Homer Alaska - Outdoors

Story last updated at 3:59 PM on Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Going after a black bear



Photo provided

The hunting party poses for a picture. From left are the author's father, Ian Reid; the author, Shannon Reid; friend Lara Voelker and sister Ana Reid.

Not many high school seniors opt for a bear hunt over a graduation party. Some seniors I know received money, a camera or computer from their parents as graduating gifts. For me, a day black bear hunting with my dad was my graduation party and graduation present combined into one cherished experience.

I've been hunting with my dad for as long as I can remember, but only in recent years have I inherited the role of holding the gun. Our trips together not only have grown our relationship, but also have developed my hunting confidence and ability. Last April I harvested my first red deer in New Zealand and since then have turned my sights on getting my first black bear.

On an early May morning, the day before my high school graduation, my dad and I jumped into his '88 F250, along with my sister and her friend visiting from California. My dad called us an "unlikely hunting party."

"Three young women and an old guy," he chuckled.

His truck, affectionately known as Excalibur, carried us out East End Road while the sun started to rise over the snowcapped Kenai Mountains.

My sister's friend, whose hunting experience was limited to killing mosquitoes, asked if I was nervous.

"No," I answered, "Not yet. I have never felt so prepared."

This illusion of preparedness might have resulted from practicing with the .300 WSM rifle at the range the day before. My dad, sister and I each took several shots with the high-powered gun and I felt secure in my ability to use it. I would soon find, however, that one can never be entirely prepared for the unpredictable wilderness of Alaska.

Upon arrival we dispersed our gear into two backpacks, loaded both rifle magazines and started our hike. The initial stretch was steep, and the loose dirt, profusion of alders and newly grown stinging nettles didn't make things any easier.

Once we finally reached the top of the hill, it was decided that my dad and I would carry on down the other side while the others would continue along the ridge. It was a clear and sunny day, with a cool breeze that swept across the hills.

Several hours later we sat in a clearing, scoping out a parallel ridge 400 yards away for any sign of a bear. My dad and I were quietly conversing when I heard a soft rustle in the trees to our right. My dad didn't appear concerned so I dismissed the noise. A few minutes later I heard it again.

"I think there's a bird hopping around over there," I said, motioning in the general direction.

A moment later we both heard the unmistakable crunch of footsteps. Suddenly a slender gray coyote appeared from behind the trunk of a spruce tree 10 feet away. It didn't seem to notice us as it took several steps toward where we were sitting.

A second later its penetrating amber eyes met mine and it took off.

The sun was getting higher in the sky so we decided to follow the stream that snaked between the two ridges back to the truck. My dad instructed me to take the lead as we weaved between alders and spruce trees and through soggy mud.

At one point I saw, out of the corner of my eye, my dad crouch down mid-step. I followed the direction of his gaze and through the alders I could make out the shape of a black bear feeding on fresh greens only 35 yards away.

"That's definitely one, Dad!" I whispered, kneeling down to prepare my shot.

I couldn't believe how close we were, that I was about to shoot, and how loud the gun was going to be with naked ears.

I placed the rifle against my shoulder and rested my elbow on my knee. The gun's safety was off and my finger touched the trigger. The crosshairs rested on the bear but the thick tangle of alder branches blocked any chance of a shot.

So many thoughts fired through my mind, including the possibility of being charged, as the bear's hunched black figure started to become clearer. It was coming our way.

My dad motioned me into two different positions, trying to give me a clear line of fire. He then took the gun and placed it halfway up an alder, providing me with a standing shot. It was while I moved into that position that the bear caught sight of us, reared up and bolted in the opposite direction.

I could hardly comprehend the disappointment of stumbling upon this bear and not being able to fire a shot. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity had slipped so easily from my grasp.

My dad tried to pull me out of my temporary grief by telling me it could still be nearby, but a minute later we heard a crash of sticks in the distance confirming the bear was long gone.

My parents' graduation gift to me was an unforgettable experience that I was able to share with my dad. Most seniors celebrate their graduation, but few can say they were thrown a hunting party.

Shannon Reid lives in Homer. She graduated from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's Connections Home School Program in May.