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Thread: The Sissy Gun

  1. #1

    The Sissy Gun

    Hello gentlemen. It's been a while since I've been around, but a couple of you asked me to drop in when I had a chance to tell another story, and since you were so kind about the last one, here I am again. (You can read another bear story "The Story of Ol' Number 42” here:

    The events of the following hunt mark a specific point in time where my attitude about firearms changed. Up to the culmination of this hunt, I was a devotee of relatively small calibers – less than .30 – and I particularly liked the 7mm. As a ‘true believer’, I worshiped at the altar of kinetic energy created by Jack O'Connor. The events of this hunt changed all of that. It didn't just change my attitude about "fast”, it also caused me to take a long, hard, objective look at Jack O'Connor and all of his preachings. As a result, my attitude regarding both speed and Jack O'Connor changed dramatically.

    While this particular story stands alone, and you don't have to read anything else to fully enjoy this story, if you read "The Elusive 40-incher" (found here: you will have a more complete view of the events that led up to this particular hunt.
    (Think the John Master's series of books. I'm not comparing my literary skills to his mind you. It's just that each of his books stand alone and still make a good series.)

    This story starts a year before the hunt actually occurred. While on the "Elusive 40-incher" hunt, I observed some extraordinary grizzly bears in the valley in which we found “Dan's” sheep. (If you read “The Elusive 40-incher”, you will note that Dan is not this fellow’s real name. Hence the quotation marks.) In fact, I had seen four bears. All were absolutely gorgeous. Their fur was dark chocolate with golden tips. Their coloration was so unique, and similar, that I am sure all of the bears were related. I made a mental note and planned to be back the following year to get after one of those bears.

    After the sheep hunt with Dan, there were no circumstances under which I would ever going hunting with that jackass again. However, we had a mutual friend, Jim, that I had hunted with for a few years, and whose view of Hunting wasn't much different from mine. I had told Jim about the bears when I got back from the sheep hunt and we had planned to get after them the coming fall. Jim had been my next-door neighbor but unfortunately had been reassigned to Colorado by the Air Force shortly after I got back from the above-mentioned sheep hunt. We remained in touch, and when in one conversation he mentioned coming back up in the fall to hunt, I reminded him about the grizzly bears and the hunt was on!

    There really wasn't much planning necessary. Jim would simply make sure he had enough leave to fly up to Fairbanks, depart the next day for ‘bear valley,’ and be back in time to get back to Colorado in a leisurely fashion. Unfortunately, getting to bear valley was considerably easier said than done. Just as it was the year before, there were only two practical ways in: fly in, or ‘horse’ in. ‘Horsing’ in was a no-go for several reasons, the most significant of which was that I didn't know anyone who owned pack horses. Flying in wasn't a big deal, but the way bush pilots are represented by Hollywood and the Press is a far cry from reality. The off-strip landing required at this location wasn't terribly dangerous, but it wasn't the kind of landing you could get a charter bush pilot to do either. The only person I knew with a plane – and who had actually landed in this valley twice – was Dan. Even considering Dan for the ride back to the bears elevated my blood pressure. However, I didn’t really believe he could screw up a ONE DAY “taxi service”, so I told him about Jim and my plan, and he said, “No problem.” Once again Dan was going to reveal his true character.

    While Jim was in flight on the way to Alaska, Dan called me and told me that he was flying a bunch of his friends down to Montague Island to hunt deer and he wouldn't be back for a week. The day before he was to fly us out. The day Jim is flying in from 3,000 miles away. Words fail to describe my “attitude.”

    My anger notwithstanding, the harsh truth was that we didn't have a ride. It was as simple as that. Jim had taken seven days of leave and had flown 3,000 miles only to find out that once again, Dan had shown his true character and proven that no matter how simple or important the matter was, he simply couldn't be relied on.

    I was just about at wit's end. Even though he didn't take any convincing, I felt like I had talked Jim into the trip based on Dan saying he would fly us into the valley. While Jim knew Dan as well as I did, it was I who had convinced him that “even Dan couldn't screw this up.” The only thing I could think at this point was to drive to Valdez and try to connect with a fellow I knew who guided boat-based black bear hunts in Prince William Sound. Even that was a long shot as those hunts are usually booked long in advance of hunting season. Furthermore, we couldn't even check it out by phone because Stan was “out” – probably guiding – and I couldn't reach him before we drove the 400 miles to Valdez.

    We had no choice but to cast our fate to the wind and see which way we were blown. Those winds blew a strange course.

    We arrived at Stan’s place in Valdez only to find out according to his wife, that he was both gone and completely booked up. We had no “Plan B.” I told Jim we should just wander the streets of Valdez and see if we could find a boat to charter. I knew where to go to find bears, I just couldn't get us there without a boat or plane!

    The first few places we checked were either unavailable in the time frame we had, or were absurdly expensive. I was getting downright discouraged. Finally, when we walked into what was nothing more than a tourist “flight-seeing” kiosk on the docks of Valdez and related our sad story to the lady in the shop, she told us her husband might be interested in flying us out somewhere we might get some black bear hunting in. He was out on a charter at the moment, she said, but was due back in about an hour. We waited with the hope only the desperate have.

    When he arrived, he told us that he “knew a guy” that guided for bears, and that if we were willing to pay for the plane ride out to Tatitlek, we might be able to get “Midi” to take us out on a bear hunt.

    "No promises though

    We leapt at the offer: $150 each to fly the 20 miles from Valdez to Tatitlek. At this point, we were more than willing to take a chance on Midi 1) being there, 2) being willing and available to take us out, 3) to not charge us an arm and a leg, and 4) to get us back to Valdez in time for Jim to head back home. (The Air Force takes a dim view of being AWOL regardless of the circumstances.) It was already late in the day, so we grabbed our gear from my truck and climbed into the Cessna 185 on floats.

    When we landed at Tatitlek, Midi was waiting for us. We threw our gear in his pickup and drove the 200 yards to his house. Tatitlek is a native village in every sense of the word. Since the Alaska Native Interest Lands Claims Act (ANILCA), there have been many “new” villages spring up where oil and mineral exploration showed good prospects. However, Tatitlek had been in existence long before ANILCA was a gleam in Jimmy Carter’s (ptooey) eye. Tatitlek had “modern conveniences” like electricity and roads but not much else. (Since you could probably throw a rock from one end of town to the other, “road” may not mean what you think it does in this case.) We exchanged pleasantries and met his wife and kids, and then got down to business. The plane had long since left.

    Midi had clearly heard the gist of our story from the pilot long before we landed so he figured he had us over a barrel. And he did, to a certain degree. (Remember that the plane is gone.) He also figured that we were ‘typical white guys’ that knew nothing about Alaska and had more dollars than sense. (Think about it.) He was mistaken on both accounts. First, at that time I had been living in Alaska almost longer than Midi had been alive and second, we had a fixed amount of money; there weren't any ATMs in Tatitlek in 1985.

    He started 'negotiations' off wanting way more than we had and more than we were willing to part with even if we had had it. We actually got our wallets out and showed him the sum of all of our money – $400. That was it. Furthermore, we didn't need “guiding”. All we needed was a boat ride to some place we could reasonably set up camp, and return and pick us up in three days. After he grasped the reality of the situation, he told us that he was planning to drive (boat) over to Cordova anyway, and for our $400 he would drop us off on his way over and pick us up on his way back. We had a deal.

    We left as soon as Midi got ready. There were more surprises when we got to his boat. It was by no means derelict, but it wasn't exactly the Queen Mary either. It was a mostly homemade, wooden, salmon fishing boat in need of some attention. I had no doubt about its seaworthiness or I wouldn't have sailed with him, but the helm was definitely crowded with the three of us in the wheelhouse. The real problem was that there was no cowling or any other cover on the engine. Once we got underway, Jim and I couldn't hear each other when we were shouting into each other’s ears! It was really bad.

    In the above picture of Prince William Sound that includes Tatitlek, you can see that it is protected from the direct ravages of the ocean by Bligh Island. Once we got out of the protection of Bligh Island, the weather got very bad. We were taking green water over the bow with every wave. Not long out into the Sound, Midi moved from the cabin to the flying bridge so he could see to navigate. I’ve been in rougher seas in the middle of the North Atlantic, but I had never before, nor have I since, been at sea in weather as bad as that was. The rain was coming down in sheets and the wind was doing at least 50 knots!

    Jim and I stayed in the cabin trying to maintain our balance and occasionally screaming into one another’s ear. We couldn’t see a thing. Green water over the bow with every wave, and when we weren’t getting hit with a wave we were looking down into the trough between two waves. After about two hours of this, it occurred to me that Midi very well could have been washed overboard by any of the waves we had taken and we would have never seen or heard him call for help. For all we knew we could have been going around in little circles out in the middle of Prince William Sound for the past two hours. I signaled to Jim that I was going to go out and make sure Midi was still aboard. Waiting for what I thought was the right moment I opened the door to the cabin and stuck my head around the corner to see if I could see Midi on the flying bridge. Just about that time we took another wave and I bore the full force of it with my head and shoulders. Had any more of me been sticking out, I would have at least been washed back to the stern deck, if not overboard. However, at that last moment before the wave hit me I saw Midi sitting stoically at the helm. I got myself back into the cabin and slammed the door.

    After about another hour, we noticed that the seas had calmed a bit, and we could actually see land now and again. Before too much longer we made a course change and the engines slowed as we crept into Port Gravina.

    It was just as spectacular as all of Prince William Sound is, and the wind and rain had stopped. The sun was even out! We putted into the head of the fjord , set the anchor, and settled in for the night. Under normal circumstances, the wilds of Alaska can be amazingly quiet. After the four-hour assault on our hearing by the boat’s engine, the quiet was profound. Finally, for the first time in a couple of days, “it was good”.

    Oh yeah, once we got into Port Gravina, Midi decided that he didn't “need” to go to Cordova after all, and would stay with there with us. While it had occurred to me that the trip to Cordova was a ruse, I was nonetheless glad that he had decided to stay. Now we wouldn’t have to pitch camp on the beach in bear country or deal with bad weather should another storm blow in.

    We awoke the next morning to a spectacular day!

    The date was May 11th. As the morning wore on, the tide slipped out from under us and the boat heeled over on the tidal flat. We spent a couple of hours wandering around looking for bears or signs of bears, and dug some razor clams for dinner. Later, as the tide was coming back in, we returned to the boat and just basked in the sun waiting for a bear to show up somewhere on the beach. Late in the afternoon, a nice black bear came out and wandered the beach looking for what it could find to eat. We watched it for about an hour but decided not to try a stalk as I really wanted Jim to get a brown bear, and we still had all of the next day before we had to start back.

    While we were ‘lounging ’ around, we were of course getting to know one another by sharing stories. Midi looked up at a steep, almost cliff, ridgeline on one side of the fjord, noted that there were some mountain goats on it, and said, “Last month, my cousin and I climbed on seven goats up there.”
    I asked, naively, “Did you get one?”
    He looked at me like I had accused him of molesting his sister. After a moment’s pause he responded with no small amount of sarcasm, “We shot them all.”
    Silly me for asking such a stupid question. I really should have known better.

    This time of year there is plenty of daylight, and as the evening wore on we saw another smaller black bear down on the flats, but again chose not to get after it. We cruised over into the small bay you can just see the opening to in this picture.
    It was a storybook setting. Beartrap Bay was very secluded and the walls of the fjord rose steeply from the water, completely surrounding us. We spent another very peaceful night on the boat.

    We could spend all of the next day (May 12th) hunting, but that was it. The trip back wasn’t a trivial one. We had to leave first thing the following morning in order to get back to Tatitlek by late afternoon to catch the plane back to Valdez in time to drive the 400 miles back to Fairbanks so Jim could catch a plane back to Colorado. Still, I was optimistic about getting a bear. This was bear country. There were plenty of bears around; we just had to find one.

    By 5 PM of that next and last day of hunting, we were back on the boat completely discouraged. We had seen plenty of mountain goats, but no brown bears. Not even a black bear for that matter, which made us regret not having gotten after those the others we had seen on the first day. Jim and I sat dejectedly on the gunnel of the boat dangling our legs over the side while Midi glassed up the valley that took off to the north from the Beartrap Bay. He said, “I see your bear.”

    This is long enough for now. If you haven't had a chance to read the stories mentioned above, this break will give you a chance to. I'm still editing the rest of this story.Tomorrow, the Hunt!

    Last edited by gitano; 12-12-2014 at 17:16.

  2. #2
    Good luck!

    I'm going to read this in full tonight.

    The enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

  3. #3
    Nice to see you posting again, and what a post!

  4. #4
    Welcome back, and with the start of a good story


  5. #5
    I'm on the edge of my seat!!! Just read your brown bear adventure..............that must've got the heart pumping! great story, and wonderfully-written

  6. #6
    My lunch break isn't long enough. Really enjoying the story so far......

  7. #7
    Got a blood clot dangli'n me legs over your gunwale!, great read, you know when to leave people waiting for a punchline!!
    (The Unspeakable In Pursuit Of The Uneatable.) " If I can help, I will help!." Former S.A.C.S. member!

  8. #8
    I still had my rifle in my hands so I cranked up the magnification on the scope to 18x and took a look. The bear was a long way off – about a mile and a half, and about half way up the mountainside. Still, it looked big. Once I got a good look at it, I said, “That’s a nice bear.” After looking at it for a little while longer, I said, “That’s a very nice bear!” It was a big bear. Midi said, “Do you want to go get it?” I looked at Jim and said, “What do you think? Do you want to go?”

    Now this wasn't as easy a decision as it might have appeared. The afternoon was already on its way to 6 PM. The bear was now at least a mile and a half away and about 500 meters up the side of a mountain. No telling where he would be by the time we got to the base of the mountain below him. We had to hike to the base of the mountain. Plan a stalk. Kill the bear. Skin the bear. Get the hide and skull back to the boat and leave by about 8 am. And I haven’t mentioned the hard part.
    This was spring bear hunting, it wasn't fall bear hunting. You can see in the above pictures that here was still a lot of snow around in the shadows, and especially in the bottom of the valleys. The snow in the valley that we would have to slog a mile and a half through was waist deep. Not waist deep in the worst places; waist deep in the best places.Like I said, there was a lot of snow still around.

    As much thought as that decision might have demanded, we gave it very little. I had long-since learned that if one dawdles while planning a stalk, the prey usually gets away. Wolves never 'plan' a stalk when getting after caribou. Their tails go up and they go straight after them at a dead run. We grabbed our rifles, jumped in the dinghy, and headed for the shore! Once on shore, we anchored the dinghy up above the high tide mark and took off for the bear.

    We had about 100 yards of “beach” to cross and then 'the snow'. Even though it was cold enough for the snow to remain in the floor of the valley, the heat of the day melted the surface to some degree. This caused a crust to form. That crust was almost strong enough to hold our weights. We would get a step or two before it collapsed beneath us, at which time we would be up to our crotches or waist, and occasionally up to our chests. “Tough sledding” hardly describes it. It took us almost three hours to go that mile and a half. It was just at 9 PM when we got to the base of the mountain where the bear had been.

    I was wearing my normal spring hunting uniform: My hat, a light anorak shell, my Malones (wool bib coveralls), a Pendleton wool shirt, and my hunting boots. Jim was wearing a wool hat, a light jacket, Levi jeans, a wool shirt, and hunting boots. Midi was wearing a ball cap, a light jacket, cotton pants and shirt, and rubber boots. By the time we got to the base of the mountain, all three of us were soaked with sweat. We had lost sight of the bear when we entered the woods, and there had been a real possibility that when we emerged it would be gone.

    But it wasn't.

    We stood hiding in the trees at the base of the mountain looking up at the bear. It was an old boar, and he was huge! He was eating his way across an avalanche chute and had no idea we were there. At that point, he was only about 300 or so yards away, but…he was straight uphill. Those that know coastal brown bear hunting know that it is a bad idea to shoot at a bear that is above you. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but if there is any possibility of getting ‘the high ground’, it is always wise to try to get there. (Here’s a little math to show why it’s a bad idea to shoot a bear that's uphill of you. Bears can run at least 40 mph for about a quarter of a mile. At 40 mph, a bear can cover 100 yd in 5.1 seconds. Downhill, I suspect it’s faster than that.) We stood for a minute catching our breath and deciding on what to do. I was insisting that we all climb above the bear using the cover of a finger of alders and devil’s club that extended from the base of the mountain where we were, up above the elevation of the bear. Midi wouldn't do it. He was out of gas from the slog through the snow. I really did not want to have Midi at the bottom of the mountain, directly below the bear, when we started shooting. The “discussion” actually got fairly heated, but Midi was not willing to climb. Period. There was no alternative but to acquiesce and leave him. Jim and I started up the mountain after the bear.

    Other than having to avoid the inclination to grab a branch of devil’s club to pull ourselves up, the stalk was not too bad. Still leafless yet, the density of the alders and devil’s club hid us well. Nonetheless, by the time we ran out of cover about 100 yd above the bear, it knew we were there. It was sitting on its haunches looking up at us when we came out. Long before we started the stalk Jim and I had ‘drawn straws’ for first shot. I had won. Since this was Jim’s first bear hunt, I went over ‘the procedure’ one more time. I would take the first shot and if the bear did not roll over on its back with all four feet sticking straight up in the air, Jim was to start shooting and not stop until he ran out of bullets or the bear was off its feet.

    I settled into a good sitting position and put the bear in my scope. As I said, the bear was sitting on its haunches looking up at us with its upper body turned slightly toward us and its front legs between its hind legs. I put the cross-hair on a point that would have the bullet traveling the longest path through his chest. I suppose it’s time to talk about our "bear guns".

    Jim was shooting a Marlin model 1895G “Guide Gun” with open sights, chambered in .45-70. Midi had a ‘scoped .30-06. I was shooting a Remington Model 700 originally chambered in the 7mm Remington Magnum. This was in my “speed uber alles” days when I worshiped at the kinetic energy altar that saint Jack O'Connor had created. I had purchased the rifle to be my “sheep gun”. (It was also my "caribou gun". )

    Immediately after purchase I had it re-chambered for the cartridge that had recently set the 1000 yd world record 10-shot group: the 7mm x .300 Weatherby. I called it “The Ultimate Weapon”. For this hunt, I had loaded some 175-grain Nosler Partitions to a muzzle velocity of almost 3200 f/s. I had no doubt this was “plenty of gun”. Just like being wrong about Dan, I was wrong about “plenty of gun”.

    At my shot, the bear didn't even flinch. I had no idea whether I had actually even hit him. He simply reared up, turned downhill, and took off running. Jim shot. No indication of a hit. I chambered another round and fired again. He was about half way down the mountain in maybe 10 seconds. At my second shot the bear took a forward roll, but he never missed a step as he rolled back onto his feet and continued running. Midi fired. No indication of a hit. Jim fired his second shot. No indication of a hit. I fired the last shot in my magazine just as the bear entered the woods at the base of the mountain approximately 300 yd. from where he started. No indication of a hit.

    One might think that the ‘roll’ was a clear sign of a hit, but that’s not necessarily the case. There are ‘stories’ of bears losing their balance when running at full speed downhill, and rolling head over heels. Furthermore, this bear did not miss a step as it rolled forward. Even though my initial shot was a steady sitting shot from 100 yd and that rifle was capable of ‘driving tacks’, I was in no way convinced any of us had actually hit him. Rather quickly "The Ultimate Weapon" wasn't quite so "ultimate".

    At this point a very strange thing happened. Something I had never seen before and thankfully haven't seen since. Jim and Midi lost their minds. That's not a joke. Consider the situation we now found ourselves in. First: We had just for all intents and purposes ‘run’ a mile and a half, then climbed about 1200 feet straight up the side of a mountain and shot seven times at a coastal brown bear with only a slight indication of hitting him maybe once. Second: The bear had then run into the woods. Not just ‘any old woods’ – his woods. Woods we knew nothing about and he had lived his whole life in! The smart thing to do was sit right where we were and WAIT! If we had completely missed the bear waiting would given it plenty of time to get away from us. If we hadn’t missed him, waiting would allow him lie down and expire. Chasing after him into the woods, at night, was practically insane!

    Midi came out of his hiding place at the edge of the woods about 75 yd from where the bear had entered it. (The bear ran downhill, remember. No shooting uphill at brown bears.) I yelled to him to wait, but I hadn't had much success getting Midi to do anything I wanted him to do during our trip and nothing had changed so far. I was very concerned about him wandering around in the woods without backup so once again against my better judgment but having no choice, I headed down the mountain toward him. When we were all together again Midi insisted on going after the bear immediately. That alone was bad enough. What was worse was that both he and Jim were insisting that the bear made a 90 degree turn before it got in the woods and then ran along the edge of the woods for 25 or so yards before disappearing. Again, insanity. Why on earth would an animal that was running for its life turn and not go into the safety of the forest at its earliest opportunity, but instead turn and run parallel to the safety of the woods, out in the open, for 50 yards! We continued the ‘debate’ on the likelihood that was in fact what had actually happened. Finally, ‘outnumbered’, I told Jim and Midi to go ahead and follow where they thought the bear had gone, and I would follow where the bear actually went. They took off along the edge of the woods; I followed the bear trail into the woods. Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that there was a bear trail right where I had seen the bear last and heading into the woods.

    I hadn't followed the bear trail for more than 50 feet when I came to a small opening about 20 feet in diameter. There were four giant bear tracks in the snow in the middle of the opening. One of each of his feet. This was the first time I had actually seen anything that indicated the true size of the bear.

    I have to digress here to explain why we hadn’t “tracked” the bear from the point at which we had first shot at him. The slope he had been on was a south-facing slope. As such, it was mostly snow-free and had plenty of fresh new vegetation on it. That was precisely why he was there. Recall that after the bear ran into the woods, Midi was in a hurry to chase him. In order to prevent Midi from going into the woods alone, we had to hurry down the mountain and didn't have a chance to see if there was a blood trail. Back to the tracks in the snow…

    I could put both of my feet together and fit inside one of the bear’s hind footprints without touching the edges of the track with my size 10 hunting boots! It got worse. Right where the trail exited the opening there was an alder drooped over the trail. The top of the arch it made was directly over the bear trail. The bottom of that alder trunk was just above the height of my belly button. The underside of it had fresh blood and hair. No doubt now that the bear was wounded. Another indication of the size of the bear; its back, when it was on all fours was higher than my belly button. And that bear - a really big bear - was wounded.

    I called to Jim and Midi to come over to where I had found the blood and hair – on the bear trail. When they got there, yet another "discussion" ensued. Jim and Midi insisted on going straight into the woods continuing the line of travel of the four footprints but abandoning the obvious trail! The trail took a 90 degree turn shortly after entering the woods beyond the small opening. It was patently obvious that the bear was following a trail well-known to it. Why would the bear not continue to follow his trail! The sane thing to do in order to find the bear would be to do what the bear was doing and follow the trail. I was beginning to get genuinely concerned about Jim’s and Midi’s ability to think rationally. No kidding. Their behavior was very strange. I told them I was going to follow the trail and they could do whatever they wanted. However, I warned them vigorously to make sure of your target! DO NOT SHOOT ME! Under other circumstances, I would have had no concern about Jim making certain of his target, and Midi was clearly an experienced hunter, but considering their current state of mind and the lighting conditions, they might think I was the bear and shoot me. No small concern on my part, I assure you.

    At this point, things are getting serious and I’m starting to get genuinely uneasy. We are in the bottom of the valley. It’s about 9:30 now, and while the sun is technically still “up”, it has long since been below the tops of the mountains surrounding the valley. Furthermore, this isn’t some park-like forest. This is coastal rain forest. The trees are huge spruces big enough for a bear to hide behind and the canopy shuts out most of the light. I find myself in thick, dark, woods after nine in the evening, tracking a giant, wounded, brown bear, with two hunting companions that have lost their minds. I was starting to get downright twitchy.

    Once again I found myself in the situation where I was following a wounded coastal brown bear into the woods. This time, at night. I do not exaggerate when I say that what I did was take one step and stop and look everywhere I was able to see before I moved again. Then I took another step and did the same thing. Even through some pretty hairy times on a submarine during the Cold War, adrenaline had never coursed through my veins like it was that night on that bear trail.

    I had only taken maybe five such steps when I spotted the bear. He was down, but when I brought my rifle to my shoulder and put the scope on him I could see that he was still breathing. He was about 15 yards to my right and about 10 yards from where Jim and Midi were! It had been at least half an hour since my first shot, and he was still alive. I yelled to Jim and Midi that I had the bear in my sights, that he was still alive, and for them not to move!

    Clearly, it had not been shot in a place that prevented it from running, so since I was viewing it directly from the rear, I put the cross-hair on its spine just ahead of the pelvis with the intent of breaking the spine and then traveling forward into heart and lungs. Hopefully the spine shot would at least render it unable to get on its feet and charge, even if it didn't finish him off. (Very little faith left in "The Ultimate Weapon" at this point.) At the shot, he raised his head and roared/growled. It wasn't a ‘blood-curdling’ roar, but it was most certainly not a whimper either. His head dropped and when I looked through my scope could no longer detect any breathing.

    I circled around him, and approached with the most caution that I have ever approached a 'dead' animal. With fully extended arm, I poked the muzzle of my rifle in his right ear. He growled! I don’t know why I didn't jerk the trigger instantly out of reflex. I backed off, got in front of him and put my last bullet between his shoulder blades. He was finally dead. It was more than half an hour since the first shot.

    Throughout my life I have read about hunters that who have gone through similar experiences with lions, or tigers, or even brown bears, and when the animal they were chasing finally expired they described their emotional state as “drained” or “exhausted”. That was not my state of mind, I assure you. While I was well and truly relieved that things had ended as they had, I was elated! This bear was truly a giant among big bears. Standing next to it was absolutely intimidating. It was huge. I felt absolutely puny next to it. I estimated its weight between 900 and 1000 pounds. When I looked at my watch, it was 10 o’clock.

    The back-slapping and congratulations didn't last long. Recall what I said about what we had thrown in the dinghy? Pretty much nothing but our guns. We would have to haul the hide and skull back to the boat without packs. To those unfamiliar with brown bear hides that may not seem like too big a deal. Let me try give you some idea about the reality of hauling any coastal brown bear hide out of the woods, let alone one from such a big bear. Back at Tatitlek there is a scale at the airport so people can weight their ‘stuff’ and don’t overload small planes. I put the bear’s head – just his head - still in the hide, on the scale. The scale read 62 pounds. The hide was too big to get on the scale, but I can tell you that it weighed substantially more than just the head. My guess was that the hide and skull weighed no less than 150 pounds.

    We finished the skinning a little before midnight. (By the way, its skinned forearms were bigger around than my thighs, and while I am no “man mountain”, I was a fit 185 lbs at the time.) It was by then truly dark. We were facing a mile and a half back through the very deep snow to get to the dinghy, and without packs. Jim and I gave our rifles to Midi. I grabbed the head by the jowls and hoisted it on my shoulders while Jim wrapped the rest of the hide around himself. We trudged off in the dark, stumbling through the thick woods. Dark woods. Woods in which we had just killed a giant bear. I've never had a tougher haul, even on a moose hunt.

    Less than half way back the day's events finally caught up with us. We were exhausted. Jim’s Levis were soaking wet from the snow and he was bordering on hypothermic. While the what we were doing was certainly work, it was below freezing since the sun had dropped below the horizon, and we were moving very slowly. In pretty short order we were in the middle of another “discussion”. Jim and Midi, having regained their senses, knew they couldn't make it back to the boat with the bear hide. While I fully understood that, I also knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime animal, and I was not about to leave it ‘somewhere’ in the woods while we all went back to the boat for packs and dry clothes. There was no doubt in my mind that something – a fox or a wolverine or even just a weasel – would find it and ruin it. I was not going to leave it. Period. However, it was equally clear that Jim needed to get into some dry, warm clothes before too much longer.

    It was agreed that I would stay with the hide while Jim and Midi went back to the boat, got warm clothes, food, and packs. They would come back “as soon as possible”. I took the .45-70 and, knowing that I would get cold just sitting while guarding the hide, I wrapped the bear hide around me for added insulation and settled in. Midi and Jim set out for the dinghy a little after 1 AM.

    By 4 AM they had not returned. I was now very cold and knew that I had to get up and start moving soon or I wouldn't be able to. Dragging the hide was out of the question. It was too heavy for one person to even drag more than a very short distance. I was starting to shiver uncontrollably so I got up, spread the hide out and covered it with rocks. (There were a lot of them around due to being at the bottom of avalanche chutes.) Once the hide was covered to the best of my ability, I took off for the beach.

    I got to where we had left the dinghy by about 5 AM. Of course the dinghy wasn't there but I could still see Midi’s fishing boat through the morning fog. I could also see lights on in the boat. I yelled for a few minutes but even with the calm, they didn't hear me. I finally decided that the only way I was going to get their attention was to fire off a couple of rounds from the .45-70. I fired three, leaving myself one “just in case”. Some minutes later, I could see them getting into the dinghy, and in a couple more, they were beached. They had decided to “take a rest” before they came back for me. Hmm…

    Once we had the bear skinned, it had been clear that packs weren't going to solve our carrying problem, so when they took off for the boat I told them to bring a saw back with them and we could cut a pole, tie the hide to it, and carry the hide between us ‘cannibal style’. That worked pretty well and we were back on the boat and underway by 8 AM, our scheduled departure time.

    We got back to Tititlek without incident, and back to Valdez without incident as well. However, the winds of fate weren't quite through with us yet. We got in a gunfight – shots fired, and I am neither joking nor exaggerating – with a couple of jackass truckers on the road back to Fairbanks. If I hadn't been concerned about getting Jim back to the Fairbanks International Airport in time to catch his plane back to Colorado, that gunfight might have had a significantly different outcome. But that’s another story.

    There is more to this story however, not the least of which are pictures. Here are some pictures of Jim and I and the hide back in my yard in North Pole. (That's actually the name of the little town that I lived in.)
    Jim with the bear's head on his leg. Notice its size with respect to Jim's torso.

    The deck I am standing on in the next picture is 12 feet wide, and I didn't stretch the hide out when I draped it over the rail. If you look closely, you can see the two hind feet hanging to the same level, meaning that there is an equal amount of hide on both sides of the rail.

    When skinning the bear, I looked very closely for wounds. I found exactly three. The first shot I took had gone right where I aimed. It entered just under the clavicle passing completely through both lungs and exiting out the back through a rib. The only other wounds I found were the two I shot when we found the bear in the woods. However, those three shots were not the only shots that had hit the bear. I kept the skull in the hide until I got home. Doing that made it easier to carry, and delayed possible hair slippage since we didn’t have any salt with us. I took the skull out of the skin as soon as I got home. When did, I found a couple of interesting things.

    First, I had hit the bear with another shot. I believe it was the one that ‘rolled’ him. There was a 7mm Nosler Partition up against the zygomatic arch. It was peeled back to the partition. It had hit the bear in the zygomatic arch and not broken it! At something short of 200 yards, a 175-grain Nosler Partition doing almost 3200 f/s at the muzzle did not break the thinnest bone in the bear's head!

    I also noticed that the upper right canine had been completely broken out of the socket some years before, most certainly in a fight with another bear.

    Note the 'lump' on the right side of the muzzle.

    If you look closely, you can see that the whole tooth was broken out of the maxillary, rotated, and completely healed over.

    It was completely healed, but not in its original location or position. It had not caused any misalignment of the jaw, and based on the rest of the dentition, didn’t affect the bear’s ability to eat. All of his molars and premolars were worn down to the gum-line through age and use, but he was in good health. He was a little thin – it being the spring – but he was still in great shape. He was also missing the first inside claw on the left front paw.

    That had been gone for some time too. Otherwise, his hide was a very nice, prime, spring bear hide.

    The state of Alaska requires that all coastal brown bears be “sealed”, meaning a representative of the Department of Fish and Game has to inspect the skull and hide, and put a metal “seal” on each. They also take a premolar in order to determine the age of the bear. This bear was 21 years and 4 months old. It was the oldest boar the biologist that aged it had ever aged, and one of only a very few boars ever aged over 17 years. (Sows commonly live into their 20s however, and the oldest one on record was 29.) The boars fight, and if they don’t outright kill each other, they break jaws or otherwise maim each other to the point that preparation for hibernation is insufficient to sustain them over winter. The biologist suggested that because he was so big, he didn’t have to fight as much and that was likely why he had lived to such an old age. The bear’s skull measured 29 9/16th inches. (The sum of the length and width at the longest and widest points.) The green hide was 11 feet 11 inches from nose to tail, and 10 feet 9 inches from front claw tip to front claw tip. At that time it was the 11th largest brown bear ever shot in Prince William Sound, and the 111th largest brown bear ever shot in the state. This was indeed a special bear.

    That being the case, I felt that it was important that the hide not “just” be made into a rug. A animal as special as this calls for extra consideration so I went looking for someone to make a life-sized mount. The cheapest quote I received was $3000, and it went up steeply from there. While I felt a certain moral obligation to ‘take care’ of this bear, I also have a philosophical problem with paying stupid prices for things. I decided to have the hide tanned in order to preserve it, and continue my search for a reasonable taxidermist to do the life-size mount.

    I have reached the Stalking Directory's character limit. So the last chapter of this story will follow in the next post.

    Last edited by gitano; 12-12-2014 at 17:40.

  9. #9
    A few years went by, and I ended up in Juneau. While there, I had a local taxidermist mount a sheep and some deer and make Ol’ Number 41 into a rug. (I have some pictures of that rug, which by the way, I gave to Jim. I felt bad that he had basically been screwed by Dan, and hadn’t been able to get a bear. Since I got the big bear, I figured he should at least have the rug from Ol’ Number 41. When I find those pictures, I'll post them.) This fellow’s prices were reasonable and his work was very good. He had long put up with my whines about the getting the big bear mounted when one day he said he had a proposition for me. He told me that he had recently been commissioned to do a “museum” mount for some museum in Canada (a realistic pose, as opposed to the “Teddy Roosevelt” standing, mouth open, snarling, arms elevated pose), and had made a copy of the form. If I was willing to allow him to use the bear as advertising in a local bar, he would do the mount for free. I was pretty jazzed by the idea, but told him that while I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, I had to insist on two conditions. First, it had to have a complete glass case. Being kept in a bar meant a lot of cigarette smoke, and the bear would be ruined forever by that. In addition, the case would prevent idiots from breaking the claws off and stealing them. Second, the “advertising” plaque had to include the following information: The age of the bear, the year it was taken, the location it was taken, and the size of the skull. Under no circumstances was my name to appear anywhere that could be publicly seen. (My ego doesn’t need that. Furthermore, to my mind, a mount is about the animal, not the person that shot it.) He agreed and the bear was mounted. I got to adjust the pose from the museum form that was on all-fours. Instead, I had it mounted like I have seen big bears so many times; its front feet slightly off the ground as if it is raising itself up, slightly turned to one side, and its mouth slightly open, but not snarling or growling. I really liked it. (I have pictures of the mount too, but I can't find them at the moment either. I will though.)

    The bear stayed in the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau for the rest of the time I lived in Juneau. When I moved to Anchorage, I took it – but not the glass case – with me. I didn’t have a house big enough to keep the bear, so I asked if a local sporting goods store – Gary King’s – would like to have it in their store. It was just a loan, but it could remain in the store as long as they were in business and I didn’t have a house big enough for it. It stayed there for about five years until Gary King’s went out of business. By that time, I had moved to The Valley, and had a house with a den large enough that it was not completely dominated by the bear. It remained there for several years.

    My wife had been teaching at an Anchorage high school whose mascot was a grizzly bear. Each senior class was expected to give a substantial gift to the school. (A great idea I happen to think.) The previous year the school had completed a very large addition including a new expansive entry. The senior class of that year had chosen as their gift, a life-size mounted “grizzly bear” to be displayed in the new entry. While my wife no longer taught there, they remembered that I had worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the young man in charge of “finding a bear” gave me a call to see if I knew where they might find, or get, a grizzly bear mounted. I said, “I have some good news. I have a life-sized brown bear mount that I am willing to give to them as long as they agree to three conditions.” First, it had to have a glass case built for it. (That turned out to be “no problem” because they had budgeted $5000 for the project, most of which was going to the mounting, and if they were getting the bear for free, they had plenty of money for a good glass case.) Second, it would have to have a plaque with the same information as before: The age of the bear – 21 years and 4 months; the date it was taken – May 12th, 1985; the location it was taken – Port Gravina, Prince William Sound; and the size of the skull – 29 9/16ths inches. Under no circumstances was my name to appear anywhere that could be publicly seen. Third, if the school ever “went away”, the bear would be returned to me or my heirs.” They jumped at the offer, and agreed to my terms. The bear had finally found a place where it could be viewed and appreciated for what it was.

    And here’s the end of the bear story…

    The rifle I shot that bear with remains one of my favorite firearms as I have used it to take a many big game animals before and since “the big bear”. However, it went from being referred to as “The Ultimate Weapon” before the bear hunt, to now being called “The Sissy Gun”. Up to that hunt, the only firearm I had owned in a caliber larger than 7mm was one chambered in .308 Winchester. That hunt shook to the roots my ‘belief’ in ‘speed’ and ‘kinetic energy’. While I will ungrudgingly admit to making mistakes, one mistake I strive not to make is fooling myself. The events of the big bear hunt required that I completely re-evaluate much of what I had ‘bought off on’ from the likes of Jack O’Connor. Within a month of returning from that hunt, I purchased my first “big bore” rifle: a Ruger Model 77 in .338 Winchester Magnum. It was ‘love at first shot’, and it has been all “uphill” from there. I still like certain ‘hot rods’. For example, I just built a .17 Predator in an attempt to break the 5000 f/s barrier. However, nowadays I find my fancy turned to “slow and big around” as opposed to the “small and fast” of my youth. I can’t explain it, but the big, slow, stuff puts a bigger grin on my face. It’s as simple as that.


  10. #10
    Thanks for all the nice comments!

    I'm off to look for the other pictures. This was before the "digital" era, and I have to find the 'hard copies' and scan them.


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