February 04, 2019
By Matt Palmquist
Several years ago, I was fortunate to cross paths with Jesse Knock after a Sitka blacktail hunt with my buddies Jason Stafford and Kaleb Baird. Jesse and I are friends through social media, so we planned to meet up while in his hometown of Ketchikan to swap hunting stories.
As the discussion with Jesse turned to black bears, it was easy to tell that Jesse had a passion for hunting bruins each spring. Jason and I quickly told Jesse that we’d gladly accompany him on a future hunt, and when it came time to apply for the 2016 bear season, Jesse told us where to apply for.
The time finally came to head north. When Jason and I landed in Ketchikan, it was pouring rain — a common theme for Southeast Alaska. Thankfully, the forecast for the days ahead looked phenomenal.
The next morning, we picked up a skiff from Jesse’s friend that would be our “wheels” for the week. All through the planning stages, Jess kept telling us we were going to have a great adventure. Seeing the boat for the first time made the adventure comment hit home. I am not sure what I envisioned, but it was definitely a slightly larger boat than the 16-foot Lund we would be using.
We loaded up the boat with all our gear and supplies for the week. Luckily, there were still a few places for us to sit! Our excitement was redlined for the adventure to start, but that quickly fizzled when the boat’s motor started sputtering shortly after getting started. With new gas and a new fuel filter we thought our problem was fixed, but the boat still wouldn’t run smoothly.
We travelled adjacent to town for over an hour, in case the motor decided to completely die and we needed help. I could sense Jesse wasn’t quite comfortable taking the boat on a ride that would take several hours if the motor wasn’t running well. But scrapping the boat and taking a floatplane would delay the hunt another 24 hours, and our mobility after we landed would be nonexistent compared to having the skiff, so we forged ahead.
We stopped to fuel up at the last dock before leaving the security of town. The sailing was pretty smooth because the channels are pretty narrow, but we had to cross a large open stretch of water to get to the bay where we would be hunting. All was well if we could stay on top of the waves, but occasionally we found ourselves in the valley and it felt like we were going to be sucked under. Needless to say, this Kansas boy was a little out of his comfort zone! I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when we finally made it to the bay.
The waves decreased significantly inside the bay and there was a short amount of daylight left, so we decided to hunt on our way toward the cabin. We glassed several grassy shorelines, and immediately spotted a bear. He initially looked small to me, but as we closed the gap he started to grow. However, after assessing him we decided it wasn’t the kind of bear we were looking for 30 minutes into the hunt.
We continued on, checking a bait station near the shoreline that Jesse’s friend Dale had been running for several years. There weren’t any bears on it when we pulled up, but as we slipped back to the skiff, Jason spotted a bear headed toward the bait. A few steps later and we spotted another bear in the other direction. He was larger, but we didn’t get a real good look at him before he disappeared into the cover.
We unloaded the boat and got settled in our cabin. Jesse talked to Dale, and we decided to follow him up to his other bait site and sit in the morning. It had been a long day, so sleep came easier than one would expect, but thoughts of big black bears occupied my dreams.
After checking to make sure our bows were still dialed in after the boat ride, we headed up the mountain to the other bait. The bait was close to a lake, and the view we had was about as good as it gets!
Jason and I set up on the ground, and Jesse climbed into an old platform stand that he had hunted years ago. He would have a great vantage point to film the hunt, and also signal us if he saw a bear approaching. We were 50 yards off the bait, and Jesse likes to “bait and stalk” in this location. Oftentimes it is possible to move in on a bear as it feeds, resulting in a higher percentage shot. There were also a lot of trails leading to the bait, so there was a strong chance that a shot would materialize before the bear made it to the bait.
We were merely minutes into the sit when a bear snuck in on us. He circled behind us and I possibly could have shot, but the tall grass made it difficult to see his vitals and judge his size. The bear circled several times before finally coming in to the bait 45 minutes later. He fed for a few minutes, and then ran off like he smelled us. After that the action was slow, so we headed back to camp to come up with a game plan.
The windy conditions weren’t conducive to stalking, so we decided to head back to the same location as the morning hunt. It didn’t take long to see a bear, but once again he sensed something wasn’t right and turned around. This happened a few times early in our sit, creating doubt in our setup. As the sun sank lower, I was thinking it may be a bust for the evening when a bear appeared less than 20 yards to our left!
As he sauntered down the trail that was less than 20 yards in front of us, I slowly hooked my release onto my D-loop. I came to full draw as the bear stopped perfectly, picked a spot, and loosed the arrow. My arrow flew true, and I could see blood pouring out of the bear as he ran off. He disappeared into the brush, but Jason and I were confident he was down!
The blood trail was easy to follow, and we found my bear less than 20 yards from where we had lost sight of him. It was a great feeling punching a tag on the first full day of hunting, and I can’t thank Jason and Jesse enough for all their help packing the bear back to the cabin.
I tagged along with both Jesse and Jason the rest of the week as they tried to fill their tags. Jason was committed to hunting the shoreline bait until he punched his tag, and his patience and diligence were rewarded with a gorgeous Pope and Young-class bear.
On the last day, Jesse sat on a great bear that hit the same bait Jason had killed on two days before, but the bear didn’t cooperate and we ran out of time. A long season with access to lots of great bears is a blessing and a curse for Jesse, as he passed up several opportunities to fill his tag.
The scenery, weather and company on this hunt honestly couldn’t have been any better. I know Jesse, Jason, and I will have many more adventures in our future, but this one will be pretty hard to beat!