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Thread: Ol' Number 42

  1. #1

    Ol' Number 42

    I'm not one to give short shrift to a hunting story, so if you prefer the "Reader's Digest Condensed Version" of "Canterbury Tales", you'll want to bail out of this thread now.

    For a while when I worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, I was stationed in Juneau. Juneau, Alaska's capital, is 'landlocked', in that "you can't get there from here" unless you take a boat or plane. Once you get there, it's a bit 'isolating'. After having been there for about a year, I was getting more than a little stir crazy, and was working hard trying to figure out how I could get to some of the outlying areas to hunt bears. There were plenty of coastal brown bears in the Panhandle, but you really needed a boat, or a plane and a boat to get to them.

    My boss at the time was an avid fisherman, but was looking into "becoming a hunter". Since I had a bit of a 'reputation' as a bear hunter, he offered to take me out in his boat if I would "guide" him on a bear hunt. (I should add here that getting a "reputation" for something in a government office - filled mostly with 'armchair quarterbacks' - didn't require much more than talking about something regularly, and maybe actually having gone hunting once.) In a moment born of desperation to 'get out', I agreed. The "deal" was that I would shoot all the black bears we saw, and he would shoot the brown bears.

    I had recently taken "The Ultimate Weapon" (a 7x300 Weatherby, now referred to as "The Sissy Gun") on a hunt that glaringly demonstrated its inadequacies as a coastal brown bear arm. From that experience, I went out and purchased my first larger-than-.30 caliber rifle - a Ruger M77 chambered in .338 Win Mag. However, this was going to be a black bear hunt for me, and I had a relatively new Ruger No.1 that I wanted to 'blood'. It had originally been chambered in a .300 Win Mag, but I had it rechambered to .300 Weatherby Mag (one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made with regard to a rifle's chambering). So I chose to take it. To tell you the truth, I can't even remember what bullets I loaded for that rifle. In additon to the Number One, I took my trusted Ruger Redhawk in .44 Mag. I hardly ever go into the woods without the Redhawk on my hip, and I'm never without it when bear hunting.

    The Redhawk I know very well, and trust absolutely. I have always loaded it with the lightest bullets I could find for it - 180-grain HPs. In Alaska for certain, and most other places I have read about, when people buy .44 Mags, they either buy factory ammo with "big" bullets or load it with "big" bullets. That comes mostly (but not completely, I'll grant) from ignorance fueled by idiot gunwriters (ptooey) that write about what they know nothing of. "Gotta have those heavy bullets for penetration." Balderdash... on several levels. For one thing, you're starting out at .430" in diameter! Second, none of the gunwriter (ptooey) "experts" ever bothered to test the penetration of those "light", "frangible" bullets. And God forbid! anyone should even suggest, let alone actually use a hollow point on a big game animal! It's positively unethical! Again, absolute balderdash... And that's putting it as nice as I can within SD's posting guidelines. My boss brought along his only rifle, a Remington 700 chambered in 7mm Rem Mag using factory Remington 175-grain ammo.

    The plastic Kolpin gunboots were new at the time, and looked like a pretty good deal for protecting a rifle from the weather one might face in Southeast, so I got a couple of them for my rifles. They worked fine, at home. It would turn out differently in the field.

    Anyway, the weekend finally arrived, and we were off to Admiralty Island to "hunt bears". The boat one uses on the ocean, even if it is on Inland Waters, isn't your typical "bass boat". They usually run at least 18' from bow to stern, and 24' is the most common length. They are usually equipped to sleep four comfortably, and have a modest galley. Most will do 12 to 15 knots at 'cruising speed'. It only took us a few hours to get where we wanted to hunt. We anchored up, set out the crab and shrimp pots and and went ashore for a preliminary scouting trip.

    We were at the mouth of a large (a couple of square miles) bay. There was a pretty large mining operation at the the head of the bay, and we chose to stay away from there. We still had plenty of good hunting ground to choose from. It's genuinely awesome to hunt for big coastal brown bears in a place they have been using for thousands of years. This was such a place. The bear trails in the meadows had been worn about knee deep, and you could see the individual depressions where bears had been putting their paws for eons. No buildings, no "ATV's", of any sort. Just you and the bears and deer. It was 'good'.

    The weather had been worsening all day, and by dusk - about 1530 - we headed back to the boat in heavy fog and a slight drizzle. We pulled the crab and shrimp pots, and ate fresh crab and shrimp for dinner. While the weather was 'wet', it wasn't blowing, and we slept well. With dawn - about 9:00 - we were rarin' to go.

    We headed out across a large marsh surrounding the outlet of a little stream we were anchored off of. From there we headed into the woods. Let me tell you about the woods in Southeast Alaska. It is correctly called a "rain forest". Annual rainfall is usually in the 120" range. Depending on where you are, it can easily reach 180" per year. Because of this great rainfall and the ocean's moderating effect on temperature, the trees are enormous, and the underbrush 'dense' - to say the least. With few exceptions, you can't hunt the woods - you can only go through them from meadow to meadow (some call them "muskegs" up here).

    So into the woods we headed, climbing a few hundred feet to a large plateau that had several meadows with great bear trails in them. The first we got to was about a mile long and a little better than a quarter of a mile wide, with one of those great ancient bear trails right down the middle. We busted out of the woods with pleasure, and onto the bear trail. The rain had stopped, but the fog was still 'here and there'. We set out down the trail.

    For as big as coastal brown bears are, the trails are relatively narrow. They're wide enough for a man to walk comfortably, but absolutely too narrow for two to walk abreast, and walking in the muskeg is out of the question for more than a few yards. You only do that when necessary. So... I, the "guide", am out front.

    There's one more small detail that plays heavily in the tale... That Number One was a 'sweetheart' of mine, and I didn't really want to have it out in all that nasty coastal fog and rain. So it was sheathed safely away in the Kolpin gun case. Now having a gun in a gun case isn't necessarily a "bad thing", unless... well, opening it is like trying getting out of a chinese finger puzzle. Such was the case with the Kolpin. Still, I wasn't expecting to see anything so soon. Famous last words.

    We were 'moving along smartly' as I wanted to get out of the middle of the trail - where we were completely exposed - and get to a small stand of birch trees smack dab in the middle of the meadow. From there we could sit or stand undetected and watch the entire trail from one end of the meadow to the other. (This is primarily why the Number One was sheathed.) I was also watching where I was putting my feet. A bear trail, while nice, isn't exactly a sidewalk. Those individual depressions made by big ol' bear feet weren't placed for a man's convenience or stride. When next I looked up, there was black bear looking back from about 100 yards off, right on the trail, comin' our way.

    I instantly dropped to my knees, and jerked my boss down with me. As such, our heads and the tops of our shoulders were just above the trailside vegetation. The bear had seen us as we dropped, but couldn't yet figure out exactly what we were, and couldn't see us without rearing up on his hind feet.

    As you may recall, the "deal" was that I would shoot all the black bears we saw, and my boss would shoot the brown bears. This was a black bear. Black as night. Furthermore, he had a white chevron on his chest. Sometimes black bears don't have that chevron, but brown bears never have it. This was a black bear, and a really big one to boot.

    I knew I could never get my Number One out of the Kolpin case in time, so I reached back for my boss' 7mm Mag. He handed it to me, and never taking my eyes off of the bear, I shouldered the rifle, cycled the bolt to chamber a round, put the crosshairs sqarely on the center of the chevron - a perfect sight picture - and squeezed the trigger. Unfortunately, what I heard instead of "boom", was "click". I had short-cycled the bolt, and failed to pick up a cartridge.

    At the click, the bear dropped back to all-fours, and high-tailed it straight away. I jumped to my feet, handed my boss his rifle back, extracted mine from the Kolpin case, and chambered a round. But the bear was out of sight in a bound or two. We dropped all of our "stuff" - packs and gun cases - and took off after him. I told my boss that all critters - and especially bears - when run off a trail, more often than not, will circle around and try to get back on the trail to go wherever they were originally headed. It's odd, but I've seen it time and time again. They seem determined to get where ever they were going regardless. It often gets them killed. So... I told my boss to head straight down the trail after the bear 'til he hit the woods again at the edge of the meadow. I would head off at a right angle. I thought I had seen the bear head into the little birch stand we were headed for. If my boss pushed him off the trail, maybe he would cut across me again, or maybe my boss would catch him back on the trail. We headed off, leaving our 'stuff' on the trail.

    After about an hour of 'scouting about' there was no more sign of the bear. I was back at the place we had left our 'stuff' and had resheathed the Number One back in the Kolpin case. I was standing waiting for my boss to return from down the trail. He was coming up the trail just about exactly where the bear had been at the mis-fire, when I heard some commotion in the woods to my right. I turned to see what it was, but could see nothing out of place. I turned back to watch my boss approach. Again I heard a commotion.

    The edge of the meadow was about 60 yards off (later, I would walk off 62 paces), the light was dim from the fog, and the woods were very, very dark. However, this time when I turned to look, there was the bear. And it was the same bear. He had circled around, gotten behind us, and was looking to 'rumble'. He just hadn't quite "screwed his courage to the sticking point" yet. He was rocking side-to-side on his front feet and popping his jaws. Through the huckleberry bushes he was standing in, I couldn't see anything of him except his head and shoulders.

    I wasn't about to let this guy get away again. The Ruger was back in the Kolpin, and getting it out was out of the question. I would either scare him off when I reached for it, or he would charge. Either situation wasn't the one I would chose. It was actually no choice at all, as I reached for my Redhawk the instant I recognized that it was a bear making the noise.

    Now I'm not much of a 'pistolero', and no kind of a pistol shot to brag about. About the only thing I can say positively is that I have killed all the animals I have shot at with a pistol, and I am quite comfortable with my .44. I had no hesitation about letting fly at this bear. Oh yeah, this was only a black bear too.

    I put the post on the bear's nose and fired. At the shot, the bear whirled and ran into the woods. The deep, dark, southeast Alaska, rain forest woods. I holstered the Redhawk, extracted the Number One from the Kolpin once again, and wiated for my boss to get back to me. When he arrived, I told him about the bear, and also told him that I waited for him to get back before I headed for the woods because this was bear hunting. I wouldn't have waited for him; I wouldn't have loaded my "big gun"; and I wouldn't have insisted that he load his gun; if I had been going to see if I had hit a deer.

    That is precisely why I like to hunt bears. No animal has much of a chance of "evening the odds" in the face of today's modern arms. Not even bears or the African Big Five. Nonetheless, if you don't kill a bear with the first shot, he's gonna get a second chance to even the odds. And if he can get in the woods first, he may even get the odds in his favor.

    We headed for where I had last seen the bear.


  2. #2
    I hope you're typing part 2 right now.
    You can't say muntjac without saying, Mmmmmm.

  3. #3
    More ...more...more

  4. #4
    Actually gentlemen, I was waiting to see if there was even any interest.

    Here ya go...

    We walked to the edge of the woods (62 paces) cautiously. First, because I had no idea whether I had even hit the bear or not. As I said, I'm not the greatest pistol shot. Second, because I had a novice hunter with me, and he had gotten a little 'excited'. I was as worried about him shooting me as I was the bear getting me.

    There was a kind of 'hedge' of huckleberry at the edge of the woods, but just beyond was a small opening, about 15' x 15' or so. Here was where the bear had been standing popping his jaws and rocking back and forth. We searched that little copse for no less than 15 minutes, going over every inch of it. Narry a drop of blood. I was pretty much convinced that I had missed, and squatted down just about where the bear had been standing at the shot. As I looked across the little opening into the woods, I saw two things:

    The first was a game trail. I had missed it before because it was 'game high', not 'man high'. When I squatted down, it was obvious. Second, was a very dark stripe right in the middle of this trail. I walked over to it, and sure enough it was blood. A lot of blood. It was about 3 inches wide and about two feet long. Ugh. Not only had I hit the bear, but he was wounded, and in the woods deep. About 15 feet further up the trail was another stripe just like the first one. Things had just gone from 'not so good' to 'bad'.

    I had a real problem on my hands. In the woods ahead off me was a wounded bear. Visibility was about 20 to 30 feet. Behind me was a novice hunter that was really uncomfortable going after this bear, but I couldn't leave him alone, and I didn't want him ahead of me in case the bear charged. And I really didn't want him behind me with a loaded gun, again in case the bear charged. My hair still goes up just thinking about it.

    I told my boss to "Be on the ready, but DO NOT chamber a round. If the bear charges, you'll have plenty of time to chamber a round." Oh yeah... You may recall I was totin' a single shot. One shot would be all I'd get.

    I would take a step forward - look very carefully ALL around - and repeat. On we went. There was a new stripe of blood about every 10 steps or so. I remember only one other time creeping along as slow as we did that day. It was the same situation, except the bear was bigger, and more importantly, it was a coastal brown bear.

    At first, I thought I had hit the bear in the leg and the stripe was caused every time he slung his wounded leg forward, but there was too much blood for a leg-hit. In fact, I've never seen an animal loose as much blood as this bear did, and go as far as he did. About 50 yards down the trail there was a small depression - maybe 18" deep and three feet wide. The bear had fallen in that depression. There musta been a gallon of blood there. He had gotten up though. We crept on. It was a danged unpleasant 'walk in the woods'.

    Finally, after going almost 100 yds, I saw him. He was down, and headed away. I raised the rifle to my shoulder and put it on him. It was the first really good look I had had at him, and I didn't like what I saw. First, it was as obvious as the nose on my face that this was a brown bear, NOT a black bear. True enough, he was almost black-colored, and darker yet from the rain, but he was genuine coastal brown bear no doubt about it. But the second "thing" was worse... He wasn't dead. Now keep in mind how long it's been since I shot - a lot more than 30 minutes by now; and how far he's run - over 100 yards; and how much blood he's lost... And he still wasn't dead, 'cause I could see him breathing.

    But the 'excitment' was over nonetheless. He was clearly 'down for the count'. By the time I crept around to get in front of him, he had expired.

    He was a "good" bear as coastal brownies go. As I said, he squared about 8'8" and his skull taped 26 and 5/8ths". The 180-grain hollow point had hit him in the left collarbone, rupturing the carotid. The stripe of blood was caused by 'spurting', not 'slinging'. The bullet passed completely through and across the chest cavity, trashing the lungs, and exited breaking the last rib high on his left side.

    Lets see now, broke the collarbone of a large brown bear on entrance... trashed both lungs... broke a rib going out. Went through about 3 feet of bear, breaking bones goin' in and comin' out. Yup... no doubt about it, sure sounds like "poor performance" from an "unsuitable" and unethical bullet to me. I should be ashamed of myself for using it.

    So let me wrap up a few of the subtleties of the story...

    Just how did I know this was the same bear that we saw that first time on the trail? Because when I saw him the first time, I had noticed an ADF&G tag in his ear. When I saw him again at the edge of the woods, I saw that tag again.

    If brown bears "never" have the chest chevron, how come this guy did? The chevron was the real 'clincher' that convinced me I was looking at a black bear. I didn't see the bear but for a split second before I dropped to my knees and he was out of sight. In that moment I had seen "black". The next time I saw him, he was on his hind feet, and I couldn't see the characteristic hump. Furthermore, when I decide to shoot, I get very focused on the point of aim. I don't look at horns, or antlers, or anything else. I look very deliberately at the exact point I want the bullet to hit. Having seen the chevron, and 'knowing' it was a black bear, there was no need to look at his face. So where did the chevron come from? Well... it wasn't a white-hair chevron, it was a "rub" chevron.

    When I took the hide and skull to ADF&G for sealing, they told me the bear was well-known in those parts. He had been harrassing the local miners, and was turning into a "trouble bear". They figured he'd have to be shot sooner than later. But the ear tag number sealed it... he had been wearing a radio collar for a couple of years. It had just dropped off about two days before I shot him. Hence the "chevron".

    Finally I draw your attention to a couple of 'numbers'. The bear was 62 paces away when I shot. We found him 102 paces from where he was hit. Had he chosen to run at me instead of away from me, he clearly had 'the gas' to reach me. Of course I had five more .430" hole-makers. But it woulda been exciting for both of us, no doubt.

    Anyway, there's the tale of Ol' Number 42's demise. He shouldn'a chosen to come back around to 'rumble'...


  5. #5
    Here's a picture of Ol' #42. It was long time before over-the-counter digital cameras, so this is a picture of a picture.


  6. #6
    And we get "excited" over muntjac
    Excellent write up. I can only immagine the feeling of your "arse falling out" on realising you were looking at a brown bear as opposed to a black. Definately a gulp inducing moment!
    You can't say muntjac without saying, Mmmmmm.

  7. #7
    Thanks, Harry mac.

    I wasn't joking when I said I was as afraid of the guy behind me as I was of the wounded bear in front of me. If I hadn't been so desperate to get out hunting it's unlikely that I would have gone in the woods with this guy. He was not then, and remains to this day, not a "Hunter". He is, at best, a 'shooter'. I felt that the odds were pretty good that if the bear charged I would be in danger of this guy just shooting 'around'.

    Anyway, as I said, it was a nice bear and I had it made into a rug and gave it to a friend of mine that had had to leave Alaska a few years before. I would have liked to have retrieved that bullet, but I was really pleased with it's performance. I have used that revolver and that bullet to shoot just about every big game animal in Alaska - only musk ox and bison are unaccounted for. I'll never do either as I have no interest in Musk Ox, and if I ever get drawn for buffalo, I won't be using the Redhawk.


  8. #8
    Established Poster
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    The New Forest, Hampshire
    A really enjoyable write up, Gitano. Many thanks. Any more?

  9. #9
    Cracking read Paul. I cannot imagine what it must be like following up a wounded bear, other than it being a wonderful cure for constipation. My hat is off to you

    Is it true that in the HQ of the ADFG there is a large salmon on display?

    Blindness to suffering is an inherent consequence of natural selection. Nature is neither kind nor cruel but fiercely indifferent.

  10. #10
    Great read! I also carry a Redhawk .44 in bear country, without fail. I have faced off against a couple of bear but never had to shoot. Your account is very reassuring. Redhawk is a 5.5 incher and was once blued but now is streaky from wear and blood stain. I lost it once in the Sangre de Christo mountans of New Mexico when I tumbled off a ledge and down a snowy slope during a blizzard. It took me over an hour on my hands and knees to find it. My bullet of choice is a home-rolled 215 grn HP loaded to snort. It is a fine deer round. I have taken deer and many lesser game animals with it over the last 20+ years, I'm sure yours has served you as well.~Muir

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