Beyond Expectations

Beyond Expectations

Story and photos by: Butch Whiting 

The Katmai National Park and Preserve on the Alaskan peninsula is the premium brown bear area in the entire state, if not the world. 

It has the highest density of bears and extremely large bruins can be found roaming the tundra. The bears in the hard park are protected year-round and have a sanctuary away from hunting which allows them to flourish. In the whole preserve, there are only two exclusive concessions through the National Park Service that allow hunting. It is here that I hunted with Majestic Mountain Outfitters (MMO).

A plane to some of the world's most premier brown bear areas.

I have known the owner of MMO for a long time and it has always been a dream of his to have a dedicated brown bear area. Things lined up for him in the winter of 2017 when that vision of over thirty years became a reality. Now, he is able to run one of the highest quality brown bear hunts in Alaska. I had the privilege to hunt in this special area with none other than the big dog himself, Master Guide #125, Jeff Chadd.

I flew into the small village of Illiamna and got off the plane, meeting Jeff at the airstrip. On the way to the lodge, he told me about the phenomenal success they’d had during the first set of hunters who had just come out of the bush. So, it was with great expectations that I flew into spike camp later that day. Little did I know those expectations would be blown out of the water.

The Alaskan backcountry from above.
Flying to spike camp in Alaska.

The next morning was the first morning of the hunt and we awoke to a duck pond outside our tent. The packed snow and ice had melted over the course of the warm night and created a small body of water all around us. After breakfast and breaking out the canoe to get across the pond, (okay, it was only a couple of inches deep) we made it to the top of a small bluff that would be our lookout and started glassing. As with all spot and stalk hunts, the first morning passed quickly as I was ready to see one of those big bears walk out of the brush at any moment. It’s not until day three or four of looking at the same landscape that the dullness of it starts to set in but on this hunt, I wouldn’t even see the third day.

A very wet basecamp.
Glassing for brown bear.

Late in the afternoon, we hiked around to the back side of the lookout to change up the scenery and immediately spotted a bear bedded down on a patch of snow in a giant alder patch. It was the only opening for a few hundred yards in every direction. We knew right away it was one we needed to get a closer look at. After packing up our gear, we hiked the half mile to the spot where we had seen him. It was no trouble finding the big blob of brown and blond fur balled up in the snow, but from our angle was impossible to judge the exact size.

We were able to sneak in to exactly 250 yards from the bear and get into a position that provided a broadside shot and no obstruction from the brush. I set up in a rock-solid shooting position, much thanks to my swagger bipod, and the waiting game began. Over the next two and half hours, we waited for the bear to get up to judge his size and get a look at his coat, or at the very least a glimpse of his head. For those entire 150 minutes, I only came off the gun once to dawn another layer of insulation and put some mittens on to keep my fingers from freezing to the gun. The bear would stretch one way…then stretch the other, constantly teasing us as if he were going to stand up so we could properly determine if he was a shooter or not. He would roll over on his right side, then his left, tossing and turning, but never giving us a super good look to know how big he really was. There was this massive ball of fur, shifting his huge mass every so often in a foot of snow. Through those hours, Jeff did confirm that it was indeed a big boar, but we just weren’t sure if it was big enough. I was after a once in a lifetime trophy and didn’t want to settle for something average on day one.

Waiting for the bear to move.

At about the two-hour twenty-minute mark, I had an interesting conversation with Jeff. He told me you should never shoot a bear in its bed that you haven’t had a real good opportunity to judge…It is a sure way to be disappointed and reminded me we had lots of time. He also said it could be a nine-foot bear or a ten-foot bear, there was no way to know for sure until he gave us a good look. Now keep in mind, this clear spot where the bear was bedded down was about a 10-yard opening, but the bear was not centered exactly in the middle. He was laying down toward the edge of the opening, his head was just a couple steps away from the edge of an ultra-thick alder patch. That meant when the bear did get up, we may not have much time to judge him and make a clean shot before he would disappear into the dense sea of alder brush.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the big boy moved enough for Jeff and I to get a good look at his head. Now, I’m normally very careful and listen to my guides and don’t shoot until they say so. They are the professionals after all, but when a master guide with over thirty years of experience bear hunting makes an exclamation like he did, I didn’t need him to tell me anymore. I could just hear the confirmation in his voice.

“Oh now, wait a minute…Holy Shit, he’s--” BOOM! Jeff didn’t get a chance to finish the comment as my .33 Nosler barked.

The 265 grain Accubond bullet slammed squarely into the boar’s shoulder with a loud thump. I knew it was a good shot. The bear charged into the alders straight away from our position as I racked another round and hit him again just as he disappeared into the brush. He had run off, like any respectable bear will (rarely do they just roll over and die). After circling around the alder patch to come in from above, we found the bear laying in the thickest, nastiest wad of alders on the whole mountain, deader than a doornail. High-fives and hugs, followed by Jeff crawling in to inspect the bear up close. He grabbed the front right leg, pulled it out of the tangled mess of Alaska’s famous brush, and laid his hand on the paw. It was then I knew we had taken a true monster…Jeff ripped his hat off and threw it onto the ground in sheer joy, announcing that in his 30 years of hunting Alaska, this was the biggest bear he had even taken!

A monster Alaskan brown bear.

It is a special feeling when you’re standing over a trophy at the end of the hunt, whether it was ten days or one. The feeling is even greater when standing over a brown bear of that size. He was massive! After pictures and skinning, we called in one of Jeff’s guides, Bryan Griffin, to come over to help us pack out the giant. Bryan found us and we began the journey back. While going after the bear, I didn’t realize how far the mile and a half had been until doing it in the dark. We didn’t get back to camp until 1:00am. It had been a very long, but very successful day.

Bear down.

The next morning, we packed up camp and were back at the lodge that afternoon. Breaking out the tape, we did some green measurements. The old boar squared 10 ½ feet with a 28 ½ inch skull. After looking him over, we only noticed a couple of small rubbed spots. He was a truly magnificent trophy and a BAB (Big Ass Bear)! He was also the biggest trophy MMO had taken. Well, that was until Jeff’s son, Joshua, came out of the bush a couple days later with the last bear of their season that squared almost 11 feet and had a 29 ¾ inch skull!

A truly massive bear.

We spent a couple days at the lodge before flying back to Anchorage and it was the perfect end to an amazing hunt. Majestic Mountain Outfitters went seven for eight (one hunter quit and went home because he didn’t have gear to stand up to the harsh conditions). All of the bears taken that spring squared over 9 feet and five of them were over 10 feet! It was not only a great hunt for me, but many others as well. From start to finish, it was one that will stick with me for years to come and I cannot say enough about MMO and the Chadd family. They are a world class outfit and provided me the opportunity to harvest one of my favorite trophies. It truly was the hunt of a lifetime, in an extremely special place!

A once-in-a-lifetime trophy.

Posted in Stories from the Hunt