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The Last Wild Man

Bart Schleyer's love of nature pulled him deeper and deeper into the wilderness until, penniless and alone, he died the happiest man on earth.
Photo by Outdoor Life Online Editor
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Bart Schleyer was the kind of guy you rarely hear about anymore, a John Henry of a man, one who loved wild places, dangerous carnivores, hunting, science and laughter so much he crafted an amazing life around them.



Schleyer was a wildlife researcher, an artist, a writer, a philosopher and a consummate hunter. He was killed and eaten by a grizzly while bowhunting moose alone in the Yukon in September 2004. Virtually penniless at the time of his death, he was described by friends and colleagues around the world as the happiest man they'd ever known.



He spent much of his 49 years roaming the wilds of Wyoming, Africa, Montana, Alaska, Asia and, finally, the Yukon. He trapped grizzlies and tigers for a living, putting radio collars on them so they might be studied and preserved. In his spare time Schleyer hunted with a homemade longbow he based on a 4,700-year-old design and crafted from Russian ash and tiger sinew.



"Bart was the last wild man, the most unique individual I've ever known," says Kathy Quigley, a veterinarian for the Wildlife Conservation Society who worked with him in the Russian Far East. "He wasn't interested in career or money; he followed his heart and lived for adventure until the day he died."
This is his incredible story.


Bart Schleyer was born in Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1954. His physician father, Otis, took him hunting for the first time when he was 4, tying him into the back seat of his jeep as they chased antelope. Otis took his son on safari in Mozambique when he was 10. On the first day, Bart shot at an impala; he missed and started crying.


"I told him to stop right away, that hunting isn't about
bagging something," Otis says. "It's about enjoying the land, the animals and the people. Bart never forgot that. The last time I spoke to him, he'd just returned from a fourteen-day solo stone sheep hunt. He told me he didn't get his ram, but he sure enjoyed himself."
On subsequent trips to Africa at 13 and again at 17, Schleyer shot impala, gazelles, sables, ibex, wildebeests, warthogs and lions. But when he returned to Wyoming, he was just as excited to be chasing rabbits with his slingshot.



"With Bart, the act of hunting was more important than the location or the game," his sister, Claudia Downey, says. "He loved it more than anyone I've ever known."
The year after Schleyer's return from his last safari, Jim Downey, Claudia's husband, introduced him to bowhunting. Schleyer never hunted with a rifle again.



Montana Bear Stalker

Schleyer wanted to be a taxidermist when he was young, and then an artist. He studied wildlife illustrations in magazines like Outdoor Life and took art classes for two years before transferring to Montana State University, where he earned a master's degree in wildlife biology in 1979.


[pagebreak]
His thesis was on grizzly bear activity patterns in Yellowstone National Park. Working for the famed Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team at MSU, Schleyer learned the live-trapping skills that would one day be the mainstay of his
professional life. He became a master at luring bears into
culvert traps, fitting them with radio collars and then tracking them with telemetry devices.



Mark Haroldson, now a supervisor with the team, was Schleyer's research partner on a study designed to figure out what bears did when disturbed by hikers.



"Bart's job was to get close enough to jump the bears out of their beds," Haroldson says. "He got chased up quite a few trees over the years. A lot of people thought what he did was insane, but he loved his job and worked hard at it."



He also worked hard at staying in shape. Haroldson remembers Schleyer returning to his wilderness camps after long, punishing days afield and performing hundreds of push-ups, sit-ups and squats with logs on his shoulders.



A Woman's Day magazine reporter who came to Yellowstone too a story on bear research ended up focusing her piece on Schleyer. She titled it "The Bronze and Beautiful Heartthrob of Cooke City, Montana." His coworkers jokingly called him "Body Beautiful Bart."



Keith Aune, now the research director for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, recruited Schleyer in 1985 for a grizzly study on the Rocky Mountain front northwest of Choteau-country too steep and unforgiving to work with culvert traps and helicopters. Instead, they used horses and backpacks
to bring Aldrich leg-hold snares into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. They ran traplines for grizzlies in some of the nastiest terrain in the state. Schleyer routinely endured trips of 30 to 40 days in the bush, packing 80 pounds of snares and raw meat on his back with a big grin on his face.



He was an expert at building sets that forced bears to step in his snares and then darting grizzlies at close quarters. While they were drugged, he treated the bears like his children, making sure they were safe. Once a bear was collared, he'd follow it on foot, sleeping when it slept, eating when it ate, moving when it moved.



"That was Bart's thing, following right behind them," Aune recalls. "His job, basically, was to trap bears and then stalk them. He'd trap and follow bears for six solid weeks toward the end of summer, then come out of the wilderness, take a shower, get his gear together and go right back in with Paul to hunt for real."



Paul Schafer, a bowyer from Kalispell and another MSU grad, was widely regarded as the greatest bowhunter of his time, and was like an older brother to Schleyer. He introduced him to traditional archery and built Schleyer a recurve that he used to hunt elk, deer, moose and bighorn sheep.



Working with bears, hunting with Schafer and dating the occasional beautiful woman were the focuses of Schleyer's life in the 1980s. He had plenty of opportunities to move up the career ladder, get his Ph.D., run research teams, make more money, settle down and have a family. None of it interested him. Schleyer wanted to be in the wild.


[pagebreak]
Alaska Calls

By the end of the '80s, however, Schleyer found that Montana could no longer sate his appetite for adventure. In 1991, he moved to Wasilla, north of Anchorage, where he worked in Dan Foster's taxidermy shop.



"It didn't matter if he was doing the grungiest job, he was cheerful," Foster says. "In the field, he was a phenomenal outdoorsman, the guy everyone wanted to hunt with."



Schleyer met Dale Routt in Foster's shop that first year in Alaska. Routt was a lifelong Alaskan with broad experience hunting and surviving in the bush. But he'd never seen
anyone like the Bronze and Beautiful Heartthrob.



"I'll go another lifetime before meeting someone like Bart again," Routt says. "Physically he was a Neanderthal. Intellectually he was brilliant. Spiritually he loved being out in the wildest parts of Alaska. Some of my greatest days were in the field with him."



Schleyer was a gifted moose caller, Routt says-so good that he once called in a grizzly bear while they were hunting. Routt had to climb a tree to escape the charge.



In 1992, Schleyer drew a permit to hunt brown bears on Kodiak Island. Two hunting buddies from Montana State-Brad Adams, a respected guide on the Alaska peninsula, and Jeff Booth, a biologist with U.S. Fish & Wildlife-decided
to accompany him. Paul Schafer came up from Montana
to film, to back Schleyer with a 12-gauge and to hunt blacktails.



Mid-afternoon on the fifth day, the four men were on a ridge miles from camp when they spotted a huge brown bear moving to bed. When they got to 125 yards, Booth and Adams decided to hang back and watch the final stalk.



Schleyer and Schafer made it into a gully 50 yards away when the bear heard something, got up and came straight at them. That's when Adams realized that Schafer was still filming; his shotgun was on his back.



"I was thinking this could get bad real quick," Adams recalls. "But Bart waited for
the bear to step forward at twenty yards and expose its ribs, slightly quartering to him. Then he got up and drew. The bear saw Bart just as he released, putting the arrow right behind its shoulder. Luckily, instead of attacking, the bear ran off forty yards, looked back, and then dove into the alders and died. Only Paul and Bart could have gotten away with something like that."



Hunting Tigers

Tragically, it was their last time afield. The following winter Paul Schafer died while extreme skiing at Big Mountain in Whitefish, Mont., and Schleyer was recruited into the next phase of his life. Maurice Hornocker, a renowned wildlife researcher at the University of Idaho, was launching a study of Siberian tigers, and he needed an expert to trap and collar the big cats safely. Schleyer was his choice.



For the next nine years, when he wasn't hunting, Schleyer lived in the coastal rain forest of the Sikhote Alin Biosphere Reserve near the town of Terney, in the Russian Far East.
"I don't like using the word 'trapper' to describe Bart because his skills went far beyond being able to get an animal to step in a trap," says John Goodrich, the project's field coordinator. "Bart excelled in dealing with them once they were caught. He had an innate sense about animals and their behavior and had tremendous compassion for them."


[pagebreak]
During his years in the Russian Far East, Schleyer met a Russian woman named Tatiana who worked on the project. They began seeing each other and had a son, Artyom.
In 1995, he returned to Alaska to go on a memorial hunt for Paul Schafer in the Brooks Range with Brad Adams and Jeff Booth. On the second to last day of the hunt, Schleyer spotted a giant Dall sheep and crawled on his back for hours across a 50-degree slope to get in range. He shot the 40-inch-plus ram late in the day at less than 30 yards.



He spent the night on the mountain with his ram. While hiking out the next day, Booth flew over in his Super Cub, heading home. It was the last time Schleyer would see his friend. About an hour later, Booth crashed his plane and died.



As Schleyer approached the new millennium, his friends say he was dealing with the pressures that his lifestyle put
on those closest to him, especially his girlfriend and son.



"The trade-offs were very difficult for him, particularly between hunting and his family and working on the tiger project," John Goodrich says.



As had happened to him in Montana nearly a decade before, Schleyer began to feel penned in by encroaching civilization in Alaska. In 2002 he moved to Whitehorse in the Yukon to fulfill his dream of hunting
stone sheep. "In my opinion, the Yukon was one of the
last Schafer was still filming; his shotgun was on his back.



"I was thinking this could get bad real quick," Adams recalls. "But Bart waited for
the bear to step forward at twenty yards and expose its ribs, slightly quartering to him. Then he got up and drew. The bear saw Bart just as he released, putting the arrow right behind its shoulder. Luckily, instead of attacking, the bear ran off forty yards, looked back, and then dove into the alders and died. Only Paul and Bart could have gotten away with something like that."



Hunting Tigers

Tragically, it was their last time afield. The following winter Paul Schafer died while extreme skiing at Big Mountain in Whitefish, Mont., and Schleyer was recruited into the next phase of his life. Maurice Hornocker, a renowned wildlife researcher at the University of Idaho, was launching a study of Siberian tigers, and he needed an expert to trap and collar the big cats safely. Schleyer was his choice.



For the next nine years, when he wasn't hunting, Schleyer lived in the coastal rain forest of the Sikhote Alin Biosphere Reserve near the town of Terney, in the Russian Far East.
"I don't like using the word 'trapper' to describe Bart because his skills went far beyond being able to get an animal to step in a trap," says John Goodrich, the project's field coordinator. "Bart excelled in dealing with them once they were caught. He had an innate sense about animals and their behavior and had tremendous compassion for them."


[pagebreak]
During his years in the Russian Far East, Schleyer met a Russian woman named Tatiana who worked on the project. They began seeing each other and had a son, Artyom.
In 1995, he returned to Alaska to go on a memorial hunt for Paul Schafer in the Brooks Range with Brad Adams and Jeff Booth. On the second to last day of the hunt, Schleyer spotted a giant Dall sheep and crawled on his back for hours across a 50-degree slope to get in range. He shot the 40-inch-plus ram late in the day at less than 30 yards.



He spent the night on the mountain with his ram. While hiking out the next day, Booth flew over in his Super Cub, heading home. It was the last time Schleyer would see his friend. About an hour later, Booth crashed his plane and died.



As Schleyer approached the new millennium, his friends say he was dealing with the pressures that his lifestyle put
on those closest to him, especially his girlfriend and son.



"The trade-offs were very difficult for him, particularly between hunting and his family and working on the tiger project," John Goodrich says.



As had happened to him in Montana nearly a decade before, Schleyer began to feel penned in by encroaching civilization in Alaska. In 2002 he moved to Whitehorse in the Yukon to fulfill his dream of hunting
stone sheep. "In my opinion, the Yukon was one of the
last

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