Since I was a child I have always been in love with hunting. It has been something completely ingrained in my life. My earliest memories are of my grandfather coming back home with his prized trophy, venison. Not being horn hunters, both my grandparents were hunting for the dinner table. It was this hunting for necessity that helped grow my love of hunting for life experiences.
Although many of my family have always been hunters, they have never had the desire for big game. That’s where I differed from my other loved ones. When they were dreaming about that ever-elusive big buck in the back yard, I was dreaming about the huge elephants of Africa or the big bears of Alaska.
When I was presented an opportunity to fulfill a life-long dream of hunting on Kodiak Island for brown bear, I couldn’t send the deposit check fast enough. I would be hunting with Master Guide Frank Bishop of Alaska Wildlife Adventures and couldn’t wait to learn everything I could from, and hunt with, such a legendary guide.
Brown bear had always been my most sought after trophy, and I would not let this moment pass without giving my best effort. Little did I know that I would be unsuccessful, not only on my first trip, but also my second. Although we would see many bears (a few over the cherished 10 foot mark) we never had luck on our side during the final stalk.
If anything could go wrong during the stalk, it would. The wind would change, horrendous weather would move in, a hidden Sitka deer would alert our approach or magically the bear would completely disappear into the alders, never to be seen again. The two failed trips really did take a toll on me, both mentally and physically. As my guide Frank and I often joked, “Alaska isn’t for sissies.”
I lost a combined weight of 28 pounds on the first two trips and racked up an impressive tally of more than 130 miles hiked on Kodiak Island without a bear. It all seemed too depressing to go home for a second time without a bear, but as my plane touched ground my only consolation was that I had given it my all and pushed my body as far as my limits would allow.
The following spring when Frank called, I almost hung up the phone out of sheer disbelief when he invited me back up for the first slot on the fall hunt. He had a hunter cancel and the prime first slot would be mine if I wanted it. Mixed emotions bounced around in my head and a bit of despair and uneasiness slowly crept in. What if I didn’t get a bear again? Can I afford this, both financially and mentally? Will my body hold up to another 10 days of punishment? I shook off those negative thoughts and thankfully agreed to accept Frank’s generous offer.
A short five months later I was landing back into my home away from home, Kodiak, Alaska. After a short trip to Fish and Game, we set off for camp. The next day was opening day for bear and I was ready (or so I thought).
The following morning the weather was horrendous. Visibility was next to nothing and the freezing rain was coming down at a pace that can only be true in Alaska. Not only was the weather horrible, but also I was carrying around the burdensome illness I had fallen into back in my home state of Pennsylvania. My illness was so severe that I almost called Frank a few days before the trip to cancel the hunt from not being physically able to handle the demands of Kodiak. I was now regretting my decision to “muscle through” my illness as I watched the rain fall from camp, knowing soon I would be out in that unforgiving weather.
The second day started with cloudy overcast skies. After throwing on our gear and loading up the packs, we set off for the mountains to glass for bears moving in the rivers for the remaining salmon. This area was especially familiar to me because of the extensive time I had spent there hunting a giant ghost of a bear. This bear was never seen in person, only known by its tracks and the bones it left of cattle and horses that it devoured under the security of darkness.
This was my third time hunting this mountain stretch for this giant bear. In fact, a year before, we were a few days late on a fresh cattle kill the massive bruin left as a tell tale sign of his existence. We would have to be both lucky and good to catch sight of this bear.
As luck (or my perpetual negative luck on Kodiak) would have it, after six hours on the mountain, my sickness was taking a huge toll on my body and I finally gave in to my pain. I got up from my glassing point and headed toward Frank to talk to him about heading back in for a few hours of rest to regroup when he spotted something in the far distance down by the coast.
“I think that is a great big bear laying right down there,” he said, motioning to the shoreline. As I looked through my binos at the small black dot on the hillside, I just knew Frank had been mistaken, it had to be a buffalo or a cow; anything but a bear. But as my concentration grew on the spot, I finally realized Frank was 100 percent correct, it was a bear and it was a huge bear at that.
We quickly formulated a plan and within a few minutes headed off the mountain and toward the bear. This was a difficult stalk because of its relatively hidden location and that our only approach on the bruin would take us within 30 yards before we had a shot. I mentally prepared for what we were about to do as we quickly closed the two-mile gap between us and the bear.
When we reached the 300-yard mark we quickly discarded our packs and any heavy weight clothing that might hinder any fast movements that we might need to make. As the distance grew shorter, my heartbeat grew louder and faster. Frank had an evergreen tree as a point of reference during our walk and, as we closed to 100 feet of that tree, I knew the bear would be only a few short yards over the hilltop.
Frank and I crawled on our hands and knees up to the top of the ridge and Frank slowly peeked over the edge to verify if the bear was there; his wide eyes and frantic expression said it all, “He is right on top of us,” Frank whispered. “Stand up and shoot him.”
Already having my scope turned to the minimum power, I slowly raised up and immediately was shocked at how close this Buick-sized creature was to our position. I quickly raised my gun and settled my crosshairs on the brown mass of hair in front of me. My initial adrenaline rush turned to panic when I realized I couldn’t acquire a target on the bear’s vitals. It was lying down with his head tucked facing away from me and I couldn’t even tell which side was his head and which side was his rump.
At that distance if I made an improper shot, one of us was sure to be a victim of a wounded bear’s rage. As seconds ticked away I knew we were in a very bad place. It was at that moment a raven, which was a few feet away from the bear, noticed my presence and squawked an alarm call that made the giant brown sharply turn my direction with a look of hate and discontent that would make a Cape buffalo run for a new pair of underwear.
Now that I could fully see my target, I instantly took aim and fired my .375 Ruger loaded with 300-grain Barnes TSXs through both of the bear’s shoulder blades. The initial impact was catastrophic on the bear as he lost the power and function of his front limbs to shattered bone and torn muscles.
Although the first shot was all but certain to kill the bear, he still had enough energy to let out a soul-trembling roar and roll around as Frank and I fired a few insurance rounds into the rage-filled animal. After a few short seconds it was all over. Frank and I hugged each other in disbelief and we walked the short 20 yards from our firing position to the dead giant.
He was massive, the biggest thing I had ever seen in my years of hunting. Frank told me it was the biggest bear he had harvested in his 40-year hunting career. Although I didn’t believe him at the time, the tape measure confirmed his statement. The giant squared 10 feet, 10 inches with a green skull measurement of 30 6/16. After the required drying period and a certified master scorers measurement, my Alaskan brown bear settled into the current No. 9 position in the Safari Club International all-time record book with a score of 30 2/16. It was a true bear and hunt of a lifetime. It only goes to show you; patience and persistence pays off for those willing to work for it.– Aaron Simser