Feature Articles from BHM
by Dick Scorzafava
After a year of planning, the day finally arrived for my trip to Kamchatka, Russia. I arrived at the airlines counter to check in and was falsely informed by the agent after checking in and clearing my rifle through TSA that there was an embargo on weapons going into Russia. I explained to the agent that I had all the proper permits and to my knowledge there was no embargo on weapons going into Russia for hunting. After he made several calls and spoke to his supervisor, I was told the weapon would not be allowed to travel with me. The airline made a mistake and later apologized for their error, however the trip started out with me not being able to take my rifle. Our outfitter later told us that in over 25 years of guiding he’s never had trouble getting firearms into Russia – just so happened we were the first group.
Kamchatka brown bears feed on Salmon in July before Dick arrived. Kamchatka holds 2/3 of the world's brown bears. Dick and his friends saw over 90 bears on their on hunt while hunting with Denny Guerink's Outdoor Adventures.
I had to make a quick decision to go without my rifle or cancel my trip. I decided to go, in hopes my friend, Howard Netterville, would be allowed to take his rifle or I could borrow one in Russia from one of the guides. After two canceled flights, which caused two additional missed flights, I finally arrived in Moscow 21 hours later than Howard and Rex Summerfield, my friends, who were traveling with me on the hunt. After all of the problems with the rifles, cancelled and missed flights, Delta lost my other bag containing all our gear for the hunt. The trip surely was not starting off on a very positive note.
Denny Geurink met us at the airport, and I informed him of our problem with the rifles. He arranged for us to use one of the guide’s rifles, but we were going to have to take turns with the one extra rifle available. Denny has operated Denny Geurink’s Outdoor Adventures in Kamchatka for 25 years, and his success rate on bears has been 100%. He also has produced more SCI trophy bears in his camps than all the other camps in Kamchatka combined. We knew that Denny would be able to help us through the rifle issue.
Finally, we checked into our hotel rooms in Moscow for the night, and boy did it feel good to get into a real bed after all that traveling. The next morning we did some sightseeing, saw Red Square and the Kremlin, and did some shopping in the markets. Then we headed back to the airport to pick up our baggage that finally arrived and to leave for Kamchatka. We arrived in Kamchatka the next morning and headed off on a five-hour drive to a small village. The following morning the guides picked us up in an armored personal carrier.
It was a real adventure riding in that vehicle into camp, and we were all amazed about the places it could go across the rugged landscape. We stopped along the sea by old ship wreckage to test fire the rifle we were going to have to use on the hunt. It was a very old WWII worn out Chinese manufactured semi-automatic .308 with a short barrel and open sights. After we all shot the rifle we realized that we were going to have to be very close to the bears to make a good clean kill shot.
It took us seven hours of traveling on the personal carrier to finally reach our remote hunting camp deep in Kamchatka’s wilderness. Because we only had one rifle to share among the three of us, we were not going to be able to split up and hunt. We weren’t out of camp 10 minutes when we spotted a small bear feeding. A few minutes later a sow with two cubs appeared in the distance. It got slow for the rest of the morning, so we headed back to camp for an early lunch.
This armored personal carrier was their transportation in out of camp everyday. The dog was a trained bear protection dog, there to keep bears out of camp at night.
We packed up and headed out in a different direction after lunch in hopes of finding some big bears. This country is truly a remote wilderness where you can see for miles, and without the armored personal carrier we would be limited to only trekking around from our camp for several miles. The vehicle gave us the ability to get out 20 to 30 miles in a day, greatly improving our chances of seeing more quality bears.
In the distance we spotted what looked like a good bear so we decided to close the gap a little more and take a better look at him with our binoculars. He was feeding on pine nuts, which are a huge source of protein for the bears before they den for the very long bitter cold winters. As we got closer he looked even better, so Misha, our head guide, decided it was time to get off and stalk closer on foot. Howard, Misha, and the back up guide got off and began their stalk to the animal, and I had a perfect seat on top of the tank to watch the hunt as it unfolded.
It was taking them quite a while to close the gap on the bear and I could tell they were having a difficult time maneuvering in the thick cover while keeping the wind in their favor as they tried staying out of sight of the bear. Finally, I could see through my binoculars they were setting up the shooting sticks and Howard was taking aim for the shot. Suddenly, I heard the rifle roar and could see the bear running now. Howard followed up with two more shots, and the bear was down. When we got over to them with the tank I realized how beautiful this bear really was, and congratulated Howard on his fantastic bear. The remainder of the day was spent getting the bear back to camp, skinning and salting the hide.
The next morning we headed out of camp for an adventurous day in the wilds of Kamchatka, and boy was I excited to be the next hunter! It wasn’t long before we spotted a bear and made a long stalk to get within range. After looking the bear over, it seemed to be a mature sow so I decided to pass and we headed back to the tank. We didn’t go very far before we spotted a sow with cubs feeding on the pine nuts, so we stopped to watch them for a while. It’s not all about killing, just being in a place like Kamchatka is an adventure.
In the next few hours we spotted four more bears but they were not what I was looking for on this trip, so we didn’t attempt a stalk and headed back to camp for lunch. On the way back to camp I realized I had already seen more bears here than I had seen in all my trips to Alaska over the years put together.
While we were in camp, we watched an immature male walking along the shoreline of the river 100 yards out of camp. Misha’s dog started barking immediately because he got wind of the bear. This breed of dog is named Lica and is bred specifically to keep bears out of the camps. They are fearless. This dog literally chased bears out of our camp every night, and we were surely glad to have him on guard duty. I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like at night in a tent camp without one of these dogs. It could get really ugly fast!
After lunch we headed out in another direction to check out another new area, and it wasn’t long before we spotted a really nice bear feeding. This bear was a real monster, and we estimated he was at least 10 foot. It was going to be a long stalk, and we had to make sure we always kept the wind in our favor.
Howard and Misha with Howard's first bear. Beautiful color!
It was really slow going through the thick cover and seemed like it was taking us forever to cover every 100 yards. The wind was starting to swirl and we were getting edgy that he was going to wind us if we got any closer, so we set up at 210 yards. I knew this was going to be a truly tough shot for a lefty with the worn out rifle with open sights and the hot casing hitting me in the face. Finally, I took a deep breath and held it, pushed the stock into my shoulder, picked a spot about 5 inches over his back, while slowly squeezing the trigger. Immediately the bear started running straight out, away from where he heard the blast. It was a clean miss I could tell from his reactions and I saw the bullet buzz over his back hitting the ground.
He stopped about 150 yards further out, turned and looked back in our direction, walked over a rise and disappeared. To say I was frustrated is an understatement, and I kept thinking if only I had my rifle, that bear would be on the ground in front of me and we would be celebrating now. A 210 yard shot with my rifle would have been dead on target, but I had to use what we had and being left handed surely didn’t help me shoot. On the way back to camp we saw several more bears, sows with cubs, and a few boars that were just not trophy class yet so we would have to wait until the morning to get back out on the tundra.
Howard and Misha with his second Kamchatka brown bear of the trip.
The sun was just starting to rise over the over the horizon as we rolled out of camp in search of a nice bear for Rex, and it didn’t take long. We spotted what looked like a really mature bear feeding on pine nuts about 700 yards out in front of us, and the stalk began. Howard and I watched from our front row seats on the top of the tank as they closed the gap on the bear. Finally after almost a half hour of pursuit, we could see them setting up to make the shot. We thought they should have attempted to get a little closer to the bear, but we were not out there and didn’t know which direction the wind was blowing and really couldn’t tell what kind of cover was in front of them.
Rex got on the sticks and within seconds we heard the crack of the shot. It looked like a clean miss as the bear bolted on a quartering away angle, and we heard the rifle crack off another round as the bear disappeared out of sight. We watched as the crew headed back in our direction and assumed he had missed both shots. I could feel his disappointment and know he was thinking it would have been much different if we had our rifles.
When we got back to camp late in the day Misha thought it would be a good idea if we all shot the rifle again at a target to build our confidence back up. After shooting, Howard and Rex were close to the bulls eye of the target on three shots apiece, and I was all over the place with my three and had three small burns on my face from the hot casings hitting me. I just couldn’t shoot this rifle because I was left-handed and the rifle was totally designed for a righty. I decided at this point, with only two days remaining on the hunt, that I would let Rex and Howard attempt to fill their tags and I would watch. It wouldn’t be fair for me to take one of these days to fill my tag and miss another bear, or even worse, wound one and not recover the animal.
The bears were really moving the next morning. We were only out of camp for about an hour and spotted six bears already, but none of them were the kind of bear we were looking for on this trip. The remainder of the morning we encountered an additional seven bears, but they were sows with cubs. Because the bears seemed to be moving so much today we decided to stay out and skip going back to camp for lunch.
Finally, at the end of the day, after seeing smaller bears and sows with cubs all afternoon, we spotted a really nice bear feeding 700 to 800 yards out. Misha decided they should close the gap on foot so the bear wouldn’t be spooked. It was “game-on” for Rex. It seemed to take forever for them to get in position, and finally I could see Rex setting up the sticks. I couldn’t tell exactly how close they were to the bear, but from my position it seemed they were right on top of him.
Rex was on the sticks and I was praying everything went well when suddenly I heard the shot ring out. I could tell the bear was hit hard as he bolted for cover. I heard another shot and watched the bear pile up, and I could see the guys doing the high five to each other to congratulate Rex.
When we drove the tank out there, I could see Rex had a big smile on his face. I’m sure he felt a big weight had been lifted off his back, and boy could I relate to that fact. Having to use that rifle and not having our own put a lot of pressure on all of us on the hunt. I shook Rex’s hand and told him how happy I was he finally got the bear for both of us, and it was surely a great bear.
The last morning we all headed out in search of the second bear for Howard. After spotting several smaller bears in the morning, Misha decided after lunch we were going to go into an area we haven’t hunted hoping there would be a few bigger bears roaming around feeding.
After about an hour’s ride in the tank and spotting two smaller bears on our journey, we reached our destination and stopped on a high spot to glass. Immediately, we spotted three different bears feeding, and one looked like a really nice bear, so Howard and the guides grabbed their gear and headed out after the bear.
It took them almost an hour to close the gap on the bear because they had to circle around one of the other bears without spooking him. Finally, I could see them getting ready to take a shot through my binoculars. About five minutes past and no shot, it looked like they were waiting for the bear to move into a better position so Howard would have the best shot. I saw the bear turn and immediately heard the rifle fire a round. I could tell the bear was hit hard as he attempted to bolt for cover, and Howard followed up with two more shots. The bear was down. What a thrill it was to watch this hunt unfold in front of me as I watched the guys celebrating now that the bear was down.
What a way to end our adventure in the wilds of Kamchatka on the last day of the hunt. As I sat there on the tank thinking over what a fantastic journey this had been for all of us, we had seen a total of 91 bears and harvested three trophies sharing an old worn out Chinese WW11 rifle. If we had our own rifles to use we would have been done in the first couple days, but we didn’t. Even though I didn’t get to shoot a bear, it was a better overall hunt than all my trips to Alaska over the years put together! It’s not all about killing, but it surely is all about the adventurous journey.