Pink and chum salmon come into the creeks to spawn in mid-summer, and the bears come to the creeks to feast on them. Since I consider a well-fed bear to be a better bear to see and photograph, watching bears at an established bear viewing site during the salmon run seems like a good plan.
Dog Salmon Creek on Prince of Wales Island has active bear viewing between mid-July and mid-August. Visitors may fly in on one of the charter services from Ketchikan, or drive to the site. It is on the Polk Inlet road, off of the Hydaburg road on Prince of Wales Island.
There is a short, pretty, gravel path to the viewing platform, and during the season there is an outhouse in the parking lot.
It has been a very busy summer, and we didn't get to Dog Creek until the tail end of the bear viewing season. We drove two and a half hours to get there from Thorne Bay.
Cody from Hydaburg is the Forest Service guide this year, and he talked with us about the fish and the bears. He said that the season was about over. We left to drive around and explore for awhile and came back in the early evening.
We took lawn chairs to the viewing platform and sat still, facing two different directions. Watching each others back so to speak.
The creek had a faint odor of dead humpy. Humpies are pink salmon. The males develop a large hump on their back when they go upstream to spawn.
After about ten minutes a bear stepped out into the creek. A nice, fat, big bear. A bear that owns this territory.
Bruce is so tough that he doesn't have to act tough. He's like Bruce Willis.
Bruce was not so hungry, and just made the rounds. He thought about fishing a few times, but humpy for breakfast, humpy for lunch, humpy for dinner....maybe it is time to check if the huckleberries are ripe.
After a final glance Bruce headed back into the woods.
It was evening, and the light was definitely dimming, but we waited a little longer and another bear stepped out. We named him Tim.
Tim is timid, which is smart. As a younger, smaller bear he is likely getting his butt kicked by Bruce every other day. Tim dipped his nose in the water and got some foam on it. As sensitive as a bear's nose is, I was surprised that Tim didn't lick it off.
We stayed sitting, and I was shooting photos between the wooden supports of the platform, but Tim quickly became aware that we were there, and circled through the woods to go upstream a ways.
So we gathered up our chairs, checked our immediate seating area, and headed up the path. It was much darker under the trees. And then....
...uh-oh, it's Bruce.
Now bear in mind that it was much darker than the photo shows. Bruce didn't move. I tried to take a picture while backing away slowly and talking calmly. Or talking away slowly while backing a picture and trying to calmly. My camera was scared and wouldn't focus. The bear swung his head.
Beside me the love of my life had his gun at the ready, and I had one that I could have ready to fire in a second and a half, which is about half a second longer than it would take Bruce to cover the ground between us. Bears are stunningly fast when they want to be. We don't want to shoot a bear, at all, ever, but we do like living with all of our body parts intact.
Bears have a huge personal space, and they are pretty sensitive about who is in it. When we backed down far enough to get out of Bruce's zone then he slo-o-owly ambled off of the path. Bruce is a smart bear. He knows the score. He checked the caliber of our firearms and decided that humpy for dinner would be just fine. Besides, he just had to let us know who's path it really is. We waited a bit to give Bruce time to move off into the woods, and then cautiously walked back along the dark, tree-lined path to the parking lot.
Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is an outhouse.
Which is just perfect if you suddenly have to pee.
Stay safe y'all!
More on Alaskan Wildlife here: Alaskan Critters