CHRONICLES OF A HUNTER
By TIM BROWN
I guess, one time or another, every hunter gets this question; "Why
do you hunt?" Usually from someone who has never experienced
getting off the bike path or hiking trail. But it's a fair question.
It's surprising how many times I ask myself that very question on more
then one occasion.
I remember the time when my older brother, Sam, that lives in Fairbanks,
Alaska invited my two other brothers, my Dad, plus myself to
go hunting with him. It was suppose to be for moose, sheep, goat, or
even a grizzly bear, if we were lucky enough to find one.
My oldest brother, Don, and I flew from Pa. to Alaska together.
My father was staying with Sam at the time, so he was already there.
My younger brother, Randy, drove up from Pa. with his brand new wife
on their honey moon.......LOL.......he called it his hunting honeymoon.
I think she had a different name for it. We all thought it was pretty
funny. I don't know if his new wife thought it was funny. I didn't see
her smiling too much. And, needless to say, there wasn't a whole
lot of privacy in my brothers house.
Sam had most of the hunt planned when we got there. He had maps laid
out on the table so it looked like he knew what he was doing.
I later found out, later, he didn't. We ask him some questions,
but he really didn't have any answers for us. He just heard that
be a good place to hunt. He never said where he heard that or if he
ever talked to anyone that hunted the area. I started to get that funny
feeling in my gut.
The hunt would last 13 days. We didn't need a guide because Sam was
a resident, so he was acting guide. We hired Cleo McMann,
an old Alaskan bush pilot and guide, to fly us back into the Wrangell
mountain, just south of Valdez. Little did we know, at the time,
but we would be some of the last hunters to ever hunt in that area.
Our wonderful President, Jimmy Carter, decided to set it aside as
National Park; never to be seen by another hunter. Three of us had
to drive down from Fairbanks to the staging lake where Cleo lived
and kept his plane. The other two flew down with Cleo. He flew his
plane about half way up to Fairbanks and picked up Don and Dad.
His plane was a Cessna, with floats. I think it would seat about three
people, plus gear. But being a large party, there was just too much
to take in on one trip... so two trips into the hunting area had to
We knew nothing about the area we were going to hunt, and neither did
Cleo. It wouldn't be the first time the Brown boys were
wondering around in the wilderness not knowing where we were or what
we were doing. Cleo landed the plane on a beautiful glacier lake.
We used a rubber raft to take everything to shore, because the lake
was only deep enough to land a plane in the middle.
So, it was around 600 yards to the shore. After everything and everyone
was flown in, and everything was on shore, we were ready to hunt.
Cleo took off not to be seen for 13 days.
It was still early in the day, so everyone agreed to hike up near the
lake to find a good place to set up camp and find fresh water.
It wasn't long before I got this awful feeling in my stomach, that
maybe this really wasn't a good place to hunt. It was so thick with
willow that you couldn't see more then 25 yards, sometimes not even
that. The only place to walk was on a grizzly path, beaten down into
the earth from years of use. If that wasn't bad enough, the salmon
was running, so the place smelled like dead fish and wet grizzly.
The trees along the path were plaster with grizzly hair. Every
so often, they would take a big bite out of a tree. On some trees they
the bark ripped off 10 to 12 feet up. The farther we walked, the more
bear signs we saw.
Finally, we found a place to set up camp for the night. It was so thick
,that we even had to cut places out out of the brush just to set up the
And, to top it off, the bear path was only a few feet away. The shore
line of the lake was only about 15 feet down a steep bank.
We were more then a little worried. "More like scared!" We were in
there for 13 days. If something were to happen, there would be no help.
I don't know why one of us didn't consider that before! As I
climbed into our tent, that evening, I had my old Remington 3006 tightly
with one in the chamber and the safety on. At first, all seemed
well. After laying there for an hour or so, thinking the worst, and straining
to hear something, I dosed off to sleep. Around three in the morning,
the silence of the night was broken by a grizzly splashing around in the
right below our camp. Then we could hear brush breaking, as another
grizzly walked past our camp on the other side. As I laid there,
I said a little prayer to keep us safe. I distinctly remember asking
myself this question; "Why am I here, risking my life, hunting?"
I could be
home, like most average men, with my wife in a nice, warm bed with
no worries. The thermostat set just right for sleeping. Nothing to
but my wife kicking me in the middle of the night. I do remember thinking
to myself; "If I ever get out of this place alive, I'll never do anything
stupid like this again, no way! "
We were very lucky on that hunt. Nobody got hurt. But, we found out
later that my dad did have a heart attack on that trip. One night he
woke up complaining about being very sick, after a hard days hunt.
I was tired from all the walking we did and I was only half his age.
We were afraid he might be having a heart attack, but there was nothing
we could do. After a good nights rest, he got up the next morning
and said he felt fine. So, we thought he just over did it and had been
exhausted from all the hiking up the mountain that day. Later on,
after he got home, a visit to the doctor confirmed that he did have
a heart attack. He had to have a couple of bypasses done.
The rest of the hunt wasn't too bad. If you don't count the five different
kinds of biting flies, that took different shifts, at biting any exposed
We killed two grizzlies, two mountain goats, and ended up passing up
a real nice moose. It was so warm, we were afraid the meat would just go
to waste. We didn't think it was a good idea to have all that bloody,
moose meat hanging around to attract the bears either. We hung the
goat meat about half a mile away from our main camp, high in the trees.
My brother Randy with a grizzly
There was some other adventures on that trip, also. We split up one
day to hunt. My two older brothers went up on the mountain to hunt
sheep and goats. They found a couple of nice goats and killed two.
We did have radios, so they call us and asked if Randy and I could come
up and help pack out the meat. We left dad in camp to rest. Then my
younger brother and I were off to help them out. We had to cross a small
stream. Then the climb was straight up. It took us almost all day to
get up to where they were. We pack up all the meat, with little time left,
before dark. Going down was a lot harder then going up with all that
meat on our backs. Not to mention the hidden clefts, with fifty to hundred
foot drop offs. Finally, we made it down with only a short ways to
go. To our surprise the small stream was four times the size it was in
morning! Because of the warm weather, the glacier run off made the
stream impossible to cross. So there we were, stuck on the wrong side of
the stream with a lot of fresh goat meat and no where to put it. We
had one, two-man pup tent, and two sleeping bags. We know more got the
tent set up and it started to rain. It was cold and damp. My three
brothers really smelled bad in the small tent, at least I think it was
them. I could
not believe that I smelled that bad. Once again, I was asking myself
that same question all over again: "Why am I here? Why do I keep doing
crazy stuff!" Once again, we were lucky...no bears that night. The
stream dropped enough the next day to let us cross. My poor dad had to
the night alone. He said he didn't sleep at all worrying about
us and listening for bears.
Finally, it was the twelfth day of the hunt and we were all still alive!
We packed up all our gear and went down to the lake where our adventure
began. Cleo was right on time the next day. He circled the lake, then
circle it again and again. We noticed that the water line had dropped a
feet because it was starting to get colder, so there wasn't as much
water coming off the glacier. Finally, Cleo landed on the lake and his
came to a sudden stop. It was stuck in the mud! My brother, Don, took
the raft out and helped Cleo push the plane out of the mud. Then Cleo
told my brother that he didn't know if he could take off again, there
wasn't enough water. Cleo told us to cut some poles and take them
him. He walked around, placing them as markers, in the deepest water.
which barely reach the tops of his hip boots. When a old bush pilot tells
you he might not be able to take off, and there was the possibility
that the plane might crash, well, that gets your attention pretty fast.
got the plane all packed up for the first load out, my dad and two
older brothers volunteer to go first. Randy and I had to stay behind until
next trip out. As we sat in the raft, we watch nervously as Cleo taxied
the plane slowly up the lake. If he hit rocks, it could have damage the
pontoons. If he hit a mud bar, it could flip the plane. Slowly, he
turn the plane around, then the engine roared, down the lake they came
were shot out of a canon. But the planes pontoons couldn't break lose
from the water because of the lake being so low. Cleo tried bunny hopping
the plane, then he tilted the whole plane on it side riding on only
one pontoon. The wing was only inches off the water. Faster and faster
lake they went. The end of the lake was coming up fast. I thought to
myself: " They're not going to make it." Even if they got off the
still had to clear the trees. Finally, the plane broke lose at the
last moment and they were off, clearing the trees tops only by a couple
Randy and I just sat there in shock and amazement, knowing we were next!
We had a lot of time to sit and think about what we just saw,
knowing we had to do the same thing. I was praying that the water
didn't drop anymore. All though, he never said so, I think Randy
been thinking the same thing. After the plane was out of
sight, and we couldn't hear the engine anymore, it was once again complete
As we sat there not talking about what we just witnessed, there was
nothing left to do but admire the beautiful mountains and lake.
Out of no where, on a hill over looking the lake, a lone wolf started
to howl with its long drawn out bawls. The way the water carried the
sound of the howl, it seemed like it was right there beside us. I looked
at Randy, he looked at me, and I said to myself; "It doesn't get any
better then this."
After a couple of hours of waiting, we could hear the distance sound
of the Cessna engine. Once again Cleo circle the lake, then guided by
the poles in the water, he came in for the final landing. Cleo was
one of those types of men that makes legends. It was a privilege
to have sat at
his table and listen as he told us some stories. He was almost 70 years
old and not a very big man. He spent over 50 years working and flying
his plane as a outfitter and guide. Plus, the work he done for
the Fish & Game Department of Alaska. So even though I was a
about flying out of there, I knew we were in experience hands. Several
years later, the National Geographic Magazine wrote a story about him
and some of his adventures as being the oldest working bush pilot in
Alaska. You don't live long being a stupid bush pilot in that part of the
country. So, I put my faith in Cleo knowing what he was doing,
but I said a little prayer just in case.
After we loaded up the rest of our gear, Cleo turned the plane
around. Once again the engine came to life. With the flaps down, he held
plane back until the engine almost reached full power. It felt like
it was going to come apart. Then Cleo left her rip. Faster and faster down
lake we went just like before, but this time it was Randy and me in
the seat. Once again, the pontoons wouldn't break lose from the low
Cleo pulled the stick back, then pushed it forward, which made the
plane jump like a rabbit down the lake, what a ride! Then he lifted one
pontoon out of the water ,then the other. Still the plane wouldn't
break lose...this went on for almost half a mile. Just as before, the end
lake was coming up quick. I could feel my heart beating faster, especially
when I looked out the window of the plane and the wing, on my side,
was only inches off the water. We were riding on only one pontoon.
Cleo was trying to break the plane lose, one wrong move, and it would
have ended badly. Just when I thought we were going to have to go back
and do it all over again, Cleo pull back hard on the stick and that
little Cessna shot up out of the water and we were off...once again
barely missing the tops of the trees. I'll tell you one thing, I wouldn't
to play poker with Cleo. The expression on his face never changed.....I
think he rather enjoyed the ride. Randy and Me, on the other hand, was
a different story. We probably had that deer-in-the-headlight look.
Cleo had a funny way of flying his plane. If he would see a game animal
on the right side, he would turn the plane on its side so he could
down. A couple of times, I found my face up against the bloody
window looking almost straight down. Great view, but it almost gave me
heart attack because he wouldn't tell us when he was going to do it.
You could tell Cleo was a real bush pilot, his plane wasn't pretty. There
blood and hair all over the inside, even on the windows. The smell
of old blood, mixed with the smell of gasoline, gave it a special aroma.
of the instrument in the dash were missing. There were wires hanging
out of the holes in the dash with wire nuts on them. Cleo probably didn't
need those instrument anyway.
After we made it back home, I said to myself looking back: "It was a
lot of fun but I don't think I'll ever do anything that foolish again.
" I mean,
who in their right mind, flies into the wilderness for two weeks without
anyway of getting out for help. The next couple years, Randy and
hunted Colorado and Idaho for elk and mule deer; no bears or anything
dangerous. We needed a break from that. But there was that time in
Colorado, we were on top of this 10,000 foot mountain, and it started
to snow. We were awake all night trying to keep our small tent from
caving in. The next morning, we dug out of the tent and there
was two feet of snow on the ground. That was a long, 10 mile walk out that
with 50 pound packs on our back. Then there was that little hunt in
the Selway Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho. We hunted 7 days and it rained
for 5 straight days and nights. You could either sit in the tent, and be
wet, or go hunting and be wet. We went hunting. Yes, I remember asking
myself many times on these hunts, "Why do I hunt?"
I'll answer that question later.
It was three years after our first Alaskan hunt, then one night my brother,
Sam, called me up and said: "Hey", ....................I'll tell that story
next time. TCB