A Bear Hunt

Thursday, June 19, 2014
Chase and Bridget Sain with his bear

Young boys fantasize about "going on a bear hunt" or a hunt for lions and tigers, but rarely do they experience it and bring home the perfect trophy -- an 18-year-old Alaskan brown bear, approximately 11 feet tall (standing) and 1,200 pounds.

"Everything came together for a perfect hunt, including the bear and the weather," shares Chase Sain of Rector. Able to get the trophy and make some outstanding photographs and video, Chase's trip was a lifetime adventure.

The group boarded a float plane for the 120- mile trip onto a land form, miles from anywhere. On Alaska's Archipelago, Kodiak Island and Peninsula is fortunate to have one of the most successful and well-regulated hunting systems in the world. Living along the coast of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, the bear population is increasing.

It was into that environment that Chase Sain and his friend Dylan Clark, plus an experienced guide and crew, ventured for a scheduled 15-day hunt in April of 2012. Jake, the guide for Chase and Dylan, is originally from the St. Louis area but has lived in the Alaskan archipelago for over 17 years, devoting his professional life to becoming the top guide in the area.

The land, comprised of coastal beaches, rolling hills and flat lands, was, during April, still covered with brown vegetation, as the Alaskan spring green had yet to flourish. Photographs of the group reveal a relaxed event with opportunity to view bears from safe distances, guided by expert eyes, binoculars and scopes.

While the group witnessed bears of various sizes, Chase says, "It's difficult to tell how big one might be, because there is no point of perspective. All of the bears are big."

It's like looking at professional basketball players on a court of equally tall players. Adult brown bears have a definitive hump at the shoulder and neck area; cubs' ears are disproportionately large.

Watching them was fascinating, Chase said. They eat vegetation and salmon, unlike grizzly bears that live inland and are carnivores.

The adventurers saw a brown bear mark a scent trail high in a tree, stating that he was a big bear, challenging all takers. Chase noted the hump on the back of a brown bear is so large and muscular that it is impossible for the bear to raise its head to look up; thus, it rises up, not necessarily in an aggressive stance, but to look around.

Jake would tell Chase about the various bears. "That's a good one, but not what we're looking for. Let's wait." Then, the group would continue to watch and admire the bears in their natural habitat. While the bears were lumbering along at what appeared to be a slow pace, Chase tells that a man would have to be in full jog to keep pace. Therefore, if the bears had been moving away from the hunt, there was no way to catch up to them.

The climate was favorable for tent camping, not the Arkansas backyard variety, but at least 8X10 and large enough to hold their bedding and cooking spaces. With the heat that radiated from the cook stove, enough warmth was available for sleeping comfortably. No evidence of bears visiting the camp was discovered, but other animals lurked about.

Six days into the hunt, on a late afternoon, the guide became unusually quiet.

"There he is," Jake said, "I think this is our bear. We've seen big ones and this is the biggest. We can wait and hope for another, but I think this is the one."

Chase tells that the group weighed options upon spotting this bear, as he was in the right area and coming toward them with a lumbering speed.

"Going away from us would have necessitated that we jog to keep pace. That was impossible," remarked Sain.

This bear, determined to be age 18, would have died from age had he not been brought down. In conservation environments, this kill allows another Alpha bear to move in and live a productive life on Kodiak.

The Kodiak 15 mile x 30 mile peninsula allows only four tags for Chase's guide, so getting this bear was remarkable. Five well-placed shots from a 375 H&H and a 300 Winchester Magnum felled the bear at 200 yards. The group's decision to take the bear and prepare to remove it was another perfect decision, even though they were only at day six of the scheduled 15-day hunt.

Carrying out the hide and the skull in backpacks was no small feat. They had to stop along the way and rest, shares Chase, who confesses that he had never carried that much weight for several miles until they hiked back to camp. The group stayed up all night swapping stories and recounting the adventure. They got a few winks of sleep and awoke to a storm.

"The next morning, a blizzard landed on us," Chase said. "We had to fly out."

When the plane arrived, they packed and loaded, asking the pilot about the weather. His reply: "This is not as bad as it could be, but it's as bad as I've seen."

They flew between mountains in a raging blizzard and landed safely, with the prize.

The Boone and Crockett Club, founded in 1887 by Theodore Roosevelt, rated the bear at 27 and 12/16 points with its hide weighing 152 pounds and the skull weighing 35 pounds. Boone and Crockett promotes conservation as a tradition growing from a love for wildlife and a scientific and business approach to management of natural resources. Boone and Crockett Club abides by an ethical code which honors sportsmanship and the "fair chase."

Chase Sain's bear, rated a top 5 ever taken in the area, occupies a prominent corner in their family home on Woodland Heights Drive. While Chase's wife, Bridgette, tends to think like most women and imagines the bears out frolicking in the grasses, she also appreciates the sport and understands the huntsman she has married. Only when she and Chase stand beside the bear can the enormous size of the animal be noted. On all fours, the bear stands over seven feet tall. His paw is three times the size of a large man's hand.

When Piggott taxidermist Barry Johnson delivered the bear to the Sains, he carried it covered in numerous quilts in the back of his pickup truck. It is so large that it will not fit upright through any door of the Sains' house. Manipulating the bear and its stand, making sure all its features are prominently displayed was quite a task, but worth every second of effort. Johnson's work is masterful.

So Chase Sain got to have his bear hunt and it's one that lives in photographs and video, but above all, in cherished memory.

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