Beginning last spring, every morning at 3 Bob Ball climbed out of bed in his Albert Lea, Minn., home, gathered up his Labrador retriever, Eleanor, and stepped outside, walking at first, then running, 2 miles in all.
“I wanted to get in shape for the hunt,’’ Ball said. “I didn’t want to go all the way to Alaska and be too tired to move around.’’
Booking an adventure that in its primitiveness wasn’t much different from if it had been taken a century ago, Ball returned to Alaska in August for the second consecutive year.
“Last year, I had moose, caribou and grizzly tags, and I only filled my moose tag,’’ Ball said. “When I left, I was determined to get back up there. I had dreamed about bear hunting since I was a kid, and when I didn’t get a bear in Alaska last year, I felt empty. So I went back.’’
It’s not uncommon to spend as much as $25,000 on Alaskan big game hunts, depending on length of outing and number of species pursued.
To raise money for his return trip, Ball clocked overtime last winter at his job as a power company line foreman. As a bonus, his wife, Laura, was supportive of his effort.
So it was that on a recent morning — Aug. 26 — Ball found himself in a spike camp in the middle of nowhere, Alaska, accompanied by a single guide, 32-year-old Dave Doxey.
“He cooked; I did dishes and chopped wood,’’ Ball said. “This was an old-school hunt. We didn’t have generators or any of that stuff. We did things the hard way, the same way guys did them in the 1940s.’’
Glassing from a ridge not far from camp, Ball saw moose and caribou on his first day of hunting. But no bears.
He held a caribou permit, and would take one if the opportunity arose.
But he had come for a bear, and in that respect this pilgrimage north was a different kind of trip, with broader significance.
Accomplishment was the trophy he sought as much as any, and toward that end, he was of sound body, in big country and, not incidentally, dead-on with a .300 Win Mag.
Now he needed a bear.
First, a nice caribou
“On our third day, we climbed a mountain east of camp and found a nice caribou just shedding its velvet,’’ Ball said.
Hours later, the animal, downed with a single discharge, had been caped and its meat deboned, so that everything fit into two backpacks.
Clambering down the mountain, back to camp, Ball and Doxey were eager to cover the bottom of a frying pan with the caribou’s back straps.
“The trip wasn’t all hunting,’’ Ball said. “At night around the campfire we played cribbage.’’
Then, the elusive grizzly