Feature Article: Brown Bear Safari

Brown Bear Safari

BY DURWOOD HOLLIS/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Nov 30, 2018

In southeast Alaska, the author encounters Usus horibillus arctos, the ‘horrible one!’

VALDEZ, Alaska — We had acquired an elevated position atop a sizeable sand dune and were watching a small group of brown bears slowly working their way along the bank of the Tsiu River. A thin coastal fog hung over the river, making it difficult to keep track of the animals. However, as daylight began to wash over the land, the intermittent mist started to thin out.

“The largest of the four in the rear of the group is the one to focus on. They’re going to disappear momentarily behind those low dunes in the distance, but they’ll reappear and cross that broad opening near the riverbank. That’s where our shooting opportunity will be,” guide Charles Allen said.

brownbearscanbeBROWN BEAR CAN be seen daily along the banks of the Tsiu River foraging for fish.

Moving into a sitting position with the rifle, a Winchester Model 70 bolt-gun, chambered in .375 Ruger Compact Magnum draped across my knees, I waited patiently for the shot window to open. The first three bears emerged from the fog and started across the opening at about 200 yards. Bringing up the rear, our target animal finally made its appearance. Bringing a varmint call to his lips, Charles let out a loud screech that stopped the bear in its tracks. Finally, all of the elements of target acquisition came together in an instant and my finger tightened on the trigger.

Three days earlier, I had taken a flight from southern California to Anchorage, Alaska. From Anchorage, another flight on a local commuter plane took me to the banks of the Tsiu River, a little more than 100 miles south of the town of Valdez, on southeast Alaska’s “lost coast.” Once we landed, the Alaskan Adventure staff met us at the plane and provided transport to the nearby lodge. At our final destination, we were assigned to individual cabins, each of which featured two twin beds, along with a shower/toilet facility that was to be home for the next seven days. The remainder of the day was occupied with the necessities of licensing, checking my rifle’s zero and some silver (Coho) salmon fishing in the adjacent Tsiu River.

The Tsiu River is noted for its outstanding run of silver and pink salmon, as well as dolly varden trout and the occasional steelhead. And that annual fish migration from the sea to upriver spawning grounds also accounts for a burgeoning population of brown bears. And these bears easily grow to over eight-feet in length, with some individual boars pushing the 10-foot mark. Weighing well over 600 pounds, such apex predators are impressive animals. Furthermore, the brown bear population along the Tsiu is so large, that it’s not unusual to see a dozen or more bears working the river for fish every morning and evening.

THIS MATURE BROWN bear was taken by author Hollis with a single shot, at a distance of nearly 200-yards.

Brown bears originated in Asia about 10,000 years ago and various subspecies spread all across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and well into North America, as far south as Mexico. While many populations have become extinct, due to loss of habitat and human intervention, in North America the real stronghold of the brown bear is found in coastal Alaska, where the availability of reliable salmon runs allow the animals to become considerably larger than their inland grizzly cousins.

Now, face-to-face with a brown bear, the reality of the event began to take hold. Even though nearly 200 yards separated us, the very nature of the bear was still intimating. Obviously, an animal large enough to kill a moose three times its size with the swipe of one of its massive paws, resonated in my consciousness. The scope crosshairs settled in on the bear’s huge shoulder and I applied pressure to the trigger. When the 270-grain bullet made contact, the bear collapsed instantaneously. Surprisingly, the animal quickly regained its feet. Having been apprised that brown bears can take a bullet strike like big brown sponge, I quickly bolted another round into chamber. However, when I reacquired the target, the bear was already down again and never moved.

“Well done,” Charles said.

Quite frankly, I wasn’t so sure that the hunt had come to a conclusion. Knowing that you can never let your guard down when hunting dangerous game, we sat and watched the bear for several minutes to make sure that all signs of life have come to an end. When carefully approaching the downed animal, it was noted that the bullet had taken out both lungs and the top of heart, bringing an instant conclusion to the hunt. Surprisingly, the bear was just as large as it had seemed at a distance, measuring well over eight feet in length. Charles examined the wear pattern on the bear’s teeth and estimated that it was well over 10 years old.

Even though my hunt was completed, several days on the Tsiu River still remained. Of course, the only logical approach to that situation was to simply pick a fly rod and engaged in battle with the ever-plentiful supply of salmon.

For more information about hunting and fishing with the folks at Alaskan Expedition Company, go to www.alaskaexpeditioncompnay.com, or reach them by telephone at (903) 786-7366.

anotherbearwastakenANOTHER BEAR WAS taken on this trip by Jody Allen, with the assistance of her husband and guide Charles Allen.

THE RIFLE THAT was used to take two bears on this hunt was a Winchester Model 70, bolt-action, chambered in .375 Ruger Compact Magnum

WITH FLY ROD in hand, the author enjoyed the silver salmon fishing that was readily available in the nearby Tsiu River.

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