I bought a shotgun last week. 12 gauge Savage Arms pump action. Actually it is just a cheapo from Walmart but it will do the trick and scare off any bears or crazed river bums. There really shouldn't be many crazed river bums up there but there are a lot of grizzlies along the river and for that reason we will be sleeping on the boat most of the time. Reading accounts of paddlers on the upper Yukon you almost always hear of bears, bear sign, and bears swimming the river. Most likely we will not need the shotgun but Jeff and I had an encounter with a brown bear back in the day and his rifle probably saved us.
We were hiking way off road and trail in the Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska with Jerry Brenneman and Jeff's dog Bandit. The Gates Park has no improved services, no trails, no signposts, no visitor center, no people, nothing except 8.4 million acres of mountains and rivers and wilderness. And bears. Jeff and Jerry had just finished up a stint at a gold mining camp north of Coldfoot just outside the National Park and I had hitch-hiked up to try to find them and to go for a camping trip. We were following the Hammond River northward from their mining camp trying to get to the summit of Mount Apoon and to see the remnants of ancient trees felled with stone axes that are reported to be there. The river meanders back and forth in its banks and leaves wide gravel bars along one side or another so that it was easiest to cross the river about every half mile or so and stay on the river bottom and the easy walking. The river was icy cold and in the beginning we removed our boots for the crossings but after doing that 3 or 4 times we all just left on our boots and hiked through the thigh deep river.
Bandit smelled the bears before we could see them and started growling, Jeff took the rifle from his shoulder, and we all grew cautious as we rounded a bend in the river and saw a sow bear with two cubs about 50 yards away. The cubs were bigger and heavier than me. The sow went probably 800 pounds. Without any hesitation the bear nudged both cubs to the side and charged straight at us. She ran like a cartoon dog with both hind legs coming forward of her fore legs, fearlessly coming at us in a rotating gallop. I have never been so scared. She stopped short of us by about 20 yards, stood on her hind legs, grabbed a spruce tree and shook it. At that, Jeff fired a shot into the air above her head and the gun jammed. The bear dropped back down to all fours and ran into the scrubby alders at a right angle to us and we all thought the same thing at the same time. Run! I remember turning back toward the river and sprinting with my backpack on, looking over my shoulder and to the side, thinking the bear was going to crash through the underbrush right beside us. We splashed back into mid stream of the Hammond River which is about 100 feet wide at that point and all stopped and huddled together while Jeff cleared the rifle jam with a nail and chambered another round. The three of us were there back to back to back standing in the freezing river scanning the bushes and trees for that bear. After ten minutes we trudged out of the river and out onto the large open gravel bar and, too scared to move anywhere, made an enormous fire on the riverside. We kept the fire blazing the entire night, tossing in our sleeping bags until morning when we laughed nervously over cowboy coffee and bannock bread. After breakfast we abandoned our plans to walk up the river and instead we hiked up above the tree line and walked the high ridges of the Brooks Range where the visibility was good, back the two days walk to the Dalton Highway.
Now I will be filling out the required paperwork to bring a shotgun into Canada so that we do not have any problems at the border. Or on the river.