WORLD RECORD GRIZZLY
Not many people can claim a world record…
Barry and Bob Steed are good friends and clients; we have hunted and fished all over the world together. Having just returned from New Zealand, we decided it was time for Grizzly.
Anytime you can hunt Alaska, you are enjoying yourself; and when you are hunting coastal Brown Bear or interior Grizzly, you are really doing well. When you hunt interior Grizzly, only one place will do: Stoney River Lodge, just south of Sleetmute, Alaska. Proprietors Curly and Betty Warren are a class act and have a top notch concession. Joe Mott is their lead guide and responsible for taking over 100 Grizzlies over the years.
Late April and early May is a beautiful time in Alaska; the days are getting long and the nights are brisk. The ground is still snow-covered and big bruins come out of their dens looking for food. Their hides are flawless and their claws are long -- everything you could want in a Grizzly. These bears have been in their dens for up to seven months and have one thing on their mind…FOOD. In spring, food is sparse until the snow melts, so if you can locate winter kills, there is a great chance a bruin or two will visit. I’ve only seen boars this time of year, which greatly increases your odds of taking an animal. The sows will almost always have cubs and stay in the dens a bit longer.
In Alaska, you cannot hunt the day you fly; however, when flying you can spot bear, and see where they are moving and searching for food. We spotted a moose kill this way and that was the buffet we were looking for. The closest place to land the Super Cub was nearly three miles away. Barry was in one plane and I was in the other. We got dropped off and then the wait started. We set up camp, ate dinner and tried to sleep.
The next morning, we got on the trail about 7:00 am, in three feet of snow and on snow shoes; I anticipated a three-hour trek. If you have been on snow shoes…there is no need to explain; if you haven’t, there is no way to explain it. The plan was to approach the moose kill from the downwind side and see what this feast had enticed. As we got close to the kill, we slowed our pace and checked the wind. Things were looking good and if there was a good boar on the kill, we would be in business.
Closing to within 500 yards, we broke the heavy timber; I glassed the area on the edge of a clearing with scattered trees ahead of us, but saw nothing. We crept slowly, one snow shoe at a time, stopping to canvas the area every few steps; we were in stealth mode. We knew the moose kill was on the far side of the clearing. It had been two and a half hours since we left camp; and now we were on the cusp of Barry’s first Grizzly.
We crested the rise and spotted what we were looking for in the clearing, a bear 225 yards ahead and sleeping on top of the moose…not just any bear…a BEHEMOTH. The bear looked like a buffalo sitting on its haunches -- big, dark and exactly what we were looking for. I have guided many bear hunts in my lifetime, and have seen many big coastal brownies. This one did not take a back seat to any of them. The wind was good, the sun was shining and the timing was right. Another 50 yards and we would be at the edge of a patch of trees with a clear shooting lane to the bear. We got to 175 yards and made our stand.
Packs off and tripod out, we got ready for the shot. Hindsight is always 20/20; looking back, I should have found a tree for Barry to rest on. Instead, I opened the tripod and tried to get Barry comfortable. Neither sitting, kneeling, nor crouching felt right to him. The last thing you want to do as a guide is have a client take a shot they are uncomfortable with. The shot is the most important thing, especially when you are hunting something that can hunt you. As we tried to get Barry comfortable, the wind switched, blowing right on the back of my neck. I knew we had little time to make this happen.
This bear was as big as many of the coastal Brown Bear I have hunted; this was a magnificent creature and would rank high in the record books. Knowing the bear had scented us by now, increased our anxiety; Barry finally got comfortable and I made sure the gun was loaded and safety off -- we were ready to let lead fly. We looked up to put the boar in our sights…and saw nothing. How could this be? He was there five seconds ago, broadside, lying on a moose kill. Quickly, my binos came up and I scoured the clearing -- left, right, left, then to the kill. Nothing. Not a sign of the bear anywhere. Sitting in disbelief, we waited 10-15 minutes to see if he had just wandered a bit, but I knew better. Barry’s bear was long gone. We walked up to the kill and saw his tracks heading back up the valley. That monster of a bear had smelled us and didn’t stick around for lunch. Unbelievable. We were at the cusp of a lifetime dream and now it escaped into the snow-covered hills.
Back at the lodge, I told Curly and Joe that this was quite possibly the biggest bear I had ever seen. Asking them if they thought the bear would return to the kill they both said highly unlikely. I knew what they were going to say before they said it but I had to ask. The wind had beaten us. Five more seconds and we would have had the bear of a lifetime. We were full of would’ve and should’ve. But would’ve and should’ve couldn’t change what happened. Five days left to hunt and now it was Bob’s turn. Licking our wounds would not change anything. We needed a change of luck and Bob was about to get it.
We found several nice bears over the next few days, but nothing either guy wanted to take. When you know there is a nine foot in the area, it’s kind of hard to shoot an eight foot, so we kept looking. With minimal hopes and time fading away we were desperate. The more we thought about and discussed that bear, the more we wanted one more chance. On day eight, against their better judgment, Joe and Bob went back to the moose kill to see if the big bruin would come back, hoping the bear (or any bear) would return -- but knowing deep down the bear was long gone and not coming back.
Bob and Joe approached the kill site from a little different angle; we had advanced from due east, so they decided to come in from the south. This allowed them to see the moose from farther away; if a bear was present, they would have longer to formulate a plan. Surprisingly, there was a bear sleeping on the moose, and Joe told Bob he was a shooter. The wind was right, enabling them to sneak to within 150 yards of the kill; Bob took a rest on a tree branch. To get the bear in a position to shoot him Joe made moose calls with his hands.
Believe it or not, that bear stood up on its back legs with its nose in the air trying to see and smell what it had just heard -- the last thing the bear would ever do. Bob lowered the 300 mag and put the crosshairs right on his chest. BOOM, the gun went off, the bear whirled around; boom, another shot rang out. The number one rule when you hunt Grizzly and Brown bear is: shoot and keep shooting until the bear does not move anymore. Bob listened well; he unloaded his gun putting five shots into the beast. And there laid a magnificent creature that even pictures couldn’t do justice to.
Joe’s first words as they approached the bear were, “That is the biggest bear I have ever been part of killing.” When the Lodge phone rang and Bob was telling Curly what had happened, I knew they had killed ‘Barry’s bear’. There just aren’t two bears that big in the same area. Though Joe and Curly both insisted it was a different bear, I knew better. For ten minute, I stood 175 yards from the biggest bear I had ever seen in my life. Joe had just guided Bob on the biggest bear of Joe’s life. Joe has guided over 100 Grizzly hunts and Curly has dropped him off on every one of those. This bear was in a league of its own.
Now in all fairness, Stoney River Lodge has eight of the top ten SCI record book Grizzlies. They kill giant bears every spring and fall. This one was going in the record books and I knew it was going high. There is the mandatory 60-day drying period before anything is officially scored. The SCI record at the time was 28-2/16, and had stood since 2001. Bob’s bear scored a whopping 28-5/16 after the drying period. THE NEW SCI WORLD RECORD GRIZZLY BEAR. By nearly 1/3 of an inch, Bob’s and Barry’s bear was the top dog. But all records are made to be broken. Bob’s bear squared at over 9’0”, a true monster in the Grizzly world.
The bear was 20 years old and the king of his mountain. Bob is having him mounted and I can’t wait to see the finished product. I will no doubt be taking this bear to some shows in the future. A bear like this needs to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
If any of you have Grizzly on your bucket list, there is no better place than Stoney River Lodge. My cell number and email are below. Drop me a line or a message and I will get you set up on the hunt of a lifetime. Who knows, maybe you will be the nest world record holder of the great Alaska Grizzly bear.