I was almost finished packing the night before I was to leave for Prince of Wales (POW) island, Alaska, for a black bear and Sitka deer hunt when I got the call. The bureau of ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) in Anchorage had confiscated my gun case that I sent via UPS several days earlier because they scanned it and found an aerosol can in it! Gun Scrubber, which I have shipped countless times before without issue. They demanded the lock combinations so they wouldn’t cut them. They removed the can, but now they could not ship the gun to me because the shipping chain from me to me was broken, and I needed to get the case sent to an FFL dealer to take possession of it. You can’t argue with ATF, especially when they have your guns and you would be hunting the next day. I called dozens of cargo carriers and bush pilots and friends and acquaintances that evening, but it was futile. I would not have my guns for my hunt. So I grilled some chicken. I can’t sleep before a big hunt anyway, and the chicken was therapeutic and delicious. Try it when in dire straights sometime.
My Remington R-25 308 with EOTech OPMOD MPO II sight system, newly developed OPMOD binocular, S&W handgun, Nikon Monarch Gold 1200 rangefinder, sleeping bag and mat, knife, saw, shooting sticks, and other chosen gear was not going to be available now, so I scrambled for backups. I had my Freedom Arms .454 with OPMOD EOTech EXPS2 sight still sighted in from a pig hunt earlier in the year with 40 stout 240 grain XTP magnum handloads, and an Uncle Mike’s bandolier holster that I locked in a case in a crusty, ancient navy sea bag, surrounded by my backup sleeping bag, a circa 1970 Montgomery Ward’s down-filled mummy configuration that I have never once used. I was ready, what the heck. I was not going to whine about missing gear and spoil my hunt and bother the 3 hunting companions I would meet in Ketchikan.
I arrived and met JB from EOTech, the inimitable predator hunter Byron South, and his videographer, Sammy. We saw some preserved 200 year old whore houses in Ketchikan and took a ferry 4 hours North to POW Island where we would drive a couple hours farther. There we would get into two small overloaded boats to traverse big water first, dodging islands until we came to smaller lakes and inlets that finally led us to our forest service cabin.
Our two boats were piloted by friends and locals Dick and Gary, and we stopped along the way to pull their crab pots from 140 foot deep, icy waters. We learned to tell male crabs from females, and we kept 18 purpled, prehistoric, arachnid-like multi-jointed giants with claws like tree limb loppers. We gorged ourselves on Dungeness crabs for dinner that night, two hours out of the Pacific, steamed with Dick’s tutelage over a campfire. We devoured them with violence and relish, shattering the shells with our teeth and sucking out the meat with wrath. I think I involuntarily barked like a seal a few times with shock and delight while swallowing. This was some of the most delicious meat I will ever eat. Ever. The melted butter in tinfoil over the glowing coals added to the flavor and mess.
Our cabin was about a 12 x 12 indigenous red cedar cell with four wooden bunks and a cast iron stove. I took one for the team and slept on the floor under a bunk with about 16 inches of headroom since Dick stayed with us and that made 5. After a few days of living together the soiled hanging undergarments and shirts that decorated the nails on the walls and hung from the ceiling, combined with unwashed bodies, putrid stench and foul gasses made a visible cloud not to be waded through, but we had no choice. Holy halitosis!
To get into my ground level bunk I had to lay on my side and scoot my butt in like readying for a colonoscopy until my hips were on my sleeping bag. Then I could try to brush off the muddy and salty floor debris that attached itself to the hair on my body and stuck everywhere until I was cocooned like a pupae. Sammy’s snores sounded like two metronomic freight trains wrestling in a tunnel, and I thanked God for Howard Leight and his earplugs. Sometimes morning is a long time coming. Our inept experience with regulating the fire in the stove made my lower half in the sleeping bag sweat like a bag of microwaved peas, and my upper torso hard with frozen goose pimples. My first view at the crack of dawn was a bunch of stinky stockinged feet on our dirty deck, too close to my head, and when I wormed my way out of my tomb I stood and shook off the sweat from my legs like a soaked Labrador retriever while shivering hard from my neck to my middle.
The days were filled with appealing boat rides while searching the coast for game over tides that changed up to 22 feet twice a day on deliriously cold and glass-clear waters that showed decades of oyster and mussel shells yards under our boat. To fall over here is to quickly sink or be frozen numb with hypothermia and die. There were magnificent bald eagles and sea lions the size of trucks. Almost everyone used Nikon Monarch binoculars, and that optics withstand such saltwater submersion and abuse is a testament to quality. You cannot baby gear here. It is used to its fullest, and abuse happens involuntarily and regularly.
We occasionally beached the boats, then hiked or still-hunted through geology that I have never before seen. My God was truly drunk and euphoric and flailing when His Paintbrush spewed forth the colors and medium to make this part of our planet. Everything was cold and had black and sharp volcanic gargantuan boulders, and mountains with living and dead coniferous trees poking out like porcupine follicles. Terra firma was blanketed in spongy moss and lichen and it was always saturated and raining. Raining, always raining. The foliage was so thick and impenetrable that we often had to retrace our steps and find another direction just to proceed at all.
So far we saw a few small bears in range, but nothing ethical or non-embarrassing to take.
We all have to do our part, and I washed dishes after every meal. Evening dishes were spooky. I stumbled and bumbled down to the shore 100 or more yards away from the cabin depending on the tide, on beds of kelp in the absolute inky total black of night until I came to water, in bear country, holding an armload of cookware coated with lard and bacon and seafood. I would be a helpless clopping morsel caught quickly like a mammalian floundering salmon, clumsily running away with this stupid light on my head and my raingear and dermis stripped by the foul, stained ivory of a bear more easily than the skin of an arctic char, but with more fat and screaming. My Coast headlamp did a good job preventing boogey monsters and black bears from eating me as I sloshed to the tide, where I squatted in my boots, crunching mussel and oyster shells underfoot, scrubbing pots with soap and salt water and handfuls of kelp and my Winchester bandana until clean. I thought I was brave and rugged.
The trail to our outhouse cut through the rainforest like a crack in a thick sponge, green and wet. Always wet. A nice outhouse as crappers go. It had a window on the upper half of the door so you could see the splendor of creation as you had your movement. It behooves you to be regular on trips of this ilk. Don’t back up traffic during rush hour, and keep your TP dry. When you run out of paper you become particularly inventive with secondary materials like napkins, newspaper, unfilled deer tags, dollars (not three quarters, two dimes and a nickel), kelp, moss, corncobs, bark, and the list goes on. Cold seats make your sphincter tingle. Watch for spiders, and don’t drop your camera.
I turned 50 years old on my last day in Alaska, and I really wanted to harvest a bear, or at least a deer as a present to myself. Although no shots were fired and this story does not showcase my tremendous bear-killing exploits, this excursion to the Prince of Wales Island was still a resounding success. It was a delicious dream and something I have wanted to experience for decades. I hope one day to be fortunate enough to take the trip again and cross this unfinished business off my list. If that time comes, I won’t be shipping any Gun Scrubber.