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Through the Generations

September 2023
Story by Alex Heikes
State: Idaho
Species: Bear - Black

My dad taught me how to hunt, starting with geese, turkey, and deer in our home state of Pennsylvania. I was even the “hound dog” that chased downed geese through cut cornfields well before I was old enough to hunt, and I loved every minute of it. Ever since then, I have built upon what he taught me, being fortunate enough to travel the U.S. and beyond to continue expanding my hunting experiences. This year, I had the opportunity to take my first bear, complete my turkey grand slam, and do both with my dad by my side.

This adventure started after I harvested a mountain lion and bobcat with Mike Sluka from Longtail Outfitters back in 2021. That hunt was so enjoyable that I knew I wanted to come back to Idaho again for something else. I had never hunted bear up to that point and Idaho has Merriam’s turkey, so I figured we could get two birds with one stone (pun intended). While I was there, I booked another hunt for May 2023 that my dad ultimately decided to tag along for.

Prior to this trip, I harvested several Eastern turkeys, mostly courtesy of Dad calling them right into me when I was younger. I also got my Osceola bird in Florida and my Rio Grande bird in Texas, both of which my wife was along to share the experience with. Therefore, to complete my turkey grand slam, I only needed a Merriam’s turkey. That was excitement enough, but I got even more wound up when Mike started sending me pictures of a nice black bear boar on camera where we were going to be hunting only two days later!

We flew into Spokane where Mike picked us up in his truck with dog boxes in the back. Dad had never hunted big game with hounds before, so he was very interested about how everything worked. I was anxiously anticipating him hearing enthusiastic barking echoing through the woods as the dogs hunted fresh tracks. He sure was in for a treat this trip.

The next morning, we loaded up the trucks and headed to where Mike had that bear on camera. We were not hunting alone either as several members of Mike’s family were with us, including Steph (his wife), Claire (his daughter), and Cory and Kristi (his in-laws). The entire gang was ready for action on that beautiful, crisp morning, including quite a few hounds. We set them loose right at daylight, and the chase began. Dad could not believe how exhilarating that feeling was and reiterated that to all of us several times. I was just as excited for him to enjoy that as I was for the hunt itself, which I’m sure is what he felt all the years prior to this when he took me hunting.

The dogs worked quickly and had the bear treed in no time. Mike and I darted straight toward the barking while the rest of the family took the trucks in search of a potential logging road to get closer. Of course, they found an open road and beat Mike and me (huffing and puffing) nearly the whole way to the dogs. We still had a steep hike up, but it was worth it when we saw that bear tucked up in a pine tree away from the team of dogs going berserk on the ground.

After we tied back the dogs for safety, I made a single clean shot with my .44 magnum, the same gun I used to harvest my mountain lion with Mike just two winters ago. The bear came out of the tree, and the dogs went nuts all over again. My dad got great video and pictures of it, and we captured several great moments of celebration afterward, including the whole extended family of happy hunters!

The following morning, we headed out to seal the deal on my turkey grand slam. Dad and I grew up hunting Eastern birds that tend to be more reserved, especially on public land after being over pressured. When we heard the near constant gobbling of Merriam’s toms, our hearts were beating overtime. Though I had hunted Rio turkeys that seemed similar, Dad had never hunted any other type of turkey, so he was also in awe at how eager these birds were to spout off continuously. That morning, we secured my grand slam, and Dad got to be a part of it. Not only was he there for my first bear, he was also there for my fourth species of turkey, and that is something I will always treasure.

As we celebrated another successful hunt back at the Sluka house, we somehow ended up discussing the subject of muzzleloading shotguns. Ironically, Mike’s dad had passed one down to him which we believe is from the 1800s. After very little arm twisting from Mike and Cory, we were pouring powder and pellets down the barrel. Although I had never used one before, a few practice shots gave me the confidence I needed to hunt with it the following day.

Sure enough, the next morning, we found ourselves in the middle of thundering birds on the Idaho mountains. Mike and I had them fired up after hen calling back and forth, louder and louder as the birds woke up. A big tom snuck in to our right and saw something he didn’t like, so he turned to head back down the mountain. I decided to go for it and quickly shifted onto my knee for a shot. The tom stood up straight in an opening, and I fired. Smoke obscured my line of sight, but I could hear wings flapping and Mike saying, “You got him!” in the background. Since we used Mike’s dad’s gun and my dad was there as well, I like to think that both of our dads were part of that hunt with us.

More celebrating commenced that day, especially since that was our third day on the mountain, and we were blessed enough to have taken three gorgeous animals. At this point, I can’t help but consider Mike and his family part of our own extended family. I plan to make my way out there again, maybe even with my son one day to continue passing these memories and experiences down through our generations since that seems to be the theme of this hunt. I thank God, Mike, Dad, and all of those who joined us on this trip for yet another unforgettable experience!