Kodiak Island bear hunting season begins Oct. 25. The spring hunt was canceled due to COVID.
Hunters from all over the map will converge on Kodiak to pursue their trophy animal under the direction and advice of a registered guide.
One of those guides is Jason Bunch, who also guides goat and deer hunts.
Jason said he likes “the guys who come up here, not just looking to kill a bear, but are looking to see a different part of the world.”
Jason feels good when he guides a hunter “who appreciates Kodiak the way we appreciate Kodiak,” he said
Jason guides at the Rohrer Bear Camp at Mush Bay in Uganik on Kodiak Island’s west side. The camp was formerly owned by famous bear hunting guide Charles Madsen. Although hunters have sleeping quarters at the camp, they sometimes hunt away from camp and sleep in tents.
“I’ve taken lots of guys who never slept in a little tent, and who hadn’t backpacked,” said Jason.
“It’s always quite rewarding to show them that they can do something they didn’t think they physically could do.
“I’ve taken men in their 50s and 60s, who thought they were too old to be backpacking. They ended up having this great feeling of accomplishment.
“It gave me good feedback that I was going the right pace, that I took care of them, that I didn’t burn them out and didn’t get them exhausted. They kept their spirits up, so that they could be successful.”
“It’s not about me,” said Jason. “A good guide is there to help (clients) harvest the critter, keep them safe and make sure that they have enough gas in the tank to go another mile. I’ve had cancer survivors, I’ve had guys who were waiting for a medical diagnosis, men dealing with marital problems.”
As Jason sits on the mountainside with his clients, he shares encouraging words and insights, and provides hope.
“Sometimes I have very personal conversations on the hill with hunters. They’re telling you their issues, problems, stress. It’s pretty special when that happens. It’s a great way to really help someone,” he said.
In addition to guiding, Jason operates a business called K Line Alaska, which provides road striping and asphalt seal coating.
“How does Safeway get parking lines? I do it. How does Mill Bay Road get painted? I do it,” he said.
Jason’s first career was being a Coast Guard rescue swimmer.
“I was always dealing with someone in an emergency and providing an emergency service,” he said, adding that being a hunting guide provided “a nice change.”
Helping his clients achieve a goal is the “allure to (guiding), the challenge,” said Jason. “That’s probably why it hasn’t gotten old. I love guiding even more than I did the year before. I couldn’t say that about emergency services. … They chink away at you.”
Jason said that the Rohrers have become like family to him. Before he started guiding for their business, he worked with Sam Rohrer in his business, Kodiak Lawn Care.
Sam, who manages the Mush Bay camp as his dad, Dick, did for many years, is “the guy who sucked me into the guiding community,” Jason said.
Jason had been introduced to Sam through his involvement with a committee that addressed goat hunting guidelines on Kodiak Island.
While in Kodiak, Jason was transferred to the Coast Guard rescue swimming school in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where he served as an instructor. He also wrote a teaching manual.
One day Sam came to visit Jason.
“I was so homesick for Kodiak,” said Jason. “When Sam knocked on my door, I almost cried. I gave him a big hug.”
Sam was there to ask Jason if he would be a mountain goat hunting guide for the Rohrers.
Jason, who remained stationed in Elizabeth City, took vacation time to guide hunts.
Jason and Sam “had chemistry,” said Jason. “It was a perfect fit.”
When Dick Rohrer suggested that Jason pack for brown bear hunts, he was all in. At the time, Dick was guiding hunts.
“Dick constantly provided good mentorship along the way,” said Jason. “I tried to work real hard for him because I knew he was a farmer.”
Incidentally, both Dick and Jason grew up in Pennsylvania.
“There is no such thing as a lazy farmer. I tried to do my best. I think he appreciated that. He puts a lot of stake in hard work. So they invited me up the next year,” Jason said.
Eventually, Jason was transferred back to Kodiak.
He retired from the Coast Guard in 2013. His work as a rescue swimmer had taken a toll on him.
“We saw everything from boats on fire, to boats taking on water, to boats going aground, capsized, helicopters crashed, planes crashed, bear maulings. Lots of broken bones, lots of trauma,” Jason said.
And death. “You really see everything,” he said.
Jason pointed out that a lot of Coastguardsmen and women are transient people.
“They come and go. They don’t make friends in town. They stick to their bubble. They provide the service and leave. There’s a part of that (distance) that’s healthy. You don’t know who you’re dealing with,” he said.
But since Jason had come to know the community, he knew exactly who he was dealing with when he went on missions.
“I knew their family well,” he said.
Responding to one incident in which a young hunter fell off a cliff and died “was really dramatic,” said Jason. “That broke my heart. That was probably when I knew I was done (being a rescue swimmer).”
In retrospect, Jason is grateful for his time in the Coast Guard.
“It provided us with everything I wanted when I signed up for it, and more,” he said. “I’ve made lifelong friends that I still keep in touch with. My kids call most of those guys ‘uncle.’ We have really close friendships.”
The Coast Guard also made it possible for Jason and his family to live on Kodiak Island, a place they love.
“I would have stayed in the Coast Guard, but I didn’t want to leave Kodiak,” said Jason.
He and his wife Kimberly raised their boys here. Kodiak is a great place to raise a family, said Jason.