Written by: Gary Lewis
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: December 6, 1999
It was 2:12 PM, the beast was close and coming fast...
Upon deplaning in Kodiak City, the first thing the traveler sees is a 1,400-pound brown bear in taxidermied attack on a blacktail deer. The tableau inspires awe in every newcomer.
This is the background against which a vital piece of advice is shared with the novice Kodiak hunter.
"When you get a deer down, a bear is going to get a meal. Leave the gut pile, grab your deer and drag it away as fast as you can. Go fast and the bear gets the gut pile to eat. Go slow and the bear takes your whole deer."
Or worse. A month before our hunt, a hunter had been killed by a bear a few miles from where we were headed.
It was colder today, 25 degrees with a stiff wind. I kept climbing, fighting the willows and the drifted snow, climbing, stopping, glassing, climbing.
After two hours, I was not seeing animals, only day-old trails in the snow. To my right the land sloped away, draining into two other creeks that were separated by meadows closer to the water. This was the kind of undisturbed feeding and bedding area that I was looking for. I turned and followed the sound of water beneath the snow, downhill.
Drainages converged and the brush thickened. I stayed on the right bank and watched the left. A lone buck saw me and moved off with his head down. Trying to get a better look, I worked downstream, losing track of him, watching the thickets with my binocular.
A doe and two fawns moved off then reappeared, watchful, curious, at the edge of a meadow. I saw another deer skylined with head down. Moving over the crest, he went out of sight. Now I stood on a cliff above the water with the beach far below.
I worked back across a plateau seeing fresh tracks and beds everywhere. It was easier walking here, with the snow only to my knees now. Following the deer trails made travel quieter and faster. Presently I came to another creek and crossed, coming up on the east bank, pausing to catch my breath.
There were two deer across the canyon and up the hill, almost 400 yards away. They stood on a trail entering a thicket of willows. The one in front was just entering the brush and I couldn't see her head, but the other was a buck. A big-bodied animal, he was looking back at me, neck swollen with the rut.
Through the glasses, I could see his antlers were wider than his ears. On Kodiak that meant this was a good deer. It was too far to count points with my 7x binocular or 4x scope.
The wind was blowing from left to right, off the mountain, and toward the water, howling down the canyon. I sat back in the snow, snugged the butt of my Ruger 7mm magnum into my shoulder and wrapped the rifle sling about my forearm, resting my elbows on my knees. Uphill, in the wind, this would be tough.
In fact, I missed several times before getting the range right and waiting for a dead spot in the wind. The buck was facing me head-on and I centered the crosshairs on his brisket and waited. Suddenly the wind was still for a moment, and I squeezed the trigger, sending my bullet across the canyon.
I watched the deer through the scope. He was moving again, heading directly toward me, head down. It went through a patch of brush and came out the other side, crashing in the snow. My hunt was over, but certainly not the thrill of it. I shook a little now that the shooting was over. This was what I was here for, this long-anticipated moment. And now that I had rung the dinner bell, if there was a bear in the area, life would really get exciting.
I tied an orange ribbon to the spot where I had rested my rifle and made the shot. Then I plotted a course through the canyon. I would work to one tree in a south by south-west heading then pick another and continue on in a straight line to where the deer had gone down.
I cut the trail and followed the tracks to where the buck lay. Quickly, I gave thanks for this deer whose meat would feed my family. Afternoon sunlight was slipping away.
I set my pack, coat, and rifle down, slipped my knife out and moved to make the first cut. That's when I heard it, something coming fast. The willows began to shake and I felt the beast in the ground beneath my feet. Close now.
I stepped back, away from the deer, ready to defend my life with my blade. The unseen attacker was already upon me. The leaves were rattling in the trees.
Then the ground began to roll. It was an earthquake, not a bear. Four-foot swells rippled through the crusted snow.
The next day, the report from Anchorage crackled across the boat's radio, the epicenter was just a few miles from where I had stood on that ridge, knife in hand, ready to fight a bear.
The earthquake measured 7 on the Richter Scale and had triggered a swarm of aftershocks and quakes in the Katmai volcano field.
Shaken and stirred.
I was just a part of the food chain on Kodiak Island.
I called it a "warning".
About the Author: Gary Lewis is an award-winning author, TV host, speaker and photographer. He has hunted and fished in eight countries on three continents and in the islands of the South Pacific. Born and raised in the Northwest, he has been walking forest trails and running rivers for as long as he can remember. He is a past president of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association and a recipient of NOWA’s Enos Bradner and Legacy awards. Lewis has penned over 3,000 newspaper and magazine articles. His credits include Sports Afield, Outdoor Life, Rifle, Successful Hunter, African Hunting Gazette, Covey Rise, Cabela's Outfitter Journal, Game & Fish and MDF.Lewis is host of Frontier Unlimited, a TV show. He is the author of 16 books, including FISHING Central Oregon, John Nosler Going Ballistic, Hunting Oregon and Fishing Mount Hood Country.
Lewis lives in Central Oregon. With his wife of 31 years, Merrilee, he has three daughters, all accomplished hunters and anglers. Visit garylewisoutdoors.com.