October 7, 2015 - 1pm
This day began like all the other days on this hunt, with the anticipation of hunting big Alaskan brown bears. After waking up, we would check the wind direction each day to see if the conditions were good for hunting. On this day, the wind direction was ideal, as it would blow out of the mountains, down the valley and carry our scent out to the Pacific Ocean. The temperature was 40 degrees and not raining. Perfect. We ate breakfast and got dressed in our waders for the day since we had rivers and marshy areas to cross on our hike to the back of the valley.
We hadn’t had much success locating brown bears and no success at all finding a large boar to harvest. For some unknown reason this valley, normally filled with numerous brown bears, was now all but empty. Since there had been a record salmon run this year, it seemed the bears were fat, happy and laying in the brush, not that interested in eating more fish. After a brief discussion with my guide the night before, our new strategy was to get an earlier start just as it was getting daylight.
We had also decided that since all of the bears we had seen so far were in the back of the valley past the first lookout, we wouldn't waste time glassing there. The idea was to get to the back of the valley as quickly as possible in hopes of finding a bear out feeding in the salmon stream early in the morning. This hike up the valley would take us about 2 1/2 hours. I found it very difficult to get motivated and moving for many reasons. We were seeing hardly any bears and no boars at all, which made the daily eight-mile hike through the tundra, swamps and hills even more difficult. Adding to the difficulty were several broken bones in my foot, which had required surgery only 6 1/2 weeks earlier. I had also re-injured the foot in a swampy mud hole the day before.
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After reaching the first lookout, we took a short break, drank some water, took a few Advil for aches and pains then continued on our way to the back of the valley, heading towards the second lookout. On the way, we stopped at a spring to fill our water bottles and take another needed break, then one more short hike to the hill marking the second lookout where we would settle in for another 12 hour day of glassing the hillsides and valley floor below.
Just before reaching the last steep hill to the second lookout, we stopped for a minute to catch our breath. Suddenly my guide said, "There's a bear!" We both instantly threw up our binoculars to see if it was a boar or a sow and if it was large enough to pursue. We both could see this was a single large boar that appeared to be at least 9 feet, dark chocolate in color and exactly what we were looking for. He moved very slowly while fishing for salmon in the stream about 700 yards from us. This bear had an enormous belly and body that made his head appear small.
After looking at the terrain, checking the wind direction and devising a plan of attack, we proceeded to start our stalk on the bear of a lifetime. Between the bear and us were several streams, swampy areas and alder bushes that would provide cover for us. The distance was closed quickly as we moved closer and closer. At approximately 100 yards from the bear, we dropped our backpacks and made final preparations. When we arrived at the stream where the bear had been fishing, we discovered he was nowhere to be found. Now what? My guide Greg and I looked at each other and began scouring the area and discussing where the bear might have gone.
There was an undisturbed flock of teal ducks on the water to the left of us, so we felt sure he hadn’t gone that way. We started moving through the brush looking and listening for any sign that he was still in the area. Suddenly Greg ducked down saying he had spotted the bear only 50 yards ahead of us. Greg stayed down and got his 416 rifle ready in case I needed him for backup in the event the bear charged one of us.
While the bear was busy eating a salmon he had caught, I slowly and carefully inched closer and finally had only a lone alder bush between the bear and me. I took my range finder, getting a reading of 22 yards and determining this would be close enough for a good shot. The bear was quartering towards me while sitting on the ground eating a salmon and didn't present a good shot for me. I patiently waited as he looked directly at me several times while checking the wind and eating his salmon. Finally, the large brown bear got up and then started walking in my direction. My heart was pounding as I drew my bow to shoot him in the chest facing head-on. Then I suddenly thought this might get very interesting in a hurry if he continues towards me. I decided not to take this shot and just keep waiting.
Suddenly the bear stopped and turned toward the alders. I drew my bow again for the second time, aimed and made a perfect shot right behind the shoulders. The bear made a loud roar and immediately took off, disappearing into the brush. Then the waiting began as we went to retrieve our backpacks 100 yards behind us. This would give ample time to make sure he had expired before we went into the alders to look for him.
We started our search where the bear was shot and within a few yards had started to bleed. This was the first sign the arrow had done its job. A little further down the trail the fletching end of my arrow was laying on the ground as it was snapped off by the bear running through the alders. This was a further indication of a fatal shot as the arrow and fletching were covered with bubbly lung blood. Upon exiting the brush, we could tell he ran another 20 yards before rolling on the ground and making two huge bloody areas in the tall grass.
It was at this point we began to panic. The blood trail seemed to end right there since there was no exit from this point. We started searching the open terrain hoping we would stumble upon the dead bear. There was no question he was dead and somewhere in the immediate area, but we couldn't determine where. We scoured the high grass for 3 1/2 hours with no luck. Finally, we had to regroup and come up with another plan. As we discussed our options, we decided the bear must have doubled back on his own blood trail. I had marked the spot where last blood was found with my walking stick, so we walked back to this spot to start searching in all of the alder patches. As Greg turned to begin searching the nearby brush, there laid my bear only five yards from where we found the last blood. We had walked past him many times while searching but missed him because we were so intent on following the blood trail. The angle of the sun had also changed, and now there was a bright sunny area on the bear’s side which made him easier to see.
Much to our surprise and delight we discovered he was much larger than originally thought. There was no ground shrinkage here! After spending the next hour taking pictures and admiring the bear, we began the arduous task of skinning and packing him back to camp. Luckily Greg and I both have many years of experience in this, which made the job much quicker. We had to hurry knowing how many bears were in the area, and the three and a half hour hike back to camp would be in the dark. The hike back required a few more stops to rest along the way because of the heavy packs we carried. The bear hide alone weighed approximately 120 pounds and the skull probably another 25 pounds. Each of us also had our daily hunting gear in our packs, which added to the total weight we were carrying.
After arriving safely back to camp, we unloaded everything, secured our gear and the bear, cooked and ate dinner then went to bed completely exhausted but totally exhilarated. The next morning we notified the master guide Richard Guthrie that we harvested a bear and were ready to be picked up by super cub and flown back to Cold Bay.
As it turned out, the weather stormed again the next day preventing our return, but it did give us a chance to flesh my trophy brown bear in preparation for salting and tanning. After finishing and laying the bear hide out on the ground, we measured him. The final measurement was 9 1/2 feet square -- a true Alaskan Peninsula trophy brown bear.
Deb Moore says
Rich Guthrie sent me this article, I want to make sure it’s ok with you to publish it before going any further. Please let me know. thanks, Deb
Hi Deb, My name is Jeff Payne. I’m the Marketing Director at QFD. In reply to your message, we would love for you to publish our article. Our only requirement is that you provide credit in the article to “Fred Sweisthal, Quality Fur Dressing” and a link to https://qualityfurdressing.com. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you very much!