|Standing up on hind legs, he zeroed in and came for us. Likely a stray
breath of wind had telegraphed our intentions. We had paused for a few
seconds when the deepest, meanest snort I have ever heard came from the
willows. From 12 paces away, on all fours and moving at us in a powerful
charge was the bear. There was no mistake in his manner; we each knew
without thinking that this was no bluff. We raised our rifles simultaneously
……but, wait……I am getting way ahead of myself. That was the adrenaline rush
part. Let me start at the beginning. You need the background on this.
As an Alaska hunting guide I have learned that you can always count on one
thing: don’t count on anything going according to plan…..like carefully
planned shots at dangerous game from ambush. In reality, each hunt is
different than the next and each species is always ready to throw in a
surprise or two. That was sure the case with this particular Alaska
Peninsula spring brown bear hunt.
Ralph Miller, one of our
head guides, met our bear hunter, Jens Perto and his photographer, Otto, in
Anchorage after their long flight from Denmark across the Atlantic and the
USA. Jens and Otto then flew to the northern Alaska Peninsula where I first
I find that it’s almost
always a pleasure greeting hunters preparing for the hunt of a lifetime
because their excitement is contagious. That was the case this time, too.
After a brief first meeting with Jens and Otto, our pilot and I headed off
in search of fresh bear sign. We spotted a number of likely spots and
touched down a time or two for a closer look. Within a short time we found
active dens and actually spotted two boars within a mile of each other.
Things were looking good…..like our plan might actually work.
We touched down nearby and I off loaded our spike camp gear and an Arctic
Oven, a double-walled extreme duty tent. These tents are made here in
Alaska, and stand up to sub-arctic conditions. They can mean the difference
between misery and comfort.
After dropping me off in the mountains, our pilot ferried in Jens and Otto
to the ad hoc landing strip near our camp. Also along for this hunt was
Deltana’s other head guide, Jim Wiedner. Jim is a long-time Alaskan with
decades of hunting and outdoor experience.
The area that we were hunting is beautiful with its high alpine plateaus and
frozen lakes. On clear days, we could see at least 20 miles in any direction
with range on range of craggy peaks fading into the distance. Alder and
willow were the primary vegetation here.
After setting up camp and sorting out gear for the morning hunt, a short
hike was in order. We wanted to stretch our legs and get a feel for the lay
of the land. Actual hunting was not an option because of Alaska’s “same day
airborne” hunting prohibition.
Our reconnaissance hike immediately turned up fresh brownie tracks. Every
one of us was excited at the possibilities that tomorrow might bring.
Spring sunsets are a grand event here. The light golden haze transforms into
a deep purple curtain, allowing the stars to gradually appear. In May, the
sun sets around 10:00 pm and it’s fully dark about midnight. The weather on
the day we dropped into this camp was a rare beauty with high temperatures
of about 60 degrees and crystal clear skies. Perfect!
Camp consisted of the Arctic Oven and two Eureka tents. Jens and Otto were
pleasantly surprised with cots and inflatable mattresses. But it’s more than
just comfortable bedding…..Deltana prides itself in quality camps – a good
plan in this country where inferior gear can get a person killed or make for
a miserable experience.
As we sat around talking that evening, it turned out that Jens is the editor
of Denmark’s only hunting magazine, “Jaeger.” He has hunted in 33 countries,
for more species of game then I have even heard of. It doesn’t take long to
understand that Jens is a thoroughly competent outdoorsman. He has
even written a book (in Danish), På jagt i udlande, which I think
roughly translates to "On the Hunt in Foreign Lands."
This is Jens (right) and I with his
Alaska Peninsula brownie. Things look pretty calm, don't they?
They didn't start that way.
In Denmark, it is customary to toast the beginning of a hunt with a shot of
Scotch whiskey. “May you fall and break your neck/leg!” is roughly how their
toast translates, similar to the theatrical toast. One never says “good
hunting” – it’s horribly bad luck, apparently. We toasted their way.
As a hunting guide I have heard many clients talk about their “vast”
expertise, but it became obvious that Jens and Otto are not greenhorns in
any way when it comes to hunting. They understand what real sport hunting is
about. Jens’ prior adventures with African big game, including elephant,
Cape buffalo and many plains game species were exciting. His perspective on
Cape buffalo, “shooting a cow,” as he put it, was a bit discouraging for me
-- so much for my dream hunt. Jens has been on two hunts for lion, but did
not connect. I quietly hoped that an Alaska brown bear would soon make up
I have seen many a horned game hunter get buck fever when the tables turn
and he becomes the game. For some, just seeing a big brown is almost too
much and simple shots are blown. As a guide, it’s my job to ease the
uninitiated through this hurdle and make the extreme excitement manageable
until after the shot. I’ve never been to Africa, but I seriously doubt there
is any more soul-stirring and just downright dangerous game then an Alaska
brown bear that has decided the hunter is a problem. We were about to get
even further educated, as you will see. Fortunately, Jens was cool and
effective under pressure.
As a new day dawned in the high country of the peninsula, our band headed
around the backside of a ridge that gave us an overlook of a fresh kill and
den site. The weather was again uncommonly beautiful. The grandeur of this
wilderness filled us all with quiet awe.
As the day warmed with still no activity it became clear that this bear had
already left for the low country. In spring bear hunting, timing is
everything. Bears on kills stay longer, but it seems like just a few days up
here and then they are heading to lower elevations. The next two days passed
with us in the “sit and look” mode. We saw juvenile bears are passing
through, and a sow with cubs playing together as they fed on vegetation
across the valley. Far off, we could see a very big boar chasing down and
thrashing a smaller bear. But, it became obvious this wasn’t working. I knew
our best bet for success would be a new location with more options.
Ralph Miller must have been reading our minds. He dropped in that day with
the pilot, and he had a likely spot in mind. Just as evening was beginning
to fall, the pilot dropped Jens and I onto a long shelf high on the side of
a valley. We had just enough time to set up camp…..in the process of which I
detected movement from the corner of my eye. A large boar was moving along
the talus slope above us. He was heading right for our camp. I quietly
signaled Jens to the bear’s presence and we hunkered down with optics to
watch him approach. He was above us just meandering along the low edge of an
overhanging cornice of snow. Jens was now thoroughly excited. This is what
he came from Denmark to experience.
The spectacular vision of this immense animal was more then enough to charge
our systems with adrenalin as we watched him approach. As he reached what
seemed an impossible climb, he stretched himself up and began to climb up
the snow cornice. We were in awe. He left a sidewalk-size path behind him in
the soft snow. He reached the crest of the ridge and moved out of view on
the other side.
No….that wasn’t the bear that caused the adrenaline rush. Be patient. I’m
What I believe was the same bear moved for the next two days along the
highest ridge in the range of mountains to our north, grazing along just
like a caribou. He was moving first one direction and then another, starting
down the ridge and then back up. Finally, he headed downhill for good. That
was the last we saw of our “welcoming bear”.
After a late meal, Jens and I turned in with an excited, expectant sense of
success. From our first night in hunting camp I had explained to Jens that
the only time I would shoot at his bear would be if we were in imminent
danger or if the wounded animal was escaping into heavy cover. No one wants
to track a bear into a willow thicket. Jens made it clear that he agreed,
showing again the mettle of this outstanding sportsman.
The next morning found us out early and heading toward a den site. The late
spring day was still cool, but rose to an unusually high temperature later.
From a lofty perch we scanned the terrain, finding the den and a trail in
close proximity. We heard the plane coming into our little landing strip and
knew that Otto and Jim would be waiting there with dinner when we returned.
Jens and I finally found the bear himself below his den. He was working a
kill. That was good news. I figured he would stay on the kill until picked
We could see movement on the kill, but couldn’t get a decent idea of the
brownie’s size or age. We started a stalk, heading far downwind and along a
gully. The going was not fun in rotten snow.
The willows were above head high at the ridge top, with open stretches
between the fingers of vegetation. I led us down the hill, after making sure
our rifles are ready. We just wanted a look at the bear at this point, but
if he was a good boar we are ready for whatever.
Jens was carrying a Schultz & Larsen in .358 Norma, an excellent hunting
rifle with ballistics comparable to .338 Win Mag. His cartridges were loaded
with 250 gr. Swift A-frames. My guide gun is a .416 Taylor on an Interarms
mark X Mauser action with a ghost ring aperture sight. I was shooting 400
gr. Barnes X bullets at 2350 fps. Strong medicine, both.
We moved in slowly, looking for movement at where the kill site should be.
The wind was in our face, but light. With each step we sank to our knees,
even trying to walk on willow branches to spread our weight. The ridgeline
behind was increasingly hidden by brush.
Before we could find a decent vantage point, his nose found us. The wind was
swirling. He bolted from his kill leaving us no possible shot, due to the
thick brush. He galloped away across the sloping terrace -- a much better
looking animal then we had anticipated. He had a very large head, but
dwarfed by the massive body, with no rubbed areas. He was obviously a trophy
animal – just what Jens came for.
OK….this bad boy was the adrenaline maker. We’re getting close now. Stick
We had spooked him, but I knew that he would be back to his caribou kill. We
checked out an ambush spot from the ridge. It was a bit of a long shot for
brown bear, but Jens felt comfortable and he would have a chance at multiple
shots should this bear return.
When we arrived back at spike camp we found that Jim and Otto had been busy
all day preparing a luxurious camp. The Arctic Oven was set up for cooking
and warming up. Another Eureka tent was pitched and most importantly, hot
chow was ready.
Over dinner, we shared our exploits with Jim and Otto, explaining our ambush
plans for the next day. It is always a mistake to hike and glass, leaving
scent wherever you go. I like to pick a good spot and let my optics cover
After Jim’s great breakfast the next morning, all four of us headed to the
observation ridge for a view of the kill site. The Alaska Peninsula weather
was just incredible, another crystal clear sky, very little wind and
temperatures in the 60’s. This is definitely not the norm here.
After a long day with no bears in sight, we were starting to get
discouraged. After making my 15th trip around the hill, glassing in all
directions, our patience was finally rewarded. The big guy was headed
straight for his kill from out of the south. Jim and I pulled back from the
skyline to a more secure area and I alerted Jens.
Jim and Otto decided to observe from the hill while we made the stalk to the
ambush point. It was already 7 PM when we began the descent downhill through
the brush. Without realizing it, I was moving us through the brush in a more
direct route than I intended. A long trip up a finger of a ridge had been my
plan but the day was getting short and we had a steady wind from the south.
We crossed the bottom gully, thick with tussocks and a small creek that had
begun to flow. As we headed up the backside of the den’s ridge, crossing
snowfields saturated with melt and a long thicket of willows, Jens stopped
me and placed my hand over his pounding heart.
“That’s not pounding from the hike, that’s excitement!” he said.
I knew it’s true; this man from Denmark could walk across Africa. He has
hunted all around the world and he’s strong, but this was his first brown
We locked loads in our rifle chambers; Jens his .358 Norma and I my
416.Taylor. We kept moving up, aiming for a point above the spot we’d picked
the day before. Working our way closer to the ridgeline we come to a small
clearing leading up to the crest. We stopped to catch our breath and just
slow down, and agree on a plan of action.
What we did not know was that Jim and Otto were frantically trying to get
our attention, waving their jackets and shouting. They were too far away.
That was probably for the best as it turned out. Their signaling would have
They had seen the great bear catch a scent or a sound of us. He had moved as
if to leave, then changed his mind. He climbed up the hill where he paused
on the ridge.
Standing up on hind legs he zeroed in and came for us. Likely a stray breath
of wind had telegraphed our intentions. We had paused for a few seconds when
the deepest, meanest snort I have ever heard came from the willows. From 12
paces away, on all fours and moving at us in a powerful charge was the bear.
There was no mistake in his manner; we each knew without thinking that this
was no bluff! We raised our rifles simultaneously and fired. 650 grains of
premium bullets with over 9,000 ft pounds of energy slammed into the great
bear. He didn’t even flinch or break stride.
I drew my bolt and slammed another round into the chamber as I sidestepped
to the left for a clearer sight picture. I drew a tight bead and let fly
again. Jens’s shot was right on mine. At that point, there was nothing else
in the entire world: no real thought; just instinct developed from practice
and the hunt.
The sun was behind the bear but not an impediment to targeting. I can still
see in my mind’s eye this truly awesome animal in full charge coming to
throttle us. I have nothing but respect and reverence for such a spectacular
creation of God.
Jens and I, almost mirror images, cycled and fired again. Time seemed to
matter little: ½ a second seemed drawn out to the point where we could see
each shiver of the massive muscles as he roared down on us.
At 3 paces the he turned to our right and went downhill. I had one round in
my magazine, saved for the brain shot that would destroy the skull and part
of the trophy. I chose instead to speed load a single cartridge and send it
into the bear as he quartered toward us.
Jens fired again also, the shot sounding dim in my ears. I loaded one more
and at 15 feet as he continued down the hill, I hit him again. Then he was
out of sight.
Blood flowed freely from the immense bear, smearing snow and willow
branches. Jens and I reloaded our rifles and repositioned cartridges for
We move from our tiny clearing up onto the spiny ridgeline, gaining
elevation to try to see the awesome maker of Death. The cover was
We did not hesitate and followed his path. Deep tracks and scarlet blood
marked it. Jens covered me from my right side as I proceeded through the
willows, looking for any motion. I could just make out a dark form in the
”He’s there!” Jens called.
We moved in, continuing at the ready for whatever would come. He lay still,
but just moments ago he was far, far too much alive!
I touched my hot rifle barrel to his hindquarters. Nothing. Still, I
hesitated and jabbed harder. I began to accept that this spectacular
specimen of the world’s largest land predator was really dead.
Why the charge? We were well into the area this bear claimed. The hill
contained his den and caribou kill. He would not be driven off again as the
day before. He did what any monarch would do in protecting his kingdom.
As we examined this great bear we came to understand him better. The deep
wear on all his teeth showed us that he was well into his 20’s. Very little
enamel remained and large, conspicuous cavities were prominent. The right
upper jaw and eye socket had been broken at some point earlier in his life,
although it had healed well. Possibly another bear or a kick from a moose
had injured him.
This bear was what trophy hunting is all about. In this last year of his
life, having added to the gene pool for many years, but fresh from the den,
his heavy coat was magnificent, with long unworn claws. He chose how he
would meet his death: not running away, or being killed by some young boar,
but defending his right to be called King of The Mountain.
This magnificent bear squared over 9’4”. His skull measured 27-2/16”. Jens
Perto had the trophy he came across the ocean to find, and a story that none
of us will ever forget.
Dane Hamilton is an assistant hunting guide with
Deltana Outfitters. This
is his first story. Jens Perto and Otto Petersen also wrote
their own story of this hunt.