We were honored to see one of our Spring 2015 hunters, 18 year old John Hatch and his grizzly bear receive recognition as the new (four-way tie) number three all time hunter harvested grizzly bear at the 29th annual Boone and Crockett Awards Ceremony in July. When you think about this, note that B&C has been keeping track of exceptional animals for over 100 years and there are currently 972 grizzly bears which have qualified and been entered into the record book. Johns bear officially measured 27 3/16 B&C. The new world record hunter harvested grizzly was also recognised in this years awards program at 27 6/16. The actual world record grizzly is represented as a picked up skull.
FAMILY HUNT AND THE NUMBER THREE WORLD RECORD HUNTER HARVESTED GRIZZLY BEAR
Author: Robert R. Fithian of Lower Tonsina, Alaska
Alaska: Spring 2015
No one can truly define the calling of hunting. This calling is vested and entwined in the deepest limits of man’s age’s old relationship with the heartbeats of the wild things within the wild places. There is no simple definition known within written word that can adequately describe the reasons why we hunt.
So, it should come as no surprise to the reader of this story why it was that Mr. Robert Hatch II of Black Hawk Colorado decided to explore the possibility of taking his eighteen year old son John on an Alaskan grizzly bear hunt as a high school graduation present. Included in this potential venture would be another son, twenty-seven year old Robert Hatch III. If possible, it was to be a memorable Hatch family bear hunt.
Young John is the hunter of this family. Seeking out the four legged inhabitants of the aspen and ponderosa pine forests around their home in the Colorado Front Range has held his interest for many years and his father felt that an Alaskan bear hunt would be a notable way for the men of the family to reflect back upon this point of time in later years. Little did they know just what those reflections would harbor.
So how does a successful real estate attorney who does not regularly engage in hunting move forward in trying to find a grizzly bear hunt in Alaska?
He does his homework of course.
In his world, this work is generally called “discovery”. By attending a sportsman’s show and getting a feel for what hunt options may be out there and then, letting the age old instinct of research take over. He reviewed a map of Alaska, picked what he thought looked like an interesting location and “Googled” “grizzly bear hunting”.
This was the point where discovery and fate connected. One of the search results listed a professional guide service that conducts grizzly bear hunts in the region and Mr. Hatch, with a previously developed list of questions, picked up the phone and contacted the guide. The person who answered the phone is the author of this story.
Several months later the three Mr. Hatch’s left Colorado via their guns and gear loaded Piper Meridian, climbed to near thirty thousand feet and with an overnight stop in Petersburg Alaska, flew on into the interior of the state. It was an incredible trip but not over yet.
Waiting for them upon arrival was my thirty-one year old son Cody who then shuttled them one at a time to our Emerald Valley Base Camp via his mom’s Arctic Tern bushplane. Cody and his brothers spent most of their growing up years helping mom and dad with our family run multiple species safari hunting company. Cody has gone steps further and became our family pilot and head guide.
Young John was the second to arrive at camp and when I met him out at the airfield he was in a bit of a trance, standing and staring at the country with a wide smile on his face. After my second attempt at a greeting he turned to me and said, “this is so much fun!”
After spending two days flying with the angels of high, flying several hundred feet over the Alaska taiga represented a pleasurable change.
Having enjoyed this unique part of the world for many years, I have learned that each season’s harvest potential can be judged by the wildlife sign seen in close proximity to our historic base camp. If there are several sets of wolf tracks discernable on the trail between the airfield and base camp this tells a story of how high the sheep or how elusive moose and caribou will be. If there are moose and caribou tracks readily evident, this provides a good glimpse of the forthcoming season as well.
There are several known grizzly marker trees and soft-ground bear travel zones local to our base camp and fresh hair, bites, rubs or tracks not only show that there are grizzlies around but you can also learn their size, color, sex and whether they are accompanied or not by observing these signs.
While Mr. Hatch was on the last flight to camp with Cody, I accompanied the younger hunters to several of these locations to see if any long claws, teeth or feet had been leaving any sign. They were a taken aback when they were showed the first grizzly bear tracks of their lives which I explained were made by a world class bear who was a hunter and berry eater more than a digger as expressed by his exceptionally long claws.
There was no question in my mind that young John was looking at these extraordinarily large tracks wishing he had heeded his brother and father’s advice and brought a rifle larger in caliber than .270 WSM.
I enjoyed the looks on their faces and the slight change easily noticed in their demeanor.
I explained to them that this bear did not get to be this big or this old by not being exceptionally smart and that, if we could limit our mistakes and he would possibly make a mistake or two, we would have a good chance of finding him.
The following morning was spent relaxing, taking care of the required paper work and watching a video which we share prior to most bear hunts that depicts how to judge bears. We go one step further and use a laser pointer to discuss proper shot placement and what the hunter can expect in a shooting situation as well as what we expect of the hunter.
This was to be a relaxing hunt for Cody and I as we enjoy working together here in this incredible place while sharing the guiding, cooking and oversight that spring bear hunts bring. We limit our spring grizzly hunts in keeping with being able to provide a conservation balance relative to mature boar bears for our fall multiple species hunters.
One thing that I believe in on any brown or grizzly bear hunt is to “go easy into the country”. This means minimizing noise and scent distribution within the region we are hunting in. During the spring hunts, it is a time of the country coming back to life after the long winter. Seeing the blooming and re-greening of the flora; birds of many species moving on Northward; caribou migrating back to the mountains and calving within the steppes; moose mothers and their newborn; watching the old barren Dall’s sheep ewes standing guard over the yearlings while the ewes are off in the rough having their lambs and the many rams who appear only to disappear by fall always adds a special flavor to these hunts. It is truly a quality wilderness experience.
There is basically no real darkness this time of the year at this latitude and hunters for the most part enjoy this new phenomenon in their lives.
The Hatch family had come prepared with the three most important aspects of having a successful hunt. They had a sincere respect and appreciation for the country, people and wildlife they were spending time with, the ability to access the habitats where the bears live and were able to shoot well in field conditions. Whenever we have hunters arrive with these important factors going for them, the success of the hunt is generally pre-ordained.
We spent the first few days of the hunt with forays from base camp searching the vast tundra steppes of the front range and another day into the rugged winter bound glacier country. Although no bears were seen, we did see the tracks of the large boar who was now accompanying a female.
Stepping out into the country a bit further with a spike camp we finally saw our first bears of the year, and as fate would have it, it was the large boar and his new wife. They were in traveling mode and not accessible from our location and we enjoyed watching some brief interaction. He was a very large bear with dark brown arms and lighter colored body, while the female was blond and looked very small in comparison. She was certainly not as enamored with him as he was with her.
Once they had traveled out of sight we continued onto our spike camp location and set up a comfortable camp.
There is bear in this area that we have named “Wo Fat” after the villain depicted within the Hawaii Five-O television series. Our Wo Fat has a long history of disrespect for human presence and a long list of savaged camps at this location. This adds a little flavor to the spike camp situation and invariably brings up the question of who should be paying who to hunt this bear. Wo-Fat left us alone for the night and the following morning found Cody and the hunters headed out into the steppes while I took care of some camp chores with the plan to join them later.
Shortly after arriving at a good glassing location the large boar and sow were spotted about a half mile away, sleeping in the tundra on a hillside bench along a strip of alder bushes. Everything was right for the stalk that put the hunters one hundred sixty yards above and crosswind to the bears and above the strip of alders.
Since it was John’s hunt, he was going to be the shooter on this great bear. While Cody was focusing on getting him set for his shot the bears rose and started walking along the strip of alders. Cody made a noise to stop them and John placed the Federal Premium 150 grain bullet through the bear’s heart without impacting any bone or exiting. The giant bear stopped in stride and stood while two more additional bullets were placed within a few inches of the first. His large frame then collapsed into the tundra. Cody was very pleased not to have had to assist the harvest with the 375 Ruger he carries for back up.
As it should be, the hunters and guide were a solemn and respectful group as they beheld this great animal. His death, huge size, battle worn head and six inch claws combined with the incredible country and experience created an omnipresence felt to the soul by each hunter. Heartfelt respects were shared. I arrived just as the shooting had taken place and was able to share in the respects for the harvest and ensuing field work.
Before the hunt was to end, Wo Fat did destroy another one of our spike camps and Robert Hatch II and the III each harvested additional grizzlies (but not Wo Fat) bringing to close a most enjoyable and memorable quality wilderness family hunting experience.
After the hunt, the skull of John’s bear was green scored at 27 4/16-inches at base camp which would tie for the current first place B&C hunter harvested grizzly. After fleshing and laid flat without stretching, the hide squared nine-feet six inches. On August 5, 2015, official B&C Master Scorer, Ted Spraker of Soldotna, Alaska scored the bear at 27 and 2/16-inches, which places this exceptional animal in a tie for third place amongst the all-time B&C hunter harvested record book entries.
When I was a young lad, reading everything I could about hunting, the stories accompanying world record grizzly bear entries for the Boone and Crockett record book were some of my favorites. The Roger Pentecost and Jack Turner stories are truly classics. A few things they had in common with this hunt were the small caliber rifles used and that the hunters just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Another commonality to the Pentecost hunt and the Hatch hunt was the father/son hunter aspect. In the Hatch hunt, this was carried even further in which Cody and I were part of the hunt as well.
Memories for lifetimes; go make some!
Note about author:
Alaska Master Guide Robert Fithian began guiding quality wilderness long term multiple species safaris in 1983. He and his wife Barb raised their three sons within Alaska’s guiding, mining, ranching and forestry industries. Robert served twelve years as the Executive Director/Governmental Affairs representative for the Alaska Professional Hunters Association, two terms with the White House Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council and numerous terms on a Subsistence Wildlife Resource Commission. His passionate fight for the stewardship of the wild-things within the wild places “those which do not have a voice of their own” and conservation based hunting opportunities within them, is well recognized.