Copyright(C) 2003 Jim Urban
The Koyukuk breathed a cool dense mist throughout the chilly morning. The added obscurity to locate ol' mossy horns as we floated down the river teased my willingness to focus, and instead left me dreaming of distant adventures. Visions of seventy-inch antlers were briefly succumbed to by revelations of stocky blacktail bucks sashaying through the alpine rich forest of Hinchinbrook Island. It was a hunt both, Ted and I looked forward to, and this was as good of a time as any to hash out a few predetermined plans. "So, Ted," I murmured, "Have you given any thought to who should shoot the first buck next month?" "You can," he replied, "I really wanna bear!!" I've always considered Ted to be quite giving in past times, but this was the icing on the cake, and as a result, I was given the opportunity to shoot the buck of my choice on any given day in exchange for Ted to make a one time crack at the first bear we seen. I could only help but wonder how my dear friend could be so foolish to think his chances of killing a bear, much less spotting one, would be worth passing up a choice buck. Regardless, he was pleased with the decision, and as such, I was too. I reached my numb hand out to finalize the bargain deal then redirected my attention to what remained ahead. The pact was binding.
Six weeks later Ted and I were thrashing our way through gorges of towering Devils Club; seven feet high. While neither of us could see one another, the sounds of blasphemy echoing out kept us together, as we steered for higher country. I held my rifle out before me with both hands and plowed the needled creepers over. At last, we broke free of the tangled nightmare, simply to enter another, the deadfall of the old growth forest. Among the free standing spruce laid toppled trees, among deadened trees scattered about as if it were a game of "Pick-up Sticks". The treetops shielded the dark, damp underworld from the morning's golden warmth. Covering ground through the ankle busting real estate was no easy task. Our quaking hurdles over the fallen logs resembled that of a three legged equestrian horse on hot coals. My friend and I emerged from the havoc hours later and into a gaping backwater creek I located on the map the night before. This was the passageway to venison valley, or so I hoped.
Sparkling sunshine mirrored from the flowing watershed brought life to our dilated eyes. Ted and I, happy to be out of dense brush, continued our way up river looking the landscape over for blacktail.
Recently sculpted deer tracks skimmed the sandy reaches of the creek bed, stimulating my anxiety to scale higher, where I knew our quarry existed. We yielded to shortcuts through the bush when feasible; avoiding the subtle cutbacks the creek delicately wove. It was upon stomping through a spongy fen; Ted and I made our initial discovery of bear sign. A molten brewery of hydrated scat saturated the peat. I kneeled, and drew myself closer to investigate the creature's intake, a hodgepodge of mussels and blueberries. Not far from there laid the diced roots and shredded leaves of a freshly tossed "skunk cabbage" salad. Ted's eyes dazzled with overflowing delight. Once back into the openness of the creek, it appeared no different. In fact, carved hoof prints were now supplemented with bear tracks nearly nine inches in width. Focusing my attention away from Ted's fascination, I caught glimpse of a ripple breaking the water's surface. Circulating in the landlocked pool were a dozen spawning Coho salmon. Their decayed, frail bodies conveyed an ending to life's journey. The skeletal remains of others lay strewn across the sand and algae covered bedrock. Their life swindled from a hunter of dissimilar drive, an ambition to survive. It was known, my friend and I stood on the very dinner plate of a huge beast.
"What do you think," asked Ted, "Is he a shooter?" I drew my binoculars back for another look. A one-ton body, cinder block head, big beefy shoulders, and no apparent rubs, "You bet" I whispered. We slid the packs off of our shoulders and took aim. Our objective was obvious; get the bear down quickly and cleanly. Ted steadied his rifle and held for a shoulder shot. The bear continued forward, and it soon became clear nothing more than a headshot was going to be offered. Our ambush was terrible, and to prevent from being discovered, we grabbed our packs and fell back ten yards to seek refuge behind the archaic spruce. Through all the dense thickets surrounding us, an ample sized shooting lane presented itself to the right of the tree. It was evident the bear was going to continue his hunt down the creek and pass right by, providing Ted with the shoulder shot he needed. Then again, maybe it wasn't so obvious.
Murphy's Law contended our plan, and unwillingly baffled our strategy! Where we stood not seconds earlier, the brush began to part. Ted and I found ourselves going "Mano a Mano" with a bear of a lifetime. The sound of Ted's heavy breathing was the only thing fading out the dull drum of my now sunken heart. I ran through my mental checklist, "Safety off, round chambered, finger on the trigger and relax." Now was not the time to make errors. I looked over at Ted who stood between the tree and I. "Are you ready," I asked. He nodded. My attention focused back on the crosshairs of my riflescope. The gargantuan paw appeared first through the tall shoots, followed by the massive, robust cranium. The boar stepped closer. His head was lobbed low; his rusted muzzle leaked clouds of nasal vapor through quarter size nostrils; and those beady, bloodshot eyes stared through my partner and I. The solemn look alone was enough to make one feel threatened, but oddly the bear showed no sign of aggression. Each step closer the bear inched, I felt more compelled to renege on my agreement with Ted, and kill the bear myself. "Pull the trigger!" I demanded Ted, "Pull the trigger!" The blast of Ted's .338 Win-Mag rang out and sent a direct hit to the bear's nerve center bringing him to his hindquarters. Two shots to the vitals followed, completely dropping the bear, while a series of three additional rounds provided enough insurance to tame our own racing anxieties. The boar dropped in his tracks. What played through my head in slow motion seemed endless, but in reality was over in a fraction of seconds.
My nerves were so fired up they sizzled the blood in my body to a boiling concoction. There was no doubt in my mind; Ted and I had chanced death. Stepping off the distance behind the confines of the spruce tree and where the bear lay totaled a mere ten yards. Were it not for collective awareness and cool heads of my partner and I the situation could of become ugly, if not tragic. That evening I was convinced we had double dipped our lives with luck. Not only did we escape with all limbs intact from our close encounter with the world's largest omnivore, but Ted had taken this true specimen of a trophy bear. I think next time I will opt for the first shot on a bear, but then how ever will I see that dream buck? Perhaps I'll be with Ted when he takes it.
Not since the early 1900's when U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt put the "Teddy" in "Teddy Bear" have there ever been so much commotion over a single bear. Nowadays, when I hear the word "Teddy Bear", I no longer think of the cute cuddly stuffed animal we all dragged around by an ear as a kid. Instead, I think of the magnificent bear Ted Winnen took over a year ago on what turned out to be a hunter's lucky day.
Throughout the last year my Inbox has been inundated with Emails of mock stories and pictures of Ted's bear. It is not known for sure where the first "monstrous" story originated, although I have speculated and come to my own conclusions. Like all stories, it is only a matter of time before they get twisted and knotted up, but this story took on an entire new meaning of "Tall Tale" that it is now known as an Urban Legend. I have counted four variations to this tale, and all are as outlandish as the next. However bizarre the Emails seem, the fact is, they have unconditionally afforded Ted a Herculean status, whether he wanted it or not, and more importantly the chance for onlookers to treasure an immense creature in his final years. While both, Ted and I share vivid memories of a remarkable experience, to see the stories (true or not) and snap shots passed on to the world is remarkably humbling. Perhaps even more rewarding is in the Emails I receive from people who have never had the temptation to walk a rub line in search of a trophy Whitetail or put a crosshair on a sheep of a lifetime, but because of the adventure the pictures radiate, the individual has a newfound interest for the sport I ridiculously cherish. I hope they too can find the adventure in big game hunting.
So, what is and is not true, you ask. For anyone that has seen the Emails or heard the story, the following should make sense of the "Bear Facts".
· Ted is a Forest Service Ranger
· The bear stood on his hind legs and then charged
· Several people were killed by the bear
· The firearm of choice was a .7mm, .9mm, or .500 Nitro
· The bear weighed in at a whopping 1600 lbs and stood 12.5'
· Alaska Department of Fish and Game seized the trophy because it was killed in Defense of Life or Property
· The bear is a new world record
· Ted is a member of the United States Air Force
· All shots were from ten yards
· Ted used a Remington .338 Win-Mag hand-loaded with 250 grain Nosler Partitions
· Live weight was estimated between 1000-1200 lbs and squared 10.5' (10' nose to tail, 11' claw to claw)
· The season for brown bear was open, and both hunters possessed brown bear tags
· The bear was estimated to be in his early to mid twenties
· Official Boone & Crockett score is 28 14/16 and would rank 150 based on the 11th Edition of N.A. Big Game records