Eleven years ago I hunted just north of Cranbrook, British Columbia. It was early October and I was there to pursue mountain goat the in the Purcell Mountains’ in Kootney Valley. It was on that hunt that I had my first encounter with a grizzly bear! From there forward it became a goal to hunt and successfully take the apex predator of the western part of North America.
The very next spring I was back in the Kootney Valley for my very first interior mountain grizzly hunt, but this time across the valley in the Rocky Mountains. A few mistakes during the hunt resulted in me striking out.
Fast forward to 2015, I was up for trying grizzly once again. This time with good friend and fellow DSC member Bobby Evans hunting with Arctic North Guides, LLC owned and operated by Phil Byrd. As luck would have it, Bobby took a nice bear before Mother Nature decided to control and take over the hunt, forcing me to end my hunt early and go back to Texas, once again without a bear. With the second try a strike out, I immediately re-booked to return the fall of 2016. Once again Mother Nature decided that it would not be my year, causing a four day delay on departing Texas for the hunt due to bad weather which prevented me even making it to Alaska in 2016. It was beginning to feel like the curse of successfully hunting a grizzly bear was setting in.
January 2017, the place was the Kay Baily Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas, Texas, the Dallas Safari Convention Convention. This show, in my opinion is the finest wildlife conservation and hunter rights convention held in North America, bringing hunters and outfitters together from around the globe. The outfitter high on my list to visit was once again was Phil Byrd’s Arctic North Guides, LLC. Phil knew my passion of pursuing my quest for the grizzly bear. I knew Phil had one of the best areas to help turn my quest into a reality. I just needed a little help from mother nature. After a quick twenty-minute meeting, dates were set for me to return during the fall of 2017.
August 20th, 2017 I returned from a successful four-week safari that was spent both in South Africa and Zambia. Upon my return home, I immediately wasted zero time preparing for my grizzly hunt that would begin August 30th, just ten short days after returning from the Dark Continent. First up, was to re-zero my Ruger M77 FTW Hunter chambered in 375 Ruger with Hornady’s Superformance 250-grain GMX ammo. A fifty yard zero put me exactly an inch and half high at one hundred yards, and dead on at two hundred yards. Absolutely perfect for my grizzly hunt!
Wednesday August 30th, 2017…. My flight from San Antonio to DFW, connecting to Anchorage was on time. The reality of hunting grizzly bear now started to sink in.
My attitude was positive as I met up with my cameraman for the hunt, Cody Fite who would film the hunt for an episode of “DSC’s Trailing The Hunters Moon” which airs year around on Pursuit Channel.
When the American Airline plane cabin door closed, I was officially off to Alaska. There was no turning back now.
After a smooth flight to Anchorage with an overnight at Lake Shore Inn, I headed to Lake Clark Air early the next morning to catch my charter flight to Port Alsworth with fingers crossed that the weather would be good upon arrival into Port Alsworth so we could transfer to a super cub and make it into Arctic North Guides, LLC base camp and then onto spike camp. The word “Hope” being the catch-word.
I made it to Port Alsworth to learn that I would not be going into base camp as the ceiling was down to the ground making it too risky to fly. Staying positive, I reminded myself these are the chances a hunter takes when hunting Alaska or such similar areas and terrain. It always comes down to “weather permitting”! So..it was an overnight stay at the Farm Lodge in Port Alsworth, a hot meal and a comfortable cabin to stay in. The next day after lunch we received good news, we would fly.
Our bush pilot flying us into base camp mentioned during the flight that we had a couple of days of bad weather heading our way but after that, the weather looked promising for us to have a good hunt. That was music to my ears. It was then I started to feel really good about this hunt.
Arriving into base camp we quickly unloaded all of our gear from the plane that had carried us from Port Alsworth and loaded it directly into Phil Byrd’s plane which then took us to spike camp. My my guide, Aaron Lawson and packer Jesse Fisher were waiting for us. Camp already built and ready for the next ten days.
Next morning, we were greeted with 30-plus mile per hour winds and rain. Our pilot had been right! Living in Alaska and as a pilot, weather is something monitored hourly. I believe the Alaskan bush pilots just might be better weather forecasters then the meteorologists predicting the weather for the local news. The weather was not conducive to bear hunting! Grizzly bears and most animals will always keep their nose into the wind. If bears can not rely on their nose they usually hold up in the alders until they feel they can use their sense of smell to move about and feed.
The first day resulted in us staying close to camp, getting out when the wind and rain would let up enough for us to get out of our tents and stretch and take a look around.
Day two resulted in pretty much the same, with the addition of dense fog which dropped visibility to less than 50-feet. My first thought, once I stuck my head outside my tent that morning was “here we go again.” Most of the day was spent in camp with hot coco, sharing stories and experiences with my guide, and Aaron talking grizzly and brown bear hunting. Aaron’s positive attitude helped keep my head in the game as I prayed for one good day of sunshine. One good day of sunshine was all I was hoping for because my gut kept telling me if I could only get one day of good weather, we would find and kill a grizzly bear. As the second day came to an end, the weather started to break and clear. Both Aaron and I were outside of our tents and on top of the ridge near camp glassing before the sun set. It did not take long for us to spot three different grizzlies. Though there was no time to go after them with light fading, things were looking up!
Day three….I awoke to calm winds and clear skies. Just what I was hoping for! The temperature too, was a bit cooler causing “steam” to rise from the arctic earth as the warming sun continued to rise. After a quick breakfast, prepared by our packer Jesse, we headed to the high point about eight hundred yards from camp to start glassing. From the point, we had nearly a 360 degree view of our hunting area. It was 9 am sharp when I spotted three small dots in my binos a long way across a wide valley. Aaron’s spotting scope confirmed a grizzly sow with two cubs. Not what we were looking or hoping for but grizzlies to say the least. The sight of a sow and two cubs brought hope that there would be a boar in the area.
11:00 am…Once again across the valley and high on one of the far ridges, I spot a dark spot, a bear I’m 99% certain. Ninety-nine percent certain too, it was not a black bear. I asked my guide Aaron for his spotting scope. Sure enough. A grizzly bear! A grizzly bear by himself. With further evaluation without considering the distance, I knew it was a grizzly bear I wanted to get a closer look at. Aaron spent a few minutes looking through the glass, confirming the same, evaluating the area and situation to see if a stalk was possible.
It was early in the day but the bear was a long long way away. I wondered if a stalk was possible. If it was, I wondered what would our odds might be that the bear was going to there once we got closer. After five minutes of discussing the situation with my guide, we agreed to hike to the next point and glass from there, then re-assess the situation.
With the next point about three-quarters of a mile away, we wasted no time and hiked over to find the bear. We soon closed the distance to three quarters of a mile. With about two and half miles to go, my mind and gut said this just might be doable. My guide had the same feeling. As a crow flies, we believed we had about a two-hour hike remaining to get within range of the bear.
Our bear was feeding high near the top and in a large blueberry patch. We felt the bear would not go anywhere, at least not for a while. Aaron looked at me and said, “You spotted that bear, now let’s go get him!”
I learned a long time ago never to guide the guide! So as Aaron navigated a trail in his mind to lead us to the same ridge the bear was on, I strapped on my pack, tightened up the laces on my Kenetrek boots. I was 110% up for the challenge. After all I was looking at a bear that I was on my third hunt to take. All that was on my mind, was full speed ahead! The weather was good, and, it was only 11:30 am, lots of time to make this happen.
Two hours later, dredging through the alders, streams and climbing vertically we were across the valley, about half way up the mountain the bear was spotted on. With one last steep climb to the top we decided it was best to get to the top rather then look from below so the wind would be in our favor. We lost sight of the bear during our two-hour hike so we also wanted to make sure he had not slipped over the top to the other side. After another thirty minutes, we made it to the top. After catching our breath, we crawled over the top and looked into the basin on the other side.
My heart started to pump harder. Not from the climb, but from the reality beginning to set in that my bear had not gone over the ridge and that I stood the good chance of finding him on the other side where we had last seen him.
Quietly sneaking over to the side where we felt the bear would be, we checked the wind one last time and I asked my cameraman Cody if he had everything in order and was ready to go. With the green light from him, I followed my guide Aaron one step at a time quietly as we sneaked over the top and looked into the steep basin where the bear should be. Sure enough, Aaron dropped to his knees, and told us to get down. I knew what was happening, even though I had not yet seen the bear.
Aaron asked if I seen the bear. I replied “No..” then asked “How far?” Dropping to our bellies we crawled down the side of the mountain into the basin. It was then I laid eyes on the beautiful silver and blonde tipped bear. Calm and collected I asked Aaron again “How far?” Aaron answered with 233 yards with a thirteen-degree angle. “Perfect!” I answered. That was all that was going through my mind. My body already in a prone position, I steadied my 375 Ruger dead-on on the bear’s shoulder, pushed off safety, took a deep breath, asked Cody if he was ready, my guide if he was ready, then gently squeezed the trigger.
The bear lunged for the alders directly down the mountain as the Hornady bullet entered the left shoulder. I was confident of my shot, and, my trigger squeeze. Recalling my sight picture, I was convinced my shot was dead-on. Aaron, my guide was too! Just as the bear reached the alders he stopped and I put one more round into him, just behind the shoulder, resulting in the bear going straight down and also resulting in not having to go into the thick and twisted alders for what could have turned into a dangerous recovery. The relief, the excitement, the experience and the reward of taking the majestic grizzly was now reality.
As I approached my downed bear, different emotions were flowing. Feelings of accomplishment, setting a goal, completing that goal. And now, staring at a beautiful bear taken in the most beautiful uncharted and untouched territory known as the “Last Frontier” was starting to set in. It no longer mattered how far and hard we hiked, or how far we had to go to make it back to camp. It did not matter how far the shot was. What mattered was finishing a quest that started in 2006 and was completed eleven years later. Dreams come true when one puts their heart, mind and hard work into it. This was just one of mine. There are many more to come.
Thank you to Arctic North Guides, LLC. Phil and Beth Byrd run a great operation for not only interior bears, but also moose, and coastal brown bears on the peninsula. During the summer they run a great fishing camp. Aaron Lawson, my guide was intense and positive, giving me both the inspiration and drive to beat my grizzly bear curse. Thank you Aaron! To Jesse Fisher and Cody Fite, your dedication on this hunt helped make our success a true team effort. Thank you both for your hard work and dedication. Lastly, to my good friend, business partner and co-host of “DSC’s Trailing The Hunters Moon”, Larry Weishuhn for establishing the hunting trail to follow in this great industry and for allowing me the opportunity to follow a dream. Thank you!