So, how do you begin a quest for a grolar bear. Well, if the first step in an arctic expedition is a few hours on the phone with Aeroplan, the next step is usually a ‘weather day’. If so, we are right on schedule. A west wind has brought some fluffy snow and the light is pretty flat, I have my doubts we will leave today – then again, I was surprised to see the sun over the hills, maybe this will burn off by mid-afternoon.
The next step, I guess, is deciding where to go. There are about three or four places we could try. There is Nelson Head, it is actually on Banks Island, just next door – as in 130 miles. This is the area where the first Grolar Bear was shot. Back in 2006, Sachs Harbour’s Roger Kuptana was guiding an American client on a polar bear hunt. The bear that they got looked pretty strange, it had dark circles around its eyes, a weird nose and brownish legs. DNA testing ended up confirming that it was a second generation grizzly and polar bear hybrid.
We had thought of heading that way but there are already two hunting teams in the area so it seems a bit crowded for us. It is a bit of a strange ice year with the breakup west of Banks Island and things are pretty packed in over here. Sounds like things are pretty quiet even for tracks over there but maybe my guides are just saying that to be nice.
I had looked at northern Victoria Island as well, but this year, it seems I am about a week or two behind more hunters, a father and son looking for polar bears but mostly another grolar bear. Last year, they got one and sold the skin for a good price – tough to compete with a new snowmobile and sled.
The weird thing is that polar bear-grizzly hybrids don’t actually count against the community’s polar bear tags because they are not considered officially polar bears. There’s around 20 polar bear tags in the town as it is so this one is a little hard to figure.
There’s also word that it’s a bit tougher to see bears up there right now. Canadian Wildlife Service is conducting helicopter mark-recapture work and also radio collaring bears. My guides say its harder to find bears after the helicopter has been around but then again, maybe they just don’t want to do the long and rough drive north – you never really know in the arctic, ha!
Most likely, we will head to Prince Albert Sound, it is about 100 miles southwest. There is talk of good seals out there and David pointed out where the pressure ridges are located along the inlet. Polar bears have been hunted here before, though no one has really gone in here this year.
The caribou cross at the head of the inlet in the spring, coming over from the mainland Northwest Territories to summer on Victoria Island and with them come predators. There have been grizzly tracks spotted too and, of course, there is a pretty healthy wolf population.
Depending on how things go, we might also stop at Walker Bay just north of the community. A trading post was built here in 1928, one of the first ‘settlements’ in the area. After a decade, the post would move to King’s Bay (as in, King, Queen and Jack’s bays). A church was built here and this is where Holman really began to grow as a community. By the sixties, the community moved again, this time to Queen’s Bay where it is presently located.
This area is where the second grolar bear was shot. At first, everyone just thought it was a grizzly though. It was making its way down the coast breaking into cabins as it went. The one was shot pretty close to town and a few folks have stories of seeing grizzly tracks between the town and airport that year.
Either way, its going to be a good trip. Hard to go wrong with spring in the arctic, the days are long and life has returned to the land. In the same way as the fall equinox sparks a restlessness in Churchill’s bears, the spring equinox wakes polar bears up much in the same way, maybe even moreso as it signals the beginning of prime seal hunting season.
So we’ll see – the sun is starting to burn off the clouds and there’s a bunch of fresh snow – not too shabby. Then again, I might just start with actually getting out of town though, ha.
Have to say a big thank you to ChurchillWild for helping me out with this expedition… Stop by their site – www.churchillwild.com – its pretty cool and there are still some spots available this year – not much though! I mean, there really is nothing like walking with polar bears. Honest.