Friends in Kamchatka.

We are glad to publish an exciting hunting story shared by our dear friends and partners, who made all the way from South Africa to the very Eastern part of Russia to experience Kamchatka Brown Bear hunting with us. Enjoy!

Gratitude and overwhelming excitement comes to mind, when I recall my feelings on commencing our adventure, a dream that had been 3 years in the making was now a reality. Jacques aka “The Machine” and owner of Chapunga Safaris had hunted several times in Kamchatka and regaled many wonderful stories of the vast unspoilt Russian Peninsula that was awashed with astounding beauty, of bears gorging themselves in the rivers that were filled with salmon as well as the abundance of other wildlife. I could feel the deep call of this country and I knew that this would be the journey of a lifetime. Jumbo, aka “The Skunk” and owner of Kambako Safaris was our wingman, had no choice but to join us on this epic adventure, despite recently recovering from knee surgery. We are all great friends and have worked together in South Africa and in Moscow for many years. And then there is me, Cecil aka The “Author” and owner of Life-Form Taxidermy. The Journey had begun!!

The twin engine Antonov 26 (1985) looked to be very old with tight fitting seats, that was loaded from the rear, soon taxied down the runway at Petropavlovsk, this would be our second attempt to get to Palana. Glancing back, I could see the two white capped majestic volcanoes, Koryakskiy and Avachinskiy towering into the clear blue sky. The flight was smooth and uneventful and Egor the pilot, landed us safely to a round of applause. We exited the plane with great expectation but were welcomed by a strong icy wind that bit the back of our necks and we quickly hastened to warm ourselves with a beanie and gloves.

Soon we were on our way to camp. Pulled, on very practical hand crafted birch sleds, by powerful snow mobiles for two and a half hours, where we slipped and slid through mud and melting snow. On entering base camp there were several green roofed lodgings and we were greeted by excited barking dogs. We proudly marked our hut (Hizhina) with the South African flag and settled in. Our hut was basic with a little closed stove to warm it and we were comfortable.

Jumbo and Jacques had begun hunting bear with the team of Ohotnik/Sledopyt and I decided that I would try my hand at fishing. Vladimir, our wonderful and humorous translator, and I left camp at about 7am, the sun was rising and it was spectacular! The snow was hard and ragged, frozen by freezing artic winds that whistled through the trees at night. By sled it took us what felt like several hours to get through the snow over flowing streams - spring was in the air. At times, Evkumy, our guide, with his partner, an old fur trapper, cut old branches to bridge us into new and safe areas.

The snow was so deep and travel arduous at times, winding in and out of the cedar brushes and going through a forest of Birch trees, I thought of my friends and wished them Godspeed and much success. Once at our chosen location numerous attempts of drilling were made in the ice of the frozen river to locate the best fishing grounds. Vladimir and I explored the area, he showed me herbs, such as lichen and other small plants that are used in tea (chay) as well as being used for medicinal and fragrance purposes. When we finally bored a hole that was successful, I was elated and couldn’t wait to give it a shot… it amazed me that we were able to pull fish out of such a tiny hole - what a remarkable experience – one fish, two fish, six fish, I was born to ryba (fish) with nylon gut and a short stick.

The silence filled my mind and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I prayed that this breathtaking wilderness would remain as it is forever, and into silence of no thought, once again I emersed as if it was natural, as life should be. Minutes passed or perhaps an hour, only to be woken by cracking of the shifting ice and the familiar knock knocking on the dry Birch made by the woodpecker. We fed that evening on the abundant catch of the day – unforgettable! Thank you to the Koryaki hunters (Sledopyt) for guiding, educating and sharing with me the art of their everyday experience.

For the next few days, we were up at 5am with 10º - 18º below temperatures excited for what new adventure the day may bestow upon us and we longed for the colours of the rising sun and the warmth that would follow. We lost ourselves in the vast icy tundra that stretched for miles in every direction. Scattered birch forests stood naked and silent in deep snow with the occasional alarm call of the ever present black crows. In the blanketed snow landscape, stood moss and grass covered mountains, sleeping volcanos loomed strategically between frozen lakes and meandering thawing rivers, embellishing the paintings of everyday. Riding in the sleds in search of bear, the rough terrain would punish the body and we would endure multiple daily crashes and heal the pain with laughter and our undying camaraderie, never to give up.

Every day was filled with magic and was triumphant on many levels, sighting many bears. Jacques and Jumbo, both hard working professional hunters were incredibly successful with their bear hunts. I too was fortunate, through the patience and support of my friends and the team, successful on the final day of hunting. We were prepared and well kitted but every evening, we returned visibly exhausted by the harshness of the land and grew a deep respect for the indigenous Koryak and the local ohotniks and guides, Alexander, Evkumy and Gene. Life was great and we were completely absorbed into every aspect of our day with humour and child-like awe, of this land and its wonderful people. Our time was filled with great achievement on countless levels. Every hunter, fished his fish, stalked his bears and harvested his dream. We admired every specimen with huge respect; its size, it’s strength and its agility. On our return, when darkness grew closer and the orange and amber rays of setting sun coloured the sky, we would stop to absorb the last of it as the first evening stars showed themselves and then a million-billion more, filled the heavens and we gazed forever. When the sun had set, the numbing cold rushed into our bones and we longed for welcoming barking of the home dogs and the warmth of Elena’s borsch and kitchen fire to re-live the days adventures and its many successes, drinking a quiet toast, Nazdorovia!! There would be many days when I would sit and long for the wide open spaces of Kamchatka and think back on the camaraderie, laughter and the silence… We would like to thank the entire host team, our translator Vladimir Topolskiy, Alexander, Evkumy and Gene, for the most amazing hunting of a lifetime, in Kamchatka. This adventure gifted our characters and enriched our lives with memories that will forever be entrenched deep in our hearts and minds. We will always be grateful to Russia, Kamchatka and its entire beautiful people. An experience that makes you fearful yet fascinated, awed yet attracted. The powerful, personal experience of being overwhelmed and inspired. An unusual, exciting or daring adventure not only grows the soul… but also is the life of it!

Cecil Corringham