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The purpose of an Alaska hunt for trophy brown bears and mountain goats is to enjoy yourself, bag your trophies and immerse yourself in the grandeur of the wilderness. But I felt as soggy and used up as a tea bag on its third dunking.

My brother Joe and I leaned heavily on our walking axes as we went slipping and sliding across a roaring, rain-swollen river fed by the Wrangell-St. Elias wilderness. Torrents of glacial sludge drenched us with gritty white-water spray. Boulders the size of washtubs tumbled past like bowling balls down a stairway. Their rumbling caused us to hustle even faster when we could hear their approach above the din.

We climbed out of the river bottom and took a much-deserved break. Earlier that morning we had each shot a goat high on the mountain; then they rolled into a canyon that was inaccessible from above. We had descended the mountain and were now weaving our way up another drainage to reach them.

As we climbed, Joe and I ignored each other, trying to get into the rhythm of the wilderness. The distractions were many. Overhanging glaciers dropped bombloads of ice down the mountainside, shattering the silence with a rolling thunder. We cursed our way through alders so thick they blotted out the sun. Four days of rain had saturated the land. As we neared our destination, a portion of the hillside below us-trees, boulders and water-soaked earth-broke free and oozed into the creek bed we had walked through earlier.

After considerable searching, Joe and I finally located our goats at the bottom of a narrow, rocky canyon 25 feet wide and 60 feet deep. We rappelled down the canyon wall, landing on a shelf and within a rifle’s length of slipping down a 30-foot waterfall. Our plan was simple: quarter the goats, haul them out by rope and pack them back to base camp. Then we’d be ready to glass the area for a trophy brown bear.

Unbeknownst to us, Nature had set a trap–and we were the bait. While field-dressing my goat, I felt a tremor, followed by Joe yelling, “Avalanche!”

Looking up, I watched a hailstorm of boulders and rocks ricochet off the canyon walls. I focused on a particularly large boulder gaining momentum with each bounce. When the wildly rotating rock became fully airborne, I pressed myself so tight against the sharp shale wall that it cut my face. The boulder slammed into the gravel above me and rolled to a stop. But the danger was far from over.

An enormous brown bear lunged down the chute at us, its huge front and rear legs acting like jackhammers, dislodging wave after wave of loose rock and dirt. Joe scurried through the boulders, shouting, “Grab the rifle. Grab the damned rifle!”

The bear chomped onto Joe’s 200-pound goat. It lifted the goat like a rag doll and began dragging it up the rocky incline.

A rock snagged the goat and pulled it free from the bear’s mouth. Suddenly, the brownie turned toward us and saw even easier pickings-my brother stumbling down the chute and the dead goat at my feet. Our escape was blocked by a waterfall. Perhaps the boar knew dinner was waiting because he wasted no time in charging us.

Joe grabbed his .338 from me and fired. The bear crumpled headfirst and began to roll. Flailing claws and teeth flashed faster and faster as the bruin bounced down the rocky chute and-we hoped-over the waterfall. Ten feet in front of me, the brownie stuck out its front legs and slid to a stop. A deep, menacing growl followed as the bear lifted his massive head. The snarled lip, flashing teeth and piercing gaze of a predator about to lunge spoke to me clearly. My answer was a single shot between the eyes. The danger was overÉfor now.

Twilight was fast approaching, along with its problems. The evening downdraft carried the smell of fresh blood down the mountainside. I scuttled the plan to fill our packs with boned meat and rope them up the canyonall. We boned and skinned what we could, packed the tenderloins for a celebratory dinner and hightailed it down to Spike Camp One.

The next morning we hiked a total of 48 miles back and forth, hauling meat, capes, hide and gear to base camp. We nursed our bruises, cuts and aches along the way with jokes, laughter and teasing. We collected some glacier ice, melted the chunks in a cup and made a toast to our trophies with vintage 10,000-year-old wilderness water. Mischievousness prevailed. As a wake-up alarm for my brother, I had sneaked outside, scratched the tent and growled. When the floatplane arrived, the joking stopped. We walked in proud form as wilderness brown bear hunters. There is no finer honor.

A Few Good Men
The successful Alaska brown bear hunter is a special breed whose skills are honed to razor sharpness on the whetstone of wilderness adversity. Success-and often your very survival-means overcoming fear and fusing a hunter’s skills with a warrior’s strength of mind and body. You don’t just train for a wilderness bear hunt; you survive it. The victors become part of the elite, hunting’s best of the best-a brotherhood of hunter-warriors. Hunting Alaska brown bears is an unpredictable, multi-faceted danger: If the bears don’t kill you, the weather, terrain or plane crashes probably will.

The Alaska brown bear is a formidable predator and the master of his wilderness arena. He will either break your spirit or build your self-esteem to new levels of awareness. But be forewarned: Once you take that first shot, a 1,200-pound brown bear can absorb bullets delivering more than 2,500 foot-pounds of energyÉand still eat you for breakfast. Standing your ground takes conviction and courage. Losing your composure can mean losing your life, or the life of your guide.

Guide Marlin Grasser knows about hunters who lose their will against the big bears. He and his hunter had stalked to within shooting range of a 10-foot boar. The client shot and the bear charged. When Grasser’s rifle jammed, he yelled to his hunter to fire. But no shot followed. Grasser turned his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the hunter running out of the thicket! The bear reared up and pounced on Grasser, who shoved his rifle stock into the animal’s mouth. Grasser then flipped over and played dead. The bear swatted him a few times, and bit deeply into his leg before the client’s shot began to take effect. As the bear turned away, Grasser reached for his rifle, cleared the jam and fired, killing the bear.

In the meantime, the client stumbled into camp, yelling to Grasser’s son Ed that a bear was eating his father. Frantic, Ed ran down the trail. He was shocked yet relieved to see Marlin hobbling along with a blood-soaked tourniquet on his leg. The client soon followed, and upon seeing Marlin, asked, “Did you get my bear?”

Marlin looked his hunter straight in the eyes and said: “You don’t have a bear. That one’s mine.” The hunter left that day, never to be heard from again.

Beating the Wild
Before you stand toe-to-toe with a brown bear, you must first confront and pass through an equally formidable adversary: the Alaska wilderness.

The physically unfit hunter will find the Alaska wilderness an intolerable purgatory of suffering and pain, a constant reminder of overindulging in too many second helpings and too few visits to the local gym. This is not some weekend jaunt for deer or squirrels in a back 40. Rivers can drown you. Clothing and equipment can fail you. Giardia can incapacitate you. Lose your balance while carrying a 30-pound backpack through alder tangles and your leg can snap like a toothpick. In any of these situations, forget about help from passing vehicles or walking to the nearest farmhouse. There are none. You must replace dependency with self-sufficiency. In other words, you must learn what it takes to survive.

You also must be mentally fit. Alaska storms and typhoons sink boats, flip aircraft, demolish cabins. They blow tents away as if they were puffs of smoke. To survive, you either dig a hole and pitch your tent in it or die of hypothermia.

With such potential for pain and suffering, is there more to wilderness brown bear hunting than the obvious trophy? There is, of course, the clear realization of either you killing the bear or the bear killing you. But the terror goes beyond that. Cape buffalo can gore you and elephants can stomp you. No big deal. A brown bear may not only maul you, but may also eat you. The idea of ending up in a pile of bear scat provides a depressing image of finality and total failure.

The Right Stuff
State law requires that nonresident Alaskans hire a registered guide when hunting Alaska brown bear. Naturally, you choose one with the same care as you would a physician who will perform a life-saving operation.

Several hundred hunters have trusted Joe Want over the 40 years he’s been guiding brown bear hunters. Biologists call him the undisputed king, the leading expert on Kodiak brown bears. And for good reason: He is the epitome of courage, toughness and self-reliance. He has survived a mauling from an enraged sow grizzly, and he stands his ground with an open-sighted .416 to finish the job when his hunters can’t.

Want’s advice is Spartan and cautionary. “Shot placement is what counts,” he says. “Even with the right shot, the tenacity of an enraged brown bear is incredible.”

Guide Jake Gaudet knows of many brown bears that wanted to attack him, especially the one on the northern shore of Afognak Island. The bear was a mean-looking eight-footer that was feeding on a deer carcass. Gaudet and his hunter could clearly see blood-soaked hair on the bear’s chin as it crunched and devoured leg and rib bones. The brownie suddenly stopped chewing, lowered its head and charged with ears back and jaws snapping.

Gaudet’s hunter made a frightened, off-hand shot, the muzzle blast hitting the right side of Gaudet’s face. Recoiling in pain, the guide thought he caught a glimpse of the bullet punching through the outer, fleshy part of the bear’s upper shoulder. The brownie darted into the brush and disappeared. Soon after, I arrived on the scene and we followed the tracks through the trees and a hundred yards uphill before darkness forced us to return to base camp.

The next morning, we picked up the trail, and the tracks told an eerie story. Seventy-five yards from where we had stopped the night before, the bear suddenly turned to the left, climbed a small embankment overlooking the trail and waited. The snowy depression and small amount of blood showed the bear had clearly sat in ambush. Not hearing our approach by the what it takes to survive.

You also must be mentally fit. Alaska storms and typhoons sink boats, flip aircraft, demolish cabins. They blow tents away as if they were puffs of smoke. To survive, you either dig a hole and pitch your tent in it or die of hypothermia.

With such potential for pain and suffering, is there more to wilderness brown bear hunting than the obvious trophy? There is, of course, the clear realization of either you killing the bear or the bear killing you. But the terror goes beyond that. Cape buffalo can gore you and elephants can stomp you. No big deal. A brown bear may not only maul you, but may also eat you. The idea of ending up in a pile of bear scat provides a depressing image of finality and total failure.

The Right Stuff
State law requires that nonresident Alaskans hire a registered guide when hunting Alaska brown bear. Naturally, you choose one with the same care as you would a physician who will perform a life-saving operation.

Several hundred hunters have trusted Joe Want over the 40 years he’s been guiding brown bear hunters. Biologists call him the undisputed king, the leading expert on Kodiak brown bears. And for good reason: He is the epitome of courage, toughness and self-reliance. He has survived a mauling from an enraged sow grizzly, and he stands his ground with an open-sighted .416 to finish the job when his hunters can’t.

Want’s advice is Spartan and cautionary. “Shot placement is what counts,” he says. “Even with the right shot, the tenacity of an enraged brown bear is incredible.”

Guide Jake Gaudet knows of many brown bears that wanted to attack him, especially the one on the northern shore of Afognak Island. The bear was a mean-looking eight-footer that was feeding on a deer carcass. Gaudet and his hunter could clearly see blood-soaked hair on the bear’s chin as it crunched and devoured leg and rib bones. The brownie suddenly stopped chewing, lowered its head and charged with ears back and jaws snapping.

Gaudet’s hunter made a frightened, off-hand shot, the muzzle blast hitting the right side of Gaudet’s face. Recoiling in pain, the guide thought he caught a glimpse of the bullet punching through the outer, fleshy part of the bear’s upper shoulder. The brownie darted into the brush and disappeared. Soon after, I arrived on the scene and we followed the tracks through the trees and a hundred yards uphill before darkness forced us to return to base camp.

The next morning, we picked up the trail, and the tracks told an eerie story. Seventy-five yards from where we had stopped the night before, the bear suddenly turned to the left, climbed a small embankment overlooking the trail and waited. The snowy depression and small amount of blood showed the bear had clearly sat in ambush. Not hearing our approach by the

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