My friend and fellow Virginia hunter Sam Fullerton just returned from a dream hunt and filed this field report:
The hunt took place in a special draw area on the northern end of Afognak Island in the Kodiak chain. It took 3 years to draw the permit.
I booked the hunt through Wade Darby at Crosshair Hunting Consulting. Wade booked me with Afognak Wilderness Lodge, which has an extremely remote camp that the Randall family has chiseled out of the Afognak wilderness over the last 50 years. It is an impressive camp considering every single thing was either made from the rocks or trees growing on the island, or brought in by float plane or boat.
We left base camp every day by boat, and after about an hour’s ride to our permitted hunting area we glassed from the boat along the shore lines and hillsides. We concentrated along the beaches at low tide. When we spotted a bear and determined it was a good one, we launched a Zodiac with a small motor and maneuvered to shore to get a closer look at the animal. We saw from 5 to 20 bears each day. Many were inaccessible and we simply watched to see if they would move or feed into better position, which rarely happened.
One day we spotted a bear, launched the Zodiac and got into position. My guide, Josh Randall, immediately realized we were looking at an exceptionally good one. After a good bit of slipping and sliding we were able to get into a good shooting position on a slime-and-barnacle covered rock along the beach. The bear fed towards us, flipping over rocks and driftwood looking for food.
I shot the bear squarely in the front shoulder with hand-loaded 270-grain Barnes TSX from my .375 H&H. Hit hard with the first shot, it spun and snapped a few times. I followed up with a second shot and the bear dropped on the beach within 40 yards.
I feel extremely fortunate to have had an opportunity to harvest such a majestic animal like this. Walking up to this bear was like a dream. I was in shock at the sheer size of the animal. The hide was spectacular, heavy and thick. Its head was massive.
My guide Josh was as excited as I was. We were able to get the main boat to the beach and winch the bear onto the front of the boat to return to camp for skinning, which was an all-day affair.
The hide was not stretched and had been salted when the hide measurements were taken. The bear squared 10 feet 7 inches claw to claw wide, and was 9 feet 6 inches nose to tail, putting it just over the magical 10-foot squared mark. Alaska game and fish biologists measured the skull at 27 9/16, which will qualify it for Boone & Crockett awards. It was tentatively aged by the biologist at approximately 25 years old. Nearly all the bear’s teeth were either broken or rotten.–Sam Fullerton
Tech notes: Sam Fullerton is a well-traveled big game hunter and hand-loader. Sam reports that while skinning the bear, he recovered the first Barnes TSX bullet, which had entered the front shoulder at a slightly quartering-to angle; it was bulging under the hide just in front of the opposite side rear hip. “Perfect bullet performance with nearly 100% weight retention,” he says. Sam has also used the Barnes TSX in both 270- and 300-grain on a variety of African big game with the same impressive results.