The Awesome Grizzly

There are three major species of bears on the North American Continent: Ursus Maritimus, the great white Polar Bear of the Artic; Ursus Americanus, commonly called the Black Bear; and Ursus Arctos Horribilis, the grizzly. Some insist that the big brown bears of Northern Canada, Alaska, and the Aleutian Islands are a fourth species, but Dr. C. Hart Merriam of the U.S. Biological Survey and the Smithsonian Institution listing eighty-six variations of Horribilis, includes the big browns under the grizzly species. Color variations ranging from black through brown to near-white in both Ursus Americanus and the grizzly have caused other minor confusions, but the markedly different facial characteristics of the two species, plus the grizzly's hump-backed body profile caused by the heavy roll of the shoulder muscles, provide unfailing identification.

Most people fear the grizzly. He is beyond any question the biggest, most powerful, most dangerous beast in the Americas, if not the world. His tenacious hold on life, and his fierce determination to kill any attacker, are incredible. He can smash through thickets that would check a tank; he is fast enough in a sprint to catch a man on horseback; and he can kill anything he can catch.

The grizzlies of Northern Canada, Alaska, and the Aleutians are simply called "Big Brownies". They are known also as "Silvertips" because their back and shoulder fun is often white-tipped, giving them a gray cast.

One thing about grizzly bears:   you can't really appreciate how big they are until you've seen one up close. You can't appreciate their strength, either, until you've seen what they do to a slump of trees they decide to go through instead of around. Most of all, you can't totally appreciate how absolutely fearsome they can be until you've met one in hostile circumstances. In fact, when a hunter has faced an enraged grizzly, that charges him from close quarters, the word "awesome" takes on a brand new and very personal meaning. The best way I can convey this is by relating my first experience on an awesome grizzly bear hunt in British Columbia. I booked my hunt with Dennis Salsgiver of Davidson, Michigan who owns Grand Slam Hunting Consultants. My guide was Ron Langdal of Smithers, British Columbia. Ron has this area for a number of years. He recently sold the area to Harry McCowen of Snowie Owl Lodge, Terrace, British Columbia, but is still doing the guiding for Harry.

After final arrangements were made, I left Midland on May 7, 1984, at 6:35 A.M. and arrived in Smithers, British Columbia at 6:45 P.M. that evening. Ron Fleming of Love Bros. and Lee Outfitters, a friend of Ron Langdale's picked me up at the airport in Smithers that evening. I stayed at Fleming's house that night in Hazelton, British Columbia. The next morning, bright and early, Fleming and I drove north about one hundred and twenty-five miles to the area I was to be hunting in and met Ron Langdale, my guide for the hunt. I also met Fredrick, a German dentist, that Ron Langdale was guiding for black and grizzly bear. The German had his black bear already but had not gotten a grizzly yet. It was decided that I would hunt with Ron Fleming as my guide till Fredrick, the German hunter, left on May 11th. Ron and I had lunch and headed out to do some glassing and to look over the area. As you can well imagine, I was ready to do a little hunting. We saw three black bears, all too small, one grizzly, too high, and tour mountain goats.

The area that we were staying in is called the "Bear Pass" named rightly so. Ron Langdale had pulled his camper trailer up there and this was to be our home. It was parked on a side road just off the main highway. All we had to do each day was drive up and down the main road and glass the mountains, mostly on the South side. The North slopes of the mountains were pretty well snow covered. In the spring you watch the green grassy areas in hope's of seeing Mr. Griz lounging out there.

The splender of the clue ice glaciers in this area is breath-taking, running up into the mountains for miles.

On the next day, Fleming and I saw five black bears, one grizzly, and seven goats. Nothing worth going after. Ron Fleming is a very enjoyable and interesting guide to hunt with. I also sighted in my Ruger 338 Win. Mag. And Reminton 7 MM Mag. Boy, does that 338 Mag. Kick! On May 10th, Ron Fleming and I drove into Meziadin Jct. to get some gas. On the way back, we ran into Ron Langdale and Fredrick. They were glassing a grizzly way up on the mountain and trying to decide if they should go after it. That evening I saw a large black bear about a quarter of a mile up the mountain. Ron decided he was large enough and that we should go after him. Well, what a climb! If you have never been exposed to devils club, it is quite a treat. You want to be sure and wear leather gloves. I suppose I have to tell you about the black bear. He was at least a 400 or 500 pounder. I got three shots off at him and never raised a hair. He was either close than I though or I was shaking too much and had bear fever. What can I say. It was a nice exercising evening. On May 11th in the morning on Hanna Ridge, we saw a grizzly sow and her two full grown cubs. It must have been at least two to three miles over to that ridge. Ron Lagdale and Fredrick had gone over there the day before. We decided to keep an eye on that area because it looked very good. Later we took Fredrick to Meziadin Lake and Harry McCowen picked him up and flew him back to Snowie Owl Lodge. Ron Fleming left also, so only Ron Langdale and I were left in camp. It was now time for some very serious grizzly bear hunting.

Ron and I discussed over dinner that we would get up early and glass the Surprise Creek, Hanna Ridge area the first thing. This slope looked very good to Ron since we'd seen lots of grizzlies up there and when Ron and Fredrick were up there they saw a lot of tracks in that area.

On May 12th at 7:15 A.M. we spotted a large lone grizzly on Hanna Ridge. It must be two to three miles over there and a steady climb all the way. We have all day to make it. I don't think this grizzly is the sow we saw the day before because it looks larger and there are no cubs around. Another good sign was that it just bedded down under a couple of large pines on the side of the slide. Maybe this will be my lucky day. We headed up the mountain at 8:21 A.M. I'm carrying my 7 MM Mag., the one I won last year at the awards banquet for the membership drive. Besides, I shoot it a lot better than the 338 Mag. We climbed through a beautiful Hemlock forest and reached the bottom of the slide area about 10:15 A.M. It didn't take Ron very long to get his bearing before he said, "Dale, that bear should be bedded down right up there under those pines approximately 200 to 225 yards". I'd just taken my backpack off and laid it down when Ron said, "There he is! Get down and get a good rest over that log. He is about 125 to 150 yards out. The wind is OK, he is moving up hill and when you're ready, let him have it, take your time and breathe deeply". I couldn't believe me eye's when I got him in the scope! He was angling up hill from my right to my left at about a 45° angle. My first shot was just behind the left front shoulder. When I shot, he charged up hill about 25 to 30 yards, then started to lose ground. He then turned and headed back down hill. My second shot was placed just between the front shoulders on his back. I can remember Ron saying "give him another one!" On my third shot, all I saw was brush and no bear! Then I heard Ron say "he's dead!" I said, "are you sure, are you sure!" Ron had been watching the whole affair with his binoculars, when he said "let's go get him". I almost went into a state of shock. He said, "your first two shots hit him good, on your thirst shot he was already piling up". It took us a while to work our way up to him. The snow had slid down the side of the hill and layed over most of the tagalders and we kept breaking through to above our knees. All the time I kept thinking what if he gets up and attacks us while we are knee deep in this snow! There were grizzly tracks all over the place. We finally got within 20 yards of him and I couldn't believe my eyes. What a monster! It took the two of us all the strength we had just to roll him over, so we could slide him down the hill to a flat spot.

After a lot of hand shaking and back slapping, the work started for Ron. Four hours later Ron had him completely skinned out and skilled. I've never seen a better job of skinning other than maybe Chris Hixson. We packed the hide in Ron's backpack. I carried the skull. The hide alone had to weigh at least one hundred pounds. I think Ron was happy to get started because of all the other tracks in the area. It took us till 6:00 P.M. that evening to reach the pickup truck. When we got back to camp that night, Ron squared the bear out. He was nine feet, ten inches from paw to paw and nine feet from his nose to his tail. Squared, that made him a nine and one-half footer. Skull size as best we could tell was well over twenty-five inches, almost twenty-six.

What more can I say but AWESOME!

 Dean Dale 1984