Bruce Manlick was excited to shoot his first-ever bear earlier this month during a trip to Skilak Lake. But he found his fortunes reversed the next morning as he clung to the bottom of his overturned kayak during an attempt to cross the large lake with the carcass.
The Michigan native, who has been in Alaska for work since February, was met with strong wind and choppy waves on his return trip across Skilak on Oct. 3. Weather conditions were so strong that they overturned his water craft, which he climbed on top of to avoid the water until he was rescued by a pair of fishermen from Anchorage, Manlick said.
Manlick said his backpack, which had his identification in it, fell out of the kayak while it was flipped. The female black bear carcass, however, was saved.
“Really it was just curiosity that saved my butt,” Manlick said of the two fishermen. “Thank God for me they knew what to do.”
Manlick shot the black bear on the evening of Oct. 2 just west of Cottonwood Creek Trail, he said. He had previously purchased a $300 out-of-state bear tag. Although he has hunted since he was a youngster, Manlick said he had never gotten a bear.
Manlick had made the trip across Skilak Lake by kayak a few times before, he said. He has used a kayak to hunt on big water plenty of times in Michigan. Where he thinks he went wrong was letting the excitement of his first bear get the better of him while packing up his things for the return trip, he said. Instead of putting the bear carcass inside the kayak, he strapped it to the top and put his backpack inside.
The trip back across the lake on the morning of Oct. 3 was smooth sailing until Manlick go closer to shore, where he said waves were bouncing off the rocks at different angles than the wind he was steering into, which caused him to capsize. Manlick scrambled onto his upended kayak and held on to the edges from underneath.
“I couldn’t tip the kayak back over because I had all the weight,” he said. “So I had to climb up on it upside down.”
Before he was found by the two fishermen, Manlick said he had lost feeling in his fingers.
The fishermen, who told Manlick they had seen him from a distance and came closer out of curiosity, pulled him onto their boat and dragged the kayak to shore behind them. The backpack containing Manlick’s identification and gear was lost, but the bear carcass was intact.
“I really thought it was the end there,” Manlick said.
Emergency Medical Technicians arrived to check on Manlick and brought him to Central Peninsula Hostpital where he was treated for hypothermia and shock, he said.
Neither troopers nor personnel from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge ended up responding to the scene, said Lieutenant Paul McConnell, the deputy commander for the Northern Detachment of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers. McConnell said this is the first he has heard of a kayak tipping over in the lake.
“I would use a bigger boat,” McConnell said of crossing Skilak Lake. “It could have ended up much worse.”
McConnell also suggests checking the weather ahead of time if possible, and turning around if conditions get hairy on the lake rather than continuing across. Personal locator beacons should be worn on someone’s person, he added.
Wildlife Technician Larry Lewis with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said Manlick reported the harvest within the proper amount of time when he brought the bear in to be sealed.
Still, the close call has not soured Manlick’s opinion of Alaska. He said he is considering staying in the area a while longer, and is having the bear made into a rug.
Reach Megan Pacer at email@example.com.