Grizzly hunting is 90% boredom from glassing, and 10% excitement from catching. Unless of course you are me, then it is the other way around.
Where do I even start? Since I was a little kid, my dream had always been to get a Grizzly Bear. Partially because I was so scared of them, and the other part in awe of their awesomeness. I use to have nightmares about them. It must have been all the television shows as a child.
I grew up in South East Idaho, about 90 minutes from Yellowstone National Park. I did lots of hunting and never saw a Grizzly in real life, but you always saw signs of them. That fear always stuck in my mind, it quieted down as an adult. It hibernated I guess you could say.
About 2-years ago I got the itch to get it done, face my fear and hunt Grizzlies. I had listened to the story of how Sue Aiken’s was attacked and her heroine deeds to survive. It awoke that feeling of fear for them I had in me. I made reservations with my miracle worker Russ Meyer from Outdoors International. Set the calendar dreamed about the hunt, while watching the days click away.
I have never hunted Alaska; I’ve watched a million shows on it. I can promise you one thing though; it is bigger and better than you can dream! This to me was way more than just a hunt for memories; it wasn’t a bucket list task either. It was a reckoning, a cleansing of the soul. Yep you guessed it 40 is around the corner, and the Pearly gates are closer than yesterday.
I traveled to Fairbanks a few days early, I wanted to take it all in. I visited the sites, and could not wait to hit the bush. Every thing was a fun new experience; I took a Cessna plane from Fairbanks to Anatuvik Pass. I was lucky enough to get to ride shotgun. It was beautiful flying through the mountain passes. The pilot showed me all the great landmarks on the way. The Yukon River is massive! It was a slithering serpent following the landscape, full of secrets and dreams.
Nothing prepared me for my guide, nothing I tell you. I must have looked like I just got off the boat, full of smiles and dreams. The only thing he saw was my large pelican gun case. He was full of sentence enhancing words, explaining the woes of owning a bush plane and having idiots like me show up with gigantic hard cases. I thought man this is going to be cool, it is the real deal. After he calmed down and my gun case fit in the plane, we shook hands and got in the plane.
His bush plane is so cool. It is one of the few Super Cubs with side by side seating. I got to watch him work the controls, and was amazed how it just took off. Anatuvik was in the rear view, and the South Brooks range opened up and swallowed us whole. After about a 50-minute flight we touched down at the main base camp. We landed on a homemade runway, with only a small fuel shed by the runway. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was confused. I thought this is base camp and it is a fuel depot, where do they store the food and the people?
A small trail led from the fuel depot, towards the river. Elevation dropped quickly and a really cool cabin emerged hidden in a cut-bank at the bend in the River. This place was out of a Louis Lamoure novel. First act of business was to hide the large gun case from the outfitter. It had been brought up more than once, and I had only met the guy an hour ago.
Hidden Base Camp
Camp was actually very busy; we had guides and clients moving camps and new ones arriving. They were in gathering supplies, filling up rafts with air the anticipation of Christmas never held this much excitement. The outfitter came in, finished up some paper work with me then left to get my guide. At this point the camp cook made some sandwiches explained where everything was. My guide Rick Hoskins came in introduced himself and then we loaded up the plane and left for the hunting grounds.
The plane ride was only 15 minutes from base camp. The plane was unloaded and camp was set up. The Outfitter took off and left us to the Tundra. I cant tell you how cool Rick is, I will tell you this much he is my guide for life. No more had everything settled down and things got interesting. About 900 yards away, a bear appeared headed our direction. I must tell you I was nervous and excited all at the same time. Here is the problem though. Alaska has a no hunt and fly rule, unless the Bear walked into camp took my wife, burned my bible and shot my dog I just had to watch it till tomorrow. That is exactly what we did till the sun went down. The Bear had crossed the river and moved into a bowl about one half mile from us.
First night Grizzly through spotting scope
Of course we beat the sun up, had coffee and waited in anticipation for some light. The sun peeked out and the guide spotted the Grizzly from the vestibule. Sandwiches were made, packs put on and my hunt officially got started. We crossed the river by camp, peeked up over the bank started to make plans. The thing about making plans is something else always unmakes your plans.
Another Grizzly appeared about 800 yards away, and was feeding towards the other Grizzly. Two bears I just doubled my chances in getting one. We started to make our stalk and had cut the distance in half when the bears realized each other was there. That my friends become a problem. The Barren Ground Arctic Grizzly Bear is a beautiful animal. They aren’t as large as their coastal brethren, the feeding season is shorter and diet is less caloric fueled. Lets put it this way, those Bears scrap for every morsel they get.
The larger of the two Bears decided he wasn’t sharing. He made the move towards the smaller Bear to drive it away. It started with a trot, and then moved into a lope, headed directly towards yours truly. At one point I had two Grizzlies filling my Swarovski about three hundred yards away. I told the guide they are going to run us over. He said don’t worry this is awesome! I agreed this is awesome, but for first timers it is also quite nerve racking. The bears changed course and kept covering country. We headed back to the river, went downstream following them. Along the way finding quite a few holes taller then our hip boots. After covering a couple of miles we emerged to see the two bears 3 miles further away, and still chasing each other.
At this point cold wet and talking to ourselves, we decided to go back to camp, eat change and head to higher elevation. Once back at camp some fog moved in kept us a few hours longer than planned. By about two in the afternoon, visibility returned and we started heading for high ground.
I was asking Rick questions about the Bears habits and nature. One question was in this Barren landscape where do the bears bed up. About the quarter of the way up the mountain we were climbing, he said in bushes just like that one. That bush was only about 200 yards away from us; Rick was about 10 – 20 step in front of me walking. No more had he said they sleep in bushes, he hit the ground because a bear just walked from that bush. You can’t make this stuff up folks. He pointed at a bush and Bears appear.
I dropped my pack walked up to Rick quickly placed my gun on some shooting sticks, and got a big scope full of tundra. I had to stand up to see the bear, as the elevation was enough I couldn’t use the sticks. As soon as I stood up the bear bolted. I thought hmmm this sucks; I am not shooting at a running bear and that is all I have seen. The bear stopped and looked back to see what it ran from. This was its fatal undoing.
I placed the cross hairs on the bear’s vitals, squeezed the trigger and it went down. From 154 yards, I had fulfilled a dream. My legs were like J-E-L-L-O walking to the bear. It was the most beautiful animal I had ever seen. It was also the most horrible smelling animal I had smelt. Next to the bush it had been sleeping at, was a cache of its food. Which just happening to be a rotting bear and it was quite ripe. My guide and I took pictures and tried to hold smiles instead of our noses.
Grizzly 2014 Tommy Hairtrigger
After skinning the bear, loading and packing it back to camp it really sunk in. I said a prayer and thanked him, for my life this opportunity and all he has given us. I want to encourage you all to make a trip to the tundra. It doesn’t matter if it is for hunting or not, it is truly one of the last few places in the world were clarity comes into focus and you can find yourself.
Author with Grizzly Bear
Infamous Gun Case