What was I thinking? I thought as I climbed up a black-diamond-caliber death slope while wearing hip boots and closing in on a massive brown bear. The bruin was relaxing far above the tree line in a lush meadow overlooking Alaska’s Copper River. We’d spotted him from far below and then I’d said stupidly, “Let’s go get him.”
All kinds of negative thoughts swirled around my whirring tin brain as the bear hunt officially commenced. By the looks of things, this hunt was going to take its pound of flesh. I pondered stuff like, I’ve got the wrong boots on for an inconceivable climb like this, and, I’m nearly 50, and this kind of stalk is for 20-year-old testosterone freaks with no family and something to prove to a chick on Facebook.
Other musings floated through my extremely stressed-out cranium as I crept up the face of a peak I was certain dispensed with punks ruthlessly: If I fall down this snow slide, it’s going to be one long and painful bone-snapping Lucy skit before I’m forced to meet Jesus prematurely.
Another notion that kept gnawing on me like a Chihuahua working a beef rib was the fact that I could have gone to Africa again and could have easily, easily, already tagged at least half a dozen trophy animals and roasted as many cigars in celebration of the sacred hunt—all without busting half the sweat I had in the last seven days.
But no, I had to come to Alaska, and I was on my way up Mount Kill-a-Wussy with a formerly beautiful—but now completely battered—custom .450/400 Ruger No. 1, trying to propel my skinny butt up a 6,000-foot snow- and ice-covered incline with slick-soled boots after a brownie that probably wouldn’t even be there when we got there.
Am I this demented? What’s next? Fight Club? Riding hammerheads with Manny Puig? Crashing a Rosie O’Donnell pool party? What am I thinking—or not thinking? I could be at a swank restaurant on South Beach right now sucking down mojitos instead of being sucked on by mosquitoes.
But the real butt kicker, the thought that eclipsed all the aforementioned whiny and pitiful metro-sexual muck I was being tempted to embrace because my pink flesh was getting pinched, was the guilt trip that was now in fifth gear: I had brought my daughter with me on this baptism-of-fire bear hunt and she, too, was experiencing the harsh reality of hunting burly bruins in a brutal environment.
Yep, I brought my youngest daughter, Regis, my lovely, little 18-year-old Miami chica bonita who simply wanted to go hunting with her pops. And bad daddy had decided to bring her along on a hunt that most macho men would have tapped out on after the seventh day—and yet I signed us up for 14.
The place we were hunting on the Copper River is a unique little ecosystem of glaciers, gorgeous mountains and Sahara-like sand flats on a massive silt-filled waterway inhabited by demonic mosquitoes of biblical proportions. Yep, those multitudinous bloodsuckers did not sleep or take a break from biting our backsides; if we killed one, 50 of its relatives would replace it, ready and giddy to pick up where their dearly departed was just dusted.
My guide, Wayne Woods (www.woods-outfitting.com), had given my girl and me the caveats regarding what we would face beforehand. He said most men don’t like this camp, and few have the physical moxie to make it through. He promised we’d be hounded by biting insects and experience daily eight-hour sand storms of such enormous proportions that they can be seen from outer space, in a place with no running water (which meant donning DEET 24/7 with no showers or baths). He then added there’d be no electricity, and the only place to take a poop would either be in an outhouse or in the bushes with the bears. But that was the deal, and that is where the big bears are, and if my daughter wanted one she would have to pay the steep mental and physical cover charge.
Suffice it to say, the location and manner in which we were hunting was not for squeamish 18-year-old chicks who don’t like being stretched like a bungee cord. I was semi-cool with the aforementioned trials and inconveniences, but was my daughter?
This was no surprise, though, because such is the approach that my wife and I have come to expect from both our girls: namely, a thirst for adventure and a joyful, non-complaining warrior attitude once the quest starts to get rough.
A lot of my buddies asked me what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks I was doing taking my daughter to Alaska for two weeks to hunt Ursus arctos horribilis. This was an easy question to answer. I wanted my daughter, who hopes to hunt for a living, to experience the real deal. I wanted her to kick it old-school with a dangerous beast and feel a tad bit of what hunting must have been like many moons ago before everything on this planet became an air-conditioned shopping mall.
Back to my buddies’ concerns over taking my daughter to Alaska on a dangerous hunt. Dangerous? You want to talk danger? This toxic culture is more dangerous than any hunting grounds I’ve been on from Alaska to Africa. It’s poisonous. I determined long ago that I didn’t want my girls to be a part of the local teen fart cloud. So I decided that to keep them from becoming the next adolescent train wrecks, one of the essential ingredients would be a regular dose of the irregular wild, especially hunting. Yep, my plan was to inoculate them from becoming Anna Nicole Smiths of the new millennium via the vaccine of pursuing venison.
Call me weird but in my wonderful world of guns and hunting that we don’t have too many freak boys and girls. It seems as if the bang of the gun, the flight of the arrow, the consumption of freshly killed flesh and the thrill of the hunt are effective at keeping one’s feet tethered to the planet. Imagine that.
Here’s another little ditty I learned in regard to girls and hunting: I believe that just as you emasculate a man when you remove him from the wild, you rob a woman when she doesn’t get a steady slice of the undomesticated—in particular, the hunt. Hunting is an escape and a sensual exchange that getting new breast implants or maxing out a MasterCard could never outdo.
1. Take your daughter on a bear hunt. If she likes “living on the edge” then get her to crawl up to a 700-pound furry ball of death with claws. There’s your “edge,” sweetie pie.
2. Go to Africa and get up nice and close to a Cape buffalo, an elephant or a rogue bull hippo (out of the water) armed with a rifle, and she’ll find that situation is a tad more interesting than another night of Jell-O shots at Tu Tu Tango.
3. Run over the desert mountains of Arizona following dogs that are hot on the trail of a mountain lion. If you’re lucky, you might not only get a cougar at close range but you also might get to help the Border Patrol snag a few “undocumented workers.” For certain it won’t be as tedious as getting wrapped up in the minutiae of what her buddies are tweeting.
What’s surprising in the path I decided to plow in taking my daughter hunting with me is that she has become the envy of a lot of her buddies. At a major youth conference this past August in Washington, D.C., Regis reconnected with many of her BFFs. During the course of being reunited came the normal questions, namely: What did you do this summer?
Her girlfriends’ answers were typical: I worked; I went on a cruise; I went to the beach; I started dating the over-moussed harmonica player from an Oasis cover band; I went to Disney World; I blah, blah, blah ... .
However, when the query turned to Regis and what she had done during her holiday, she proudly reported, “I went brown bear hunting in Alaska with my dad.”
Hello. The majority responded, not in your imagined, “Eeew gross! How could you? Aren’t bears endangered?” But rather, they said, “Cool! I wanna do that! Can I go next time?”