The Bears of Admiralty Island
There are perhaps two thousand bears on Admiralty Island, and not a black among them-just big brownies and grizzlies. Bears are the largest carnivorous animals left in the world today, and those of Admiralty are nearly as large as the famous Kadiak bear, a species limited to Kadiak Island. Specimens weighing more than one thousand pounds and standing from seven to nine feet tall on their hind legs have been taken on the Alaskan Peninsula and the southeastern coast. During the spring these great animals live up among the snow-capped peaks, eating grass and roots and minding their own business. Then, in late July, they drift down to the banks of the streams, where the salmon are madly spawning, to enjoy a rich diet fresh from the icy waters. Then it is that the camera hunter should seek them out.
It was one day in late when we paddled our canoe to that cabin. We had left the good ship Westward, with other eager bear hunters on board, and moored a few miles out in Mole Harbor. We were to be the first contingent of bear hunters-the rest should have their fling later. Our guide made us welcome; there on the cabin floor we spread our beds to sleep a few hours until, in that black darkness just before dawn, we were wakened as he stirred about cooking the breakfast mush. Soon we were lined with that lasting nourishment; we pulled on our rubber boots, and, as the sky brightened, stepped into the rushing stream just outside the cabin door.
Our guide seemed to know every hidden and projecting rock beneath the surface of the tumbling water, and stepped easily from one foothold to another, while we stumbled behind him. He carefully plucked off every frond of fern or branch of devil’s club or alder that might brush against us, to kill our scent, and always had us step upon bare rocks or in the water, and, after crossing fallen logs without touching them with our hands, to splash them with water to wash off any possible scent. Our cameras were in packs on our backs, and Hasselborg carried a heavy.405 rifle to be used only if we met a bear that had been previously shot at, and remembered his hatred of man.
Frequently at sharp bends in the stream he would wade well out and peer cautiously around, having no wish to come suddenly upon a big grizzly or brownie unawares. The guide’s precaution instilled confidence rather than fear. We knew he had no desire to be mauled by an injured bear. That had happened once when he was collecting for a museum and was endeavoring to kill the animal without injuring its important skull. About a mile above the cabin we came face to face with our first brown bear.