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Thoughts on spring grizzlies

It's been more than three decades since I hunted coastal brown bears and more than four decades since I hunted interior grizzlies, but I must say that hunting them provided a measure of drama and excitement not found in hunting most game.

Both interior grizzly and coastal brown bear are the same species — Ursus Arctos. The coastal bears generally grow to larger size due to a more favorable food source, which includes five species of Pacific salmon, and lots of sedges and bear grass in the milder coastal regions.

One stark reality that remains with a grizzly bear hunter is the fact that a bear is very capable of badly mauling or killing a human. My old friend Loyal Johnson, retired biologist from Sitka, Alaska, liked to pull a ghastly picture from his wallet that showed a hiker's boot with part of the leg sticking out of the boot. The rest of the leg and most of the rest of the hiker had been consumed by an Alaskan brown bear on Baranof Island.

Just in my small circle of acquaintances, I know several people who have had run-ins with grizzly bears, and come out beaten up to say the least. Ross Napoleon, the Cree guide who hunted with me when I shot a mountain goat in the Peace River country of British Columbia was severely mauled by a wounded grizzly he had followed into heavy cover. The bear batted away Ross' rifle, chewed him up rather badly, and bit off several of his fingers in the attack. Ross survived the encounter.

On my first Dall sheep hunt in the Yukon I met a Pennsylvania hunter who had deep scars on both arms following a grizzly bear attack. It was not a pretty sight.

I knew a wealthy guy from Billings who made a poor shot on a grizzly bear in British Columbia. The guide went into the timber after the bear in an attempt to dispatch it. The bear killed the guide before expiring. I cannot imagine the mental anguish this hunter must carry with him after such an incident.

The most important factor in not getting into trouble with bears is to use an adequate cartridge, stalk in close to the bear, and make a good shot. And keep shooting until the bear is down and still. It is also a good idea to have a backup — a reliable partner or guide.

In British Columbia many years ago I shot two black bears and a grizzly bear with my old 7mm Weatherby magnum without incident. I used 160-grain Nosler Partition handloads with the grizzly bear. The range was about 85 yards.

My father and I each took Alaskan brown bears with .338 Winchester Magnums and 250-grain Nosler Partition handloads. Dad's bear was about 85 yards distant. My bear was initially at 50 yards and required several shots, including a harrowing stalk into the alder jungle to administer the final shot. The bear had been hit well each time, but these big bears are tough!

On a hunt with my brother, Jim shot a fine Alaskan brown bear with a single shot from his .300 Weatherby and a 200-grain Nosler Partition handload. The range was 25 yards. Yeah, that is a little closer than I like.

My Dad shot a couple interior grizzlies — one with his .300 Weatherby and the 180-grain Remington Core-Lokt bullet, the other with a .280 Rem. and 150-grain Core-Lokt bullet. Both were handloads.

So it is at this time of year, I remember all those hunts taken in the month of May. I think of the quiet evenings in the haunting coves of Southeast Alaska, glassing from the boat in silence, and then seeing the bear, planning the stalk ... it's an exhilarating experience when you step off the boat and begin the stalk, keeping downwind and out of sight, and all the while trying to keep calm and not screw things up. That is the magic of spring bear hunting.