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Home > Books > Hunting with the Bow and Arrow > Alaskan adventures
Chapter XV
Alaskan adventures

It seems as if Fate had chosen my hunting companion, Arthur Young, to add to the honor and the legends of the bow. At any rate it fell to his lot to make two trips to Alaska between the years 1922 and 1925.

He and his friend, Jack Robertson, were financed in a project to collect moving-picture scenes of the Northland.

They were instructed to show the country in all its seasonal phases, to depict the rivers, forests, glaciers and mountains, particularly to record the summer beauties of Alaska. The animal life was to be featured in full:--fish, birds, small game, caribou, mountain sheep, moose and bear, all were to be captured on the celluloid film, and with all this a certain amount of hunting with the bow was to be included and the whole woven into a little story of adventure.

Equipped with cameras, camp outfit and archery tackle, they sailed for Seward. From here they ventured into the wilderness as circumstances directed. Sometimes they went by boat to Kadiac Island, sometimes to the Kenai Peninsula, or they journeyed by dog sleds and packs inland. They spent the better part of two years in this hard, exacting work, often carrying as much as a hundred pounds on their backs for many miles. Great credit must be given to Art's partner Jack Robertson, for his energy, bravery and fortitude. His work with the camera will make history, but for the time being we shall focus our attention on the man with the bow. Only a small portion of Young's time was devoted to hunting, the exigencies incidental to travel and gathering animal pictures were such that archery was of secondary importance.

He hunted and shot ptarmigan, some on the wing; he added grouse and rabbit meat to the scant larder of their "go light" outfit. He shot graylings and salmon in the streams. He could easily have killed caribou because they operated close to vast herds of these foolish beasts. However, at the time it seemed that there was no hurry about the matter; they had meat in camp, and pictures were of greater interest just then. They expected to see plenty of these animals. Strangely enough the herd suddenly left the country and no further opportunity presented itself for shooting them. This was no great disappointment because the sport was too easy. What did seem worth while was the killing of the great Alaskan moose. These beasts are the largest game animal on this continent, with the exception of the almost extinct bison.

Young had his first chance at moose while on the Kenai Peninsula. Here the boys were camped and having finished his camera work Art took a day off to hunt.

In the afternoon he discovered a large old bull lying down in a burnt-over area, where approach by stealth was possible, so he began his stalk with utmost caution, paying particular attention to scent and sound. By crawling on his hands and knees he came within a hundred and fifty yards, when his progress was stopped by a fallen tree. To go around it, would expose him to vision; to climb over, would alarm the animal by snapping twigs; so Young decided to dig under. He worked with his hunting knife and hands for one hour to accomplish this operation. When he had passed this obstacle he continued his crawling till he reached a distance of sixty yards. At this stage Art called the old bull with a birch bark horn, then the moose heard him and stood up. The brush was so thick that he could not shoot immediately, but waited as the old bull circled to catch his wind and answered the challenge. When he presented a fair target at seventy yards or so, Art drove an arrow at him. It struck deep in the flank, up to the feather ranging forward. The bull was only startled a trifle and trotted off a hundred yards. Here he stopped to look and listen. Young drew his bow again, and overshooting his mark, his arrow struck one of the broad thick palms of the antlers. The point pierced the two inches of bone and wedged tight, making a sharp report as it hit. This started the animal off at a fast trot. Young followed slowly at some distance and soon had the satisfaction of seeing the moose waver in his course and lie down. After a reasonable wait the hunter advanced to his quarry and found him dead. The triumph of such an episode is more or less mixed with misery. The pleasure undoubtedly would have been greater had some other lusty bow man been with him, but as it was he had to feast his eyes alone, moreover he had to make his way back to camp, which was some eight miles off, and night rapidly coming on.

Bull moose bagged on the Kenai peninsula
Bull moose bagged on the Kenai peninsula

This part of the story was just as thrilling to Art, because he must stumble through the rough land of "little sticks" in the dark with the constant apprehension of meeting some unwelcome Alaska brown bear, which were thick there, and also the extremely unpleasant experience of running into dead trees, tripping over fallen limbs and dropping into gullies. He reached camp ultimately, I believe. Next day he returned with his companion for meat, his antler trophy and the picture, which we present.

This bull weighed approximately sixteen hundred pounds and had a spread of sixty inches across its antlers.

Upon the second expedition a year later, Young bagged another moose. Here the arrow penetrated both sides of the chest and caused almost instant death, showing that size is not a hindrance to a quick exodus.

It is surprising even to us to see the extreme facility with which an arrow can interrupt the essential physiological processes of life and destroy it. We have come to the belief that no beast is too tough or too large to be slain by an arrow. With especially constructed heads sharpened to the utmost nicety, I have shot through a double thickness of elephant hide, two inches of cardboard, a bag of shaving and gone into an inch of wood. We feel sure that having penetrated the hide of a pachyderm his ribs can easily be severed and the heart or pulmonary cavity entered. Any considerable incision of either of these vital areas must soon cause death. And this is a field experiment which we propose to try in the near future.

There is a legitimate excuse for shooting animals such as moose, where food is a problem and the bow bears an honorable part in the episode. We feel moreover that by using the bow on this large game we are playing ultimately for game preservation. For by shaming the "mighty hunter" and his unfair methods in the use of powerful destructive agents, we feel that we help to develop better sporting ethics.

It was partly on this account, and partly to answer the dare of those who have said, "You may hunt the tame bears of California and Wyoming, but you cannot fool with the big Kadiac bears of Alaska with your little bow and arrow," that Young determined to go after these monsters and see if they were as fierce and invulnerable as claimed. At the present writing we who shoot the bow have slain more than a dozen bears with our shafts, but the mighty Kadiac brown grizzly has laughed at us from his frozen lair--as the literary nature fakir might say--we have been told that all that is necessary if you wish to meet a brownie, is to give him your address in Alaska and he will look you up. Also we have been told that once insulted he will tear a house down to "get even with you,"--so I shook Art's hand good-bye, when he started on this Kadiac escapade, and told him to "give 'em hell."

After a long time he came back to San Francisco, and this is the story he told me--and Art has no guile in his system but is as straight as a bowstring.

"We made a false start in going after our bears. We took a boat from Seward and sailed to Seldie, then to Kenai Peninsula. Here we hunted for two solid weeks and found practically no signs of brownies.

"I decided at the end of this period to waste no more time, but to pull out of the country and sail back to Seward. We had but a short time to complete our picture before the last boat left the Arctic waters, but hearing of good bear signs on Kadiac Island we hit out for this place and landed in Uganik Bay. Here in the Long Arm, we found a country with many streams flowing down from the mountains which constitute this Island, and much small timber in combination with open grassy glades. A type of country that is particularly suited for photographic work and bow hunting.

"After several days' exploring we discovered that the bears were catching salmon in the streams and we were successful in photographing as many as seven grizzlies at once. We took pictures of the bears wading in the water looking for fish. Usually the bear slaps the salmon out of the stream, then goes up on the bank and eats it. The "humpies" were so plentiful here, however, that they were tossed out on the bank, but not eaten, the bear preferring to capture one while in the water then wade about on his hind legs while he held the fish in his arms and devoured it.

"We got all this and many comic antics of young bears climbing trees and playing about by using a telephoto lens. After the camera man was satisfied I proposed that we 'pull off' a 'stunt' with the bow.

"By good fortune we saw four bears coming down the mountain side to fish. They were making their way slowly through an open valley. The camera was stationed at a commanding point and I ran up a dry wash thickly grown with willow and alder to head off the bears. I was able to get within a hundred yards by use of the willow cover, then the brush became too thin to hide me, so I walked boldly out into the open to meet the bears. I practically invited them to charge since they were reputed to be so easily insulted. At first they paid little attention to me, then the two in advance sat up on their haunches in astonishment and curiosity. I approached to a distance of fifty yards, then the largest brownie began champing his jaws and growling; then he 'pinned back his ears' preparing to come at me. Just as he was about to lunge forward I shot him in the chest. The arrow went deep and stuck out a foot beyond his shoulder. He dropped on all fours and before he could make up his mind what hit him, I shot him again in the flank. This turned him and feeling himself badly wounded he wheeled about and ran. While this was going on an old female also stood in a menacing attitude, but as the wounded bear galloped past her, she came to the ground and ran diagonally from us. All of them followed suit, and as they swept out of the field of vision the wounded bear weakened and fell less than a hundred yards from the camera.

"True to his standards the camera man continued to grind out the film to the very last, so the whole picture is complete. You will see it some day for yourself and it will answer all doubts about the invulnerable status of the Kadiac bears."

Young himself was not particularly elated over this conquest. He knew long ago that the Kadiac bear was no more formidable than the grizzlies we had slain and he only undertook this adventure for show purposes. Moreover though he used his heavy osage orange bow and usual broad-heads, he declares that he believes he can kill the largest bear in Alaska with a fifty pound weapon and proportionately adjusted arrows. Both Young and I are convinced of the necessity of very sharp broad-heads, and trust more to a keen blade and a quick flight than to power.

The great Kadiak bear brought low
The great Kadiak bear brought low

During his Alaskan travels Art preferred his Osage bows to the yew. They stood being dragged over rocks and falling down mountain sides better than the softer yew wood. His three bows were under five feet six inches in length, short for convenience and each pulled over eighty-five pounds. The country in which he worked was so rocky that it was most disastrous on arrows, and every shot that missed meant a shattered shaft.

Possibly his roughest trip was one taken to picture mountain goats. Here a funny incident occurred. Jack and Art were stalking a herd of these wary creatures with the camera when suddenly around a point of rock the whole band of goats appeared. Art was ahead and had only just time enough to duck down on his hands and knees and hide his face close to the ground. He stayed so still that the entire flock passed close by him almost touching his body, while the camera man did his work from a concealed ledge higher up. Though Young counts it little to his credit, he shot one of these male goats, which was poised on so precipitous a point that it fell over and over down the mountain side and was lost as a trophy and as camp meat. Humiliating as such an episode may be, it serves, however, to add a coup to the archer's count. And there we let the matter rest.

But what is of greater interest is his outwitting a Rocky Mountain Big Horn. This animal is considered the greatest game trophy in America. It is an extremely alert sheep, all eyes and wisdom. If you expose yourself but a second, though you be a mile away from the ram, probably you will be seen. And though the sheep may not move while you look at him, he is gone when you have completed your toilsome climb and peer over the last ledge of rock preparatory to shooting. Ned Frost used to say that when he hunted Big Horns he paid no attention to hearing or smell, but he was so careful about sight, that when he raised his head cautiously over a ridge to observe the sheep, he always lifted a stone and peered underneath it, or picked up a bunch of grass and gazed through it.

Most hunters are content to stalk this game within three or four hundred yards, then aim at it with telescopic sights. It is the last word in good hunting.

Stewart Edward White, the author and big game hunter, has said that the following experience is one of the finest demonstrations of stalking and understanding of animal psychology he knows.

Up near the head of Wood River, Young and his party came on a number of Big Horn Sheep and first devoted several days to film work. Then Young decided to try for a trophy with the bow. After hunting all morning he discovered with his glasses a ram a long way off.

The country was open and had no cover. The ram was resting on a ledge of rock elevated above the level of the valley. Even at a distance of half a mile it was evident to Art that the ram had seen him, so Young studied the sheep and the country carefully before deciding what plan to pursue.

From the lay of the land it was plain that no concealment was possible and no detour or ambush could be employed. The glasses showed that the ram was a fairly old specimen and had a very sophisticated look. In fact, to Art he looked conceited and had an expression that said: "There is a man, but I am a pretty wise old sheep; I know all about men; that fellow hasn't seen me yet and when he does, there is plenty of open country back of me; my best plan is to lie still and let this tenderfoot pass." So he went on ruminating and blinking at the sun.

Taking this mental attitude into consideration, Young decided that the best method of outwitting this particular sheep was to take him at his own valuation and proceed as a tenderfoot down the valley. So he walked unconcernedly along at an oblique angle to the sheep and never once taking a direct look at him. He went gaily along whistling, kicking pebbles and swinging his bow. When he had reached a distance of two or three hundred yards the old sheep lifted up his head to see what was going on. Young paid no attention to him, though he observed him out of the corner of his eyes. So the wise old boy settled back content with his diagnosis.

Art walked along as innocently as ever. When he was a hundred and fifty yards off, the ram raised his head again and took a longer observation. He seemed to be changing his mind. Young said to himself, "He will take one more look, then he will go. Now is the time to act." So nocking an arrow on the string he ran at full speed directly at the sheep, and when half way he saw the tip of his horns rise above the ledge and knew it was time to stop. He came to his shooting pose and waited, the arrow half drawn. Sure enough! Out walked the old fellow to the very edge of the parapet and gazed over. Off flew the arrow and in the twilight it was lost to vision, but he heard it strike and saw the ram wheel in flight. As it disappeared over the ridge Art followed at a run; reaching the top he peered cautiously about and saw the sheep at no great distance standing still with its legs spread wide apart. He knew by the posture that it was done for. So he went back to the valley and because of the distance from camp and the oncoming darkness he made a fire and "Siwashed it" or camped out in the open all night without blankets. In the morning he went after his trophy and found it near the spot last seen. It was a fine specimen. The arrow had pierced it from front to rear completely through and was lost; a center shot at eighty yards; a most remarkable bit of archery and hunting stratagem. This head now decorates the dining room of the Young home in San Francisco. Unfortunately the moose antlers were cached near a river in Alaska and an unprecedented flood carried them out to sea.

While speaking of Alaskan rivers there recurs to my mind a most remarkable incident related by Young. In one picture required for their film it was necessary to show a canoe in the course of construction, the subsequent use of this vessel and an upset in the turbulent waters of the river. To represent his bow in its canvas case, and still to spare that weapon a wetting, Young went down the river bank to pick out a stick about the same size to put in his bow case. Taking the first piece that came to hand he started to place it in the case, when struck by its smoothness he looked at it and found he had a weatherbeaten old Indian bow in his hand. It seemed like a sign, a good omen,--for we playfully indulge in omens in these romantic adventures with the bow.

Arthur Young outwits the Alaska Bighorn
Arthur Young outwits the Alaska Bighorn

Studying this implement later I found it apparently to be a birch Urock bow, some five feet long, having nocks and a place for the usual perpendicular piece of wood bound on at the handle to check the string. It would have pulled about sixty pounds, good enough for caribou hunting.

And so in brief are the adventures of Art Young in Alaska.

But who can speak of the adventures in the heart of our archer? Here is no common hunter, no insensate slayer of animals. Here we have the poet afoot,--the archaic adventurer in modern game fields; the champion of fair play and clean sport; all that is strong and manly.

I take off my hat to Arthur Young.

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