More fun in Southeast Alaska today! I decided to hike and explore around a salt chuck, which is basically a very confined bay of salt water connected to the sea by a narrow neck that goes dry at a low tide, basically making it an independent salt water lake for a several hours a day. It turned out the country was very brushy and broken by small, steep, hills and cliffs. The steep hillside comes right down to the water in many areas there. As I was quietly making by way along the "lake" an out of place noise caught my attention, it was the sound of a bear clacking its teeth. They chomp their teeth together as an act of aggression and threat. Not sure if I'd really heard that or not, I took step up the hill and listened. Definite teeth clacking, not more than 20 or 25 yards uphill from me. Taking in this sound I look around me and I realize I've walked right into a cache. Along with enough torn up dirt to make you think someone was practicing with an excavator, there are two giant piles of crap next to me. The pop-can circumference of them tells me the guy making the noises is a big bear. My nose is full of the smell of him, earthy with a slightly acrid muskiness to it.
When bears kill a deer or another bear they can't eat it all one sitting so they will tear up the ground to bury what's left and then bed down nearby, generally uphill or someplace they can see and guard their food. Many people have been charged when the stumble upon these caches. Walking up on a brown bear's food cache is one of the most dangerous things you can do here.
So anyway, I've got this guy up hill, close, and sounding mad. The clacking sounds are now joined by menacing, huffing roar-growls. It's brushy here and visibility maxes out at about 15 yards. I cannot see him, or see any brush moving to tell me exactly where he is. Regardless, he cannot be more than 25 yards away. I feel the sounds as much as hear them. I plant my feet, point the .375 his way and swing the safety to the middle position, expecting at any second to once again hear the sounds of a charge; the guttural bellow that announces he's coming and then the sound of sticks breaking and brush parting as he barrels in, the sort of sound a decent size car might make as it rolls down a hill in neutral at 35mph. I know this is about to happen. He'll come low and fast, the real thing, not some high up posturing bluff charge. I kneel with both knees on the ground, low in order to see him well through the brush. I remind myself not to belt him until the angle's good and he's clear enough of the brush to really plow him. It occurs to me it was rather gentlemanly of him to give a bit of a heads up. Here. We. Go. In the space of about 10 seconds I've gone from a jolly little hike to the verge of fighting.
Then I realize the reason I have a nose full of bear is that the wind is blowing from him to me. He likely thinks I'm another bear. Then I start talking to him. For what it's worth I talk to bears in German, because somewhere out there is a French brown bear. The teeth clacking continues as I look around to figure my options for escape. I realize to go back the way I came puts me at the bottom of a funnel that leads right up to him. If I go that way and he stays grumpy it might incite him to charge. Escape sidehill the way I was headed is no good due to two fallen and interlocked yellow cedars. Their springy branches are as impenetrable as barbed wire at the moment. Downhill is the only option. It's about 25 yards to the water, and I head that way, talking and making noise to let him know I'm leaving. He continues the angry noises. At the bottom the hill turns into a cliff, and it's a good ten feet straight down to the water, There's no way I'm heading any other way so I grab an alder branch the size of my arm in one hand while holding the rifle in the other. Fast, but not too fast I end up in water past my knees with more function than grace. From there it's a short walk down the beach to safety, and a much longer one around the bay to get back to the boat.
In the end I had a hike that got my heart rate up, and didn’t have to do any skinning and hide hauling. It was a good day.