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A Lesson Learned.  By George Siavelis



A  Lesson,  Learned


                                                                                                                                          by  George Siavelis




           We were sitting by the little single burner stove in front of our tent on the north slope of Alaska. It was about 9 or 10 years ago. I was preparing dinner for my client, Mark Moore and I, as we talked and just enjoyed the beautiful weather and serenity of this wild place. Mark is the kind of hunter any man would love to guide in the wilderness. We were wrapping up a long day or I should say a long night (it doesn’t get dark in July) of hiking and glassing, searching for a trophy bull caribou for Mark to try and harvest with his bow and arrow. Just as Mark was asking me about wolves and the chances of seeing one, which was a dream of his, a very large white wolf was spotted loping across the tundra. He was all white save a black/silver streak running along his spine. Mark said the wolf sighting was gonna be one of the highlights of his trip and a very befitting end to a great day. But neither of us realized at that moment, how far away the end of that day was. A minute or two later, we spotted three very large bull caribou feeding about 5 or 600 yds. away. I shut off the stove, stuffed my coat in my pack, and shouldered it. Mark had his bow in hand and was waiting to see which way I thought we should go to try and get a shot. I glanced at my rifle leaning on a bush next to the tent. I thought to myself, ” we can see literally for miles in every direction and we’ve been glassing this area all night, those caribou are only 500 yds. away, I don’t need to pack that rifle over there. We’re gonna be belly crawling alot and it’ll just be in the way.” Leaving our supper sitting on the ground, hungry hunter and guide dashed off towards their quarry. The caribou were traveling with the wind in this case, so we could get out in front of them, and stalk and/or wait intermittently to get into position. We got to within about 80 or 90 yds. of the caribou with the bulls feeding straight to us. We were hiding behind some small bushes, watching the caribou approach and smiling at each other, enjoying the situation and figuring we had ’em. “At the very least we’re gonna get a shot,” we each thought to ourselves. As I was watching the bulls close in, all of a sudden, they bolted and scattered! We stood there dumbfounded, wondering what had happened, when over a little knoll came a grizzly bear running straight at us. About 20 yds. to it’s left and a little behind came another grizzly running just as hard, straight to us. Obviously a sow and an overgrown cub after the same caribou as the two tired, hungry, and unarmed hunters. I was not too worried, after all I’d been there before, and the bears were still over 100 yds. out. The direction of the wind prevented them from being able to smell us. Surely, I thought, any second, the bears would see us purposely standing out in the open, or hear me talking to them, and retreat. I took a few steps towards the charging bears, waved my arms, and yelled abruptly. Mark asked me what I thought they were gonna do. I told him with confidence that they were just hyped up from chasing those caribou, and that they would retreat as soon as they got close enough to see us well or hear us talking loudly. I told him that they might turn left and follow the caribou and their scent, although I kind of doubted that since they seemed to be locked on us visually as they closed with unbelievable speed. I said it more to calm Mark down, or to calm me down. Finally the bears slid to a stop, they stood on their hind legs, staring at us from about 60 or 70 yds. I turned around to Mark and proudly said, ” See, they’ve heard us or see us and are probably gonna take off now.” We moved around a little bit, so they could see us and our shape, and we talked to the bears calmly. I repeated, ” they’re gonna take off now, aren’t you bears gonna take off now?” They made a liar out of me, dropped to all fours, and charged at us as fast as they could come. Mark said, ” They’re coming!” I thought to myself, “yes they certainly are , aren’t they?” Mark asked me if he should try and shoot one of them with his bow. I told him not to, that I thought and hoped that we would be better off, just standing our ground and talking to them. I said to the bears rather loudly, “Now come on girl, you don’t really want to fool with us do you?” Just then the old sow slid to a halt, her cub, which was as big as her, followed suit. They rose up on hind legs again. They certainly didn’t need to stand on their hind legs to see us, as there was only 40 yds. of perfectly flat, bare gravel bar between us, but they seemed to prefer the slightly better vantage point. I reminded Mark to keep talking to them. I said, “OK! they’re definitely gonna see us now and take off!” ” DON’T WORRY ! ” Mark asked,” What if they come all the way and attack us, what do we do?” I could sense Mark’s confidence in me, fading fast. My confidence in my own young self, was fading fast! My answer was,” They’re going to get a  re-e-eal  g-o-o-o-d  look at us now and take off!!” I glanced over to the tent and the bush that I knew was holding up my rifle. I could plainly see even the bush, and it was only 4 or 500 yds. away, but that rifle might as well have been on the Moon. The bears made a liar out of me again. They dropped down and charged on, again. I hardly believed it, and I started to wonder if this damn bear was gonna be one of those, one in a thousand bears, that actually wants a taste. I wondered if these bears were familiar with people or if they cared. I remember talking to the bears and looking at Mark. Mark started to back up faster and he looked like he was getting ready to run. A natural reaction, to desperately try and gain distance between you and a rapidly approaching menace. That impulse I admit, ran through me for a second also. I never before, and have never since, felt that helpless. Now, I have had brown bears charge me many times, once even, the bear had to be killed. But in most of these cases, I or someone with me has had a gun somewhere in the vicinity. I’ve also had bears pop out so close that even with a gun, I would of at least been bitten if not killed, but at least you would have a fighting chance. It feels very different to watch a bear charging at close range, knowing it’s all up to the bear and what it decides to do. I put my hand on Mark’s shoulder and said,” We have to just stand here, and talk to them. If we run, we’re dead.” If God was there, he definitely noticed my voice lacking the confidence it had just seconds earlier, when the bears were first spotted. I glanced towards my rifle again, I think. Maybe just in my mind as I watched the bears bearing down on us. I could hear one or both bears growling or grunting as they ran towards us. Witnessing the speed in which they were approaching, I knew that in a few seconds, we were going to be the happiest or sorriest guys in the world. I couldn’t help picturing them plowing into us violently. I wondered who they would grab first and if they would both attack the same person. I made myself picture and believe they were going to turn and run off. Maybe they’ll stop right in front of us and just pop their teeth, but not actually touch us. I kept talking to them, but don’t remember exactly what I was saying at that point, when suddenly 15 yds. away, and I suppose 1 or 2 seconds before they got to us, both bears veered sideways. In a flash, they changed directions and were trotting away. It ended as suddenly as it began. And believe me, the sudden change of felt emotions, from totally petrified to almost total relief, isn’t easily expressed in words, but was easily noticed by both of us. We headed off in the direction of supper, and my RIFLE, determined this time to call it a day. Obviously I survived, so did Mark. In fact Mark took a beautiful bull caribou the next day with his bow. Do you think I had my rifle with us?


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Last modified: February 05, 2001