Bear hunt with a revolver? You bet your life


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    The stakes become high when the hunter becomes the hunted.

    Becoming the ultimate jackpot isn't why you are there. In this game of bullet against claws, teeth and immeasurable strength, the victor becomes the king of the Alaskan tundra.

    There are no places to hide; there are no trees to climb out of harms way. It becomes a chance hand of how the cards are dealt. You pray they fall in your direction.

    It is hunting at its finest and it addresses every bit of talent, stamina, nerve, marksmanship, stealth and courage you may or may not have.

    A thousand-pound carnivore that can outrun a gold-medal Olympic runner and deliver death in a single blow is nothing short of what we all fear: the primal response of being attacked and killed by a beast.

    It's what nightmares are made of, and throughout history these animals have gained their reputation by the forces of fact.

    Alaskan brown bears are nothing to fool with, even with a high-powered and scoped .375-caliber magnum rifle. To pursue them with a handgun might put the shooter in the insane category.

    But with ownership of a newly introduced .500-caliber revolver, and after much thought and deliberation, I decided to do it. Five cartridges were nestled in the cylinders just waiting to be sent on their mission; after many telephone calls and a float-plane ride miles later, the mini-howitzers would be lit.

    As the plane skimmed the hillsides in the fog-shrouded tundra, I gazed out the window wondering what would be in store for myself over the next few days. How would this hunt go?

    Would I even see a bear, much less be afforded an opportunity to harvest one?

    The mid-October autumn had turned the ground colors into bright red and flaxen mixtures of grasses and lichens. Vast patches of blueberries were presented in beyond-count quantities for nourishment to the wildlife.

    Spawned-out, late-season salmon of a faded-red hue littered the wild riverbank.

    The steady drone of the engine drowned out normal conversation, but no one really cared; the magnificent sights below were savored. We outraced the caribou, moose and wolves as the miles passed by.

    The pilot's darting eyes — ever watchful of the wings in such close proximity with the hills — kept vigilance of the potential dangers in the art of low-level flying..

    Soon, a distant azure-blue lake appeared on the horizon and within minutes a sharp turn took us onto final approach. It looked too small to land such a plane on but through the skillful hands of Glen Alsworth Jr. — our bush pilot and hunting companion — we came to a picture-perfect stop.

    The mist that all but obscured the mountains now settled in the low-laying areas and coated everything with water droplets. Taxiing to the distant shore, the Cessna was packed within safe weight limits for flight; in the cramped space was an array of some of the best outdoors equipment one could buy.

    In a scene reminiscent of a fire-bucket brigade, the guns, tents, sleeping bags, food, ammo, binoculars were off-loaded and carried to dry land. Waders were pulled up and the three bear hunters and three observers stepped off the floats into the icy waters of the vast tundra.

    Sloshing ashore, we heaped the equipment into a pile; setting up the dome tent became the first priority. As we began to carry the gear toward the selected campsite 100 yards away, someone yelled something about a bear and was pointing to the far edge of the lake.

    Sure enough, as I pulled up the 7x30 binoculars for a better look, I spied a blond-colored bear that was ambling around the shoreline. It was less than 125 yards away but seemed not to have a care in the world.

    We stood there and watched it for about 15 minutes as it ambled toward a distant hillside and disappeared. In Alaska, one cannot hunt the same day he flies in an aircraft, so our bear hunt would have to wait until the following day.

    In the meantime, tasks needed to be completed.

    A comfortable camp means happy hunters and with the weather conditions worsening, the tent would serve to keep us warm and dry.

    It would not be unusual for the weather to close in for weeks in Alaska; it's very wise to have everything one would need to survive a longer-than-anticipated stay.

    The last pilot I flew with said that one of his customers was to stay just four days in an area he flew him into. But bad weather blew in and only 26 days later was he able to fly in and retrieve his client.

    When I thought of that comment he made to me months before, I carefully stashed a few more candy bars in my pack. Better to starve with a few Snickers and Skittles in my pocket I thought.

    When I hear talk of Alaskan brown bear hunting, two things come to mind immediately, plenty of ammunition and a first aid kit. Hopefully we would need just the 470-grain, .500-caliber peacemakers.

    After the chores were completed, I grabbed my binoculars and headed toward a wild salmon river about a mile away. I glassed the hillsides and didn't see anything immediately. I decided to gain a vantage point by positioning myself on a knoll that overlooked the river and distant hillsides.

    Walking was easy as the tundra contained no brush or muddy areas, just soft and spongy ground. It was almost like walking on a trampoline.

    Cresting the hilltop in a low-profile crawl and careful not to show my silhouette, I spied two huge brownies about 250 yards away. My heart almost stopped as I brought up the binoculars and saw how big they were.

    The closest without doubt would go over 1,000 pounds and 8½-feet tall. The second bear was slightly smaller but looked as round as a baby hippo covered with the most beautiful fur I have ever seen, deep chocolate with silver tips.

    The larger of the two bears was a lighter-colored boar with dark arms and legs and a massive head with huge jaws that the other bear greatly respected.

    I watched as the smaller brownie would start to circle the older boar and lower his head as if he was attempting to challenge him. This went on for a few minutes, then I noticed why. The larger bear was on a kill.

    The boar had raked a huge pile of vegetation onto a mound of which he was sitting. It looked like a backhoe had scraped every bit of grasses, roots, soil and debris it could find into a two-pickup-truck-size area with a 2-foot-high mound.

    He sat in the center of the kill just daring the other bear to come closer. I could see that one of his ears had been torn away and, although healed, his terror still reigned. He was the big one nobody messed with.

    I had carried the Smith & Wesson .500 in my small daypack and it rested at my side for protection. With almost a ton and a quarter of blasting energy in a single shell, the .500 wasn't going to leave my side. Ever.

    As I watched the two bears that evening, I determined the thick brush in the area of the river would be difficult to make a stalk. No matter how silent we were, we would sound like a herd of buffalo charging. The only recourse was to attempt the stalk out in the open.

    It was likely the big boar would still be there. On the kill, they'll stay for weeks. If we were lucky, we wouldn't be attacked; but I would have bet heavily that we would be. Potholes of water lay everywhere and the walk wouldn't be easy.

    On the hill looking down I could see everything, but once we were in the scrub, we could become easily confused as to where the bears were … and perhaps become targets for other bears that lurked around unseen.

    It was very surprising as I lay there to see just how wonderfully camouflaged these bruins were. A man could almost walk right into one in the grasses and scrub and never see them. I was intrigued not only by their size but how healthy they were.

    With the huge amount of available food in the area, these bears would be some of the largest animals around. Their fur was in prime condition without any rub spots or damage. After about 45 minutes glassing them and with darkness approaching, I decided to head back to the camp; it would be foolish to walk back any later.

    That evening, myself and the other men huddled in the tent as the Arctic winds began to pick up fiercely, howling as if it were a huge pack of tundra wolves readying to devour us.