Trophy Brown Bear for the Determined Hunter
Day One: October 11, 2005.
Jim Grisham and his two friends Dan and Billy arrived at Bear Skin Creek Guide Service at Chignik Lake, Alaska. Chignik Lake is located on the Alaska Peninsula.
After being welcomed to Alaska and fed lunch, the three men were taken to the range to insure the accuracy of their rifles.
The three gentlemen from Mississippi were to be sent to the hunting cabin at Chignik River accompanied by three assistant guides.
Dan was matched with assistant guide Skin Wysocki, Billy with Elia Ishnook and Jim with me Hugo Hoerdeman. The clients were anxious to get to the cabin and start their hunt despite not arriving with all their luggage.
We arrived late that afternoon to the cabin. Our arrival coincided with a school of Silver Salmon. There was a large Silver on at least one of the three gentlemen's lines continuously for about three hours.
Day Two: October 12, 2005
When you hunt the Chignik Lake area you find game the old fashioned way. We look for game by climbing high bluffs and glassing until we see a stalkable animal. Spotting planes are not used in the pursuit.
On this first morning of our hunt, Jim and I climbed a bluff called Moose Hill. We saw a large dark bear in the berry flat across the river. We took the jet boat across the river to get a closer look at the bear. We made an unsuccessful stalk on the bear through the thick willows and alders. When we arrived back at the cabin we learned that Elia and Billy shot a bear late that evening. The bear was killed at the mouth of Bear Skin creek.
Day Three: October 13, 2005
The next morning we helped skin the bear. It was a large female brown bear with a beautiful hide. We took the boat back up river to Black Lake. Black Lake is a large shallow lake at the head of Chignik River. On the way up the river we climbed three bluffs and glassed from each location. We didn't see any bears from the bluffs or at Black Lake. Jim and I went down river to Asshole Hill. The hill gets its name from the Aleut word that means "sore butt" as you descend its steep slope. Jim was uncomfortable on the steep ledge of Asshole Hill, so we decided to descend and went back to Moose Hill. From Moose Hill we watched Skin and Dan make a stalk on the dark bear we tried for the day before. While we were on Moose Hill I looked at the berry flat to the right and saw a huge bear walking away from the river. He was a huge light colored bear with a waddle gate. Jim and I grabbed our guns and started down the hill. The bear had a big head start, so we jumped into the boat and headed up river in hopes of catching up to the bear. As Jim and I were heading down the hill, the bear turned back towards the river and was heading back in our direction. This was according to Billy who was still on the hill watching us and the bear. The sound of the outboard motor turned the bear around away from the river. We parked the boat and climbed over the river bank. The bear was moving away from us towards the alders. When the bear dropped his head to eat or looked away from our direction we moved as quickly as we could over the tundra. We were within 300 yards when the bear stood on his hind legs to get a look at his pursuers. The bear dropped down to all four feet and quickly entered the brush. Jim could have shot the bear from that distance with no problem, however we would not have been able to make a good second or third shot before the bear disappeared into the brush.
Day Four: October 14, 2005
Today we hunted the Delta. The area where Chignik River empties into Chignik Lake. We found a large bull moose lying dead in the shallow water. The wind was blowing in a good direction, so we watched the moose carcass all day in the driving rain. We didn't see any bears on the Delta that day. It has been raining and windy everyday. We were happy to have a dry cabin to go back to at night.
Day Five: October 15, 2005
Another bear was killed this morning. Skin and Dan shot a large female on the river just a short distance from Moose Hill. That morning as we were going down river we heard the shots. They had plenty of help to skin the bear, so we continued our hunt.
We checked the moose and bear carcass's, neither one had been touched. It was getting late, so we decided to go back up river. Late that evening we saw the large bore walking in the direction of the bear carcass that Skin and Dan shot. We watched the bear until dark. Both of Jim's friends he had invited on the hunting trip have killed bears. We have made two failed stalks, climbed six steep hills and have seen very few bears. Jim was wondering how he got so unlucky to be paired with me.
That evening we talked about the possibility of shooting a smaller bear. Jim told me he was determined to hunt for a large trophy bear. "The bears with small ears that waddle when they walk."
Day Six: October 16, 2005
We spent the entire day standing in one spot. For nine hours we watched the bear kill from the day before. From our position across the river we saw foxes, eagles and birds come to the area, but our large bore was not seen that day.
Day Seven: October 17, 2005 We only stayed out about half the day. It rained and the wind blew so hard that visibility was zero. That night I told Jim that hunting in Alaska is not always about killing something. It is about challenging yourself , doing something different and the memories made during the hunt. He immediately informed me that he came to Alaska to get a trophy brown bear, and that was what he intended to do.
Day Eight: October 18, 2005
Jim's friends Dan and Billy were taken back to the main lodge this morning. Elia Ishnook would stay at the cabin with Jim and I to help spot bears.
This morning Elia, Jim and I went up the west fork of the Chignik River. We saw a bear catching salmon in that area the day before. After glassing for a few hours, a bear with blond hair on top of his head came out of the brush. The bear looked like about an eight foot bear. This was not the trophy bear Jim was looking for. He nicknamed the bear Punk, because of his blond hair.
We went back to the Delta, climbed another bluff which overlooked four separate drainages. We stayed almost until dark and did not see any other bears.
Day Nine: October 19, 2005
This morning we climbed Moose Hill to check on the bear carcass. It had not been touched. We went down river to check the moose carcass, it was also not touched. We then approached the area where the first bear was killed eight days ago. The only thing left of that bear carcass was a few ribs and a backbone.
That evening at about 6pm I went up Moose Hill to scout out the area for the next day. I told Jim I would be back in ten minutes and then we would go get his bear. At the top of the hill I saw the huge bear standing by the bear that had been killed by Dan and Skin. His tremendous size made the carcass look tiny.
We decided to make a stalk that evening, even though the wind was not perfect. We walked up the riverbank and saw that the bear had moved the kill. We sat and watched until dark. The bear never came out of the brush.
Day Ten: October 20, 2005
Today is the second to last day of the season. The wind is blowing in a favorable direction for watching the carcass. We arrived at first light and stayed until dark waiting for our dinner guest to arrive. The big smart allusive bear did not show up. We stood all day in the wind and rain. We were beginning to think that this trophy bear was far smarter than we were.
That evening, Jim, Elia and I discussed our options for the last day of the hunt. The rivers were all high because of the rain, so fishing would be poor for the bears. The berries were almost all gone, food sources were now limited for the bears. Because of these factors, we decided to check the carcass one more time in the morning. Jim said that evening that if we didn't get the trophy bore, he knew we had tried our best. He was satisfied with the hunt.
Day Eleven: October 21, 2005
This morning we had oatmeal mixed into our pancake batter for breakfast. Oatmeal is part of a tradition of good-luck and a successful day of hunting. This tradition was started during moose season.
After cleaning the cabin and packing our gear we went up river one last time. When we arrived at the base of Moose Hill I asked Jim if he had said his prayers last night? He told me he had been praying all night and the day before. This would be our sixth and final attempt at this bear. The wind was strong and blowing in our favor. The grass was wet from the previous day's rain. We would be down wind from the carcass and the noise made from our clothes rubbing on brush and footsteps would be minimal. As we approached the half way point between the boat and the carcass, we each put a bullet in the chamber of our rifles If we armed our rifles any later, the noise might have alerted the bear. When we arrived at the spot of the previous days hunt, we could see that the carcass was no longer in the same location. We slowly and quietly crept closer. The carcass had been dragged up a small hill. The brush in the area was broken off and flattened out. The dirt on the hill was turned over; making it look like a tractor had gone over the area. We did not go any further. If we had followed the path the bear made we may have ended looking up a hill at the giant protecting his food. We climbed the hill to our right, putting ourselves on equal ground with the bear. Once on top of the hill we could see Magpies and Ravens, giving us the location of the carcass the bear was feeding on. We were standing on a bear trail in a small grassy area surrounded by willow brush. I was happy that we could see into the brush as well as we could. As we moved closer to where the carcass was we kept low to the ground looking under the brush. All of a sudden, 30 feet in front of us the giant bear stood up on his hind legs. We must have made a noise that had given our position away. The bear towered over the willows which were as tall as we were. As the bear looked down at us, I could feel my mouth drop open. My eyes were now fixed on this awesome creature. After a few seconds of which seemed like minutes, I shouted for Jim to shoot. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jim raise his rifle, and then heard the deafening sound of his 340 magnum. This signaled Elia and I to start shooting. The bear dropped to all four feet and ran to our right. We shot at the bear and emptied our rifles on the moving brush. We reloaded our guns and looked to see where the bear had gone. The bear was out of sight and nothing in the area was moving. We walked over to where the bear was standing; blood was on the dirt and grass. We followed the blood trail for about twenty yards before it stopped. It was early in the day, so we had plenty of daylight left to find the bear. The willows were so thick that looking for a wounded bear in them would be very dangerous. I looked around the area and spotted a large dark hill about 75 yards away. My binoculars confirmed it was Jim's bear hiding in the brush. I took aim and shot him in the side with my 338 magnum. The bear let out a loud roar and started to run. Jim and Elia both shot and stopped the bear in his tracks. We carefully approached the dead bear. All three of us were in awe of the bear's size and beauty. This incredible bear is just what Jim had been dreaming about. A large trophy male Alaskan Brown Bear.
After photos of the bear Elia went to get the boat and the pack while Jim and I started skinning the bear. The skull and hide weighted over 200 pounds. We shot at the bear 18 times.
Jim and I agreed that hunting large bores is very challenging. The effort was worth every minute spent in the pursuit of his trophy bear.
Jim Grisham's bear measured over 10 1/2 feet with a skull size of over 28 inches.