The section represented by M. virginiana, with antlers curving forward and tines projecting from its hinder border, takes practically the whole of America in its range, and under the law of variation which has been stated, has proved a veritable gold mine to the makers of names. At present it is utterly useless to attempt to determine which of the forms described will stand the scrutiny of the future, and no more will be attempted here than to state the present gross contents of cervine literature. The sub-genus Dorcelaphus contains all the forms of the United States; of these, the deer belonging east of the Missouri River, those from the great plains to the Pacific, those along the Rio Grande in Texas and Mexico, those of Florida, and those again of Sonora, are each rated as sub-species of virginiana; to which we must add six more, ranging from Mexico to Bolivia. One full species, M. truei, has been described from Central America, and another rather anomalous creature (M. crookii), resembling both white-tail and mule deer, from New Mexico.
The other sub-genera are Blastoceros, with branched antlers and no metatarsal gland; Xenelaphus, smaller in size, with small, simply forked antlers and no metatarsal gland; Mazama, containing the so-called brockets, very small, with minute spike antlers, lacking the metatarsal and sometimes the tarsal gland as well. The last three sub-genera are South American and do not enter the United States. Another genus, Pudua, from Chili, is much like the brockets, but has exceedingly short cannon bones, and some of the tarsal bones are united in a manner unlike other deer. In all, thirty specific and sub-specific names are now carried on the roll of Mazama and its allies.
Attention has already been directed to the parallelism between the course of progress from simple to complex antlers in the development of the deer tribe, and the like progress in the growth of each individual, and to the further fact that all the stages are represented in the mature antlers of existing species. But a curious result follows from a study of the past distribution of deer in America. At a time when the branched stage had been already reached in North America, the isthmus of Panama was under water; deer were then absent from South America and the earliest forms found fossil there had antlers of the type of M. virginiana. The small species with simple antlers only made their appearance in later periods, and it follows that they are descended from those of complex type. This third parallel series, therefore, instead of being direct as are the other two, is reversed, and the degeneration of the antler, which we have seen taking place in the southern deer, has followed backward on the line of previous advance, or, in biological language, appears to be a true case of retrogressive evolution—representing the fossil series, as it were, in a mirror.
The reindeer-caribou type, of the genus Rangifer, agrees with American deer in having the vertical plate of the vomer complete, and in having the lower ends of the lateral metacarpals remaining, but, like Cervus, it has a brow-tine to the antlers. Of its early history we know nothing, for the only related forms which have yet come to light are of no great antiquity, being confined to the Pleistocene of Europe as far south as France, and are not distinguishable from existing species. Until recently it has been supposed that one species was found in northern Europe and Asia, and two others, a northern and a southern, in North America, but lately the last two have been subdivided, and the present practice is to regard the Scandinavian reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) as the type, with eight or nine other species or sub-species, consisting of the two longest known American forms, the northern, or barren-ground caribou (R. arcticus); the southern, or woodland (R. caribou); the three inhabiting respectively Spitzbergen, Greenland and Newfoundland, and still more lately four more from British Columbia and Alaska. The differences between these are not very profound, but they seem on the whole to represent two types: the barren-ground, small of size, with long, slender antlers but little palmated; and the woodland, larger, with shorter and more massive antlers, usually with broad palms. There is some reason to believe that both these types lived in Europe during the interglacial period, the first-named being probably the earlier and confined to western Europe, while the other extended into Asia. The present reindeer of Greenland and Spitzbergen seem to agree most closely with the barren-ground, while the southern forms are nearest to the woodland, and these are said to also resemble the reindeer of Siberia. It is, therefore, not an improbable conjecture that there were two migrations into America, one of the barren-ground type from western Europe, by way of the Spitzbergen land connection, and the other of the woodland, from Siberia, by way of Alaska.
Little more can be said, perhaps even less, of the other circumpolar genus, Alces, known in America as "moose," and across the Atlantic as "elk." It also is of mixed character in relation to the two great divisions we have had in mind, but in a different way from reindeer.
Like American deer it has the lower ends of the lateral metacarpals remaining, and the antlers are without a brow-tine, but like Cervus it has an incomplete vomer, and unlike deer in general, the antlers are set laterally on the frontal bone, instead of more or less vertically, and the nasal bones are excessively short. The animal of northern Europe and Asia is usually considered to be distinct from the American, and lately the Alaskan moose has been christened Alces gigas, marked by greater size, relatively more massive skull, and huge antlers. Of the antecedents of Alces, as in the case of the reindeer, we are ignorant. The earlier Pleistocene of Europe has yielded nearly related fossils, and a peculiar and probably rather later form comes from New Jersey and Kentucky. This last in some respects suggests a resemblance to the wapiti, but it is unlikely that the similarity is more than superficial, and as moose not distinguishable from the existing species are found in the same formation, it is improbable that Cervalces bore to AIces anything more than a collateral relationship.
[Footnote 2: The huge fossil known as "Irish elk" is really a fallow deer and in no way nearly related to the moose.]
Even to an uncritical eye, the differences between ungulates and carnivores of to-day are many and obvious, but as we trace them back into the past we follow on converging lines, and in our search for the prototypes of the carnivora we are led to the Creodonta, contemporary with Condylarthra, which we have seen giving origin to hoofed beasts, but outlasting them into the succeeding age. These two groups of generalized mammals approached each other so nearly in structure, that it is even doubtful to which of them certain outlying fossils should be referred, and the assumption is quite justified that they had a common ancestor in the preceding period, of which no record is yet known.
The most evident points in which Carnivora differ from Ungulata are their possession of at least four and frequently five digits, which always bear claws and never hoofs; all but the sea otter have six small incisor teeth in each jaw; the canines are large; the molars never show flattened, curved crests after the ruminant pattern, but are more or less tubercular, and one tooth in the hinder part of each jaw becomes blade-like, for shearing off lumps of flesh. This tooth is called the sectorial, or carnassial.
Existing carnivores are conveniently divided into three sections: Arctoidea—bears, raccoons, otters, skunks, weasels, etc.; Canoidea—dogs, wolves and foxes; Aeluroidea—cats, civets, ichneumons and hyaenas.
It is highly probable that these three chief types have descended in as many distinct lines from the Creodonta, and that they were differentiated as early as the middle Eocene, but their exact degree of affinity is uncertain; bears and dogs are certainly closer together than either of them are to cats, and it is questionable if otters and weasels—the Mustelidae, as they are termed—and raccoons are really near of kin to bears.
Seals are often regarded as belonging to this order, but their relation to the rest of the carnivores is very doubtful. Many of their characters are suggestive of Arctoidea, but it is an open question if their ancestors were bear or otter-like animals which took to an aquatic life, or whether they may not have had a long and independent descent. At all events, doubt is cast upon the proposition that they are descended from anything nearly like present land forms by the fact that seals of already high development are known as early as the later Miocene.
The difficulty so constantly met with in attempting to state concisely the details of classification, is well shown in this order, for its subdivisions rest less upon a few well defined characters than upon complex associations of a number of lesser and more obscure ones, a recapitulation of which would be tedious beyond the endurance of all but practiced anatomists. For the present purposes it must be enough to say that bears and dogs have forty-two teeth in the complete set, of which four on each side above and below are premolars, and two above, with three below, are molars, but these teeth in bears have flatter crowns and more rounded tubercles than those of dogs, and the sectorial teeth are much less blade-like, this style of tooth being better adapted to their omnivorous food habits. Bears, furthermore, have five digits on each foot and are plantigrade, while dogs have but four toes behind and are digitigrade. These differences are less marked in some of the smaller arctoids, which may have as few as thirty-two teeth, and come very near to dogs in the extent of the digital surface which rests upon the ground in walking.
In distinction from these, Aeluroidea never have more than two true molars below, and the cusps of their teeth are much more sharply edged, reaching in the sectorials the extreme of scissor-like specialization. In all of them the claws are more or less retractile, and they walk on the ends of their fingers and toes.
Cats are distinguished from the remainder of this section by the shortness of the skull, and reduction of the teeth to thirty, there being but one true molar on each side, that of the upper jaw being so minute that it is probably getting ready to disappear.
Civets, genets, and ichneumons are small as compared with most cats; they are fairly well distinguished by skull and tooth characters; their claws are never fully retractile, and many have scent glands, as in the civets. No member of this family is American.
Hyaenas have the same dental formula as cats, but their teeth are enormously strong and massive, in relation to their function of crushing bone.
No carnivore has teeth so admirably adapted to a diet of flesh as the cat, and, in fact, it may be doubted if among all mammals, it has a superior in structural fitness to its life habits in general.
The Felidae are an exceedingly uniform group, although they do present minor differences; thus, some species have the orbits completely encircled by bone, while in most of them these are more or less widely open behind; in some the first upper premolar is absent, and some have a round pupil, while in others it is elliptical or vertical, but if there is a key to the apparently promiscuous distribution of these variations, it has not yet been found, and no satisfactory sub-division of the genus has been made, beyond setting aside the hunting-leopard or cheetah as Cynaelurus, upon peculiarities of skull and teeth.
True cats of the genus Felis were in existence before the close of the Miocene, and yet earlier related forms are known. Throughout the greater part of the Tertiary the remarkable type known as sabre-toothed cats were numerous and widely spread, and in South America they even lasted so far into the Pleistocene that it is probably true that they existed side by side with man. Some of them were as large as any existing cat and had upper canines six inches or more in length. Cats have no near relations upon the American continent, nor do they appear to have ever had many except the sabre-tooths. Of present species some fifty are known, inhabiting all of the greater geographical areas except Australia. They are tropical and heat loving, but the short-tailed lynxes are northern, while both the tiger and leopard in Asia, and puma in America, range into sub-arctic temperatures, and it is a curious anomaly that while Siberian tigers have gained the protection of a long, warm coat of hair, pumas from British America differ very little in this respect from those of warm regions.
No other cat has so extensive a range as Felis concolor and its close allies, variously known as puma, cougar and mountain lion, which extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from latitude fifty-five or sixty north, to the extreme southern end of the continent. As far as is known, it is a recent development, for no very similar remains appear previous to post-tertiary deposits.
Bears of the genus Ursus are of no great antiquity in a geological sense, for we have no knowledge of them earlier than the Pliocene of Europe, and even later in America, but fossils becoming gradually less bear-like and approximating toward the early type from which dogs also probably sprung, go back to the early Tertiary creodonts.
Cats, as we have seen, are chiefly tropical, while bears, with two exceptions, are northern, one species inhabiting the Chilian Andes, while the brown bear of Europe extends into North Africa as far as the Atlas Mountains.
The family Procyonidae contains the existing species which appear to be nearest of kin to bears. These are all small and consist of the well-known raccoon, the coatis, the ring-tailed bassaris and the kinkajou, all differing from bears in varying details of tooth and other structures. The curious little panda (Aelurus fulgens) from the Himalayas, is very suggestive of raccoons, and as forms belonging to this genus inhabited England in Pliocene times, it is possible that we have pointed out to us here the origin of this, at present, strictly American family; but, on the other hand, evidence is not wanting that they have always been native to the soil and came from a dog-like stock.
As we have already seen, bears have the same dental formula as dogs, but as they are less carnivorous, their grinders have flatter surfaces and the sectorials are less sharp; in fact they have very little of the true sectorial character. It is unusual to find a full set of teeth in adult bears, as some of the premolars invariably drop out.
It is fully as true of bears as of any other group of large mammals, that our views as to specific distinction are based upon data at present utterly inadequate, for all the zoological museums of the world do not contain sufficient material for exhaustive study and comparison. The present writer has examined many of these collections and has no hesitation in admitting that his ideas upon the subject are much less definite than they were ten years ago. It does appear, though, that in North America four quite distinct types can be made out. First of these is the circumpolar species, Ursus maritimus, the white or polar bear, which most of us grew up to regard as the very incarnation of tenacious ferocity, but which, as it appears from the recitals of late Arctic explorers, dies easily to a single shot, and does not seem to afford much better sport than so much rabbit shooting. The others are the great Kadiak bear (U. middendorfi); the grizzly (U. horribilis), and the black or true American bear (U. americanus). The extent to which the last three may be subdivided remains uncertain, but the barren-ground bear (U. richardsoni) is surely a valid species of the grizzly type. The grizzlies and the big Alaska bears approach more nearly than americanus to the widespread brown bear (U. arctos) of Europe and Asia, and the hypothesis is reasonable that they originated from that form or its immediate ancestors, in which case we have the interesting series of parallel modifications exhibited in the two continents, for the large bear of Kamtschatka approaches very nearly to those of Alaska, while further to the south in America, where the conditions of life more nearly resemble those surrounding arctos, these bears have in the grizzlies retained more of their original form. Whether or not the large Pleistocene cave bear (U. spelaeus) was a lineal ancestor is questionable, for in its later period, at least, it was contemporary with the existing European species. The black bear, with its litter-brother of brown color, seems to be a genuine product of the new world.
Many differential characters have been pointed out in the skulls and teeth of bears, and to a less extent, in the claws; but while these undoubtedly exist, the conclusions to be drawn from them are uncertain, for the skulls of bears change greatly with age, and the constancy of these variations, with the values which they should hold in classification, we do not yet know.
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It is not improbable that the reader may leave this brief survey with the feeling that its admissions of ignorance exceed its affirmations of certainty, and such is indeed the case, for the law of scientific validity forbids the statement as fact, of that concerning which the least element of doubt remains. But the real advance of zoological knowledge must not thereby be discredited, for it is due to those who have contributed to it to remember that little more than a generation ago these problems of life seemed wrapped in hopeless obscurity, and the methods of investigation which have led to practically all our present gains, were then but new born, and with every passing year doubts are dispelled, and theories turned into truths. There was no break in physical evolution when mental processes began, nor will there be in the evolution of knowledge as long as they continue to exist.
Arthur Erwin Brown.
Big Game Shooting in Alaska
BEAR HUNTING ON KADIAK ISLAND
Early in April, 1900, I made my first journey to Alaska for the purpose of searching out for myself the best big-game shooting grounds which were to be found in that territory. Few people who have not traveled in that country have any idea of its vastness. Away from the beaten paths, much of its 700,000 square miles is practically unknown, except to the wandering prospector and the Indian hunter. Therefore, since I could obtain but little definite information as to just where to go for the best shooting, I determined to make the primary object of my journey to locate the big-game districts of southern and western Alaska.
My first two months were spent in the country adjacent to Fort Wrangell. Here one may expect to find black bear, brown bear, goats, and on almost all of the islands along the coast great numbers of the small Sitka deer, while grizzlies may these are the black, the grizzly, and the glacier or blue bear. It is claimed that this last species has never fallen to a white man's rifle. It is found on the glaciers from the Lynn Canal to the northern range of the St. Elias Alps, and, as its name implies, is of a bluish color. I should judge from the skins I have seen that in size it is rather smaller than the black bear. What it lives upon in its range of eternal ice and snow is entirely a subject of surmise.
[Footnote 3: The Polar bear is only found on the coast, and never below 61 deg.. It is only found at this latitude when carried down on the ice in Bering Sea.]
Of all the varieties of brown bears, the one which has probably attracted most attention is the large bear of the Kadiak Islands. Before starting upon my journey I had communicated with Dr. Merriam, Chief of the Biological Survey, at Washington, and had learned from him all that he could tell me of this great bear. Mr. Harriman, while on his expedition to the Alaskan coast in 1899, had by great luck shot a specimen, and in the second volume of "Big Game Shooting" in "The Badminton Library," Mr. Clive Phillipps-Wolley writes of the largest "grizzly" of which he has any trustworthy information as being shot on Kadiak island by a Mr. J.C. Tolman. These were the only authentic records I could find of bears of this species which had fallen to the rifle of an amateur sportsman.
After spending two months in southern Alaska, I determined to visit the Kadiak Islands in pursuit of this bear. I reached my destination the latter part of June, and three days later had started on my shooting expedition with native hunters. Unfortunately I had come too late in the season. The grass had shot up until it was shoulder high, making it most difficult to see at any distance the game I was after.
The result of this, my first hunt, was that I actually saw but three bear, and got but one shot, which, I am ashamed to record, was a miss. Tracks there were in plenty along the salmon streams, and some of these were so large I concluded that as a sporting trophy a good example of the Kadiak bear should equal, if not surpass, in value any other kind of big game to be found on the North American continent. This opinion received confirmation later when I saw the size of the skins brought in by the natives to the two trading companies.
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As I sailed away from Kadiak that fall morning I determined that my hunt was not really over, but only interrupted by the long northern winter, and that the next spring would find me once more in pursuit of this great bear.
It was not only with the hope of shooting a Kadiak bear that I decided to make this second expedition, but I had become greatly interested in the big brute, and although no naturalist myself, it was now to be my aim to bring back to the scientists at Washington as much definite material about him as possible. Therefore the objects of my second trip were:
Firstly, to obtain a specimen of bear from the Island of Kadiak; secondly, to obtain specimens of the bears found on the Alaska Peninsula; and, lastly, to obtain, if possible, a specimen of bear from one of the other islands of the Kadiak group. With such material I hoped that it could at least be decided definitely if all the bears of the Kadiak Islands are of one species; if all the bears on the Alaska Peninsula are of one species; and also if the Kadiak bear is found on the mainland, for there are unquestionably many points of similarity between the bears of the Kadiak Islands and those of the Alaska Peninsula. It was also my plan, if I was successful in all these objects, to spend the fall on the Kenai Peninsula in pursuit of the white sheep and the moose.
Generally I have made it a point to go alone on all big-game shooting trips, but on this journey I was fortunate in having as companion an old college friend, Robert P. Blake.
My experience of the year before was of value in getting our outfit together. At almost all points in Alaska most of the necessary provisions can be bought, but I should rather advise one to take all but the commonest necessities with him, for frequently the stocks at the various trading posts run low. For this reason we took with us from Seattle sufficient provisions to last us six months, and from time to time, as necessity demanded, added to our stores. As the rain falls almost daily in much of the coast country, we made it a point to supply ourselves liberally with rubber boots and rain-proof clothing.
On the 6th of March, 1901, we sailed from Seattle on one of the monthly steamers, and arrived at Kadiak eleven days later. I shall not attempt to describe this beautiful island, but shall merely say that Kadiak is justly termed the "garden spot of Alaska." It has numerous deep bays which cut into the land many miles. These bays in turn have arms which branch out in all directions, and the country adjacent to these latter is the natives' favorite hunting ground for bear.
In skin canoes (baidarkas) the Aleuts, paddling along the shore, keep a sharp lookout on the nearby hillsides, where the bears feed upon the young and tender grass. It was our plan to choose the most likely one of these big bays as our shooting grounds, and hunt from a baidarka, according to local custom.
It may be well to explain here that the different localities of Alaska are distinctly marked by the difference in the canoes which the natives use. In the southern part, where large trees are readily obtained, you find large dugouts capable of holding from five to twenty persons. At Yakutat, where the timber is much smaller, the canoes, although still dugouts, have decreased proportionately in size, but from Yakutat westward the timber line becomes lower and lower, until the western half of the island of Kadiak is reached, where the trees disappear altogether, and the dugout gives place to the skin canoe or baidarka. I have never seen them east of Prince William Sound, but from this point on to the west they are in universal use among the Aleuts—a most interesting race of people, and a most wonderful boat.
The natives of Kadiak are locally called Aleuts, but the true Aleuts are not found east of the Aleutian Islands. The cross between the Aleut and white—principally Russian—is known as the "Creole."
The natives whom I met on the Kadiak Islands seemed to show traces of Japanese descent, for they resembled these people both in size and features. I found them of docile disposition, remarkable hunters and weather prophets, and most expert in handling their wonderful canoes, with which I always associate them.
The baidarka is made with a light frame of some strong elastic wood, covered with seal or sea lion skin; not a nail is used in making the frame, but all the various parts are tied firmly together with sinew or stout twine. This allows a slight give, for the baidarka is expected to yield to every wave, and in this lies its strength. There may be one, two, or three round hatches, according to the size of the boat. In these the occupants kneel, and, sitting on their heels, ply their sharp-pointed paddles; all paddling at the same time on the same side, and then all changing in unison to the other side at the will of the bowman, who sets a rapid stroke. In rough water, kamlaykas—large shirts made principally of stretched and dried bear gut—are worn, and these are securely fastened around the hatches. In this way the Aleuts and the interior of the baidarka remain perfectly dry, no matter how much the sea breaks and passes over the skin deck.
I had used the baidarka the year before, having made a trip with my hunters almost around the island of Afognak, and believed it to be an ideal boat to hunt from. It is very speedy, easily paddled, floats low in the water, will hold much camp gear, and, when well handled, is most seaworthy. So it was my purpose this year to again use one in skirting the shores of the deep bays, and in looking for bears, which show themselves in the early spring upon the mountain sides, or roam the beach in search of kelp.
The Kadiak bear finds no trouble in getting all the food he wants during the berry season and during the run of the various kinds of salmon, which lasts from June until October. At this period he fattens up, and upon this fat he lives through his long winter sleep. When he wakes in the spring he is weak and hardly able to move, so his first aim is to recover the use of his legs. This he does by taking short walks when the weather is pleasant, returning to his den every night. This light exercise lasts for a week or so, when he sets out to feed upon the beach kelp, which acts as a purge. He now lives upon roots, principally of the salmon-berry bush, and later nibbles the young grass.
These carry him along until the salmon arrive, when he becomes exclusively a fish eater until the berries are ripe. I have been told by the natives that just before he goes into his den he eats berries only, and his stomach is now so filled with fat that he really eats but little.
The time when the bears go into their winter quarters depends upon the severity of the season. Generally it is in early November, shortly after the cold weather has set in. Most bears sleep uninterruptedly until spring, but they are occasionally found wandering about in mid-winter. My natives seemed to think that only those bears are restless which have found uncomfortable quarters, and that they leave their dens at this time of year solely for the purpose of finding better ones. They generally choose for their dens caves high up on the mountain sides among the rocks and in remote places where they are not likely to be discovered. The same winter quarters are believed to be used year after year.
The male, or bull bear, is the first to come out in the spring. As soon as he recovers the use of his muscles he leaves his den for good and wanders aimlessly about until he comes upon the track of some female. He now persistently follows her, and it is at this time that the rutting season of the Kadiak bear begins, the period lasting generally from the middle of April until July.
In Eagle Harbor, on Kadiak Island, a native, three years ago, during the month of January, saw a female bear which he killed near her den. He then went into the cave and found two very small cubs whose eyes were not yet open. This would lead to the belief that this species of bear brings forth its young about the beginning of the new year. At birth the cubs are very small, weighing but little more than a pound and a half, and there are from one to four in a litter. Two, however, is the usual number. The mother, although in a state of semi-torpor, suckles these cubs in the den, and they remain with her all that year, hole up with her the following winter, and continue to follow her until the second fall, when they leave her and shift for themselves.
For many years these bears have been so persistently hunted by the natives, who are constantly patrolling the shores in their skin canoes, that their knowledge of man and their senses of smell and hearing are developed to an extreme degree. They have, however, like most bears, but indifferent sight. They range in color from a light tawny lion to a very dark brown; in fact, I have seen some bears that were almost black. Many people have asked me about their size, and how they compare in this respect with other bears. The Kadiak bear is naturally extremely large. His head is very massive, and he stands high at the shoulders. This latter characteristic is emphasized by a thick tuft of hair which stands erect on the dorsal ridge just over the shoulders. The largest bear of this kind which I shot measured 8 feet in a straight line from his nose to the end of the vertebrae, and stood 51-1/2 inches in a straight line at the shoulders, not including between 6 and 7 inches of hair.
Most people have an exaggerated idea of the number of bears on the Kadiak Islands. Personally I believe that they are too few ever to make shooting them popular. In fact, it was only by the hardest kind of careful and constant work that I was finally successful in bagging my first bear on Kadiak. When the salmon come it is not so difficult to get a shot, but this lying in wait at night by a salmon stream cannot compare with seeking out the game on the hills in the spring, and stalking it in a sportsmanlike manner.
It was more than a week after our landing at Kadiak before the weather permitted me to go to Afognak, where my old hunters lived, to make our final preparations. One winter storm after another came in quick succession, but we did not mind the delay, for we had come early and did not expect the bears would leave their dens before April.
I decided to take with me on my hunt the same two natives whom I had had the year before. My head man's name was Fedor Deerinhoff. He was about forty years of age, and had been a noted sea otter and bear hunter. In size he was rather larger than the average of his race, and absolutely fearless. Many stories are told of his hand-to-hand encounters with these big bears. I think the best one is of a time when he crawled into a den on his hands and knees, and in the dark, and at close quarters, shot three. He was unable to see, and the bears' heavy breathing was his only guide in taking aim.
Nikolai Pycoon, my other native, was younger and shorter in stature, and had also a great reputation as a hunter, which later I found was fully justified, and furthermore was considered the best baidarka man of Afognak. He was a nice little fellow, always good natured, always keen, always willing, and the only native whom I have ever met with a true sense of gratitude.
The year before I had made all arrangements to hire for this season a small schooner, which was to take us to our various shooting grounds. I was now much disappointed to find that the owner of this schooner had decided not to charter her. We were, therefore, obliged to engage a very indifferent sloop, but she was fortunately an excellent sea boat. Her owner, Charles Payjaman, a Russian, went with us as my friend's hunter. He was a fisherman and a trapper by profession, and had the reputation of knowing these dangerous island waters well. His knowledge of Russian we expected to be of great use to us in dealing with the natives; Alaska was under Russian control for so many years that that language is the natural local tongue.
It was the first of April before we got our entire outfit together, and it was not until four days later that the weather permitted us to hoist our sail and start for the shooting grounds, of which it was of the utmost importance that we should make good choice. All the natives seemed to agree that Kiliuda Bay, some seventy-five miles below the town of Kadiak, was the most likely place to find bear, and so we now headed our boat in that direction. It was a most beautiful day for a start, with the first faint traces of spring in the air. As we skirted the shore that afternoon I sighted, through the glasses, on some low hills in the distance, bear tracks in the snow. My Aleuts seemed to think that the bears were probably near, having come down to the shore in search of kelp. It promised a pretty fair chance for a shot, but there was exceedingly bad water about, and no harbor for the sloop to lie, so Payjaman and my natives advised me not to make the attempt. As one should take no chances with Alaskan waters, I felt that this was wise, and we reluctantly passed on.
The next forenoon we put into a large bay, Eagle Harbor, to pick up a local hunter who was to accompany us to Kiliuda Bay, for both my Aleuts and the Russian were unacquainted with this locality. Ignati Chowischpack, the native whose services we secured, was quite a character, a man of much importance among the Aleuts of this district, and one who had a thorough knowledge of the country chosen as a hunting ground.
We expected to remain at Eagle Harbor only part of the day, but unfortunately were storm-bound here for a week. Several times we attempted to leave, but each time had to put back, fearing that the heavy seas we encountered outside would crush in the baidarka, which was carried lashed to the sloop's deck. It was not until early on the morning of April 12, just as the sun was topping the mountains, that we finally reached Kiliuda Bay.
Our hunting grounds now stretched before us as far as the eye could see. We had by this time passed the tree area, and it was only here and there in isolated spots that stunted cottonwoods bordered the salmon streams and scattered patches of alders dotted the mountain sides. In many places the land rolled gradually back from the shore until the mountain bases were reached, while in other parts giant cliffs rose directly from the water's edge, but with the glasses one could generally command a grand view of this great irregular bay, with its long arms cutting into the island in all directions.
We made our permanent camp in a large barabara, a form of house so often seen in western Alaska that it deserves a brief description. It is a small, dome-shaped hut, with a frame generally made of driftwood, and thatched with sods and the rank grass of the country. It has no windows, but a large hole in the roof permits light to enter and serves also as an outlet for the smoke from the fire, which is built on a rough hearth in the middle of the barabara. These huts, their doors never locked, offer shelter to anyone, and are frequently found in the most remote places. The one which we now occupied was quite large, with ample space to stow away our various belongings, and we made ourselves most comfortable, while our Aleuts occupied the small banya, or Russian bathhouse, which is also generally found by the side of the barabara. This was to be the base of supplies from which my friend and I were to hunt in different directions.
The morning after reaching our shooting grounds I started with one of my natives and the local hunter in the baidarka to get the lay of the land. Blake and I agreed that it was wise to divide up the country, both because we could thus cover a much greater territory, and our modes of hunting differed materially. Although at the time I believed from what I had heard that Payjaman was an excellent man, I preferred to hunt in a more careful manner, as is the native custom, in which I had had some experience the year before. I firmly believe that had Payjaman hunted as carefully as my Aleuts did, my friend would have been more successful.
We spent our first day skirting the shores of the entire bay, paddling up to its very head. Ignati pointed out to Fedor all the most likely places, and explained the local eccentricities of the various winds—a knowledge of these being of the first importance in bear hunting. I was much pleased with the looks of the country, but at the same time was disappointed to find that in the inner bays there was no trace of spring, and that the snow lay deep even on the shores down to the high water mark. Not a bear's track was to be seen, and it was evident that we were on the grounds ahead of time.
We stopped for tea and lunch about noon at the head of the bay. Near by a long and narrow arm of water extended inland some three miles, and it was the country lying adjacent to this and to the head of the bay that I decided to choose as my hunting grounds.
We had a hard time to reach camp that night, for a severe storm suddenly burst upon us, and a fierce wind soon swept down from the hills, kicking up a heavy sea which continually swept over the baidarka's deck, and without kamlaykas on we surely should have swamped. It grew bitterly cold, and a blinding snow storm made it impossible to see any distance ahead, but Ignati knew these waters well, and safely, but half frozen, we reached the main camp just at dark.
Next day the storm continued, and it was impossible to venture out. My friend and I passed the time playing piquet, and listening to our natives, who talked earnestly together, going over many of their strange and thrilling hunting experiences. We understood but little Russian and Aleut, yet their expressive gestures made it quite possible to catch the drift of what was being said. It seemed that Ignati had had a brother killed a few years ago, while bear hunting in the small bay which lies between Eagle Harbor and Kiliuda Bay. The man came upon a bear, which he shot and badly wounded. Accompanied by a friend he followed up the blood trail, which led into a thick patch of alders. Suddenly he came upon a large unwounded male bear which charged him unprovoked, and at such close quarters that he was unable to defend himself. Before his companion, who was but a short distance away, could reach him, he was killed. The bear frightfully mangled the body, holding it down with his feet and using his teeth to tear it apart.
Ignati at once started out to avenge his brother, and killed in quick succession six bears, allowing their bodies to remain as a warning to the other bears, not even removing their skins.
During the past few years three men while hunting have been killed by bears in the same vicinity as Ignati's brother, two instantly, and one living but a short time. I think it is from these accidents that the natives in this region have a superstitious dread of a "long-tailed bear" which they declare roams the hills between Eagle Harbor and Kiliuda Bay.
The storm which began on the 13th continued until the 17th, and this was but one of a series. Winter seemed to come back in all its fury, and I believe that whatever bears had left their winter dens went back to them for another sleep. It was not until the middle of May that the snow began to disappear, and spring with its green grass came.
All this time I was camped with my natives at the head of the bay, some fifteen miles from our base of supplies. On the 23d of April we first sighted tracks, but it was not until May 15 that I finally succeeded in bagging my first bear.
The tracks in the snow indicated that the bears began again to come out of their winter dens the last week in April; and should one wish to make a spring hunt on the Kadiak Islands, the first of May would, I should judge, be a good time to arrive at the shooting grounds.
When the wind was favorable, our mode of hunting was to leave camp before daylight, and paddle in our baidarka up to the head of one of these long bays, and, leaving our canoe here, trudge over the snow to some commanding elevation, where we constantly used the glasses upon the surrounding hillsides, hoping to see bear. We generally returned to camp a little before noon, but in the afternoon returned to the lookout, where we remained until it was too dark to see.
When the wind was blowing into these valleys we did not hunt, for we feared that whatever bears might be around would get our scent and quickly leave. New bears might come, but none which had once scented us would remain. For days at a time we were storm-bound, and unable to hunt, or even leave our little tent, where frequently we were obliged to remain under blankets both day and night to keep warm.
On May 15, by 4 o'clock, I had finished a hurried breakfast, and with my two Aleuts had left in the baidarka for our daily watching place. This was a large mound lying in the center of a valley, some three miles from where we were camped. On the right of the mound rose a gently sloping hill with its sides sparsely covered with alders, and at right angles and before it, extended a rugged mountain ridge with rocky sides stretching all across our front, while to the left rose another towering mountain ridge with steep and broken sides. All the surrounding hills and much of the low country were covered with deep snow. The mountains on three sides completely hemmed in the valley, and their snowy slopes gave us an excellent chance to distinguish all tracks. Such were the grounds which I had been watching for over a month whenever the wind was favorable.
The sun was just topping the long hill to our right as we reached our elevated watching place. The glasses were at once in use, and soon an exclamation from one of my natives told me that new tracks were seen. There they were—two long unbroken lines leading down from the mountain on our right, across the valley, and up and out of sight over the ridge to our left. It seemed as if two bears had simply wandered across our front, and crossed over the range of mountains into the bay beyond.
As soon as my hunters saw these tracks they turned to me, and, with every confidence, said: "I guess catch." Now, it must be remembered that these tracks led completely over the mountains to our left, and it was the most beautiful bit of hunting on the part of my natives to know that these bears would turn and swing back into the valley ahead. To follow the tracks, which were well up in the heart of our shooting grounds, would give our wind to all the bears that might be lurking there, and this my hunters knew perfectly well, yet they never hesitated for one moment, but started ahead with every confidence.
We threaded our way through a mass of thick alders to the head of the valley, and then climbing a steep mountain took our stand on a rocky ridge which commanded a wide view ahead and to our left in the direction in which the tracks led. We had only been in our new position half an hour when Nikolai, my head hunter, gripped my arm and pointed high up on the mountain in the direction in which we had been watching. There I made out a small black speck, which to the naked eye appeared but a bit of dark rock protruding through the snow. Taking the glasses I made out a large bear slowly floundering ahead, and evidently coming downward. His coat seemed very dark against the white background, and he was unquestionably a bull of great size. Shortly after I had the satisfaction of seeing a second bear, which the first was evidently following. This was, without doubt, a female, by no means so large as the first, and much lighter in color. The smaller bear was apparently hungry, and it was interesting to watch her dig through the snow in search of food. Soon she headed down the mountain side, paying absolutely no attention to the big male, which slowly followed some distance in the rear. Shortly she reached a rocky cliff which it seemed impossible that such a clumsy animal could descend, and I almost despaired of her making the attempt, but without a pause she wound in and out, seemingly traversing the steepest and most difficult places in the easiest manner, and headed for the valley below. When the bull reached this cliff we lost sight of him; nor could we locate him again with even the most careful use of the glasses. He had evidently chosen this secure retreat to lie up in for the rest of the day. If I could have killed the female without alarming him, and then waited on her trail, I should undoubtedly have got another shot, as he followed her after his rest.
It was 8 o'clock when we first located the bears, and for nearly three hours I had a chance to watch one or both of them through powerful glasses. The sun had come up clear and strong, melting the crust upon the snow, so that as soon as the female bear reached the steep mountain side her downward path was not an easy one. At each step she would sink up to her belly, and at times would slip and fall, turning somersault after somersault; now and again she would be buried in the snow so deep that it seemed impossible for her to go either ahead or backward. Then she would roll over on her back, and, loosening her hold on the steep hillside, would come tumbling and slipping down, turning over and over, sideways and endways, until she caught herself by spreading out all four legs. In this way she came with each step and turn nearer and nearer. Finally she reached an open patch on the hillside, where she began to feed, digging up the roots of the salmon-berry bushes at the edge of the snow. If now I lost sight of her for a short time, it was very difficult to pick her up again even with the glasses, so perfectly did the light tawny yellows and browns of her coat blend in with the dead grass of the place on which she was feeding.
The wind had been blowing in our favor all the morning, and for once continued true and steady. But how closely we watched the clouds, to see that no change in its direction threatened us.
We waited until the bear had left the snow and was quietly feeding before we made a move, and then we slowly worked ahead and downward, taking up a new position on a small ridge which was well to leeward, but still on the opposite side of the valley from the bear. She seemed in an excellent position for a stalk, and had I been alone I should have tried it. But the Aleut mode of hunting is to study the direction in which your game is working, and then take up a position which it will naturally approach.
Taking our stand, we waited, watching with much interest the great ungainly creature as she kept nibbling the young grass and digging up roots. At times she would seem to be heading in our direction, and then again would turn and slowly feed away. Suddenly something seemed to alarm her, for she made a dash of some fifty yards down the valley, and then, seeming to recover her composure, began to feed again, all the while working nearer and nearer. The bear was now well down in the bottom of the valley, which was at this point covered with alders and intersected by a small stream. There were open patches in the underbrush, and it was my intention to shoot when she passed through one of these, for the ground was covered with over a foot of snow, which would offer a very tempting background.
While all this was passing quickly through my mind, she suddenly made another bolt down the valley, and, when directly opposite our position, turned at right angles, crossed the brook, and came straight through the alders into the open, not eighty yards away from us. As she made her appearance I could not help being greatly impressed by the massive head and high shoulders on which stood the pronounced tuft of hair. I had most carefully seen to my sights long before, for I knew how much would probably depend on my first shot. It surely seemed as if fortune was with me that day, as at last I had a fair chance at the game I had come so far to seek. Aiming with the greatest care for the lungs and heart, I slowly pressed the trigger. The bear gave a deep, angry growl, and bit for the wound, which told me my bullet was well placed; but she kept her feet and made a dash for the thicket. I was well above, and so commanded a fairly clear view as she crashed through the leafless alders. Twice more I fired, and each time with the most careful aim. At the last shot she dropped with an angry moan. My hunters shook my hand, and their faces told me how glad they were at my final success after so many long weeks of persistent work. Including the time spent last year and this year, this bear represented eighty-seven days of actual hunting.
[Footnote 4: When a bullet strikes a Kadiak bear, he will always bite for the wound and utter a deep and angry growl; whereas of the eleven bears which my friend and I shot on the Alaska peninsula, although they, too, bit for the wound, not one uttered a sound.]
I at once started down to look at the bear, when out upon the mountain opposite the bull was seen. He had heard the shots and was now once more but a moving black speck on the snow, but it will always be a mystery to me how he could have heard the three reports of my small-bore rifle so far away and against a strong wind. My natives suggested that the shots must have echoed, and in this I think they were right; but even then it shows how abnormally the sense of hearing has been developed in these bears.
I was sorry to find that the small-bore rifle did not give as great a shock as I had expected, for my first two bullets had gone through the bear's lungs and heart without knocking her off her feet.
The bear was a female, as we had supposed, but judging from what my natives said, only of medium size. She measured 6 feet 4 inches in a straight line between the nose and the end of the vertebrae, and 44-5/8 inches at the shoulders. The fur was in prime condition, and of an average length of 4-1/2 inches, but over the shoulders the mane was two inches longer. Unfortunately, as in many of the spring skins, there was a large patch over the rump apparently much rubbed. The general belief is that these worn patches are made by the bears sliding down hill on their haunches on the snow; but my natives have a theory that this is caused by the bears' pelt freezing to their dens and being torn off when they wake from their winter's sleep.
Although this female was not large for a Kadiak bear, as was proved by one I shot later in the season, I was much pleased with my final success, and our camp that night was quite a merry one.
Shortly after killing this bear, Blake and I returned to the trading post at Wood Island to prepare for a new hunt, this time to the Alaska Peninsula.
BEAR HUNTING ON THE ALASKA PENINSULA
The year before I had chanced to meet an old pilot who had the reputation of knowing every nook and corner of the Alaskan coast. He told me several times of the great numbers of bears that he had often seen in a certain bay on the Alaska Peninsula, and advised me most strongly to try this place. We now determined to visit this bay in a good sized schooner we had chartered from the North American Commercial Company.
There were numerous delays in getting started, but finally, on May 31, we set sail, and in two days were landed at our new shooting grounds. Rarely in modern days does it fall to the lot of amateurs to meet with better sport than we had for the next month.
The schooner landed us with our natives, two baidarkas, and all our provisions, near the mouth of the harbor. Here we made our base of supplies, and the next morning in our two canoes started with our hunters to explore this wonderful bay. At high tide Chinitna Bay extends inland some fifteen miles, but at low water is one vast bog of glacial deposit. Rugged mountains rise on all sides, and at the base of these mountains there are long meadows which extend out to the high water mark. In these meadows during the month of June the bears come to feed upon the young and tender salt grass.
There was a long swell breaking on the beach as we left our base of supplies, but we passed safely through the line of breakers to the smooth waters beyond, and now headed for the upper bay. The two baidarkas kept side by side, and Blake and I chatted together, but all the while kept the glasses constantly fixed upon the hillsides. We had hardly gone a mile before a small black bear was sighted; but the wind was unfavorable, and he got our scent before we could land. This looked decidedly encouraging, and we continued on in the best of spirits. About mid-day we went on shore, lunched, and then basked in the sun until the afternoon, when we again got into the baidarkas and paddled further up the bay to a place where a wide meadow extends out from the base of the mountains. Here Nikolai, my head hunter, went on shore with the glasses, and raising himself cautiously above the bank, took a long look at the country beyond. It was at once quite evident that he had seen something, and we all joined him, keeping well hidden from view. There, out upon the marsh, could be seen two large bears feeding upon the young grass. They seemed in an almost unapproachable position, and we lay and watched them, hoping that they would move into a more advantageous place. After an hour or so they fed back toward the trees, and soon passed out of sight.
We matched to see which part of the meadow each should watch, and it fell to my lot to go further up the marsh. I had been only a short time in this place when a new bear came into sight. We now made a most beautiful stalk right across the open to within a hundred yards. All this while a new dog, which I had bought at Kadiak and called Stereke, had crawled with us flat on his stomach, trembling all over with excitement as he watched the bear. I had plenty of time to take aim, and was in no way excited, but missed clean at one hundred yards. At the report of my rifle Stereke bit himself clear from Nikolai, who was holding him, and at once made for the bear, which he tackled in a most encouraging manner, nipping his heels, and then quickly getting out of the way as the bear charged. But I found that one dog was not enough to hold these bears, and this one got safely away.
It was a dreary camp that night, for I had missed an easy shot without a shadow of excuse. We pitched our small tent at the extreme edge of the marsh behind a large mass of rocks. I turned in thoroughly depressed, but awoke the next morning refreshed, and determined to retrieve my careless shooting of the day before. A bad surf breaking on the beach prevented our going further up the bay in our baidarkas, as we had planned to do. We loafed in the sun until evening, while our natives kept constant watch of the great meadow where we had seen the bears the day before. We had just turned in, although at ten o'clock it was still daylight, when one of the natives came running up to say that a bear was in sight, so Blake, with three natives and Stereke, made the stalk. I had a beautiful chance to watch it from the high rocks beside our camp. The men were able to approach to within some fifty yards, and Blake, with his first shot, hit, and with his third killed the bear before it could get into the brush. Stereke, when loosed, acted in a gallant manner, and tackled the bear savagely.
Unfortunately no measurements were taken, but the bear appeared to be somewhat smaller than the female I killed at Kiliuda Bay, and weighed, I should judge, some 450 pounds. It appeared higher on the legs and less massive than the Kadiak bear, and had a shorter mane, but was of much the same tawny color on the back, although darker on the legs and belly.
Two days later we set out from our camp behind the rocks and paddled a short distance up the bay.
Here we left the baidarkas and crossed a large meadow without sighting bear. We then followed some miles the banks of a small stream. Leaving my friend with his two men, I pushed ahead with my natives to investigate the country beyond. But the underbrush was so dense it was impossible to see more than a few yards ahead. We had gone some distance, and Fedor and I had just crossed a deep stream on a rickety fallen tree, while the other native was following, when I chanced to look back and saw a small black bear just opposite. He must have smelt us, and, wanting to see what sort of creature man was, had deliberately followed up our tracks. Nikolai had my rifle on the other side of the brook, so I snatched up Fedor's and twice tried to shoot; but the safety bolt would not work, and when I had it adjusted the bear showed only one shoulder beyond a tree. It was just drawing back when I pressed the trigger. The bullet grazed the tree, was deflected, and a patch of hair was all that I had for what promised the surest of shots.
In the afternoon we made for a place which our hunters declared was a sure find for bear; but unlike most "sure places," we sighted our game even before we reached the ground. There they were, two large grizzled brutes, feeding on the salt marsh grass like two cows. We made a most exciting approach in our baidarkas, winding in and out, across the open, up a small lagoon which cut into the meadow where the bears were feeding. We got to within two hundred yards when they became suspicious, but could not quite make us out. One now rose on his hind legs to get a better view, and offered a beautiful chance, but I waited for my friend, whose turn it was to have first shot, and he delayed, thinking that I was not ready. The result was that the bears at once made for the woods, and we both missed.
Stereke again did his part well, catching one of the bears and tackling him in a noble manner, turning him and doing his best to hold him, but this was more than one dog could do, and the bear broke away and soon reached cover.
I am glad to record that with this day's miss ended some of the most careless shooting I have ever done.
This evening we made our camp on the beach on the other side of the bay. I was up frequently during the night, for bears were constantly moving about on the mountain side just behind our sleeping place, but although I could distinctly hear them, the thick brush prevented my getting a shot.
In this latitude there is practically no night during the month of June, and I can recall no more enchanting spot than where we were now camped. Even my hard day's work would not bring sleep, and I lay with my faithful dog at my feet and gazed on the vast mountains about us, their summits capped with snow, while their sides were clothed in the dull velvet browns of last year's herbage, through which the vivid greens of a northern summer were rapidly forcing themselves.
It was after five next morning when we left in our two baidarkas for the extreme head of the bay, where there was another vast meadow. My friend chose to hunt the right side of this marsh, while I took the left.
On reaching our watching place I settled myself for the day in my fur rug, and soon dozed off to finish my night's rest, while my men took turns with the glasses. About ten o'clock a black bear was sighted a long way off, but he soon wandered into the thicket which surrounded the marsh on three sides. At twelve o'clock he appeared again, and we now circled well to leeward and waited where two trails met at the edge of the meadow, expecting the bear would work down one of them to us. It was a long tiresome wait, for we were perched upon some tussocks through which the water soon found its way. About five o'clock we returned to our original watching place, where my friend joined me.
The wind had been at a slant, and although we had worked safely around the bear, he must have got the scent of Blake's party, although a long way off, for my friend reported that the bear was coming in our direction, as we had counted upon, when he suddenly threw up his head, gave one whiff, and started for the woods.
On Friday morning, June 7, we made a three o'clock start from where we had passed the night on the beach. The sun was not over the mountains for another hour, and there was that great charm which comes in the early dawn of a summer's day. Blake in his baidarka, and I in mine, paddled along, side by side, and pushed up to the extreme head of the bay, where we came upon an old deserted Indian camp of the year before. Numerous stretchers told of their success with bear; but the remains of an old fire in the very heart of our shooting grounds warned us that in this section the bears might have been disturbed; for the Alaskan bear is very wary, and is quick to take alarm at any unusual scent. We came back to our camp on the beach by ten o'clock, and had our first substantial meal of the day; for we had now adopted the Aleutian habit of taking simply a cup of tea and a piece of bread in order to make the earliest of starts each morning.
After our mid-day breakfast, we usually took a nap until afternoon; but this day I was not sleepy, and so read for a while, then I loaded my rifle, which I always kept within arm's reach, and was just settling my rugs to turn in, when Stereke gave a sharp bark, and Blake shouted, "Bear." Seizing my rifle I looked up, and walking toward us on the beach, just 110 yards away, was a good sized bull bear. My dog at once made for him, while Blake jumped for his rifle. The bear was just turning when I fired. He bit for the wound, but uttered no sound, and was just disappearing in the brush when I fired a hasty second; Blake and I followed into the thick alders after the dog, which was savagely attacking the bear. His barking told us where the bear was, and I arrived just in time to see him make a determined charge at the dog, which quickly avoided him, and just as quickly renewed the attack.
I forced my way through the alders and got in two close shots, which rolled him over. It appeared that my first shot had broken his shoulder, as well as cut the lower portion of the heart; but this bear had gone some fifty yards, and was still on his feet, when I came up and finished him off. He was a fair sized bull, six feet two inches in a straight line along the vertebrae, and stood exactly three feet at the shoulders. He had evidently been fighting, for one ear was badly torn, and his skin was much scarred with old and recent wounds. After removing the pelt the carcass was thrown into the bay, so that there might be no stench, which my natives declared would be enough to spoil any future shooting in this locality. This same afternoon we moved our camp to a new marsh, but the wind was changeable, and we saw nothing.
The next morning we sighted a bear, which fed into the woods before we had time to come up with him. Shortly after five o'clock the brute made a second appearance, but as the wind had changed and now blew in the wrong direction, a stalk could not be made without our scent being carried into the woods, where many bears were apt to be. We made it a great point never to make a stalk unless the wind was right, for we were extremely anxious not to spoil the place by diffusing our scent, and driving away whatever bears might be lurking near. Therefore, many times we had a chance to watch bears at only a few hundred yards' distance.
It was most interesting to see how careful these big animals were, and how, from time to time, they would feel the wind with their noses, and again stop feeding and listen. No two bears seemed to be built on quite the same lines. Some were high at the shoulders and then sloped down toward the rump and nose; and again, others were saddle-backed; still others stood with their front feet directly under them, making a regular curve at the shoulders; while others had the front legs wide apart, and seemed to form a triangle, the apex of which was at the shoulders.
Their range of color seemed to be from very dark, silver-tipped, to a very light dirty yellow, but with dark legs and belly.
This evening, just as we were having our tea, another bear made his appearance. The first, which we had been watching, evidently heard him coming through the woods, and as the second came out into the open the former vanished. The new one was a dirty yellowish white, with very dark belly and legs, which gave him a most comical appearance.
The wind still continued unfavorable, and my friend and I passed an extremely interesting evening with the glasses, for this watching game, especially bear, gives me almost as much pleasure as making the actual stalk.
About ten o'clock the wind changed, and Blake went after the bear, but unfortunately missed at about one hundred yards.
The following day opened dull, and we spent the morning keeping a sharp watch on the marsh. About ten o'clock a large bear was seen to come out from the trees. The wind was wrong, and as the bear was in an unapproachable position I had to sit with folded arms and watch him. I used the glasses with much interest until shortly after four o'clock, when he slowly fed into the brush.
We had just finished supper when we saw another bear in a better position, and I proceeded to make the stalk, going part of the way in the baidarka, for the great meadow was intersected by a stream from which small lagoons made off in all directions. The wind was very baffling, and although we successfully reached a clump of brush in the middle of the marsh, the bear for some time continued to graze in an unapproachable spot. We had almost given up hope of getting a shot, when he turned and fed slowly some fifty yards in a new direction, which was up-wind. This was our chance. Quickly regaining the baidarka, we paddled as noiselessly and rapidly as possible up the main stream of the marsh to a small lagoon, which now at high tide had sufficient water to float us.
There was great charm in stalking game in this manner, although I was, in a sense, but a passenger in my natives' hands. But it was fascinating to watch their keenness and skill as they guided the frail craft round the sharp turns, the noiseless use of the paddles, the light in their eye as they constantly stood up in the canoe to keep a hidden gaze upon the game ahead, watching its every movement as well as the local eddies and currents in the light evening breeze. All was so in keeping with the sombre leaden clouds overhead, and the grizzled sides of the ungainly brute, blending in with the background of weather-beaten tree trunks and the dull gray rocks. And so, silently and swiftly, stopping many times when the bear's head was up, we approached nearer and nearer, until my head man whispered, Boudit (enough), and I knew that I was to have a fair shot. Stealthily raising my head above the bank I saw the bear feeding, only seventy-five yards away. Creeping cautiously out of the boat I lay flat upon my stomach, rifle cocked and ready, waiting for a good shot. Soon it came. The bear heard some sound in the forest, and raised his head. Now was my chance, and the next second he dropped without a sound; he struggled to rise, but I could see he was anchored with a broken shoulder. My men were unable to restrain themselves any longer, and as I shot for the second time, their rifles cracked just after mine. We now rushed up to close quarters. The bear, shot through the lungs, was breathing heavily and rapidly choking.
Suddenly I heard a yap, and then, out over the marsh, came Stereke at full speed. I had left him with my friend, as we thought we might have to do some delicate stalking across the open. He had sighted the bear, and watched our approach all a-tremble, and at the report of my rifle there was no holding him. Over the ground he came in great bounds, and arrived just in time to give the bear a couple of shakes before he breathed his last. We carried the entire carcass to the baidarka, and even the cartridge shells were taken away, to avoid tainting the place with an unusual scent.
The next day we returned to the main camp, for Fedor, who was ill, had become very weak, and was in no condition to stand any hardships. We left him at the main camp in care of Payjaman. He was greatly depressed, and seemed to give way completely, frequently saying that he never expected to see his home again. Knowing the Aleut's character so well, I much feared that his mental state might work fatal results. Our medicines were of the simplest, and there was but little we could do. Fortunately he did recover, but it was not until two weeks later, when our hunt was nearly over, that he began to get better.
Three days afterward we were back again at our camp behind the rocks. We had wanted rain for some time to wash out all scent. Then again bears are supposed to move about more freely in such weather. Therefore we were rather pleased when the wind changed, bringing a northwest storm which continued all the next day. The lofty mountains were rapidly losing the snow on their summits, and the night's rain had wrought marvels in their appearance, seeming to bring out every shade of green on their wooded slopes. One of our natives was kept constantly on the lookout, and a dozen times a day both Blake and I would leave our books and climb to the watching place for a view across the great meadow. By this time we knew the bear trails and the most tempting feeding grounds, and the surest approaches to the game when it had once come into the open. Therefore when I was told this evening that a bear had been sighted, I felt pretty sure of getting a shot. He had not come well out into the open, and was clearly keeping near cover and working parallel to the brush. If he continued in this direction he would soon be out of sight. Our only chance was to make a quick approach, and Nikolai and I were immediately under way, leaving my dog with my friend, who was to loose him in case I got a shot.
The wind was coming in great gusts across our front, and the corner where the bear was feeding offered a dangerous place for eddies and back-currents against the mountain side. In order to avoid these, we kept just inside the woods. Nikolai going first showed the greatest skill in knowing just how close to the wind we could go. We quickly reached the place where we expected to sight the bear, but he was hidden in the bed of the river, and it was some minutes before we could make out the top of his head moving above the grass. Then noiselessly we crawled up as the bear again fed slowly into view. He was now about 125 yards away, and offered an excellent shot as he paused and raised his head to scent the breeze; but Nikolai whispered, "No," and we worked nearer, crawling forward when the bear's head was down, and lying flat and close when his head was up.
It is curious to note that often when game is being stalked it becomes suspicious, although it cannot smell, hear, or see the stalker; instinct, perhaps—call it what you will. And now this bear turned and began moving slowly toward cover. For some time he was hidden from view, and then, just before he would finally vanish from sight, he paused a moment, offering a quartering shot. The lower half of his body was concealed by the grass, but it was my last chance, and I took it, aiming for the lungs and rather high in order to get a clear shot. I saw as he bit for the wound that the bullet was well placed, and as he turned and lumbered across our front, I fired two more deliberate shots, one going through the fore leg and one breaking a hind leg.
Nikolai also fired, giving the bear a slight skin wound, and hitting the hind leg just above where one of my bullets had previously struck. As the bear entered the brush we both ran up, my hunter going to the left while I went a little below to head the bear off. We soon came upon him, and Nikolai, getting the first sight, gave him another bullet through the lungs with my heavy rifle, and in a few moments he rolled over dead.
It was my thought always to keep a wounded bear from getting into the brush, as the blood trail would have ruined future shooting.
I think it important to point out that when my bullet struck this bear he bit for the wound. As he did so he was turned from his original direction, which would have carried him in one bound out of sight among the trees, and instead turned and galloped across our front, thereby giving me an opportunity to fire two more shots. It frequently happened that bears were turned from their original direction to the sides upon which they received the first bullet, and we always gave this matter careful consideration when making an approach.
My Aleuts were not permitted to shoot unless we were following up a wounded bear in the thick brush; but I found it most difficult to keep them to this rule. The large hole of the bullet from my .50-caliber which Nikolai carried made it easy to distinguish his hits, and if a bear had received the mortal wound from his rifle, I should not have kept the skin.
The pelt of this bear which we had just killed was in excellent condition, and although he was not fat, he was of fair size, measuring 6 feet 3-1/8 inches along the vertebrae.
Great care was taken as usual to pick up the empty cartridge shells, and we pulled up the bloody bits of grass, throwing them into a brook, into which we put also the bear's carcass.
The storm continued for several days, and was accompanied by an unfavorable wind, which drew up into all our shooting grounds. We kept quietly in camp, which was so situated that although we were just opposite the great marsh, our scent was carried safely away. Then we were most careful to have only small fires for our cooking, and we were extremely particular to select dry wood, so that there would be as little smoke as possible.
All this while we kept a constant watch upon the meadow, but no bears made their appearance.
On the morning of the 19th, my friend and his hunter went up the shore to investigate a small marsh lying a mile or so from camp. Here they saw that the grass had been recently nibbled, and that there were fresh signs about. They returned to this spot again that evening and sighted a bear. The bear fed quickly up to within sixty-five yards, when Blake rolled him over. This bear was not a large one, and was of the usual tawny color.
The next morning a bear was seen by my natives in the big meadow by our camp, but he did not remain long enough for a stalk. At 9:30 he again came out into the open, and Nikolai and I made a quick approach, but the bear, although he was not alarmed, did not wait long enough for us to get within range. We had skirted the marsh, keeping just inside of the thicket, and now when the bear disappeared we settled ourselves for a long wait should he again come into the open. We were well hidden from view, and the wind blew slanting in our faces and across our front. I had just begun to think that we should not get a shot until the bear came out for his evening feed, when Nikolai caught my arm and pointed ahead. There, slowly leaving the dense edge of the woods, was a new bear, not so large as the first, but we could see at a glance that she had a beautiful coat of a dark silver-tip color.
Removing boots and stockings, and circling around, we came out about seventy-five yards from where we had last seen the bear; but she had moved a short distance ahead, and offered us a grand chance for a close approach. Keeping behind a small point which made out into the open, we were able to crawl up to within fifty yards, and then, waiting until the bear's head was up, I gave her a quartering shot behind the shoulders. She half fell, and bit for the wound, and as she slowly started for the woods I gave her another shot which rolled her over. This bear proved to be a female, the first we had shot upon the mainland, probably the mate of the bear we had originally attempted to stalk. The skin, although small, was the most beautiful I have ever killed.
Upon examining the internal effects of my shots, I was disappointed to find that my first bullet, on coming in contact with one of the ribs, had torn away from the metal jacket and had expanded to, such an extent that it lost greatly in penetration. I had of late been forced to the conclusion that the small-bore rifle I was using on such heavy game lacked the stopping force I had credited it with, and that the bullets were not of sufficient weight.
The next morning I sent our men to the main camp for provisions, for we now intended to give this marsh a rest, and go to the head of the bay. They returned that evening, and reported that they had seen a bear on the mountain side; they had stalked to within close range, and had made an easy kill. They had but one rifle with them, and had taken turns, Ivan having the first shot, while Nikolai finished the bear off. This skin was a beautiful one, of light yellowish color, and although our men wanted to present it to us, neither Blake nor I cared to bring it home with the trophies we had shot.
On June 23 we turned our baidarkas' bows to the upper bay, at the head of which we ascended a small river that wound through a vast meadow until the stream met the mountains. Here we unloaded our simple camp gear, and while the men prepared breakfast, Blake and I ascended an elevation which commanded an uninterrupted view of the grassy plain. No bears were in sight, so we had time and undisturbed opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the scene. We lay for some time basking in the sun, talking of books and people, and of many subjects of common interest. Now and then one would take the glasses and scan the outskirts of the vast meadow which stretched before us. All at once Blake gave a low exclamation and pointed to the west. I followed the direction of his gaze, and saw four bears slowly leaving the woods. They were at some distance, and we did not think we had time to reach them before they would probably return to the underbrush for their mid-day sleep, so for the present we let them go.
After breakfast, as they were still In the same place, we attempted the stalk, going most of the way in our baidarkas, winding in and out through the meadow in the small lagoons which intersected it in all directions. Every little while the men would ascend the banks with the glasses, thus keeping a watchful eye upon the bears' movements. Taking a time when they had fed into the underbrush, we made a quick circle to leeward over the open, then reaching the edge of the thicket, we approached cautiously to a selected watching place. We reached this spot shortly after one o'clock. The bears had entered the woods, so we settled ourselves for a long wait. It was Blake's turn to shoot, which meant that he was to have an undisturbed first shot at the largest bear, and after he had fired I could take what was left.
Just before three o'clock three bears again made their appearance. Two were yearlings which in the fall would leave their mother and shift for themselves, and one much larger, which lay just at the edge of the underbrush. Had these yearlings not been with the mother she would not have come out so early in the afternoon, and, as it was, she kept in the shadow of the alders, while the two smaller ones fed out some distance from the woods.
We now removed our boots, and, with Stereke well in hand, for he smelt the bears and was tugging hard on his collar, noiselessly skirted the woods, keeping some tall grass between the bears and ourselves. In this way we approached to within one hundred yards. Twice one of the smaller animals rose on his hind legs and looked in our direction; but the wind was favorable, and we were well concealed, so they did not take alarm.
My friend decided to shoot the mother, while I was to reserve my fire until after his shot. I expected that at the report of his rifle the bear I had chosen would pause a moment in surprise, and thus offer a good standing shot. As my friend's rifle cracked, the bear I had selected made a sudden dash for the woods, and I had to take him on the run. At my first shot he turned a complete somersault, and then, quickly springing up, again made a dash for cover. I fired a second time, and rolled him over for good and all. Stereke was instantly slipped, and made at once for my bear. By the time we had run up he was shaking and biting his hindquarters in a most approved style. We at once put him after the larger bear, which Blake had wounded, and his bark in the thick alders told us he had located her. We all followed in and found that the bear, although down, was still alive. Blake gave her a final shot through the lungs.
The third bear got away, but I believe it was wounded by Nikolai. The one that Blake had killed was the largest female we got on the Peninsula, measuring 6 feet 6 feet 6-1/2 inches along the vertebrae.
It is interesting to note that the two yearlings differed greatly in color. One was a grizzled brown, like the mother, while the other was very much lighter, of a light dirty yellowish color.
We had watched these bears for some hours in the morning, and I feel positive that the mother had no cubs of this spring with her; yet on examination milk was found in her breasts. My natives told me that frequently yearling cubs continue to suckle, and surely we had positive proof of this with the large female bear.
On our way back to camp that night we saw two more bears on the other side of the marsh, but they did not stay in the open sufficiently long to allow us to come up.
The mosquitoes had by this time become almost unbearable, and it was late before they permitted us to get to sleep. About 3 A.M. it began to rain, but I was so tired that I slept on, although my pillow and blankets were soon well soaked. As the rain continued, we finally put up our small tent; but everything had become thoroughly wet, and we passed a most uncomfortable day.
In the afternoon a black bear appeared not far from our camping place. My friend went after this with his hunter, who made a most wonderful stalk. The bear was in an almost unapproachable position, and the two men appeared to be going directly down wind; but Ivan insisted that there was a slight eddy in the breeze, and in this he must have been correct, for he brought Blake up to within sixty yards, when my friend killed the bear with a bullet through the brain.
I think it is interesting to note that our shooting grounds were the extreme western range of the black bear. A few years ago they were not found in this locality, but it is quite evident that they are each year working further and further to the westward.
The next day the heavy rain still continued. The meadow was now one vast bog, and the small lagoons were swollen into deep and rapid streams. Everything was wet, and we passed an uncomfortable day. Our two hunters were camped about fifty yards off under a big rock, and I think must have had a pretty hard time of it, but all the while they kept a sharp lookout.
About one o'clock the men reported that a large bear had been seen some distance off, but that it had remained in sight only a short time. We expected this bear would again make his appearance in the afternoon, and in this surmise we were correct, for he came out into the open three hours later, when Nikolai and I with Stereke made the stalk. We circled well to leeward, fording the many rapid streams with great difficulty. The rain had melted the snow on the hills, and we frequently had to wade almost up to our shoulders in this icy water.
In crossing one of the lagoons Stereke was carried under some fallen trees, and for a while I very much feared that my dog would be drowned. The same thing almost happened to myself, for the swift current twice carried me off my feet.
The bear had fed well into the open, and it was impossible, even by the most careful stalking, to get nearer than a small patch of tall grass about 175 yards away. I put up my rifle to shoot, but found that the front sight was most unsteady, for I was wet to the skin and shaking all over with cold. Half expecting to miss, I pressed the trigger, and was not greatly surprised to see my bullet splash in the marsh just over the bear's head. He saw the bullet strike on the other side, and now came in our direction, but Stereke, breaking loose from Nikolai, turned him. He now raced across our front at about 125 yards, with the dog in close pursuit. This gave me an excellent chance, and I fired three more shots. At my last, I saw the bear bite for his shoulder, showing that my bullet was well placed. He continued to dash ahead, when Nikolai fired, also hitting him in the shoulder with the heavy rifle. He dropped, but gamely tried to rise and face Stereke, who savagely attacked his quarters. Nikolai now fired again, his bullet going in at the chest, raking him the entire length, and lodging under the skin at the hind knee joint. Unfortunately this bear fell in so much water that it was impossible to take any other accurate measurement than the one along his back. This was the largest bear we shot on the mainland, and the one measurement that I was able to take was 6 feet 10 inches along the vertebrae.
On examining the internal effects of his wounds, I found that my bullet had struck the shoulder blade and penetrated one lung, but had gone to pieces on coming in contact with the bone. Although it would have eventually proved a mortal wound, the shock at the time was not sufficient to knock the bear off his feet.
The next morning the storm broke, and we started back to our camp behind the rocks, for the skins we had recently shot needed to be cleaned and dried. We reached camp that afternoon, where I found my old hunter, Fedor, who was now better, and had come to join us. He had arrived the night before, and reported that he had seen three bears on the marsh. He said he had watched them all the evening, and that the next morning two more had made their appearance. He could no longer withstand this temptation, and just before we had arrived had shot a small black bear with an excellent skin.
Two days after, a bear was reported in the meadow, and as it was my friend's turn to shoot, he started with his hunter to make the stalk. It was raining at the time, and I was almost tempted to lie among my blankets; but my love of sport was too strong, and, armed with powerful glasses, I joined the men on the rocks to watch the hunters.
The bear had fed well out into the meadow not far from a small clump of trees. In order to reach this clump of trees, Blake and Ivan were obliged to wade quite a deep stream, and had removed their clothes. Unfortunately my friend carelessly left his coat, in the pocket of which were all the extra cartridges for his and Ivan's rifles.
I saw them reach the clump of trees, and then turned the glasses on the bear. At the first shot he sprang back in surprise, while Blake's bullet went high. The bear now located the shot, and began a quick retreat to the woods, when one of my friend's bullets struck him, rolling him over. He instantly regained his feet, and continued making for cover, walking slowly and looking back over his shoulder all the while. Blake now fired another shot, and again the bear was apparently badly hit. He moved at such a slow pace that I thought he had surely received a mortal wound.