6.02.2012

Dog Salmon River Bear Hunting Camp

It's been awhile. Before I dig into the story of the Dog Salmon River Camp and the AAA Alaskan Outfitters let me warn ya that some of the photos show bloody bear skulls and hides. You might be thinking what's this hippy surfer cowboy kid doing bear hunting, but keep to the story and you'll realize that these wise guy hunters are actually doing some good for the protection of wild. You gotta take a little to give a lot. Anyways, let's begin. January I left Antarctica, February I was in the Amazon Jungle in Peru, then in March I surfed Hawaii, went back to visit family in Ohio in April and after a week went north to Canada to visit my dearest and her family, then back to Ohio and 5 days after, May 4th, flew across the lower 48 and up to Alaska.

My big black duffel bag was flown somewhere other than where I landed and I arrived in Anchorage with flip flops, a mini guitar and some light rain gear. I snuggled up next to the wall near the baggage claim hoping that the bag would eventually come, but no. I slept for a few hours, told the lady at the counter to send the bag to Pilot Point and made my way to the Penn Air counter to meet up with Boss Jones and crew. Walking to the counter I saw 3 guys with a bunch of coolers and packs. We gathered together and the first thing they noticed was my flip flops. Thankfully, Chris shared his size 8 sneakers with me. Taking off out of Anchorage.



Landed in King Salmon at Bristol Bay. From here on the planes progressively became smaller.


 Lunch at Eddies.



There is one store in King Salmon. Strawberries for $7.99.


Downtown King Salmon.


Off to Pilot Point.


This penguin sticker is used in the Arctic and Antarctica. It's bipolar.




Once we arrived in Pilot Point we jumped in a truck and went to some dudes house to drink some cold coffee since we had a couple hours to kill before Ranger Rick and the Super Cub Gang flew in with their bush planes.


Flying out of Pilot Point and over Bristol Bay. Soon this bay will be populated with hundreds of fishing boats.



Over the bay and into the mountains to Dog Salmon River we go.




Hanging out the window and looking down at the Dog Salmon River Camp. The camp sits on nothing more than one acre of land next to the river, but the hunting grounds that Boss Jones has is 350,000 acres (550 miles) big. 



A short gravel runway, nice. I asked pilot Gary how many times bush planes crash flying in-and-out of camp and he said it's usually once every other season. I'd rather fly with a pilot that knows how to crash versus one that has never crashed before.


Home sweet home. Time to unload, unpack and get this hunt on.



This is what I've stepped in. No mice or squirrel poo on the pots and pans, nice.


Enough sardines and corned beef to survive 2012. One thing you gotta understand about bush cooking is half the battle is getting the food to your camp. First ya got to buy it, and that's usually a few days at Costco. Then pack it, ship it and carry it. Once it's there, unpack, organize and begin to cook. Hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of food, some that has to keep frozen or dry. When it was all unpacked I spent a week looking for green peppers, carrots and feta cheese... that cooler was flown in on the 10th day after being lost at the airport. My duffel bag came in on the 3rd day.


The Dog Salmon River. No fish, yet.


The morning after we arrived I opened the door to walk out barefoot to use a tree (no point in saying 'use the bathroom' or 'use the restroom' because bathrooms and restrooms are non-existent in the wild) and what d'ya know, it snowed a few inches. I picked a tree and while doing my business a moving grey blob caught the corner of my eye. It was a giant wolf and I mean giant. The biggest dog I have ever seen. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes to make sure I was seeing what I was seeing. It was a brother wolf on the prowl and for a minute I watched it till it got about 20 yards from me. Then, I ran inside.



Good thing I had size 8 sneakers for my size 12 feet. Shoes help running from wolves a bit easier on the feet.


The outhouse.


Boss Jones watching Gary takeoff to go pick up our guides at Pilot Point. 


One big happy gang of hunters.


By day 3 I was doing all my breads from scratch. It takes me a bit to get in the groove. The meals progressively got better as I became more comfortable and aware of what's in stock.


Outside the front door to the main lodge is the well, river and mountains.


My bed for the first week and half was right in heart of the main lodge.I was fine listening to Gary snore and all the hunter tales around the dinner table, but once the place became packed with guys weathered in and disgruntled from the never-ending Alaskan winter I moved out. When a chef gets ill all get ill and I don't want to do that, so I gotta keep on my health as part of my job.


Keeping an eye on the hills for any brown moving rocks.



This photo really mirrors the face of Alaska's cowboys. It's been decades since the wild west was won, but Alaska is America's last frontier. We ain't got horses, but we have bush planes. The exploration is dangerous. The food is rustic. Men carry their survival packs and guns into the wild to face the unknown. There is so much to learn from this country and that's why I keep coming back.



When a hunter arrives to camp he is fed and then fires his riffle to make sure the shot is spot on.



Pizza day. The best pizza in Alaska and I guarantee that.


Refueling the plane to get them hunters out.


This is where I work, eat and play. My chair - a little orange food rubbish bucket. What I tend to eat - salad, nuts, grains and anything with honey in it. 


The Dog Salmon River Camp stoop.


What's showing on the bush plane channel.


May 15th. I walked around the riverbank and found out that the backyard is a 10-mile valley lined with glaciers that feed the Dog Salmon.


Brice the Guide spent his free-time dreaming on huntin' wabbits and shooting his bow. Last year, he carried a tomahawk everywhere he went. A few times we got out our ninja weapons and did target practice.


BLTs and chicken noodle soup not from a can.


Candied almond and strawberry pie.


Loaves for sub sandwiches.


Honey teriyaki chicken.


My menu plan was nothing more than a bunch of scribbles on piece of paper. I try to keep all my recipes and ideas in my head so that the gerbils in my head keep running.


Hunter Wes on the move.


The guides ready to go set-up a camp beyond the Tit.



When they came back they were drenched from the rain and a few went belly up in a creek.


Lasagne.


Serenading the guests while the eat their din din. 


May 17th, 30 degrees and icy.


Cabin fever and the crud starting to settle in on half the camp. Eight days left before the bear hunting season ends and a few hunters are still stuck at the main camp due to weather.




A lovely winter walk through the woods.




Maple glazed pork tenderloin stuffed with sausage, bacon and apples.



Honey and cranberry scones.


Super Cub cookies.


I hate to say it, but this dog ain't all there.


The camp fox.



Another snowy day, another fine meal.


Flippin' kebabs.



Only at the Dog Salmon - Grizzly Fudge.



Ranger Rick.


When the camp was maxed out with hunters... riffles and cases, bags and tents, boots and hats were scattered everywhere.


Welcome to the meat shed.



This man taught me how to clean and take care of a hide. I never got to witness a bear being gutted, so I have something on my to-do list when I return to the camp. Once the bear hide and skull are gathered and flown back to the main camp Chris uses a razor to remove the fat. It's a slow and tedious process. The hide needs to be kept dry, otherwise it will rot. It's then salted, hung on a tree and beat with a stick. The hides and wilderness experience are what the hunters pay big bucks for, so it's up to this guy to respect the hide with all his will power. When the hides started coming in all at once he would work 16-18 hours a day removing fat. Mad respect to this guy.


May 19th. Goddess moon. Dreamt of flying in a spaceship that lost power and tumbled into a futuristic city. The power kicked back on the pilot apologized.



6 days left in the season. The caribou are getting colour on their white winter coats.



At this time all 14 hunters are out in the field. Only a few bear have been taken and one wolf.


Learning from the hide master. If you eat meat all these pics of blood and bones and shouldn't disturb you. As a chef it's important for me to know where my ingredients come from and how they get from a farm or forest and to a dinner table.


"Going on a bear hunt!"


"We ain't in Kansas anymore!"


"Come get ye chow boys! Don't ask what the meat is, just eat!"



Well water.


Coconut and raisin baked bread puddin.


Best part of bear to eat comes off the skull.


Foxy playing around.



Wind sock and anemometer. Helps keep the bush pilots from crashing too much. 


As Boss Jones said, "That's one big burrito."


Spanish rice and feta stuffed peps.


Trash burn party.



How many men does it take to fix a heater... four at the minimum.


This is when the wind begins to howl and the hunters at spike camps get blizzarded in. Reports of days of car wash rains, snow and 70 mph come trickling in over the radio. No bear on the move. Little food? No propane? No TP? Too bad, welcome to the wild of Alaska. Meanwhile, the hunters at the main camp are also stuck, but with a little better quality of food and pooping hole, and can't fly back to their homes. The pilots and guides kill time playing chess and checkers, fixing things, reading books and gossiping. A few times I giggled in the kitchen while overhearing some of their discussions and had to double-check to make sure that I wasn't at a beauty saloon. Yes, men gossip while on a grizzly bear hunt.


I moved my bed to the food tent since it was getting a bit crowded in the main cabin. I really enjoyed sleeping out there, even though it was freezing at night. Nothing like sleeping at -80 F in a tent at the South Pole during the winter of 2010. 3 sleeping bags did the trick. Wise advice for keeping warm in a sleeping bag from Pilot Gary is to sleep naked, or in his case, cheetah underwear, because the body is what heats up the bag and any clothing hinders the body heat from filling the bag. A couple times sounds from the woods woke me and I naturally grabbed my knife under my pillow in case something tries to come barging into the weatherport.


A few guides did arts and crafts. Yes, some men sew while on a bear hunt.


As for myself, no matter if it's a blizzard, monsoon, hurricane, squirrel attack, earthquake, volcano, meteor shower or the start of a new era for the Mayan calendar or there's no gas, water, eggs, flour and/or sugar, I'm gonna be doing what I do best to keep people smiling.


Pork chops, homemade applesauce, cranberry stuffing, fresh mashed tators, turkey gravy, pickled radishes, braised cabbage and salad. Now that's what I call a real cowboy dinner.


Bear hide drying in the wind. It doesn't look too windy outside, but...


we're having 76 mph gusts and one night we hit 97 mph. You should hear the food tent when the wind is strong. One night I grabbed the metal frame thinking that the tent was going to go flying up in the air and me with it.


Jeremiah brought us ling cod and I fried it with pancake beer batter.


Apple crisp.


Chicken wings, fried ling cod, Coors glazed carrots, fried rice.


11 PM.


5:30 AM.


"Can we fly yet?"


Loving my job. This camp was one of the most entertaining places I've ever worked out. Listening to the hunters not only made me laugh, it taught me about big game animals, guns, marriage, divorce and kids. I realized that the relationship Jess and I have is priceless and I'll never find another woman like her. It was inspirational hearing from Bill the Farmer that the greatest thing in his life was his children. He went for the first bear he saw, no matter how big, just so he could get back to see his lil' boy. Big love in a roundabout way.


Busy times in the meat shed.


Finally, a cheesecake not baked in a waterbath that didn't crack. Solution - add half of a small can of sweetened condensed milk to the 24 oz. cream cheese, 1 cup sugar and 3 egg basic cheesecake recipe and bake at 300 F for about an hour.


Oven fried chicken, corn, country gravy, roasted roots, salad, beer bread and cheesecake.


Dog days at the Dog Salmon River Camp.







Eggs bene prior to being popped in the oven for a few to melt the cheese.


Running out of room to scribble.


If that eggs benedict didn't get your stomnach growling for breakfast then maybe this will?




It's a luxury to not have an uber cold gust of wind shooting up the hole like you find in the field camps of Antarctica.


^ I apologize for the randomness of the photos. I loaded them chronologically and shot my photos sporadically over the three and half weeks. This grizzly's head was hit pretty hard by either another bear or moose. It's bottom right canine was going through some sort of intense transformation.The hunter said it looked like he was in pain and said that his kill was for the better.


Looking at the bear I almost forgot the pecan pie in the oven.


Then the Trooper chopper came to check tags, registration and measure the skulls. We told him about our spike camps that were being blasted with rain and wind and he even said he wasn't going to fly over there. When the Trooper won't fly, then it's bad. The measurements the Trooper takes is used for ecological studies and helps Fish & Game figure out how many bear can be taken from the hunting refuge. He said 300 bear are taken from the area, but 3000-5000 bear exist. Somewhere around 5-7% of the bear population is impacted by hunting. I learned some of the grizzly hunting laws from him. Out-of-state hunters need to be guided by an outfitter. If you shoot a bear and wound it, but it runs away, that's still your bear tag, at least for most hunting districts. They're working on making it a statewide regulation by the end of this year. A hunter can only kill one bear every four years. You can't shoot a sow with cubs and shooting sows is not really sought after for many reasons. For me, I'd never hurt a mama unless she is chewing on me, but most see the practicality of not shooting females since a female bear can have 30 cubs during her lifetime. They can shoot 10 wolves a day since wolves breed like rabbits in the area and nothing else preys on wolves. Most of our hunters talked of killing wolves, but only one out of fourteen hunters got the opportunity to shoot a wolf. Wolves are smart and know how to keep on the down low. Go wolves! The next bear hunting season isn't till fall 2013, so that's a year and half for the bears to regroup and get bigger.

I've put all the facts together and this bear outfit does more good than harm to the environment. The pilots are the eyes in the sky, so they can keep a watch for poachers. The spike camps are eyes on the ground and they too watch for poachers. Boss Jones reported to the Troopers a potential poaching incident that one of our guides saw and that really made me respect the man. Wilderness recreation is a good means to protect the environment. It allows humans to experience the beauty and adventure of the outdoors, and at the same time gives us the opportunity to keep watch on it to make sure it stays the way it is.



A guide keeping his eyes peeled on the valley for big ones.


A few spike camps made it back in one piece. All their gear was soaked. They were happy to eat something warm.


Homemade nutty Cracker Jacks.


May 25th - the final day for grizzly hunting. I began the camp take-out by boxing up all the dry goods. The rumour was that we may leave on the 27th if we get all the spike camps in and the clients out to Pilot Point to fly back to Anchorage. 



The hides were almost done. What we do from here is tag and bag them then ship down to the lower 48 where hunters can get them professionally tanned, mounted and/or stuffed.


Sun halo. A sign to me that strong wind is coming. This is a sign I picked up on while in Antarctica.



Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed tatos, gravy, dinner rolls, salad and peach pie.


Chris's Alaskan towel drying rack.


I packed all the unused goods into coolers for two reasons. One, bottles break in the winter and that makes a smelly mess. Two, if you don't get the smell out of a cabin/lodge before departing it, bear will find their way in and when they get in, the walls get ripped and the floor gets eaten and there's a food fight amongst the creatures and then they gotta go poo right on the beds and afterwards shred the pillows which will throw down feathers everywhere and next they'll tackle the chairs and body slam the tables and clean their claws by scraping the walls some more, the oven and kitchen knives may survive, but the cookbooks will be chewed and all the canned goods punctured by teeth and the contents spewed on the floor and all the sweet syrup plastic bottles busted and sucked dry and windows will be shattered and it will rain, then snow, rain again, snow again and the bear may decide to hibernate there and dig a den into your kitchen floor and soon the place reeks of  a grizzly den. The best thing to do then is burn the place down. Trust me, I've seen the aftermath. I took this pic in 2007 while rangering on Shuyak Island, Kodiak.



I take extra precaution as to not let that ^ happen.


Inventory time.


I filled the kitchen cabinets with what I needed to cook for at least a week and stowed all the other goods away. Low on freshies. Eating wild berries to get my vitamin C. The spike camps brought back random food items and for a couple of the returning camp coolers it was like unwrapping a present. I opened one cooler lid and found a block of sharp cheddar and a colby jack cheese. I struck gold for another pizza day. 


General Jones' Chicken. Only at the Dog Salmon River Camp.


After hearing that it may be another week before the weather clears and allows the pilots to pick up the last two spike camps I put my Alaskan wild plant book to use. Finding the spring plants was like a game of hide and seek. My intentions were to make a spring tonic to help keep away the crud and well, experiment to get to know the plants more. Each time I found a new medicine I placed a specimen in my book. I found two dozen medicines in five days. Each plant can be used in many ways depending on which part of the plant you use and when you harvest.

Horsetail - an all around CNS booster and good for kidney problems. Can be cooked like any other vegetable in it's early stage.


An offering of bear meat to the wolves.


Fun times roaming around miles and miles of wilderness looking for plants and watching beavers. It felt like Jessie was right there with me.


Beaver dams allowed me to wander across creeks.


Organic decay. Dead trees fuel your car, just remember that.




Here's an entrance to a beaver lodge. The lodge was at least 60 feet long. I was hoping to watch the beavers in action build or repair their lodge, because I'm absolutely astonished at how sturdy it looks, but instead the beavers just flippered their tails at me telling me to go away. Why you gotta shoo me away? I wanted to swim in for a cup of tea. If beavers can build this masterpiece with stick, stones and mud I don't need to worry about building a cabin on Kodiak. Anyone know of any informative beaver architecture books?


Crowberries - jam it, juice it, brew it. Used for with colds, tuberculosis and snowblindness.


Into the Wild 2. This time the boy lives, and not only that, he uses the plants to heal and help other people live healthily. 


Fireweed - eat as is in the spring. Nice salad addition. Used for Alaskan wines and beers. It's not only good, but it's great for constipation. Three days of drinking strong fireweed tea made me lose a pound or two and cleaned out my belly :) Used also for whooping cough.


Bearberries, horsetail, fireweed, ginger, cayenne, honey and apple cider vinegar. A good kick starter for the spring.


Never seen a potato like this before. I planted it before I left.


Umm... all I'm going to say is that these are often used as swizzle sticks by the hunters. That's all I'm going to say.


Wild.


Out of room on my menu planner, switched to permanent marker.





Toasted ham and cranberry sauce for breaky.


I have no clue where this stick of organic butter came from, but was happily used for cookies.


I tossed all the food rubbish into the river for the eagles to eat. No waste. Come to think of it, I'm probably feeding fish, mice, wolves, lynx, wolverines, foxes, bear and a bunch different birds. All get a taste of what I'm cooking. I sometimes feel like a chef on Noah's Arc. 


More greens for tonic. 


Rum extract cake.


Fried chicken, tators and gravy, green beans and baked beans.


May 29th. Soon we will be out. Food tent was taken down and made for a good place to hang laundry. First time I cleaned my two pair of wool socks in three and a half weeks. Showered three times since May 4th. I smell like roses dipped in bacon grease with some coffee drizzled on top. 


More pizza with the returned cheeses. Out of frozen meats, so I went to the canned meat department.


First fiddleheads aka croziers of the summer. Used more as a food vs. a medicine. Cook before eating.


Educating myself. When you can't afford to buy or don't have access to city medicines and doctors you have to look elsewhere. Go back to where all those pill ingredients start, in nature. One of my duties is to gather as much global knowledge on wilderness foods and medicines before the elders and shamans that know of such pass on. The only pill from a doctor I have taken since 2005 was for high altitude adaption at South Pole and if the laws allowed coca leaves to be chewed I would have gone that route. The forests and oceans are our core grocery, pharmacy and temple.


A beaver bridge. 30 seconds after taking this pick I climbed the shoreline to the left and my camera went tumbling into the water out of my pocket. The weird thing is that 10 minutes prior to drowning the camera I thought of losing the camera in the water by it falling out of my hoodie pocket and the night before put bearberry leaves under my pillow to increase psychic abilities as my book says.  I dried the camera out by putting it in a jar of rice for three days. Oh, the mysticism of my life. No wonder one of the hunters called me a gypsy chef.


My last bread at Dog Salmon. Rye and wheat. I wrapped it up and carried it with me to the big city to share with the travelers staying at the Inn I'm currently at.


Pickled croziers.


Corn dogs. How many things can you do with a hot dog?


Last minute drying.


May 31th. Time to skidaddle out of camp and get to a nice, hot bath before I start licking myself. Pilot Gary boarding up the windows and the barks-a-lot dog perplexed as to what's going on. The wind has settled, let's go!


Before the propane was turned off I baked the last of the cookie dough. 


Mothballs in the window sill to deter the bear.


Goodbye kitchen.


Adios Dog Salmon River Camp.


Peace out homie B. 


The meat shed shutdown.


Time to fly like an eagle in a Cessna 185...


with Ranger Rick.


Off to Pilot Point.




From PP to King Salmon, then King Salmon to Anchorage.




Whoever had to sit near me and smell my rosiness, I'm sorry. It could be worse, I could have been working at a fish processing plant.


Got my duffel and hauled the 49 lbs. on my shoulder and lil' guitar to the payphone. I called around to all the hotels and hostels. Eventually I found a winner at Qupqugiac Inn. Named after a 10-legged polar bear. I highly advise staying here if you come to Anchorage.


First thing I did was put the bread and cookies out. Chatted with the owner of the hotel about mermaids and what they make their spears out of. Got a room. Took a shower. Next day there was one cookie left. Still haven't done laundry.


Shiva watches over me and the books next to bed are titled, 'Bear Walks With Me', 'Peace is Every Step' and 'Peace Pilgrim'.



Earlier today I went to the Alaska Fur Exchange and met up with Uncle Gus to hear some of his bear stories and bought a dream catcher for our room at Valhalla Fishing Lodge. Gus knows both Boss Brent and Kirk at Valhalla. All great guys and I really enjoy hearing their tales of the Alaskan wild.



Next step... tomorrow I go to lunch with the Exec. Chef and Lead Baker I worked with in Antarctica in 2008 and 2009. They're heading to an Arctic native village to work. Early next week I jump on a float plane and fly out with Kirk to Valhalla. I will spend three months Cheffing at the Sportman's Paradise with Jessica by my side. It's wonderful being able to work and live with the woman of my dreams and all I can say is thank you to all who have helped me get to this point in my life!