By Michael Deming
Are you out of your mind”, was the response I got through the phone from long-time outfitter Scott McLeod. This is something that I’ve been accused of by more than just this person, so there could be some truth to this statement. However, the decision to shoot a giant brown bear with a bullet weighing just 127 grains isn’t the reason I’m out of my mind. That Barnes bullet flying out of my Browning X-Bolt .26 Nosler at over 3,600 feet per second hits with more energy that a .300 Win mag and since it shoots 5-inch groups at 1,000 yards, I’m confident that I can put that bullet wherever I need to for a fatal shot.
Scott had called me in late February to inform me of a cancellation for his first hunt. This first hunt can be a bit challenging and slow if the cold weather hangs on, so I would have my work cut out to get this trip sold with such short notice. We had already purchased a hunt for the Sportsman’s News Pro Membership Sweepstakes and winner Randy Laumb was scheduled to go on the last hunt of the spring. I didn’t want to move that hunt up on such short notice either. I worked on selling the hunt even at the reduced price, but everyone seemed to have a full schedule already. Our team had taken a whopper bear on this hunt the year before and I was inclined to take the spot myself since I still hadn’t broken the 9-foot barrier on a big bruin yet. By the time mid-March had rolled around, Scott and I had worked out a deal for me to come and do the hunt myself and get some marketing materials put together for his operation.
On March 30th, myself and new cameraman, Sam Staudt, landed in Sitka, Alaska for the first hunt of the season. After getting the last of the provisions, we loaded onto the fishing vessel Western Profit, for our ten-day adventure.
This would be my 7th brown bear hunting adventure with a tag in my pocket. It took me 54 days to punch my first tag on a good 8.5’ bear and on my 6th trip, I harvested a similar bear on the last day of the hunt. So, it’s safe to say that brown bears don’t come easy for me. I was committed to killing a 9-foot plus bear or nothing and having my trusty .26 Nosler in hand made me confident that I could get it done if we could find one within 600 yards, even if my outfitter was a bit skeptical of my weapon of choice.
We traveled for nearly half the day before we dropped anchor and settled in for the hunt. We would live on the Western Profit with nice beds, bathroom, shower and most importantly, a place to dry off each and every night. I’ve spent many a hunt in a bomb shelter tent, soaked to the bone for days on end and the older I get, the less appealing this type of hunting is to me. I do enjoy a nice hot meal, warm bed, and being dry when I start my day. We would use 16’ skiffs to tour around the bays looking for bears coming out to feed as well as possibly looking for sows to breed.
For the first four days of hunting, we saw at least one bear a day. Most were at a distance, but were nothing of size or close enough to get our heart rate up. On Day Five, we spotted a good boar late in the evening. He looked good at a distance and worthy of getting closer. He followed the plan to a T and fed along slowly, without a care in the world. At 70 yards, we decided that he just wasn’t big enough and we continued to motor along in the boat at just an idle. He allowed us to get inside of 50 yards before he figured out something was wrong and bolted into the dense forest of Southeast Alaska. It was truly a good close encounter and a bear most people would have shot, but I wanted a whopper.
The next evening found us in the same bay. The bears were super active and we had already seen several for the day. We had set up on an island at low tide, which would give us the ability to see more country with our spotting scopes as well as judge the bears a bit better without being so close. As we watched a young boar sleep the evening away, a giant walked right into my scope, several hundred yards behind in the brush. Scott saw it right away and now he was the one losing his mind. “Let’s Go! Let’s Go!” he exclaimed!
We left everything and just took off in the direction of the bear. Sam was on his tail and left all of his gear except the camera and tripod. Being a diligent Marine, I grabbed all my own personal stuff and brought up the rear. We closed the gap to the last area we had seen the bear and waited about 200 yards out. Sam was capturing footage the entire time in hopes of catching that first glimpse of him rolling out before we shot. As darkness was falling, Sam said “I’m almost out of battery”. I said, “Put in a fresh one. I won’t shoot until you are ready.” He informed me that in the haste, he left everything where we were spotting just as our guide had done. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the bear never came out and Sam learned a very valuable lesson. Never leave your pack.
This was definitely the bear we wanted and everyone was committed to coming back every day until the season was over or we killed that bear. He had a huge head, and matching swagger when he walked, and he topped 9-foot plus all day long.
Several days passed and we didn’t get any more sightings of that big boy or any other candidates we liked. It was pretty obvious that my black cloud still hovered over me when it came to harvesting brown bears.
Late in the evening of the ninth day, we were back on the island to spot the whole bay. This was the place we had seen the big boy before. However, this time, the weather was horrible. Windy, raining, poor visibility, and cold. Apparently, it was just what Mr. Big wanted and he showed up with plenty of daylight left. It was 6:15 pm and with one look into the spotter, it was obvious that this guy was a shooter. Scott once again went into go-mode and left everything. He is used to getting up close and personal with big bears and you need all the time you can get in most cases. I made sure we had everything and quickly caught up with him. During our half mile hike, the bear wasn’t visible at all and we weren’t sure we would even see him when we got set up.
We finally got to a knob about 500 yards from where we last saw him, which provided a slight rise in elevation to shoot from. The rain was pouring down, but at least the wind had stopped this far into the bay. I laid down my ALPS Extreme pack for a good rest and settled my sights on the area we had last seen the bear. Just as I had gotten the scope cover off and a round chambered, I could see the top of his back coming out of a small swale that had been hiding him for the past 30 minutes. Scott said he wasn’t sure how big he was, since he left his spotting scope at our lookout. He said it was my call and with my Leupold VX-6 scope cranked up to 24-power, I could tell this was a bear worthy of my tag.
Mr. Big stopped in the wide open with a mouthful of grass and I slowly squeezed the trigger. The bear just froze in his tracks and started looking around. I was shocked – I had missed at 463 yards. I quickly pumped in another round and settled the crosshairs right behind the bears ear. This time, the shot was true and the big boy dropped in his tracks. Wow, what an adrenaline rush and the miss made it even worse. Thanks to my Marine training, I maintained my calm and executed on the second shot. I’m still not sure how I missed, but it was a humbling experience. The .26 Nosler and that little 127 grain Barnes bullet gained a bit of respect with that second shot though.
When we walked up to the bear, it was nothing short of spectacular. He was well over 9-foot and truly a bear of my dreams and will be full body mounted for me to enjoy for life. Having this kind of success made me really excited for our hunt winner, Randy Laumb, to show up for the last hunt, only two weeks later.
My good friend, Wes Atkinson, would be along with Randy to film. He was truly the best outfitter in the business for 15 years and since he sold his company, he often works with me on special projects like this one. Randy and this bear hunt would definitely be a special project. When I called him to notify him of winning this fabulous trip, his first response was, “Can I bring home my meat”? Even the state of Alaska doesn’t require you to take the brown bear meat, so I’m sure I turned up my nose when he made that statement. I assured him that he would be able to take his meat and felt that it was a great representation of us as hunters and conservationists as long as I didn’t have to eat it.
Two weeks later, Wes and Randy were right back in my same footprints in Sitka to do the same thing. They had extremely high hopes, as we all do on the first day of the hunt. The last hunt of the year is typically a high bear sighting type of hunt, but requires picking through rubbed bears to get one with a good hide. The rut is usually in full swing by now as well and you often get those big boars just following a sow and acting dumb as a post. So, the guys excitement was definitely warranted. However, several days into the hunt, they realized that this cold spring was having an effect on what is normal. They had hardly seen any bears at all.
On the fourth day, they spotted a good boar which was just over the 8-foot mark. He was tall and lanky and was missing his guard hairs from his right front shoulder. They put a stalk on the boar and got within 50 yards. However, Randy envisioned his dream bear being more stocky than this guy and without a vote of confidence from the guide, they let him pass. On Day 7, they found an overly large sow with a beautiful blonde coat and no cubs. Randy was all for putting his tag on this bear, but the guide, as well as Scott’s operation, doesn’t like to shoot sows, so another one got the pass.
Poor Randy had gotten the Mike Deming curse passed onto him with brown bears. Rolling into the hunt on day ten, I told Wes over the phone to tell him to, “Keep believing; as it can and usually does happen on the last light of the last night for us Sportsman’s News folks.”
Sure enough, with only hours left in his hunt as well as the season, a good-looking boar appeared. With it being the last day and Randy wanting to fill his freezer, it was no time to be picky. This was a good bear, a boar with no rubs, so the team decided to try and put a tag on him. A diligent stalk put them inside of 150 yards and Randy, closed the deal with a well-executed shot. It was the end to a roller coaster experience for Randy. He had never had a great desire to do this type of hunt as he was a meat hunter for his whole life. However, the experience and grandeur of Alaska captivated him from the very first moment. He took thousands of photos and logged the entire trip in his journal and walking up to this trophy of a lifetime was something he will never forget. The trophy is in the eye of the beholder and this bear might as well be the new world record in Randy’s eyes and it too will be full body mounted to adorn his home to remember this great Pro Membership Sweepstakes experience.
For your chance to win trips like this with the Sportsman’s News Pro Membership Sweepstakes, log on to promembershipsweepstakes.com . We give away a trip like this every ten days and will give away over $300,000 worth of trips, guns, and gear each and every year. See the center page spread of this issue to see all the upcoming giveaways during the next 12-months.