“If we go after this bear, we could get stranded on land and have to spend the night on the beach,” my guide told me with the same kind of serious, no-BS gaze my mom gave me when I was sixteen and had just gotten arrested for stealing water skis … on Mother’s Day.
The bear we were pursuing wasn’t just any old bear but a substantial Alaskan Brown Bear boar that my guide, Blake Trangmoe, had spotted with his naked eye two miles away.
Yep, this bruin we were after was a massive, stonkin’ prehistoric toad. We didn’t know exactly how big he was, but we knew he was bigger than Rosie O’Donnell—which meant this slob had a gargantuan head, would possibly square ten feet, and likely pushed a grand on the bathroom scale fresh out of hibernation.
The conundrum we faced was this: We had a possible trophy bear on the beach (a once-in-a-lifetime experience) and were stuck in skinny water, out in the big middle of a bay in our Zodiac some 400 plus yards offshore on an outgoing tide that was about to flip to an incoming.
Having run aground, we could go no further in our dinghy. We had to make a decision: leave the boat out in the middle of the bay with the real possibility of the water rising too high for us to wade out and retrieve it once we were done, or blow off hunting Mr. Brownie.
In nanoseconds our thought process went something like this: the boat, the bear, the bear, the boat … Do we choose the trophy bear and the real risk of spending the night in grizzly-infested woods, or do we play it safe and bearless with transportation?
Blake and I glassed him up again as we teetered in the valley of decision. “Geez, he’s massive,” Blake muttered with godlike veneration. I replied, “Yeah, I know,” as drool dripped from the right corner of my low-hanging lip. We both pulled down our binocs and said simultaneously like twins with preternatural powers, “Screw it. Let’s go and get that bear!” And with that decision my stalk for ursus-fricktus-arctos, Alaska’s giant coastal brown bear, began in earnest.
This was my second hunt for these ginormous critters. My first trip after these “gentle teddy bears” in 2009 ended in snake eyes as the forces of nature vied in favor of the grizzled bear versus the graying author. That’s fair chase hunting for you … No guarantees.
This year I returned at the behest of Master Guide Wayne Woods of Woods-Outfitting.com to take another crack at these behemoths and to be a part of the Shane Woods Purple Heart Hunts that provide bear hunts for our warriors wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Woods launched this amazing service after his son, SPC Shane Woods, was killed in Ramadi in 2006 by an IED. Shane loved Alaska, loved to hunt, loved his country and was a deeply committed Christian. In homage to his son, Wayne established this bear hunting ministry (who said ministry was for wussies?) as a big thank you to our wounded warriors. To date, Woods has put over a dozen Purple Heart recipients through his camp, hunting black bear on some of the most stunning God-kissed turf on this sweet earth. Yum, yum. To donate to Woods’ amazing organization, click here.
This year we had Special Forces force of nature Master Sergeant Jerry Hochstedler in camp. Jerry was both as scary as a grizzly and, according to my daughter Regis, as kind as a teddy bear. This Green Beret great was right at home with Woods’ pro-God, pro-Constitution, and pro-military camp. Hochstedler said he was blessed by the camaraderie, smitten by Alaska’s beauty, and was especially giddy, if I can call a badass like Hoch giddy, when he let the air out of an luxurious, uberfat 7 foot black bear with his .338 Win. Mag. With the Master Sergeant’s bear in the salt, it was my turn, and the game was officially on.
With our choice to exit our C4 Commando and leave it anchored in the middle of the bay, Blake and I begin our slow slog through waist-deep water, guns at our chests, trying to be invisible, all the while praying that the bruin would keep his butt toward us and the wind wouldn’t swirl as we made our clunky way through the freezing waters.
After about 20 minutes—which seemed like 20 hours of 20 monkeys pulling out my nose hairs—we reached the temporary shore that consisted of a mud flat that was barer than a prepubescent Chinese Crested Chihuahua. With zero structure to hide behind between the brownie and us, Trangmoe and I made our final approach, duck-walking behind his video camera perched on a tripod and covered with my camo coat. Yep, we looked goofy, but that was our only source of concealment on that barren beach. Would it work? Hmmm. We were about to find out.
Slowly, we inched our way from 480 to 180 yards toward the increasingly suspicious bear feeding in front of us. At 180 yards he had enough of this slow dance and was now truly skeptical about that whispering and moving camo blob inching toward him on la playa. Now he had us pegged. Turning to face us, the bear lifted his massive noggin trying to get a whiff of that strange globule on shore. Unable to wind us but knowing that something was jacked up, the bear slowly started for the treeline while keeping his eye on us. Blake whispered emphatically, “Doug this is it. Get ready.”
Quickly—but not too quickly—I pulled my backpack off my shoulders, laid it down in the mud in front of me and got in the prone position. I was freaking out, folks. This was a monster. All I kept thinking was: settle down, you idiot. Don’t screw this up. My crosshairs on my Leupold Vari III were dancing like Beyonce. They were all over the place. When training and Jesus kicked in, though, I found the sweet spot and slowly squeezed the trigger on my .375 H&H Mauser ‘98, releasing the Hornady 300gr. DGX aimed right behind the bear’s right shoulder. Thankfully, the bullet struck its mark, and within seconds the bear was dead.
I can’t explain the deep reverence I had for such an awesome predator as I walked up on him after he had breathed his last breath. He was absolutely stupendous. And I was very fortunate to have been able to harvest such a significant animal. Once we finally had him fleshed out the next day, we put the tape to my scarred-up, moose-slaying, cub-eating brownie, and he squared a solid ten feet, his skull measuring 27 5/8”—putting him solidly into both the Boone & Crockett and SCI’s record books.
Finally, after two years and nearly five solid weeks of hunting Alaska’s coastal monsters I had bagged a no-kidding trophy of trophies. And not only did I get to bag a spectacular killer but I also had the pleasure of doing it with great Americans such as Wayne Woods and his entire staff. Yep, I officially had memory burn.
Oh, and one last thing: We were able to retrieve our boat after leaving it out in the bay. It wasn’t pretty—or easy—and we got home at 2 am, but it sure beat the hell out of going on a cruise to the Bahamas.
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