A man with an unusual quest
[by Tracy Ross]
When Pete Tallman moved to Alaska and started hunting in 2005, he wanted to make sure that he was honoring the animals he culled. But he wasn’t interested in anything ceremonial. His plan 10 years ago, says the child therapist who now lives and works in Dillingham, was to “basically make hunting as hard as possible.” For him, that meant subsistencehunting by bike.
Tallman had grown up in Indiana, in the suburbs of farm country. As a kid, he says, he was “completely disconnected” with the meat he and his family consumed. He’d fished, but killing a warm-blooded animal seemed different. And Alaska connected him with nature. “It was philosophical for me,” he says. “If you’re going to eat animals, you can’t be sheltered from the killing.” So after spending a few years working and learning to hunt grouse and ducks outside of Anchorage, he started bugging old-timers to teach him to hunt the big stuff. Some gave him tips, but for whatever reason, no one would show the cheechako how to hunt a mammal. But Tallman was determined. He borrowed a .270 rifle from a friend and started teaching himself how to use it.
In the fall of 2005, Tallman pulled a tag to hunt caribou in a game unit north of Denali National Park. He already owned a cheap Novara Bonanza mountain bike. So he and a friend rented single-wheeled, BOB-brand, pull-behind trailers from the REI in Anchorage. Each sweet-talked his girlfriend into gearing up and joining them on their adventure. They loaded their bikes, camping gear, and game-dressing supplies into Pete’s truck. Then they drove to the hunting unit.
The four hunter-cyclists readied themselves in a parking lot. They had enough food and supplies to last several days “so our trailers were super loaded,” says Tallman. Almost immediately his buddy’s girlfriend crashed. But Tallman was gunning for his caribou. He had a theory that the animals favored a specific river bar. So he led his friends on a slog. He pushed the group, who pulled their sluggish, overloaded trailers behind their bikes, until —after enough tip-overs—the group basically mutinied. But while they set up camp, he walked to the river where he thought he’d find caribou. He saw one, but had left his gun. “We didn’t see another caribou for the entire trip,” he says. Score one for the ungulates.
I hope there aren’t any bears around, because I’m basically a traveling grocery store.”
But Tallman didn’t give up. He knew a bike would be perfect for hunting (because they’re light, far cheaper than four-wheelers, and easier than four-wheelers to fix). “They’re free; all you have to do is eat,” he says. “They’re great exercise, so you feel good doing it. They’re quiet, so you can go into non-motorized areas. And I think, since the wheel was first developed, it has made more sense to haul things with it than on your back.”
Though his first bike-hunting try had been a fail, he went for it again in 2007. He says he repeated the feat because he believed that if you navigate the same terrain as the animal without engines, you can show it respect. This time he bought a Fresh Aire brand two-wheeled bike trailer, and set out—solo—to a region he keeps secret. About 15 miles in, he made camp, without seeing a single four-wheeler. Hiking above a drainage, he saw his caribou, on top of a ridge. When he shot it, it tumbled 700 feet, into a ditch. “I had to butcher it into moveable pieces and hike the whole thing back up,” he says.
De-boned, a caribou weighs in the vicinity of 200 pounds. So it took Tallman all day to get it to the top of the ridge. Mid- one trip, his aluminum-frame backpack broke. He had to hike down to his bike, and pedal the 15 miles back to his car, where he had a second backpack stashed. Thirty round-trip miles later, he still had to pack out his kill.
“That day is scarred in my memory,” he says. “Because even though I had wheels, that thing was heavy. Each time I came to the smallest hill, I’d have to get out and unload the meat from the trailer. I remember thinking, ‘I hope there aren’t any bears around, because I’m basically a traveling grocery store.’ I had to do eight or nine of those stop-and-unloads, and each time I was like, ‘Nooooo!’ I don’t know how many hours it took, at least 12. So yeah. That was a good experience.”
Since then, Tallman has been on more than a dozen hunting-by-bike expeditions, going after moose, bear, grouse, and duck—and he hasn’t stopped there. In water-locked Dillingham where he lives now, he hunts on skis. And next summer, he’s considering trying gamehunting by kayak.