Big Bad Bears From an account of lassoing a polar bear to really bad poetry, you won’t believe the stuff about
If there was ever any doubt, let us set the record straight–no animal has fascinated the readers and editors of...
If there was ever any doubt, let us set the record straight–no animal has fascinated the readers and editors of OUTDOOR LIFE more than the bear. Since the magazine’s debut in 1898, stories about bears have appeared in nearly every issue. But the true measure of our interest in these animals isn’t in the volume of the articles alone (after all, we’ve dedicated more pages over the years to deer and deer hunting), but in the variety of bear features we’ve run.
Yes, much of what we’ve printed has focused on how and where to hunt them, and our adventure stories about incredible (and often deadly) encounters with irate bruins are well-known to any regular OL reader. But we’ve also run many articles that are, well, different from the usual wildlife fare. Like the 27 bear poems we’ve published, for instance. Or the time we asked a doctor to dissect a grizzly’s brain to tell us what we could learn about it.
Why do bears intrigue us so? There are as many answers to that question as there are types of bear stories. OL founding editor J.A. McGuire put it simply: “They’re the noblest, the most picturesque and splendid animal in America.”
2002 CUB KILLER
Hunters often see a side of nature that few others do. Even so, a group of veteran Alaska hunters were not prepared for the drama that unfolded in front of them during a spring bear hunt on Kodiak Island, as related in an article by Christopher Batin. After one of their party witnessed the killing of a young cub by a mature boar, they watched as the bear’s mother defended her lone remaining cub from the male’s onslaught. They vowed to try to kill the bear and save the other cub if possible.
I zoomed in with my spotting scope. Was it the cub killer? The next image in our spotting scopes–at once alarming yet impossible to look away from–gave us our answer.
The boar nosed the perimeter of the left ridgeline. We observed a sow and cub huddled on a rock ledge the size of a door, about 12 feet below the bruin. The ledge was atop a sheer rock face of several hundred feet.
The cub bobbed its head up and down, exhibiting a youthful urge to play with the approaching boar. The boar’s head hung heavy off his long neck, swaying back and forth like a pendulum. Watching him slog through the snow, I envisioned the boar’s mouth dripping saliva and the nose flared to capture the scent of his next victim. The cub fidgeted, torn between play and caution. The sow stood fully upright, her head nudging the cub back down onto the shelf. She remained standing, looking at the boar.
Despite her smaller size, the sow had the advantage. The bears faced each other for nearly five minutes. The only way to the cub was a frontal attack. For the boar, there could be no flanking maneuver or side ambush. He would have to kill her in order to reach the cub.
The boar reacted with the savvy of a seasoned predator. He backed off and bedded down. Cold, instinctive patience.
For the remainder of the day, few camp chores were accomplished, as all available spotting scopes and binoculars were focused on the unfolding alpine drama. The standoff was still going strong when the curtain of night left the final act unfinished. We ate dinner and emboldened ourselves for the next day’s strategy….
The party went on to kill the boar before it could get to the cub. But the anger the hunters felt toward the bear, which was trying to bring the sow into heat by killing her offspring, gave way to a measure of sympathy as they recognized that it was only acting on instinct and was a truly magnificent animal in its own right.
1947 O’Connor on Bears and Bear Rifles
What makes for a good bear rifle? Long-time Gun Editor Jack O’Connor, never one to suffer needlessly at the hands of hard-kicking calibers, fancied cartridges of .30-caliber and under that drove bullets at high speeds (including his beloved .270 Winchester shooting 130-grain bullets). O’Connor allowed that the .375 H&H is a good grizzly round–provided the shooter can cope with the recoil.
Usually the black bear is no harder to kill than a whitetail deer and doesn’t have much more fight than a rabbit. In Wyoming a couple of years ago, a man was attacked by a female black bear with cubs. He clubbed her to death.
Any good deer cartridge is also a good black bear cartridge. With a well-placed shot a .30/30, a .30 Remington, or a .250/3000 will kill a black very neatly….
But a grizzly is something else again. He is much larger than a black bear, and he can carry a lot of lead, particularly if he is enraged….
Many shots at grizzlies are at fairly long range. Actually, they should be, since a grizzly is an unpredictable and potentially dangerous animal. A bear knocked over at 200 or 250 yards is far less likely to cause trouble (or to give the hunter the shakes) than one shot at 50 yards. I have shot two grizzlies at fairly long range–one at about 200 yards and one at about 400–another at about 150, two at less than 100 yards. I must confess that I am an enthusiastic believer in having at least 150 yards between the hunter and the grizzly before operations start….
The .270 with the controlled-expansion 130-gr. bullet is perfectly all right. The .348 W.C.F., particularly with the 250-gr. Silvertip, should be excellent, and the .30/40 Krag and the .300 Savage will also do the business with well-placed shots. The .300 Magnum with the strong 220-gr. bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,610 fps should be ideal, and if anyone feels better about grizzly hunting armed with the .375, and is not bothered by the hefty recoil, he should by all means use it.
O’Connor’s Rules of Grizzly Hunting
1. Use a rifle of considerable power with a bullet that will give deep penetration.
2. Try to place the first shot so as to either kill or disable the bear.
3. Keep shooting until you are sure the bear is dead.
4. Never shoot at a grizzly above you on a steep hillside.
1904 OLD MOSE
The most famous bear to appear in OUTDOOR LIFE was a notorious grizzly from Colorado dubbed Old Mose. It’s hard to believe that one bear could have been responsible for the myriad depredations he was accused of, but Old Mose, known by his distinctive footprint (he was missing two toes), clearly bedeviled ranchers and hunters around south-central Colorado for many years.
When this wily grizzly was finally brought down, OL ran many stories related to the event. We published features about the hunter who killed him, penned editorials on the bear’s life and even had a doctor examine his brain to see what insight might be gained into his character.
“Old Mose,” the most dreaded grizzly bear in the entire United States, met a death befitting his long life of murder and outrage at 4 o’clock Saturday evening, April 30th. His last stand was made in a quaking asp draw within the confines of his home among the broken rocks at the northwest corner of Black Mountain, near Canon City, Colo. He died befitting his rank and lay down in his last sleep with imposing grandeur.
Short Biography of Old Mose Age: 40 years Weight: 1,000 pounds Killed: Three men, 800 head of cattle, horses, colts, etc. Times shot: More than 100 Cost of his depredations: $30,000 Date killed: April 30, 1904
1915 ROPING A POLAR BEAR
Bear adventures have been a part of OUTDOOR LIFE since the magazine’s earliest issues. In 1899, we ran a story titled “Roping a Grizzly,” which pretty much set the standard for all our bear adventures to follow. A few years later, however, we ran an even better bear-lassoing tale. The following excerpt details an expedition to the arctic ice cap to capture a live polar bear and bring him back to the New York Zoological Park.
The lasso whizzed, and the big creature was roped just after he had climbed out onto the ice. This time the rope was permitted to lie slack until he had put his forelegs thru it. Soon the launch was got going astern and gradually started to drag the animal into the water. It was a wonderful sight, it is said, to see this enormous brute with a strong rope just behind his fore-shoulders. He would rear on his hind legs, bite at the rope and jump up and down as he was surely and steadily dragged toward the edge. Finally, seeing that the inevitable was coming, with a vicious growl he plunged into the water, for he had left the ice pans forever.
1904 BEAR POETRY
Time was if you could pen a rhyming couplet or two about bears there was a good chance it would appear in the pages of OUTDOOR LIFE. Over the years we’ve run more than two dozen bear-themed poems, though you’d have to go back to the December 1932 issue to find the last one. As you can see from the following untitled verse, hunters at the turn of the last century were as likely to exaggerate their exploits afield as your brother-in-law is today.
When you capture Brother Bruin There is surely somethin’ doin’– At least it’s the impression that you get. And when you’ve finished chewin’ On the theme of his undoin’ He’s much bigger than when in the hills you met. –“Grizzly B” (February 1904)
1957 Far-flung Bear Hunt
While most sportsmen picture the wilds of Alaska or the Canadian Rockies when they envision a bear hunt, Frank C. Hibben, author of the following story, found himself unexpectedly hunting bears during a tiger safari on the Indian subcontinent. A group of sloth bears (so named for their long claws) had killed a number of people in a rural town and the villagers asked the hunter and his guide for help.
When we returned to the group around the jeep, my guide Rao led a young man forward to meet us.
“This is Daru of Gindoli,” Rao said by way of introduction. “He was hurt last year.”
We scarcely heard what Rao said. We were staring at the man’s face, or what had been his face. His cheek and ear were gone so that the naked bone of his jaw showed through a crack. One eye had been torn away. His mouth, ripped open at the corner, had healed askew, and with a horrible star-shaped scar on the side of his chin.
Rao said, “This man was attacked by the male bear. He put betal juice on the wound and did not die.” We had to marvel at the stamina of a man who’d survived those awful wounds.
“There are three sloth bears near the village,” Rao was saying. “There is a female, a young bear and an old male. The female and the old male have killed two men and one woman of the village. Two days ago another woman was attacked. That is when they sent for us.”
“Let’s go shoot them,” I said with enthusiasm.
Rao smiled in his quiet manner. It was obvious that I had no idea how one went about shooting a sloth bear….
After several fruitless attempts, the villagers conducted a drive that pushed the male bear fleetingly into the author’s sights. A lucky shot tumbled the boar.
1979 & 1980 Lightning Strikes Twice
Attempting to fend off a bear attack with a rifle is tough enough, but when you have only a broadhead arrow in your hand to poke the bruin with, you know you’re in deep trouble. As unusual a predicament as this might seem, OL ran two stories, exactly one year apart, about two men, both of them outfitters living in Colorado, who were mauled and forced to defend themselves with arrows. One was chased up a tree by a sow black bear and the other was attacked by a grizzly on the ground. Both of the men survived their attacks.
1919 TOLSTOY’S BEAR
OUTDOOR LIFE has run stories by many celebrated authors over the years. Even so, it may come as a surprise that the byline of Russian master Leo Tolstoy has appeared in these pages as well. The author of War and Peace was an avid sportsman and during one hunt had a close call with a bear that left him hospitalized for a month.
The bear’s rush had carried him past me, but he had turned back, and had fallen on me with the whole weight of his body. I felt something heavy weighing me down, and something warm above my face, and I realized that he was drawing my whole face into his mouth. My nose was already in it, and I felt the heat of it, and smelt his blood. He was pressing my shoulders down with his paws so that I could not move: All I could do was to draw my head down towards my chest away from his mouth, trying to free my nose and eyes, while he tried to get his teeth into them. Then I felt that he had seized my forehead just under the hair with the teeth of his lower jaw, and the flesh below my eyes with his upper jaw, and was closing his teeth. It was as if my face were being cut with knives. I struggled to get away, while he made haste to close his jaws like a dog gnawing. I managed to twist my face away, but he began drawing it again into his mouth.
“Now,” thought I, “my end has come!”
Then I felt the weight lifted, and looking up, I saw that he was no longer there. He had jumped off me and run away.
When my comrade and Damian had seen the bear knock me down and begin worrying me, they rushed to the rescue. My comrade, in his haste, blundered, and instead of following the trodden path, ran into the deep snow and fell down. While he was struggling out of the snow, the bear was gnawing at me. But Damian just as he was, without a gun, and with only a stick in his hand, rushed along the path shouting: “He’s eating the master!”
And, as he ran, he called to the bear: “Oh, you idiot! What are you doing? Leave off! Leave off!”
The bear obeyed him, and leaving me ran away. When I rose, there was as much blood on the snow as if a sheep had been killed, and the flesh hung in rags above my eyes, tho in my excitement I felt no pain.
1919 THE FIRST POPE & YOUNG BEAR
In the early years of the 20th century there was only one common way to hunt bears: with a rifle, preferably a repeater like a lever-action for quick follow-up shots. But in 1919 OUTDOOR LIFE ran a story by Arthur H. Young, who, along with his partner Dr. Saxton “Doc” Pope, had a yearning to take a bear with his yew bow. Though OUTDOOR LIFE has always been eager to inform readers about new and innovative hunting techniques, the editor’s note at the end of the story indicates some degree of skepticism concerning the efficacy of tackling big game with bow and arrow. Pope and Young, through their pioneering archery feats, became the inspiration for the bowhunting recordkeeping club that was founded in their names in 1957.
Much small game such as quail, squirrels, rabbits, bobcats and deer had been killed with the bow and arrow by Dr. Saxton Pope and I, but now we wanted bear.
On the morning of Nov. 22, Doc and I, with Tom Murphy, the famous bear hunter, set out from camp with four horses and five dogs….
In Doc I knew I had an excellent shot, and our equipment second to none. I was confident of the outcome, altho will admit I was not particularly anxious to go against such a monster of a beast for the first time and let him get away….
As we neared the tree where the dogs were baying we looked out from under the brush and there was a big black mass sitting in a tall pine about 100 feet from the ground.
The long-waited-for opportunity was at hand, and we anxious to fly at it. We drew the arrows to the head on our bows that pulled seventy-five pounds, and loosed.
I saw the arrows flash out, followed by two welcomed thuds. One struck in the breast and the other a little further back. Bruin partly wheeled and partly fell into a clinch with the trunk of the tree, and down he came….
Nearing the ground he jumped, and as he hit the ground we each let another arrow fly….
The dogs were turned loose and in less than half a mile the bear went up again. This time he took to a pine not so large, and went up about seventy feet. An arrow aimed at his chest while he was looking down missed the mark and again he shuffled down….
This time he took to a black oak with an overhanging limb, and presenting our first good target, Doc and I opened up from about forty feet, and planted the arrows as fast as we could draw from quiver and shoot.
One of the arrows struck in the shoulder, sank to the feather and he instantly bit it off. Two went thru his lungs, and another tipped his heart, all this happening within a few seconds. Growing weak, he dropped from the limb, ran a few yards and fell dead.
Doc and I shook hands. We had a large 3-year-old bear with a fine jet black coat.
Here was a victory for the archers’ art.
Note–It seems Mr. Young believes that archery is more humane than rifle shooting in the pursuit of big game. We have every good feeling for this clean, manly recreation, and only wish that we could view it in as favorable a light as does Mr. Young for use in the hunting of big game animals. Hardly any bear the size of the one taken in this hunt would have much vitality left when leaving the first tree after having been hit once each by two men using even so ordinary a gun as a .30/30.
1916 Protecting Bears
While OUTDOOR LIFE has never lacked for dramatic accounts of amazing bear hunts and harrowing tales of maulings, the magazine has long been an influential advocate of the protection of bears, particularly of the grizzly, which was pushed to near extinction in the lower 48 states in the 20th century. In 1904, at a time when grizzlies were shot on sight as vermin, OUTDOOR LIFE’s founding editor, J. A. McGuire, wrote an editorial urging all states to adopt a regulated bear season, a radical notion for the time. McGuire’s call for bear protection became a recurrent theme in his editorials, and in 1915 he drafted sample legislation, which he printed on an ongoing basis in the magazine. Several states eventually enacted bear conservation measures based on McGuire’s proposed regulations.
Shall the grizzly bear, and his smaller brother, the black, follow the buffalo into oblivion? Shall the monarch of the mountains join the monarch of the plains in the Great Beyond? The buffalo were slaughtered for their hides, and suddenly there were no buffalo. If the slaughter of the bear does not stop, and stop now, suddenly there will be no more bears.
We killed the wild, hairy cattle of the plains–killed them as we would vermin–then suddenly awoke to the sobering fact that only 300 buffalo were left in America. The race was almost gone. Ashamed and alarmed, we then spent many thousands to nurse the stricken breed back to the 3,000 now in the world. Shall we do the same with the bear?…
In America we kill the bear as we would a national pest, where he is in fact the king of all our wildlife….
The grizzly needs his friends. In those high hills he is dying fast, cramped with the sheepherder’s ignorant poison, writhing in the hide hunter’s trap–cub and mother all shot wantonly at all times of the year, just to exterminate them. They are killing the King of the Rockies, and sore pressed, he can no longer stand alone.
Bear Covers Through the Years
MARCH 1899 MARCH 1903 APRIL 1908 APRIL 1911 JANUARY 1915 MAY 1921 JANUARY 1938 MARCH 1943 FEBRUARY 1956 AUGUST 1964 AUGUST 1973 JANUARY 1975 JANUARY 1981 JANUARY 1986 MARCH 1999 AUGUST 2003
Best Bear Poem Title: “Grizzly Greer’s Growl” September ’03
Oddest Bear Headline: “The Great Bear Men, Part VI,” by Wade Hampton III November ’88
Handguns for Bears? “Handguns Aren’t for Bears” June ’44 “Bears With a Handgun” January ’65
Q&A “Do Brown Bears Attack?” (November 1958) “Brown Bears Do Attack” (August 1959)