Even if Dale and Erik Anderson hadn't come home with two bears, their father-son hunting trip would have been successful.
"There's always the bonding time and just being in the great outdoors," said 17-year-old Erik, who has hunted deer with his father for five years without bringing one home. "It's an experience."
But they enjoyed the bear hunting trip May 20 to 25 because they got the game.
"You get an experience like this and recollection of rainy days disappears," Dale said. "It makes Alaska what it's supposed to be."
According to family tradition, Dale and Erik start their hunting story "There I was..." And there they were, cruising bays on the mainland south of Juneau where the recently awakened bruins were easy to find on the beaches. Two other friends in the hunting party got their bears before Erik spotted his on the beach. He and his dad went ashore to stalk it.
Erik poses with the bear he shot.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF DALE ANDERSON
Everything seemed perfect for the shot. Erik had a fallen tree to rest his rifle on while he watched the bear work its way closer through his site. Dale was there, coaching him through. They'd agreed on the moment to draw the triggers, the point where the shot would be clean and clear. Nothing left but patience. They watched the black bear for an hour and a half.
"It was a very good experience for Erik, just getting used to seeing how they act and what they do. That's the kind of situation you dream of," Dale said.
BOOM! A shot rang from a down the beach, interrupting Erik's dream shot and spooking the bear.
The shot was from their friends, who'd hit, but not killed, another bear. For the next two and a half hours they all followed the trail of broken twigs, crushed leaves and spots of blood through the woods.
"The key is, you've got to get what you shoot, and you've got to eat what you shoot," Dale said.
That was one of the lessons Erik took home.
"You hear stories about people being wasteful, so I've learned a lot about following the rules," Erik said. "It would be easy to just not follow them, so it takes integrity and wanting to preserve the resources."
The next day Erik finally got his shot. The set up wasn't as perfect as the day before. Again they spotted the bear from the boat and headed to shore in the skiff. The skiff landed about 100 yards from the bear, but all they could see of it then was the rump. Erik sat on the rocky beach, with nowhere to rest his rifle, as he waited for the bear to lift its head. Tidewater slowly crept up to him. After 20 minutes, the bear stood up and put it's front legs on a tree.
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"I told him if he had the shot, to take it," Dale said.
Erik did and the bear "went down like a sack of potatoes," he said.
The bullet had gone cleanly through the bears ear, killing it in a single shot and earning Erik the nickname "Sniper" for the rest of the trip.
Dale, who has hunted since he was a boy and been a guide for many years, said it was only the second bear he's seen go down with a single shot.
The father and son shot a second bear the next day, pulling their triggers at almost the same moment to take it with two bullets.
Both bears have been ground up for sausage. Spring bear is better meat than fall bear, which is fatty with a gamy flavor, Dale said. The larger bearskin will be wall mounted for Erik.
Hunting is a way to share Alaska's wilderness with children, said Dale, who learned to hunt from his father as well. He took Erik's three older sisters hunting when they were growing up, and now Erik.
"Kids are just not spending as much time outdoors enjoying it. It seems like we all get wrapped up in our busy lives," Dale said. "A tremendous amount of people in town have never gotten out beyond Auke Bay. I would challenge people to get out beyond the borders."
Erik and Dale are already talking about their next hunting trip. Erik wants to go after goat. Dale is interested in moose and elk, and another bear hunt next spring.
So there they'll be again.
Kristan Hutchison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.