games make kids think they are. There is NO Reset button or take-backs. Every bullet, when shot inside the city limits, has a lawyer and a courtroom attached to it.
I had taken Noah to colorado before to elk hunt but had never been successful. This year for my 40th birthday gift, my wife Ann sent Noah and me on a trip of a lifetime!! A Coastal Brown Bear hunt on the Alaskan peninsula. We got a Referral for our guide Derek Harbula from my long-time Colorado friend and pro hunter extraordinaire Anton Rainold !! So after dozens of phone calls with our guide Derek and about 90 days of gear shopping and preparation, we were off to teach Noah just what pulling the trigger meant.
As I mentioned before we had been on a few hunts and had been unsuccessful. So this time I was pretty excited, knowing our chances of success with a guide were way higher than the previous hunts I had been on. However, even with all the tactical firearms training I had done in the past, Nothing could have prepared me for how fast this whole thing would go down.
We wake up for day 1 of the hunt and flip a silver dollar to see who will get the first shot at a bear we might see. Within 15 mins of glassing, we see our first brown Bear. This Bear is about 5 miles away and walking towards us down the beach in a hurry. As we sit there glassing, I honestly can’t believe my eyes. The speed at which this Animal walks is incredible. A human would have to jog to keep up with the pace this Bear was walking. As the bear gets closer, I am blown away at how HUGE this animal is !! Our guide tells us this Bear is a young male and not very big compared to the dozens of other bears he has seen in the past three weeks he had been at this location.
Upon hearing the Bear was a petite young bear, Noah had to make a decision every shooter had to make! To pull or not to pull that trigger? Noah did what most would not have done, and he decided to pass on that Day 1 Bear. We sat about 600 yards away in awe of this magnificent animal, Which I thought was huge! We watched it climb something so steep and disappear into the Alaskan wilderness so quietly that it was shocking. Now with adrenaline-pumping, we did what every hunter does!! We sat and glassed for hours and hours and days and days, NOT SEEING A SINGLE BEAR again Until day 5.
On day 5 of sleeping in a tent in the Alaskan Bear country, we climbed out and got behind the binoculars again, hoping to see the one. Now what was neat about our hunting location is it’s an ocean inlet shaped like a horseshoe, surrounded by mountains. We sat on the right side of the horseshoe at the base of the hill with our tent tucked into the alders. Middle of day 5, Noah goes into the alders where the tents and food, and kitchen are. He quickly comes back out of the alders to where Derek and I are sitting, glassing for Bear, and says dad I hear something behind camp. Now we had been hearing stuff behind camp all week. Probably rabbits, birds, etc, as we had checked it out numerous times, coming up empty handed. So, of course I tell Noah he hears things and not to worry about it. About a minute later, Noah comes back out to our chairs and says dad, I am telling you !!! Something is behind camp !! I get up, walk into the alders with Noah away from my rifle and chair, and as soon as I look up at the mountain behind us. I see a Monster bear at the bottom of the hill, almost into the alders up against our camp!!
I yell at our guide Derek in a whisper, if that’s even possible, and Derek says get your rifle!! This is the part that caught me off guard. Remember we flipped a coin, and it was Noah’s turn to shoot. However, Derek quickly says Noah; your dad is taking this shot; the shot was uphill just under 170 yards through the alders with nothing solid as a rest. I had purchased a Ruger Alaskan guide gun chambered in .338 Winchester magnum just for this hunt with 250-grain bullets designed for hunting bears. In the rush and commotion, I take two shots back to back, hitting this Bear in the heart and lungs on both shots. The bear just stood there!!!
I was expecting it to fall like a stone. After the second shot hit its vitals, the bear looked at me like, THAT’S ALL YOU GOT ?? Then I took off up the mountain. I was scared! I only had one round left in my gun, and the bear was hit, mad, and on the move! At this point, Derek and I both shoot until our guns are empty. It all happened so fast that we forgot to put on ear protection. I didn’t even realize that until I looked at Noah, and he had his hands over his ears. That’s when I realized my ears were ringing like my head was inside a giant bell. Derek and I had both unloaded three rounds each without ear pro on! We were in a rush and trying to see where this Bear had gone as we gathered our gear and reloaded our rifles. Finally, we spot it up on the hillside, laying motionless.
We began to walk up this mountain behind our camp, and I realized how rugged the terrain was. If you have ever been to Alaska on a hike, you have probably come in contact with devils club. Devils Club is a cactus-like plant that’s everywhere, and it’s miserable to walk through. It goes right through your clothes, piercing your skin. When we get up near the bear, we are shocked that we can’t see one blood spot anywhere. However, the terrain was so steep we were on all fours trying to climb to our bear.
We get to the bear about 30 yards from where right shot it. My first thought is it’s sooo tiny!! I must have said that out loud because Derek said that’s not a little bear. It was a 7.5 – 8ft bear, and it was an ancient fighting bear. The hide was covered in scars; teeth are broken, and Claws were missing. It was so incredible to look at this animal and see all its battle scars, Just imagining what it must have been through to get these marks all over its body.
We spent the next 3 hours skinning out this animal and learning from Derek exactly where our bullets had entered and exited. I made Noah stand over us, watching every cut with the skinning knife. I wanted him to see just what taking a life meant. That this decision I made to pull to trigger was Permanent. Noah stood there helping us hold the animal while carefully skinned it and loaded it into my backpack. We took tons of photos and videos and couldn’t believe what had happened. I still think about that day regularly! What if Noah hadn’t heard that bear coming into our camp? Things could have turned sour quickly. What if that bear decided to charge after the first two shots? It’s a trip with my son I won’t soon forget.
After day five, we spent the next three days sitting glassing for Bear. Derek spotted no less than five world-class bears that we sat and videoed and admired. He called them Dinosaurs all over 10ft in height and all very old and wise. Most were 2000 ft above us and more than 1600 yards away. He explained these bears all stay up there far away from hunters and in the safety of the alders.
After flying back out from our hunt and many discussions about Noah passing on that day 1 Bear, We finally arrived at the dept of fish and game in Anchorage, Alaska, to have our skull and hide inspected. The officer explained that the bear we shot was ancient, probably more than 25 years old, and was likely in its last winter as its belly was bald like a gorilla. He also said the skull was enormous. This whole process was mind-blowing. Noah and I learned so much. Now since Noah still had a bear tag good till the end of the year, we are trying to get back to Alaska for an inland Bear hunt in the fall with Derek so Noah can have a shot at his own Alaskan Brown Bear!!!