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Dan Bird is the typical successful Texas businessman. Recognizing instantly a superb opportunity and acting upon it without hesitation comes natural for him. Strange enough this is also a transferable skill for fair chase hunting where making an quick decision to take a difficult shot can mean the success or failure of an entire hunting expedition. That fact was clearly evident when Dan booked this trophy grizzly hunt with Karl Prinz, Owner of Rocky Mountain Outfitter Ltd. in British Columbia, Canada. The two of us were total strangers before, but after one short phone call by Dan and an even shorter letter which sealed a deal, his adventure could begin.
Ice Mountain towering over salmon running Herrick Creek has since time immemorable been the birthplace of untold numbers of a special strain of grizzly bear. The inaccessibility of this grizzly, beaver and moose infested hinterland has since the dawn of time to the very present allowed grizzlies to mature and grow to sometimes frightening sizes, some hides equaling and exceeding the very largest bears the world has ever recorded.
An area which produces many grizzlies means exceptionably good habitat and will, given time ultimately boosts some very large bears. Alexander Mackenzie, the eminent Canadian explorer, wrote 130 years ago "while stopped at nighttime to repair the canoe we listened into the dark where the grizzly bears roared most disagreeable". Yes, this is the very area where our hunt was taking place guided by Karl Prinz, originally from the Bavarian Alps and known to some as the "Barbarian". Karl has owned the rights to this superb guide outfitting area since the late 70's, and is a veteran of countless successful grizzly hunts and real adventures that are hard to imagine in this day of virtual reality.
Preparations for this hunting expedition needed to be commenced weeks before the first day of hunt. The uninitiated outsider can hardly comprehend what it takes to gather specialized equipment, the right mind set, determination, and cold hard cash to outfit a fair chase hunt in roadless wilderness, while fighting ice strewn rivers, icejams, logjams, and all the other minor logistical nightmares involved. However, it had to be done, and as always preparations were complete when Dan the hunter arrived and was greeted by Karl with a big smile and firm handshake at the new renovated and expanded Prince George International Airport on a sunny afternoon in the spring.
First it was confirmed that Dan had warm clothes and a sleeping bag suitable for this hunting expedition. Then Dan received the non-resident hunting licence and grizzly tag.
When one is booked with a British Columbia outfitter that has his own guide outfitting territories, then the hunter is assured of receiving a game tag and not having to participate in a cumbersome and unsure lottery system. After the formalities were concluded, Dan checked in for a night at a local hotel to get a good nights rest before the adventure would kick into high gear.
The following morning in the twilight, Dan, Karl Wolf (our driver), and Hunting Terrier "Bodo" climbed into a 4x4 and headed out towards the Rocky Mountains. Where the drivable portion of the road ended we switched into a riverboat taking us another 8 hours upriver into incredible scenic wilderness completely void of Man and settlement counting numerous moose, elk and of course some grizzlies before reaching the camp which was selected to be the base for this adventure. It has been said there is no law beyond the Fraser River, but surely there is no good beyond the McGreger and believe it or not the Herrick is truly up the creek. Wherever you ever hunted before, this is no doubt the most scenic and wild mountainous country one can imagine. To warm up halfway during the breathtaking river run, a 30 minute break allowed enough time to build a small campfire, enjoying coffee and sandwiches as well as taking a few test shots with Dans 300 Weatherby Magnum with 180 grain spitzers to confirm that the rifle could shoot straight and the hunter's aim was ready for dangerous game.
Every year many game animals are wounded in North America, which is sad and mostly preventable by itself. The ethical hunter will search his quarry out and put them out of their misery. However, just the thought of searching a wounded grizzly bear can run shivers down the back of the most experienced guides and hunters. Some flatly refuse to do it, thinking this is utter insanity as they turn home immediately trying to convince themselves with thoughts like "Maybe he just got creased and will heal it out", or "He got what he had coming for his murderous moose killing ways", or "Why should I risk ending up as bear shit? After all, I paid for the tag, and have a wife with credit cards and six kids who depend on me to supply the dough."
To be sure, such a search could easily turn into tragedy, but it must be done by the ethical guide lest he not consider himself to be a expert grizzly guide.
Grizzly bears of any size can swallow bullets and keep going with frightening speed, usually away from the place where they were ambushed. However, if you follow him and he is still alive, he will eventually travel with the wind so that he knows at all times how close and where his follower is. He may double back to watch his own blood trail, slide into the thickest underbrush he knows of and lay in wait for his tormentor there, and finally rush you with lightening speed when you are within a few yards. A wounded grizzly bear can finish easily what your hunting party had started. Some of the sportsmen no longer with us have met with an untimely horrible death doing what they where expected to do as ethical guides, hunters, or unlucky government men.
In the final split seconds one will have only one shot to stop the grizzly, but I trust one can not miss because the bear will be just about touching the tip of the barrel before the signal from your brain reaches the trigger finger. During this moment of horror all senses are incredibly focused only on this life taking, life saving event.
Needless to say your rifle can not malfunction. Years of use taught me to trust my beat up and, bluing less, repainted, stock reglued 338 Win Mag. bolt action rifle made in Belguim by Fabrique Nationale, and spitting 250 grain Hornady roundnose slugs which always save me from departing this world prematurely. This bullet will stop and sometimes flip over the 600 to 1000 lbs of aggravated moose eating menace hurtling towards you, but while the first shot will take this bear down you will still empty without thinking everything you have in your magazine, plus the 4 to 6 extra ones which you carry wisely on your belly belt before you convince yourself the Devil is truly dead. Then your nerves will shake you so violently for minutes before you be able to find more shells in you packsack, reload your rifle , and only then calm down a bit and finally holler for your hunter.
To be clear to anyone ever attempting tracking a wounded grizzly bear, you absolutely need a keen bear dog to signal you where the bear is. Myself, I have been using purebred German Hunting Terriers with great satisfaction and unfailing success for the past 25 years. Taking the hunter with me on the wounded grizzly search has long be a big NO NO for me. Firstly the dog could get distracted, secondly things can get so hectic the hunter could end up in the line of fire, and third, if something goes wrong it would be nice if someone is able to let the authorities know what happened to the guide and where to send a helicopter with a stretcher or worse.
Even before reaching the first camp we already observed several grizzly bears but none fitting what i call trophy category which is in my mind a male grizzly bear no less the 8 ft noose to tail. Many "guides" lack the experience and calmness to judge the size and sex of grizzly bears. In fact I believe it takes among other qualities like genuine passion, years of experience and countless misjudgements to become truly proficient. For example, it is very easy for an exited hunter to overestimate the size of a grizzly walking over a snowfield. There are some good instructional text and video material available however to be sure nothing beats years of field experience looking and judging hundreds of bears.
After days of working the river, snowshoeing and endless hours of glassing we finally decided on a very large male working the snow line on a south facing slope. Because the snow is still hard as concrete in the early mornings there was no need to wear the snowshoes which we strapped onto our packsacks instead. A four hour hike brought us within range before we got concerned with the wind. Another 2 hour passed before we came into shooting range. Now with intense glassing the spotting scope confirmed this bear was a true monster but as with most real old bears over the age of 20 years the hide was not perfect. Now it was up to Dan and as expected there was no hesitation in his decision, this was the bear he wanted.
A careful made rifle rest with Dans Packsack bedded the Weatherby nicely. Dan's first shot hit the bear where it counted. 3 more rounds brought him down but not before rushing downhill for some 200 yards into the alders thrashing a evergreen with a 4 inch stem while I was following the action in detail with my 10*40 Zeiss binoculars. There was no need for follow up shots by myself but I would be a fool if I was not ready to do so if need be. My little hunting Terrier went nearly berserk because he wanted a part of the action but was instead locked in the dark of my packsack so he could not smell the bear on the final stalk and therefore could not mess up the hunt.
Sitting on the snowfield in the morning sun, we savored another beautiful spring day no word spoken, the silence broken only by the occasional song of the pee wee bird. After a halve hour had passed it was time to let the dog do his job, which immediately found the scent and followed straight to the by now expired and stiffening prize we had worked for so hard. This is the moment of anticlimax, the tension is leaving, the job is done. What's left is the congratulating, canceling the tag, the picture taking, skinning another monster hide, and the backbreaking work of hauling the wet hide with scull to the boat below to the glistening river to be finish skinned in camp including fleshing and salting the hide, splitting the lips and nose, turning the ears, doing the claws, boiling the scull, and of course enjoying a hearty moose stew complimented by a glass of good red wine and pleasant conversation.
By the following morning even the guide outfitter return form was completed, it was time now to head out of the Wilderness back to Prince George Airport where Dan had his plane waiting to take my newest friend home to Texas.
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