Black Labs and Passion

“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.”  Col 1:9-13 (NKJV)


I do not know if all dogs will go to heaven, but I am pretty sure that Labrador Retrievers will. My wife and I have always had a soft spot for Labs. We had only been married a few years when we succumbed the first time to Lab fever. Although we were on a limited budget and living in a no pet apartment complex, we bought a Lab pup. We found an apartment that allowed pets and experienced our first struggles of parenthood. When Pepper’s puppy teeth fell out we panicked and called the vet. (Years later when our oldest son’s baby teeth did the same it was no big deal.) We sat up with Pepper as she whined over her separation from the litter. We experienced the canine equivalent of potty training and found that consistency of discipline is as important for puppies as children. The one advantage of an ill disciplined dog over an ill disciplined child is the dog has a shorter life. Actually, you can also put a dog to sleep. In turn, watching your pup on her first retrieve doesn’t compare to seeing your sons become godly men.

The first weekend Pepper joined the family we took her to my parent’s place at the lake. We laughed when she jumped out of the bass boat to grab the plug and put her head underwater to bite a stick in the shallows. She rode across the U.S. to Alaska in the jeep with us when Kathy and I moved back after graduate school. She retrieved her first duck at six months. It was a cold day on the Juneau tidal flats with a thin layer of ice on the water. Pepper didn’t hesitate an instant on the retrieve. She swam about thirty yards to the teal and began swimming back. In the mean time I decided to enter the water myself and had reached a point midway up my chest when Pepper decided I was closer than the shoreline. Before I knew it Pepper had swum up to me placing her front paws on my shoulders and her back paws on the top of my waders. Quicker than I could scream in agony my chest waders filled with ice water. Needless to say I waded to shore looking like the shepherd carrying the lamb around his neck in the Sunday School poster. Pepper and I had a short discussion in which we both agreed that we were ready to go home, and we did with all due haste.

We lived in a small cabin on the beach in Juneau and would leave Pepper inside during the day. One day we came home from teaching to find that the winter winds had uprooted a Sitka spruce. Spruce trees have shallow root structures, perhaps only three feet deep, but they will spread out over forty or fifty feet. We had 147 steps between the road and our cabin. That day we walked down the first one hundred. The remaining steps had been thrust into the air and were now a horizontal gangway to the roof. In rearranging the staircase, the tree’s root system also lifted the porch as though it was hinged at the front door. If we thought that the outside of the cabin had been rearranged by the tree, we had a bigger shock when we were finally able to get inside and see what a frightened 55 pound female Lab can do. We had (emphasis on had) a new hide-a- bed couch. Pepper relieved her stress by dragging the couch all over the cabin. It had taken her multiple attempts, each evidenced by chunks torn from the frame where she had gained a hold for her moving efforts. All the plants had been ripped out of their pots, and the dirt was flung all over the cabin in Pepper’s efforts to expose their roots.  The house was a shambles to say the least. Again, Labs are like children. You love them even though they drive you to the poor house.

Our second Lab was Onyx, again black and female. We had returned to Alaska from seminary and could not imagine our sons growing up without a dog, so we began looking for a Lab. I was a charter boat skipper for one of the local lodges and became good friends with another guide, George. George spent his summers in Southeast Alaska running charters and fishing the commercial openings. He spent his winters in Oregon managing a goose hunting operation. Over the years he worked for a nationally recognized kennel and was able to pick a pup for payment. George did not need another dog so he offered to sell me the pup for $250.00. Considering that the pup’s dame and sire were national field trial champs and the kennel advertised in magazines that also had ads for $10,000 double rifles, $250 was a steal.

Onyx arrived on a flight from Portland during Thanksgiving week. For three young boys it was as exciting as Christmas. We took the ferry to the Ketchikan airport and signed for the pup at airfreight. Onyx came out of the kennel ready to take on the world and all the little boys in it. At home we filmed her running around the house and skidding across the kitchen linoleum. Kids need a dog. Caring for a pet teaches a child responsibility. Training a dog helps a child understand the value of discipline.

Onyx displayed her breeding. She lived for retrieving and running full out until she was exhausted. With her blood lines I knew I wanted to breed her. I only needed to find the right male. Max was a proven hunter. He was laid back until you brought out the training dummy or shotgun. I figured that Onyx and Max would produce some first rate pups, and I wanted one for myself.  Until you have a litter of eight black Labs, you don’t think about telling them apart. One method is by painting different color spots on their hips. Each time a prospective buyer would check out the pups I would try to match him with the right one. As the weeks wound down to the scheduled adoption day, I had one left, the male with the red spot on his hip. Lab males usually have more classically shaped heads and muzzles. Red also had the most expressive reddish brown eyes. If Red could talk he would have had the voice of a real Bubba. Onyx loved to run; Red loved to put his head on your feet. Red was about a year old when Onyx and Max had a second litter. One day I heard Red howling with a plaintive tone. I walked out to check on him and found him standing at the water bucket looking like he was dunking for apples. He would stop, howl, and dunk again. Onyx sat in the corner with a detached expression. Still trying to figure out what was going on I walked out to the kennel. When I looked into the bucket I found one of the pups struggling to stay above the water. Red tried to save his little brother but only managed to push him under each time. Onyx had arrived at the point of exasperation in her continuing role of being a chew toy for the growing pups. I think she figured one less pup the better. I remember the time I was home alone and I opened the kennel door. All eight pups made a wild dash for freedom. It is almost impossible for one man to catch eight puppies and put them into a kennel with a three foot wide door. I would put three in and have four escape. Nearing exhaustion I finally closed the door and looked at Onyx in the far corner. A mixture of amusement, and satisfaction, could not have been better expressed by any human. I am sure she said, “See what you make me put up with every day. How long will it be until we get rid of these things?”

Onyx and Red epitomize why I love Labs. Onyx lived to retrieve. One Saturday the boys were in the front yard playing with Onyx. We lived on a gravel street that had little traffic so the boys would often throw the tennis ball across the street into an overgrown lot to give Onyx a more difficult retrieve. No sooner than the boys threw the ball, a teen age driver slid around the corner and stepped on the gas. Fortunately, according to the family vet, the girl’s car hit Onyx in the head. I will never forget Onyx trying to pick up the tennis ball to return it to the boys. Even with a broken jaw she still wanted to carry the ball.

When we moved south we realized that the dogs would have a hard time adjusting to the heat, and a townhouse was not the place for two outdoor Labs. I placed them with a friend in Port Alsworth, a small community on Lake Clark. The last time I checked on the pups Joel told me that Red’s favorite place in the house was at the top of the stairs laying under the window that looked out on the Lake. While we were talking Joel said that his three year old daughter was using Red as a stool to look out the window. Red was in Lab heaven, living on a lake with a little girl who thought he was her best friend and play toy.

God designed man to be in relationship with Him, and only God can fill the spiritual void in a person’s life. You cannot beat Labs for being a family dog because they love to please their master. Have you ever watched a dog show? Whenever the dog does as commanded the trainer will slip it a treat. You don’t have to bribe a Lab with tidbits. A Lab just needs to be praised. He lives to hear his master’s voice praising him. A cat will rub your leg if he wants something from you. A Lab just wants you. But that is not all. I imagine a Chihuahua likes people. A Lab doesn’t just love people, it is a retriever. Just look at the face of a Lab as he is standing at your feet waiting for you to throw the dummy, ball, stick, or anything he can retrieve. His eyes sparkle. HE IS LIVING! Men often seek fulfillment through their careers or hobbies. Those things may bring temporary pleasure but it will not last. God has gifted each of us with natural talents, spiritual gifts, and personality traits that are to be used to His glory and in doing so we experience a greater sense of fulfillment than the world can ever give. One day I hope to hear my master say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” In your spiritual life are you a cat or a Lab?


Packing it Out.

Packing It Out: Loads, Life, and LoveClearcut

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.” Gal 6:1-5 (NKJV)

The Alaskan native name for Admiralty Island is “Fortress of the Bears.” Besides a healthy brown bear population it also contains a large Sitka Blacktail deer herd. The northern end of Admiralty is a short boat ride from Juneau and a popular hunting area. In good weather we would run over by skiff for a day hunts. The area has tide ranges from minus four feet lows to over twenty-two feet highs. Frequently the blacktails will walk the exposed beaches and make it easy to pack out after a kill, but usually they like the ridges well off the beach. Hunting the old growth forest of Southeastern makes you feel like Daniel Boone. The understory is wide open except for occasional patches of blueberries or devil’s club. A six inch carpet of moss covers the ground making even the heavy footed hunter able to move like a ghost. The standard technique for blacktail is to follow game trails toward the ridge lines and hopefully make a shot. A good snow cover allows the hunter to find fresh sign and track the animal until close enough for a shot. Most shots are less than 100 yards unless you find the deer on the muskeg meadows common to the area. I have never hunted a more rewarding method.

Each Veteran’s Day weekend a group of friends would schedule a hunt on Glass Peninsula and reserve the Forest Service cabin located on the other side of the peninsula. One of the best kept secrets of Alaska, the United States Forest Service has log cabins scattered throughout the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. Most of the cabins can only be reached by boat or floatplane and have bunks for six to eight people. The cabins make Alaskan hunting enjoyable in the rainy Southeast Alaska winter.

Friday afternoon we made the run around Douglas Island and across the channel into Oliver Inlet. After anchoring the boat we spent the rest of the afternoon packing our gear across the mile wide neck to the cabin. In November sunset comes around four o’clock so we finished the job in the dark. Fortunately sunrise comes late. Saturday morning we divided up with most of us hunting the lower ridges near the cabin and around the inlet.

That night we had a great meal from the camp stove while drying our gear from the warmth of the woodstove. All but one of us had drawn blanks. Tracy had hunted a ridge line about three miles from the cabin and had shot two bucks. He had packed out the hind quarters from one and hung the remaining meat and carcass in a tree. Since it was more than halfway through the hunting season and I had no meat in the freezer I accepted Tracy’s offer to pack out the whole deer. I wanted more of the backstrap steaks we enjoyed for dinner. During the night we had the first snow of the season.

I will never forget that second day of hunting on Glass Peninsula. Dave decided to stay at the cabin due to a severe headache. So the rest of us started out the door into the early morning darkest. As I crossed the threshold two shots rang out from the bottom of the steps. Tracy had kept his rifle on the front porch so his scope would not fog. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he saw a nice buck running out onto the moonlit snow covered grass flats at the top of the cove. The fresh snow contrasted with the deer well enough that it was like shooting by street lamplight. Most of us had not stepped off the front porch and a deer was already down. Backtracking we discovered he had been standing at the bottom of the steps when we startled him. Dave volunteered to skin the deer so the rest of us could continue hunting.

About a half mile up the trail Tracy led me off toward the ridgeline where yesterday’s kill hung. Over the next two miles we found deer in every meadow. I had four tags to fill but already had one three mile hike to get out yesterday’s buck. Before I shot my first deer of the day Tracy and I stopped on the tree line and discussed the buck’s merit and the packing involved. He was a healthy animal with a good rack so I decided to drop him. We repeated the debate twice more before getting to Tracy’s buck. By ten in the morning I faced packing four deer to the cabin. Tracy left me with my problem while he went looking for a bigger buck.

Sitka Blacktails are smaller than most whitetails. My four bucks each weighed around one hundred and fifteen pounds. Over the years of deer hunting I had assembled gear that was designed for packing meat. I had a pack frame with a shelf and a collection of heavy duck sacks that were about the diameter of a pie plate and three feet long. I hung each deer and skinned and boned the carcass. By trimming all the bone and fat I ended up with around two hundred pounds of meat. I did some quick math. I could make several trips with lighter loads but end up walking ten miles or one trip heavily loaded. I decided to compress the anguish into one trip. Strapping the sacks onto the frame I started down hill.

I thought the next two hours would never end, but I did gain a new understanding of Galatians 6:1-5. The toughest part of packing a heavy load is the transition from the ground to the shoulders. Getting the load to the shoulders takes so much energy it is better not dropping the load. So how does one rest if they can’t put down their load? As I came down the ridge I looked for every blowdown and stump I could find. When I found one the right height I would turn around and back up to the trunk. Propping up the frame I could give my shoulders, back, and thighs a rest. Back at the cabin I discovered my heavy duty frame was warped.

Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens” but three verses later writes, “For each [person] will bear his own load.” Is this one of those “contradictions” biblical nay sayers are always talking about, or does Galatians give us practical advice for living out our faith in community with other Christians? The Greek word used by Paul for “burden” means a heavy load, a pack frame warping load, an exhausting load. In verse five the Greek word translated “load” means a “day pack,” a load that everyone normally carries.

If you want guidelines for small group accountability this passage is for you. Most young men I speak with today express a desire to be mentored by an older Christian and want to be in a small accountability group. Perhaps this is a generational expression of the importance of community, or their awareness of the failure of the Boomer generation’s individualism. Paul prescribes the first condition of accountability, spiritual health. When Paul states that one must be “spiritual” to confront a sinning brother he does mean that only spiritually mature super saints are qualified. But, one is required to be spirit filled, confessed up to date, and in right standing with God to be involved in confrontation. The second requirement to assist a fallen brother is humility. Paul’s words carry a tone of warning. If we do not remain painfully aware of our own past sins and ongoing potential for sinning and therefore reject self-righteousness we will not have the brokenness prerequisite for being used by God. We might not fall into the sin of the brother we are seeking to restore but we will become the legalistic individuals Jesus’ often condemned.

Living in a fallen world means we all have burdens. Paul reminds us to examine our own lives and understand our own personalities. Each of us has our own areas of sin. I don’t struggle with gluttony, or anger, but I do constantly battle pride. That is the day pack God expects me to carry. As I continue to mature in that area of my Christian walk I can rejoice in what the Holy Spirit has accomplished in my life.

Sometimes the burdens become too much to carry and there are no stumps and deadfalls to provide a rest to the weary. Pornography and sexual immorality defeats Christian men in epidemic proportions today. I know men that have destroyed their marriages, lost their families, and left the ministry as a result of sexual impurity. A Christian brother in that situation needs someone to “come along beside” (the Greek word Jesus used to refer to the Holy Spirit) him and take the load off. I can not remove the total burden but I let him know he is not alone. Otherwise, how can a fallen man believe that God loves him when God’s people don’t demonstrate that love?

I have had several hunting partners over the years, men with whom I enjoyed spending time in the woods. Over time I noticed that we all carried our hunting packs without complaint but were quick to split out a heavy load among us so no one carried a crushing load. They made each trip memorable.

“The Journey”

(This is the introductory chapter to my manuscript for outdoorsmen, Real Men Don’t Get Lost.)

My earliest memories of the outdoors occurred at my Grandmom Brown’s in Chesterfield, South Carolina. Grandmom scratched a living out of the ground. She used mules instead of a tractor. Grandmom and Dad had hand sawed all the planks for the barn from lumber Dad had dragged out of the swamp by oxen. Dad had grown up dirt poor with a breakdown single shot shotgun. He believed that if you shot more than once you were wasting money. One day Dad decided to take us, my three brothers and me, rabbit hunting. As we walked through the woods Dad would occasionally tell us to stop. He would then point out the cottontail before it would flush. I must admit we had trouble seeing the rabbit even with Dad’s directions. Another time we were in the woods when Dad told us all to freeze because of a large rattler. He eased off a few yards and cut a stick and killed the snake. We asked Dad how he could have seen the snake in the thick brush. He said he did not see it, he had smelled it. We were skeptical but he explained the odor rattlers had on the farm. I did not smell a thing.

A career army officer Dad, and Mom, moved every couple of years. He had a trophy red stag he had shot in Germany while serving in Criminal Investigation during the occupation following WWII. His unit investigated the black market and was assigned the task of searching for Hitler’s gold. Hunting and fishing was their recreation in Europe. I was born while he was the post game warden for Ft. Stewart, Georgia. I remember him coming home from his last turkey hunt in Maryland. Dad could not stand careless hunters with poor etiquette and refused to share the woods with them.

Raised by Christian parents I came to realize that I had a sin problem. Obviously, as a nine year old I didn’t have a life of crime and debauchery behind me, but I knew I did not measure up to a holy God. I trusted that Christ had done everything for my salvation in a church start outside Ft. Meade, Maryland. When my dad retired all us boys voted to move to Alaska. We ended up in South Carolina, where I spent my time squirrel and rabbit hunting, fishing, reading Field & Stream, and day dreaming of Labrador retrievers and the West. As an army family we watched the evening news and kept an eye on Viet Nam. I had no interest in going straight to college after high school and my brother, Mike, had already dropped out of college to fly in the army. Flying sounded more exciting than attending college, so I celebrated my eighteenth birthday by entering the Army’s Warrant Officer Rotary Wing Aviation Course.

At eighteen I knew more about being a “real helicopter pilot” than I did being a growing Christian. I did not know the importance of daily Bible study and prayer. Mike had extended his tour in Viet Nam and was in-country when I arrived. Don, a signal officer, arrived the following month.

Early in 1971 the Pentagon determined the ARVNs (South Vietnamese Army) capable of severing the Ho Chi Minh trail which supplied the communists in the south. Air assault companies were sent to I Corps in support of LAM SON 719, the ARVN invasion of Laos. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) allowed the ARVNs to become extended over a number of landing zones (LZ) before they counter attacked with tanks, heavy artillery, and 25,000 troops. LAM SON 719 quickly became a shooting gallery with the ARVN troops serving as the bait and army helicopters becoming the sitting ducks. The NVA shot down or grounded from battle damage 444 of the 600 helicopters involved in the operation and 10,000 ARVN soldiers were wounded, killed, or missing. One of the aviation companies from III Corps lost their complete gun platoon on one LZ. The Charlie model gunships could not handle the mountainous terrain and the heavy machine gun and light antiaircraft weapon fire.

Photo of my helicopter in the newspaper for the U.S. troops in Viet Nam.

Photo of my helicopter in the newspaper for the U.S. troops in Viet Nam.

The units flying LAM SON 719 needed replacement aircraft and pilots. I volunteered and arrived at A Company, 158th Aviation Battalion, the “Ghost Riders,” in early March. On March 19th we were assigned to the extraction of ARVN troops from several of the LZs along Highway 9 toward Tchepone. It was a typical day for the operation. We started with eleven aircraft and by afternoon had two or three still flyable. On the first mission of the morning point blank fire riddled six of the aircraft. A .51 caliber round hit “Itty Bitty” while in the LZ. Blowing through the armor seat the round paralyzed him. The next attempt resulted in “Wop” taking an antiaircraft round through the bottom of his seat. By late afternoon I was in one of three flyable aircraft. The ARVN unit needed ammo and water so headquarters decided that one aircraft would resupply them. We were selected to fly over at 6,000 feet and throw out the supplies. (I always wondered how it would feel to have an ammo crate land on your head from 6,000 feet.) Headquarters hoped the altitude would minimize our risk. We would also be escorted by several Cobra gun teams.

Over the LZ at 6,000 feet it looked like the Fourth of July as tracer rounds the size of basketballs flashed through our blades. For every tracer round there were three or four regular rounds. Though out of small arms range, the .51 calibers and antiaircraft weapons had no trouble reaching us. A classmate had recently been vaporized at 6,000 feet with a first round hit by a radar controlled antiaircraft gun. With absolute certainty I knew I was going to die. You can not bargain with God, but I believe He puts you in situations to bring you around to His viewpoint. I remember praying, “God, I know I am yours, that I am going to heaven, but if you choose to let me live I  will do whatever you want.” His answer wasn’t audible but I had such a sense of His presence it was if I had heard Him say, “Nothing is going to happen to you.” I finished the rest of my tour as the only Ghost Rider aircraft commander (that I know of) that never took at hit to his aircraft. I had men killed immediately after getting off the aircraft, but I never took a hit. Almost one third of my flight school class died in Viet Nam. I should be among them, but God had other plans. I came home before my twentieth birthday and met a friend from high school who had been the class drunk. His life was radically changed. Through him I discovered you get out of Christianity in geometric proportions to what you put into the relationship.

I wish I could say that I consistently lived for Christ from March 1971, on, but I can’t. I can say that God has always been faithful. He has given me a wonderful family. Kathy and I moved to Alaska in 1974 where our boys were born and reared. Everyday in Alaska God’s creation declares His reality. Its spectacular mountains and endless vistas remind me how great He is and insignificant I am. As a public school teacher, minister, bush pilot, National Guard pilot, commercial fisherman, fishing guide, outfitter, charter operator, ski patrolman, and tourism business owner I was blessed by years of outdoor experiences. Many times God used an experience to teach me a spiritual truth. When I read of the disciples in the storm I visualize Clarence Strait with whitecapping seas higher than the boat’s cabin breaking on the bow and know the peace of being in the Creator’s care. After seminary we returned to Alaska and had the joy of spending two years hunting, fishing, shrimping, and woodworking with my dad in Ketchikan. Six months after our moving to Soldotna he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My mother lived her faith. Rearing four boys, having three of them serve in combat for over two years straight, and losing her partner of fifty years my mom always had had a quiet peace about her. She loved fishing with Dad and would often laugh about their hunting adventures in Europe.

Most of the names in these stories have been changed to protect my friends from further embarrassment. I wrote with the standard that I changed the name if you laugh at anyone other than me. I especially want to acknowledge my friend Howard White. He lived and died for Christ and he is worthy of honor. I do want to thank my hunting partners, Dave Sterley, Dean Nichols, and my three sons, Ashley, Adam, and Andrew. Others have seen first hand my amazing woodsmanship, but these did not give up on me, which I deeply appreciate. I have tried to be as accurate as possible, but the exact locations and details might be wrong. Of course, that’s what make these hunting stories.

Several of the chapters involve, or are written by my oldest son, Ashley. Serving in a parachute infantry regiment on 9-11 he represents many young men and women who are seeing the power of God in a different outdoor setting. It is our desire that God will use this book to help men come to know Him and decide to begin the greatest adventure of their lives, being a follower of Christ. I can promise it will never be boring.

“Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ But Simon answered and said to Him, ‘Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.’ And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.’ So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.” Luke 5:3-11 (NKJV)

“Is There a Bear In Your House?”

(As in most of these accounts the names have been changed to protect all parties.)

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”  Gal 6:7-9 (NKJV)

The sow charged from the brush without warning and with her speed would be on top of Scott in seconds. Scott lived to hunt and fish. He had an attractive wife and three beautiful girls, a great job, a good boat, and plenty of time to pursue his passion, hunting and fishing. Scott’s family were members of my church, but Scott’s worship usually occurred somewhere between Juneau and Admiralty Island.

On this particular day Scott had decided to take his skiff to Young’s Bay on Admiralty Island and hunt for Sitka Blacktails. Most guys hunted with at least one other person if for no other reason than being able to drag the skiff down to the water in case you misjudged the tidal change and came back to a high and dry boat. With tidal ranges over 22 feet it was more common than not. A hunting partner also gave you a better chance of keeping all your major body parts if you ever ran into an unhappy brown bear.

Unless you have a partner like George. His hunting partner did not do him any good when he was killed by a brownie on the south end of Admiralty. The pink salmon run never showed up in 1988. By October the brown bears were facing a long winter without the fat they needed. So when the brownie heard the bleat call of a blacktail he reacted like mom had just rung the dinner bell. He was probably surprised as he leaped off the ledge onto George and discovered he was not a deer. By that time George’s rifle was jammed into the ground up to the trigger guard and the meal was there for the taking. George’s hunting partner heard the screams but was unable (or chose not to) to come to George’s aid. The seven man search team followed the bear’s trail up the mountain side 1500 feet and along the ridge line a quarter mile. They stopped the brown bear’s charge by emptying their rifles into him. Considering all the men were packing .375 H&H Magnums, .458 Magnums, and a couple of .338s, it is remarkable how much distance the bear covered while technically dead. A bear’s heart beat so slow that he can run a hundred yards and treat you like a Mr. Potato Head after you have blown his heart out. The boar was in perfect health, in his prime, but lacking his winter fat. The searchers found George stuffed under a blowdown serving as a pantry. I have never had to kill a brownie, but friends of mine with first hand experience say you have to break them down by shattering their shoulders. You stop them and then kill them. Alaska Department of Fish and Game test revealed that even the largest magnums had little effect with a head shot on a brownie. Sloped like the front end of a Panzer tank the thick skull bone protects the brain from everything but the perfect shot.

It is a fearsome thing to have eight hundred pounds of fur coming at you faster than a quarter horse. Brown bears possess a phenomenal sense of smell and equally bad eye sight so they often run toward something until they identify it. I have had them come within twenty or thirty yards before they turn and run. So, you can’t start blasting away at one hundred yards. You have to wait. Of course from twenty yards you only have one good shot. There is a major clue to an approaching bear’s intent. If the brownie’s teeth are clacking and slobber is flying then you had better be a good shot, ready to volunteer for one of those extreme plastic surgery shows on TV, or stand before God.

Scott’s bear was clacking and slobbering and broke out of the brush at less than twenty yards! Scott should have been a statistic. Each year some hunter gets chewed up or killed by a bear in Alaska. Several years ago one Southern Baptist pastor from North Pole made the Outdoor Life Network channel for his mauling on a moose hunt. For some inexplicable reason (also known as divine intervention) the sow spun with the impact of each of Scott’s shots. Reloading as quickly as he could work the bolt Scott emptied his rifle. With an empty magazine the bear could finish him off, but instead ran back into the brush. After Scott had reloaded the bear again charged and again spun with each impact. The bear dropped after the seventh shot.

Scott now faced a dilemma. He had to recover the bear hide or be cited for wanton waste and up to a $10,000 fine. The green hide and skull weighted over a hundred pounds. And if he reported the kill as self defense he would be subject to an investigation to substantiate his claim. If proven to be a valid case of self defense the state would then confiscate the hide and it would end up in the office of some bureaucrat in Juneau. If they ruled against self defense Scott faced major penalties. At that time Alaskan residents could shoot one brown bear every four years. Scott had never shot one, but he did not have the $25 tag. So, Scott skinned out the bear, packed the hide, the skull, and a ten pound tracking collar the bear was wearing down the ridge two miles to his skiff, returned to town, and bought a tag. According to state regulations he had a period of time before he had to submit the hide and skull to Fish and Game for sealing.

The story should end there except that same afternoon two fish and game researchers flew their weekly tracking flight over Admiralty. They located all their subject bears except “Sally.” She was their longest running subject. They looked everywhere for her but she had disappeared. Even if she had been killed by a boar or a landside the collar would still be transmitting. The bear researchers could not figure it out. The collars are just about indestructible.  Finally resigned to the loss of a major research animal the men flew back to Juneau. Imagine their surprise when the tracking system registered Sally’s signal as they flew the down wind leg of the airport traffic pattern.

Imagine Scott’s wife’s surprise when she answered the door to find two men standing on the front steps with their tracking antenna and gear. When she opened the door one man asked her, “Do you have a brown bear in your house?” Sally told them her husband had been hunting and had placed a hide in the chest freezer. Scott had left town for a few days and would finish the required paperwork when he returned.  She gave the men permission to enter the garage and retrieve the tracking collar.

The Fish and Game guys were unhappy. Positive that Scott had purchased the tag after the shooting they wanted to bring every charge possible against him. However, knowing and proving are two different things. After a few weeks they finally gave up trying to make Scott a resident of Lemon Creek Jail. Several months later my wife and I had a number of friends over for a Christmas party. Things were going well until I introduced Scott to another friend. Ralph worked for Fish and Game, Sport Fish Division, and a close friend of the bear researchers. Needless to say things became awkward when Ralph said, “So you are the guy who shot Sally!”

The Genesis account reveals a key element of human nature; man thinks he can hide his sins. Adam and Eve scrambled into the bushes when they heard God approaching; Cain tried to act like he knew nothing of Abel’s death; Ananias and Sapphira counted on fooling the church about the amount of money they were holding back from their land sale while pretending they had given all of the proceeds to the church. Church people become experts at cover ups. If I cheat another businessman I am “shrewd.” If I loose my temper it is “righteous indignation.” If I act familiar with a person of the other sex who is not my spouse I am just being friendly. Self-centeredness becomes “self-esteem.” We rationalize our sins and think we fool others as well as we have fooled ourselves. Internet pornography is at epidemic proportions in the church today. One reason is its accessibility. It is easier to surf a porn site than going down to a strip club. It is also easier to hide. Someone may drive by and see you coming out of the “Adult Bookstore” or club. No one is looking over your shoulder while you work on your computer.

One of Satan’s most effective lies is, “No one will ever know.” You may fool everyone. However, two people will always know; you and God. And God promises that we will reap a harvest of whatever we have sown. Galatians six’s law of sowing and reaping contains either a wonderful promise of blessing or fearful warning of judgment. Another of Satan’s lies is, “You aren’t hurting anyone.” I am sure that Eve would have never disobeyed God if she had known that it would lead to one son murdering the other.

When we are tempted to sin we need to remember Scott and his bear in the freezer. We think we can hide our sins but they will come out at the worst possible moment with the greatest effect on our loved ones. Facing a couple of Fish and Game researchers can’t compare to standing before a Holy God.

Called to be an Outfitter

A few years ago I realized two formative truths: The Army did a better job of teaching me what it meant to be a “real helicopter pilot” than the church did teaching me what it means to be a Christian; and, The Great Commission is about making disciples, not “praying a prayer.” An outfitter supplies the needed equipment and experience to help the outdoorsman complete his hunt. He knows the terrain and the challenges. A good outfitter is in the business because he loves the outdoors. He enjoys sharing the journey with clients new to the region. Having been an outfitter in Alaska and a pastor, it is only natural to focus on OutfittingDisciples.

Mick and Mentoring

Another chapter from my ill fated book for outdoorsmen.

My troller, "Debit," near Haktaheen, Cross Sound, Alaska

My troller, "Debit," near Haktaheen, Cross Sound, Alaska

For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.  And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.  For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.  For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” 1 Thess 1:5-9 (NKJV)

Among handtrollers Mick was a highliner. I fished the same drags for a season and knew about him before I met him. Southeastern Alaska commercial salmon fishing had several major categories: gill netters, purse seiners, and trollers. Gill netters typically used a thirty foot bow picker. Working the inside canals and fjords they would drop their nets in the path of migrating fish and then pull the loaded net over the bow of the boat onto a huge reel. The fisherman would stand in the bow and pick out the salmon as they came aboard with their heads stuck in the gill net. The nets had depth and length restrictions designed to allow spawning escapement. Purse seiners were fifty plus foot vessels. When the skipper located a school of fish he would have the skiff pull out the net into a large circle around the school. Both ends of the net would be run through a hydraulic puller on the top of a boom while the bottom of the net was drawn tight forming a large pouch, or purse. As the purse was pulled alongside the seiner the crew would often have to hand dip enough fish out before the net could be lifted aboard. I have seen seiners covered with fish until they were spilling over the gunwales. There are stories about greedy skippers trying to make it to the processor with their decks awash and finally sinking. Net fisherman had certain days of the week and areas of the region they could fish. It was all designed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to ensure a certain number of spawners returning to the streams. Net fishermen targeted silver, sockeye, and pink salmon and were paid for fish in the round, or uncleaned. Their catch ended up in the can.

Trollers targeted silver and king salmon and sold gutted and gilled fish to be sold whole in the fish markets. Originally anyone could commercial fish. As the state grew and more fishermen joined the industry the state enacted the Limited Entry system for power trollers, and for a few years anyone could still enter the handtroll fleet. Power trollers use hydraulics to run four “gurdies,” or reels, mounted on each gunwale. Each gurdy held several hundred feet of stainless steel cable attached to a forty to sixty pound lead ball. As the “cannon” ball lowered the fisherman would clip on “spreads,” 120 pound leaders of varying length, with an assortment of terminal tackle and baits. Traditionally trollers would run twenty fathom spreads. Fishing the 120 feet depth contour line along prominent migratory points a troller would be running six spreads per down line using trolling poles to spread the gear. Trollers used plugs, spoons, herring, and hoochies (rubber skirt squids). Hand trollers used the same gear as the power trollers except we were limited to four lines total and since we used muscle instead of hydraulics our cannon balls weighted no more than forty pounds. Hand cranking a thirty pounder all day long developed the arms.

Over the years traditions developed among trollers. To the casual eye the shoreline on the back side of Admiralty Island all looked the same. Yet, trollers would fish False Point Retreat and south of Funter’s Bay bypassing miles of other shoreline. The traditional drag was fished starboard to the shore and entered on the outside of the daisy chain of boats if there were several boats in the drag. If the number of boats required you would troll the outside of the circuit catching nothing instead of doing a tight circle staying on the fish. The old timers had a way of enforcing troller etiquette; they would shot a few rounds into the violator’s hull!

Mick should have qualified for a power troll permit when the state passed limited entry. Technicalities, as often happen with bureaucracies and regulations, placed him in the handtroll group. Mick knew how to fish. A top money maker each year many trollers would watch him with binoculars or follow him from drag to drag. I knew little about trolling. I had a 23 foot Oregon dory with a small cabin, no heater, no head, and no comfort. The openings were usually a week long and I would fish for three or four days at a time. I tried to make up for my lack of skill by putting in more time than the other fishermen. Funter’s Bay had a floating dock where handtrollers often would tie up at night and socialize. Most mornings around 4:00 I would untie and troll out the bay and fish south. Summer time darkness came around 11:00 at night and I would get back to the dock shortly after. Each morning Mick was pulling out at the same time and we returned within minutes of each other. I think that is why on one cool night Mick invited me to “mug up.” After a day of working alone, or with just a crewmember, fishermen enjoyed getting together. You would see several boats rafting up in a cove for the night and everyone would be on one of the boats drinking coffee or hot chocolate while listening to the marine operator channel or playing cards.

Over the next few years we became friends. Mick taught me how to fish and what it means to be Alaskan. Mick had a 42 footer with a twelve foot beam. We would sit in his galley as he showed me the correct way to rig the different baits, talked about the timeline and locations for intercepting the salmon, and anything else related to commercial fishing.

Alaskans are special people and Mick is an Alaskan. Mick taught me what it means to be Alaskan. My sons are Alaskan by birth; I am by the grace of God and the teaching of Mick. He and his brother, Swede, used airboats to prospect and hunt the Berners Bay area and were the first people I contacted after sinking my airboat. Swede walked with a funny gait. He had played Goldilocks with three brown bears and won. He and Mick with two friends had killed two moose about a hundred yards apart up the Lace River. The day of the kills they had packed out all the meat while leaving the racks and gut piles. Alaska has strict game laws concerning wanton waste so meat must be salvage before trophies. Neither moose had very large racks but the next day the friends insisted on recovering the antlers. Against their better judgment Mick and Swede agreed. They reached the first kill site without any problems. However, while walking the narrow trial through the alder thicket to the second kill a large sow ambushed Swede. Mick rushed to the yells and growls to find Swede on his back trying to keep the sow from ripping open his abdomen. She managed to chew Swedes knees and thighs so he looked like chopped liver before Mick was able to kill her. As the sow fell off of Swede he was able to grab his rifle and stop the two charging 300 pound cubs. Mick carried Swede down river to the bay but had to evacuate him by plane due to the rough seas. Swede rode in the back of a pickup to the hospital and refused to sit in a wheel chair while being admitted. The next day Mick arrived at Swede’s hospital room in time to see a Fish and Wildlife Protection Officer scurrying out. Mick entered to find Swede out of the bed trying to rip out the IVs so he could attack the “Fish Cop.” When a hunter claims self defense for killing a bear, especially a sow with cubs, the Fish Cops complete the equivalent of a murder investigation. It seems that Swede did not appreciate the officer’s contention that he unnecessarily killed the cubs.

My last experience with Mick came during the fall brown bear season. I agreed to take a visiting speaker on a hunt in late October. I had a licensed hunting guide in the church so we were all set. The services had been a real blessing and after a busy season I was looking forward to four or five days out of town. The first night we set up camp in a prime area up the Berners. Huge tracks covered the sandbars due to the large late silver salmon run as the bears packed on the last fat before winter. The next day a winter front moved in with plummeting temperatures. The river began to ice while the snow fell. Going home was not an option until the gale force winds abated. To make matters worse it appeared the brownies had headed to the dens with the arrival of the weather. When it seemed that things were going sour rather quickly Mick showed up and invited us to his cabin. We followed him down river sliding over the ice into clear water. For the next three days we sat in Mick’s cabin enjoying the warmth of his oil stove and his endless accounts of Alaskan life.

At that point of my life I was not aware of the term “mentoring.” I just knew that Mick took a life time of outdoor skills and experiences and shared them with me. His wisdom and practical skills saved me from serious harm in a country that is as deadly as it is beautiful. Mick not only told me what to do, he showed me. Jesus told the disciples that he would make them fishers of men. He then spent the next three years showing them how to do it. He discipled them. Christianity is a life changing faith and that change comes through not only the acquisition of knowledge but the impartation of skills. It is caught more than taught. Remember the Great Commission tells us to make disciples.

Paul reminded the Thessalonians not only of his teaching, but how he had lived with them. Paul did not tell them to “do what I say, not what I do.” Paul poured his life into them and every other Christian God allowed him to meet. Paul knew the power of example. It will make a difference in someone’s life and your own.

Real Men Don’t Get Lost!

A chapter in my yet unpublished, and repeatedly turned down manuscript of the same title written for outdoorsmen.

Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalms 119:104-105 (NKJV)

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  2 Tim 3:16-17 (NKJV)

Christian’s often use words that only have meaning within the “club.” Take “lost” for example. Every time I hear someone use the expression, I want to say, “Real men don’t get lost.” I have never been lost. I may not know my exact position, but I am not lost. That a man should never admit if he were lost was first demonstrated to me in flight school. The Army Aviation School’s Primary Phase was located in Mineral Wells, Texas, thirty miles or so west of Dallas-Fort Worth. Each day half of the students rode out to the staging areas on buses. The other half flew the helicopters to the outlaying fields and switched out the aircraft with the other students following the morning training session. Texas might not have subzero weather, but when the winds cross the Canadian border the only thing slowing it down is barb wire. The spring winds are horrendous.

Somewhere over Southeastern Alaska

Somewhere over Southeastern Alaska

The training helicopter at that time was a Hughes 300, loving referred to as the Mattel Messerschmitt, because it looked like a toy. It would cruise around sixty knots. The day of my lesson on lostness started with seasonally strong winds. Those of us on the buses noticed that the helicopters were stacking up on take off. Dempsey heliport had around ten take off pads. The students would hover out of their tie down spots and enter the line of aircraft waiting for departure. As each aircraft hovered to the departure pad the pilot would call the tower identifying his location and request departure clearance. After the tower gave the wind conditions and clearance and the pilot would pull pitch for climb out. Three hundred trainers leaving in rapid succession always reminded me of the bees around one of our family’s beehives.

Probably thirty minutes later we arrived to the outlying field and entered the shack to find that one of the guys was calling Dempsey tower. He was lost. Naturally we stayed glued to the radio. The conversation came across loud and clear, we didn’t miss a word:

Tower: “Three Zero Seven, say altitude.”

307: “307, altitude 5,000.”

Tower: “307, say heading.”

307: “307, heading 360.”

Tower: “What terrain features can you identify?” (We had always been told that if we became disoriented that we needed to climb so that we would be able to determine our position from the bearings to major landmarks.)

307: “I can see Dallas-Fort Worth to my east; Possum Kingdom Lake is to my northwest. I can also see the Baker Hotel (in Mineral Wells) to my southeast.”


Tower: “307, look between your foot pedals. What do you see?”

LONGER PAUSE: “307, Dempsey.”

That poor guy had pulled pitch and climbed almost straight up. He was showing fifty-five knots airspeed and going nowhere. For two weeks he had to wear a huge compass around his neck. No one else in our class ever called in asking for directions.

A few years later I decided that I would fly my new bride to the Bahamas for our honeymoon.  I had several thousand hours of flight time in military aircraft and a commercial rotary wing, single engine, instrument ticket so all I had to do was show proficiency in another type of aircraft to have an equivalent rating. So, after seven hours of instruction and a check ride I walked the aisle with a fixed wing ticket. I still carry a picture of my wife standing beside the Cherokee 180 as we prepared to leave her hometown airport. One advantage of flying is people can’t tie cans to your rudder.

The flight from Cheraw, South Carolina to West Palm was a “no brainer,” just head south until you hit the coastline and follow it until you have to take a left. There was just one problem. The Cherokee’s airspeed indicator registered in miles per hour. I thought in knots per hour. One hundred twenty knots is 132 miles per hour. Unfortunately, when the aircraft instrument read 120, it meant 120 not 132. I can usually figure ETAs, estimated time of arrival, within minutes without a navigational computer. So, I did not think twice when an airfield came into sight as I expected West Palm to appear. I tuned in the appropriate frequency and heard considerable traffic which did not fit with the approaching airfield.

No new groom should ever face the questions and looks I received from Kathy. A reluctant flier in the first place, she immediately started accusing me of being lost. How could I be lost in Florida? The Atlantic was on my left, therefore the Gulf was on my right. We had not over flown Miami. There is no way we could have missed that. We still had land appearing off our nose. I was not lost. So retreating from the mysterious airfield we circled until I figured our position. Once I realized the gauges were in miles per hour it all fell into place and we resumed our trip. I now know that there are numerous airfields on the Florida coast left over from WWII. You learn something everyday.

I wish I could say that was the end of our marital adjustments but I can’t. During our first year in Alaska we became close friends to an older couple, Bob and Dee. Bob owned a logging road construction business and flew a Hughes 500 to travel between construction sights. They were a wonderful couple who loved each other and the Lord. Bob often picked my brain about flying helicopters and I enjoyed going with him to his camps. In the spring of 1975 Bob and Dee crashed in a snow storm. Pulling pitch to climb above some low clouds he was low and slow when the engine flamed out. Scout pilots in Viet Nam loved the Hughes 500. I know men, including my brother, who walked away from multiple crashes in 500s. A major down side to the Hughes was its light weight blades. If you are pulling pitch and experience engine failure the blades rapidly loose speed resulting in loss of control.

Highly respected in Alaska logging Bob and Dee’s funeral drew people from throughout Alaska. There was not a single seat available on any flight to Petersburg the day of the funeral. I was flying for one of the bush outfits at that time and the owner knew I wanted to attend the funeral. We had an aircraft in Petersburg due for maintenance so my boss suggested that I fly up the replacement aircraft and bring the other one down to the shop. He said that I could take Kathy along. Dreary and overcast with low ceilings the day of the funeral fit our mood. Just outside of Petersburg we flew over the crash site. More of a celebration than a funeral we left town a few hours later glad we had been able to make it.

Weather conditions had not improved during the funeral and we had to fly in and out of snow showers, only a few hundred feet off the water. Crossing the side bays on Clarence Strait we often lost sight of everything but the water below which was white capping due to the high winds. At those times we had no sense of the correct heading except for the whitecaps. All the charts of the area have warnings about magnetic variations due to mineral levels which made the compass worthless. There were times when it seemed that the helicopter was going sideways only to do almost a 180 and be facing the opposite direction. We were never lost, but I sure wondered where we were. With the strong head winds we had to stop to refuel from a company cache in a nondescript muskeg bog. When we finally landed back in Ketchikan Kathy looked at me and said in a slow measured voice, “I will never fly with you again!” And she has kept her word.

Truth is, men are more likely to get lost than their wives. Men don’t like to stop for directions or bother with maps. Sometimes we can’t read the gauges or something is throwing our compass off. Whatever the case, the most we know is that we are in Florida or Alaska. Being “locationally challenged” can have disastrous consequences especially for our eternity. A man who lives each day with the word of God as his guidebook will never be lost again and he will be fit to lead his family safely past the pitfalls that await them.