I just returned from an Alaska Grizzly hunt with Lance Kronberger the owner of FREELANCE OUTDOOR ADVENTURES.
Lance is a great friend, father and husband. He and his lovely wife Nikki, run a fantastic operation for Brown Bears at Cinder River Lodge, Dall Sheep in the TOK and 14C and Spring and Fall Grizzly Bear Hunts out of Unalakleet. Lance is an absolutely amazing guide with endless amounts of positive energy and attitude.
His organization and attention to the smallest details make his trips run incredibly efficient and smooth. I am already looking forward to my next hunt with Lance. It was great to finally hunt together!
I hope you enjoy the enclosed photo essay.
The hunt started in Unalakeet, where D.J. Trahan, Paul Bride and I met Lance at the airport Saturday afternoon.
We air dropped an NRS 12 Foot Otter raft, food and gear five miles down the river from the landing strip where the river was wide and deep enough to float the raft and gear.
You cannot hunt the same day you fly in Alaska, all we could do was watch this bear feed into the drainage below camp. It was certainly an exciting start.
With this in mind, we hunted from the strip the 1st morning. It was 15 degrees and everything was frozen in and out of the tent when we woke up. After a quick breakfast and coffee, we headed to a high vantage point to glass.
We dropped down to a new vantage point and Lance spotted a Sow and two cubs on a distant ridge.
We hiked back to camp to have lunch and break down camp and backpack it down to the airdrop on the Bear River. On the way back to camp we ran into a heard of Musk-ox. They are fascinating animals, truly adapted to survive in the harsh northern cold that comes off of the Bearing Sea.
About an hour into the hike down to the river we came up on a large hummock filled grass flat. We had the wind in our face and we were all busy picking our way across the top each hummock so you do not twist your ankle or knee. I looked up and saw what I first thought was another Musk-ox, but it did not have the long hair or horns.
Finally it registered, a Grizzly, crossing the flat 200 yards above us. I look ahead and Lance and D.J. had not seen the bear. I tell Paul to get down and look back at Lance and he is getting D.J.’s gun out of his pack. I drop my Icon and do the same.
It must be a big bear! I run up 10 yards to a large hummock and throw down my pack and my .300 over the top of it and put the cross hairs on the bear to back up D.J. I hear D.J.’s gun go off and the bear does not act hit. I wait with my cross hairs on his front shoulder.
The bear continues across the flat looking at us. After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only 30 seconds D.J.’s gun goes off again. The big bear drops and begins to get up, I shoot and hit the bear and he goes down again and tries to get up and D.J. puts him down for good.
I run up to Lance and D.J. He is bleeding from his forehead, scoped from the 1st shot. He could not get the gun solid on his shoulder and was worried the bear was going to run and he rushed his shot putting the scope into his forehead. After the stars cleared he was able to anchor the gun on his shoulder and get his first shot into the bear.
D.J.’s bear is an 8-foot, 22 ½” healthy boar with an absolutely beautiful hide. We were all thrilled for him.
We spent the night on a gravel bar on the Bear River. Lance and D.J. took the bear hide and his gear back up to the landing strip to be picked up by Jim. Lance was back by noon.
We loaded the raft and began a 2-day walk down the river that was floating ice.
We spotted a sow and two cubs right before dark above our camp. We ate our Mountain House and climbed into our bags. It is dark at 8:30pm and does not get light enough to see until 8:30am. It is a long night of sleep.
We are up at 8:30 and cross the river and to glass. No bears are spotted so we load the raft and continue to push the raft down the river. This continues all day. The river grows with every tributary we pass. It is almost floatable by the end of the day.
The fall colors are stunning, coppers, reds, chrisom, tans, with contrasting white lichen and snow peaks make the landscapes breathtaking. The country is vast, large and gives you a feeling of remoteness like nothing I have felt before on a hunt.
The river is now deep enough to begin floating tomorrow. We make camp on another gravel bar. The wind begins to blow, the weather feels like it is changing.
It is cold and windy. The wind is bad. It is at our backs as we begin to paddle down the bear at 9am.
We begin to see Silver Salmon and trail form along the river from Bears fishing. The bear hunting will continue to get better the further we float.
We are quietly floating, glassing and paddling just like the hours and before. The silence and day dreaming is suddenly and urgently broken by Lances voice:
Lance is out of the boat holding us at a stop in the middle of the river. A giant Boar is walking up the left bank at 400 yards and closing the distance.
The wind is still bad, really bad, right at our backs.
Lance looks to the left and the right. “Jason, grab your gun we do not have time to make it to shore. We are going to shoot from the raft.”
Paul and Lance pull the raft sideway’s I drop a shell into my gun and quickly close the bolt while moving around the boat to get set up for the shot.
“350 yards” “SHOOT NOW HE SMELLS US” Lance whispers in my ear. The big bear’s head is in the air as I settle the scope on him. In a flash he is up the bank and gone. No shot. I can see the disappointment on Lance’s face.
“THAT WAS A 9 FOOTER!!!”
My adrenaline was maxed! It all happened so fast from the chance at a book bear to only memories in a flash.
“Get in, lets find another one”
The disappointment quickly goes away, the focus is this new bear. Dealing with the wind and position, we are optimistic we can paddle the river around and downwind of this bear. As we parallel the bear on the ridge 1000 yards above us, Lance is concerned. The bear is checking the wind hard. We keep paddling.
We beach the boat, get out of our waders, and head up to the top ridge. The bear is gone from the grassy flat. We can see where he was digging and realize the wind off the river got us again!
Back in the boat paddling down stream, thirty minutes later we round a corner and there is a bear walking up the right side this time. Lance bails off the raft. I grab my rifle and we head to the left bank. The set up is perfect, finally.
I get a solid rest across the front of the Otter and center my cross hairs on the bears front shoulder as he is quartering towards me at 125 yards and wait. Lance is not sure this bear is big enough to shoot. He tells me to stay on this bear he is pulling the scope out to get a closer look.
“DO NOT SHOOT!” ……. “A 7 Footer, we are not shooting this bear”
Back in the raft paddling down stream again. It is getting dark and we look for a gravel bar to spend the night on. The wind is up and you can feel the weather changing by the minute.
We round the corner and at 200 yards it is easy to make out a BIG bear against the yellow grass at the curve of the river. The wind is good and we quickly do our drill pulling the raft to the shore on the same side.
I set up for the shot. I cannot get steady and pull the raft closer to shore to get it steady. Not steady enough and I turn the raft completely sideways and move my shooting position to on top of all the gear.
The big bore continues along the river bank, head on. I put my cross hairs on this chest. But his head is down as he walks towards us. No Shot.
He comes to a downed log and will have to go around it on the riverside and this will give me my shot. I wait anxiously and nervously for a shot that I fear may not come. Certainly not fast enough.
WAIT! What! He does the opposite and turns and heads up the bank away from the river! I have no shot due to the deadfall and he disappears in the thick brush above.
We wait for him to show up again. He never shows. Crushing! I thought this was it.
It is now dark as we set camp. The wind is ripping and we make sure we tie off the tent solid. It begins to rain as we climb in for the night at 9:30pm. It rains hard all night.
We wake up to more wind. The rain has stopped. Lance is on the Sat Phone. The weather is Bad and going to get worse. Strong winds, heavy rain and snow is expected through Monday. This is part of the game hunting this far north off the bearing sea in October. Mother Nature wins a lot here!
We call Jim and have him get us out while we still have a chance. We paddle aggressively for 2 miles down stream to the last good strip for the next 20 miles. It is a good decision even though we are totally disappointed we are leaving early without a bear.
The rain comes just as Jim is to come pick us up. We barely get out.