When you first meet another hunter, you can determine very quickly whether you subscribe to the same school of thought. I first met Phil when he walked into a gun shop that I was in looking for some bullets for reloading. He bought the entire inventory in .375 and up for his personal use. We soon discovered that we both believed that bigger was better, more is best and huge is just plain awesome. We had an instant bond. A few weeks later he brought in his recently finished .585 Nyati and from that point on he was known as “Nyati.”

We both ended up moving north, only a short six hour drive from each other in British Columbia. My work would bring me to his town several times a year and for some reason I would always find myself visiting more frequently during spring bear season, go figure!

One day I received a phone call from Phil and his simple statement said everything, “I got it.” There was no need for him to say what he got; he was drawn for a grizzly tag, and in a very coveted area! We both had been applying for years and I had hunted in the area a few years earlier. A hunt was quickly

 

planned and range sessions began in earnest. The area we would be hunting was thick, overgrown with coastal alders and that great plant, Devil’s Club. The ranges we would likely be shooting at, while walking the creeks and rivers, would be close, usually well within 50 yards. But if we would walk the small ridges, we may have the need to reach out a couple hundred yards or so. Phil’s Nyati was simply too heavy to carry all day and my double was just not intended to shoot if you cannot see the whites of their eyes. I was going to shoot my .378 Wby. and he was going to use his .416 Remington, both rifles had the horsepower to deal with any bruin up close and still shoot flat enough to cleanly take a bear at ranges beyond what our area would present.

Opening day approached and we packed up and headed north. There is nothing quite like hunting in one of the highest grizzly bear concentration on the continent and sleeping in a tent. It lets you know that you are alive and I will tell you one thing, our rifles were never further than arms reach away.

We were up before light, trying to eat breakfast and finalizing our packs. The crisp fall air was invigorating and a light frost covered the ground. Donning waders, we started the long hike up the creek. Grizzly signs were everywhere, partially eaten sockeye lay strewn across the banks. Several hours up the

creek we came upon partially eaten salmon still moving on the bank. Trails of water on the rocks still beaded up and ran, where a bear had walked out of the creek to take refuge in thick undercover. Had they heard us and took off? We do not know, but we both felt that it was only a matter of time until the bears’ luck would run out and ours would kick in. We hiked back to the truck via a ridge that ran along side the creek where we glassed. We found several places to glass from later in the hunt if we could find a bear on the bank fishing.

We had both worked up healthy appetites from fighting the current as we walked upstream and hiking back in our waders. After a hearty lunch we made plans for the afternoon hunt. We began working our way down an adjacent stretch of river where stopped to rest and listen for any bear activity. The sound of salmon fighting their way upstream filled the air. An hour later into the journey, we dropped our packs to rest on a bend and we could hear the short bursts of the salmon’s effort to clear the rapids. Then suddenly we heard what sounded like a whole school coming up the river all at once, just around the corner. I glanced at Phil and whispered, “Bear.”

We soon were up and easing our way around the corner, rifles ready, adrenaline flowing through our veins at record levels! The river took a sharp turn and as we eased ourselves around it; we tried to stick close to the heavily wooded bank, out of clear view of whatever we had just heard.

Suddenly we were about 20 yards away from a bear but we were still hidden in the overhanging alders. The bear was busy eating a fish it had just caught and then went back to fishing for its next victim. Through a series of hands signals, Phil and I slowly crept closer. Our plan was to stay concealed by the underbrush along the side, crawl up to a log jam positioned just in front of the bear, crawl over the top and shoot the bear. Simple and to the point. Well, as we are well aware, there are always little glitches in the best laid plans. We had not moved more than two yards and Phil just disappeared in front of me. Gone, swallowed up by the river! He resurfaced a brief moment later, fighting to keep his head above water so he could see the bear. He got swept into the log jam and was caught half under it, his now water filled waders were keeping him from easily breaking free from the current’s grip. I am not sure what he was thinking but I am pretty sure all he was thinking about was not spooking the bear. He managed to muscle his way up to where he could see the bear and work his rifle into position, but the

 

whole action area and scope were covered in mud. He quickly dunked the rifle back into the water and did his best to clear off the mud on the lenses of his scope. As he brought the rifle up and tried to draw a bead on the bear, the bear finally noticed that something was out of the ordinary and gave us its undivided attention. I am not sure that bear knew what we were but it was clear that it had no intentions of giving up its fishing hole. Phil glanced back to see if I was ready to back him up. He was less than 11 yards from the bear, not much room for error. His .416 bellowed and the 400 grain slug slammed the bear square in the chest.

The bear instantly went into a frenzy. At that moment I stepped out to my right, to be clear of the underbrush, bringing my rifle to my shoulder all in one fluid motion. I remember the bears shoulders centered briefly in my crosshairs and the next thing I saw was water and lots of it! I had stepped into the same hole Phil had, only I was caught in the current and being drug towards this very irate wounded grizzly. The water was cold and I knew I had to do something quickly. I bobbed past the log jam where Phil had just shot from. As I drifted past, there was nothing for me to stop myself with. Phil reached out and grabbed my rifle barrel and at this point there was no way I was going to let go of my rifle with my one hand. Between Phil’s firm grip on the Weatherby’s barrel and me kicking for all I was worth, I managed to swing over to the back side of the log jam. As I crawled up, we both looked at each other and simultaneously joked, “Fancy meeting you here.” We laugh about it now but then it was just a quick attempt to downplay the severity of the situation we had just encountered.

By this time the grizzly had managed to make it into the thick underbrush and we could hear thrashing through the growth. The 400 grain bullet had severely hampered the bear’s motor function, but it was still mobile. “I am going in to find it while I can still hear it,” I gasped as I worked my way towards the bank. “Don’t you want to wait till it’s safe?” Phil prudently asked. I looked over and replied, “There isn’t much safe about what we are doing here. Beside, if we can hear it we know where it is.”

Moving through the brush there was an eerie silence, the noise of the running water seemed to be muted and all I could hear was the brush moving and the sound of labored breathing coming from what we hoped was a soon-to-be dead bear. Then the breathing stopped and it became cold and quiet, the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up and we moved

     

closer. A few yards ahead I could see a mass of golden brown hair. The light was subdued with the cover but a few moments later I could make out the rear quarters of the bear.

I watched closely for any sign of breathing and there was no movement. I turned around to motion for Phil to move up behind me, he was already there. With the bear facing away and appearing to be dead, we could breathe a little easier. Phil worked his way around the bear on my right side while I stood ready to shoot at the slightest movement. Once he had a good position, I moved up to the bear and gave it a good shove with the muzzle of my rifle. No movement at all. I worked my way around to the front of the bear where I poked the eye with the muzzle. No response. The trophy was Phil’s! After a series of hand shakes and hollering we assessed just how close we came to meeting our maker and just how cold we were with all of the water from the glacier fed river still in our waders. We headed back to where we had dropped our packs and returned to the bear with our machetes to cut our trail back to the river. This way we could move the bear back to where we could skin it, in the relative safety of the open gravel bar.

After what seemed like an eternity, we had the bear rolled back out to the river. The bear had traveled only about 15 yards from where it was originally hit. I often wonder just how far the bear would have traveled if I had squeezed the trigger just before I went under?

With all of the bears in the area, I skinned while Phil stood guard with the rifle. On several occasions we could hear bear traveling only a few yards away from us in the bush. When they worked their way down wind and could smell us, there would be a “woof” and then a sudden explosion of sticks and trees as they would quickly retreat. We were hoping they were going the other way. With the bear skinned and the hide tied to my packboard, we headed back upstream towards camp. The hide was heavy and I could only go a couple hundred yards before needing a rest. Once stopped and resting on the ground, I could not get back to my feet without assistance. I can clearly remember lying on the bank, flat on my back thinking “Why am I carrying out Phil’s bear?” All of a sudden the water exploded in a fury behind me, all I could see in my mind was a monster bear coming to get me. At that point, I had no problem getting to my feet and covering some distance, only to discover that it was just a couple of sockeye working their way up from the

 

ocean to spawn.

We got back to camp and began the tedious work of skinning out paws, turning the ears and splitting the lips. A few hours later, and two very stiff backs, it was done. We had the hide salted and folded, ready for the taxidermist. After several years of applying for a tag and countless hours of planning and dreaming about this hunt, it was over in less than a day, but it was worth it. After another truly gourmet meal at camp we headed out looking for black bears. We looked over several blacks in a few hours and I managed to shoot a very nice one with the .378. We both had black bear tags left but we decided to leave well enough alone.

As we sat around the campfire talking and finishing off the black bear hide, we discussed how we would do things differently if we were ever to return with another grizzly draw. Even with the benefit of hindsight, there was not too much we would do different. The big thing we learned was whenever hunting in waders, make sure that they are equipped with quick release buckles and your outer layer of clothes always go on the outside of the waders which helps funnel water away from the waders and not into them.

We were lucky, not only to have taken such a great animal, but to walk away from the danger of full waders and the currents around the log jam. All too often the environment that we hunt in is more dangerous than the quarry we are pursuing.