Metallica and James Hetfield on The Hunt on Kodiak
By Gary Lewis
A few years ago, History Channel released a series called The Hunt, narrated by James Hetfield, songwriter, lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist for Metallica.
"Twice a year," HISTORY's press release explained, "on the rugged island of Kodiak, a select group of hunters head into the wilderness for the ultimate test against the elements and the largest land predator on Earth - the Kodiak brown bear."
On the celestial equator the stars that form the constellation Orion, are known to various cultures to represent the hunter and the hunt.
The natives on Kodiak Island, the Sioux on the plains, the Hungarians and the Greeks -they all saw the hunter in Orion.
And the memory remains.
The Hunt, on the History Channel, looks back at the Alutiiq who hunted brown bears for hides then fast-forwards through the centuries to today's tightly regulated hunts where tags are awarded through a lottery system.
The brown bear's co-existence with two-leggers is one of the most successful conservation stories in scientific wildlife management. James Hetfield, who has hunted bears, tells the story of men and women who sleep with one eye open, clutching the pillow tight, knowing any moment they could become the hunted.
By the comments posted online at the frayed ends of sanity, it appears a lot of humans think the bear hunting rock star is some kind of monster.
Several comments expressed the opinion, "Anyone could kill a bear with a gun."
This is so far wrong it reveals a pitiable lack of cognition. On Kodiak, where there are many bears, the hunt is extremely difficult, the success rate very low.
A hunter with a guide may not see a bear. Spotting one doesn't guarantee a shot. Most glimpses of game on Kodiak Island (I've hunted it twice) are fleeting. The cover is so thick you have to shoulder through the devils club and willows. Every hunt starts at the beach and the game is thousands of feet up. The terrain defeats a lot of hunters before they start.
I thought of Kodiak Island when I answered the phone one evening. It was a guy ringing from Portland, Oregon. He wanted to become a hunter. He asked my price for guiding him on a big game hunt.
"I'm not a guide," I said. And I am not. I don't have the temperament for it.
"I make my living as a writer and television host," I explained. While I had him on the phone, I tried to offer some advice.
"Don't try to be a trophy hunter, that can come later. Learn to be an experience hunter."
It's a tradition best passed down generation to generation. When that doesn't happen, it's incumbent upon the hopeful to find a guide, a mentor or friend to help them along, to become a minor star in the constellation.
I suggested he hire a guide, someone who would teach, not just take him for a ride in the truck.
"I'm not a real good shot right now, how important is that? Do I have time to learn to shoot before hunting season starts?"
This is an important thing to master. A rifle hunter should go to the range a few times to shoot at bulls-eyes then after that spend a day shooting targets at 50 yards and out to 300. Two weeks before the season, go back to the rifle range. Make sure the bullets hit point of aim and group within two inches at 100 yards. Dry-fire a hundred times to focus on the fundamentals of the trigger press. After that, there is much to learn about deer, bear and elk, their habitats, the wind, regulations, conservation ethics and etiquette. It all comes in time.
For the beginner, the best opportunities are for deer and elk without antlers. Another option is to hunt turkeys. Spring ground squirrel hunts are a good point of entry. Experience builds upon experience.
At the end of the best hunts there is a campfire, under an open sky. Those blue-whites and red super-giants, the stars that wink on the celestial equator are the same lights where the northern Blackfeet and the Arizona Apache and so many other tribes saw the hunt and the hero.
Around the flames, the differences between grandfather and boy, between guide and client disappear. Each one is a star fixed in the constellation of hunter.