Three years ago, outdoor writer, photographer, and consummate sportsman Peter Mathiesen left his hometown of St. Louis to start a new life in Alaska. Here’s why he made the move, what everyday life is like, and how it feels to have Denali right outside your window.


There is no telling how many bears walk within a mile of my home. I readily find both black and grizzly sign nearby. Grizzlies seem to want to shy away from the house, although blacks are far more curious.

Two summers ago, at around 9 p.m., I heard a single round discharged from what sounded like a large-caliber gun. My retriever barked once, looked up at me to see if we were going somewhere, and went back to sleep. That sounded close, I thought. Fifteen minutes later, a neighbor knocked on my door. He introduced himself and said, “I understand you’re a hunter. I don’t know what to do with this bear I just shot. Can you lend a hand?”

My neighbor, a hobbyist beekeeper, told me had heard a disturbance on the side of his house. He went out to investigate and found a robust sow dismantling his wood hives. The gentleman calmly went back into the house, returned with his .30-06, and dialed the State Troopers.


With the bear at just 15 feet, he detailed the hive carnage. The trooper suggested he immediately move farther away from the sow and explained his two options: he could shoot the bear based on destruction of property, or, if he had a tag, he could just take the bear. The 75-year old, who might weigh 155 pounds, set the phone down, took a rest on the corner of the building, and shot the 300-pound bear behind the ear, folding her like a lawn chair. Her head landed on the hive panel she was eating, with her face and paws engulfed in honeybees.

If you don’t want bears in your yard, make sure garbage is never left outside, bird feeders are taken down for the summer, and keep animal feed behind electric fences. You do hear about black bears strutting on decks and licking BBQ grills, and occasionally pushing on the door of a house or garage. They love to chew on foam, and no ATV or snow machine seat is safe.

If you’re unlucky enough to have a grizzly break into your remote cabin, you will find your kitchen completely destroyed, with every box of food bitten and torn. The bear always leaves behind plenty of urine, will most likely rip your couch to pieces, and then defecate on it. The lesson here: construct doors stoutly, never leave doors open in the evenings, and place beehives behind a hot wire.