The following article is from Safari
BY TED BURGESS
May 1993 - Three hours to my departure to hunt what I rate as the number one big game trophy in North America, an Alaska brown bear. My bags are packed. My rifle is sighted in. There is nothing left to do before heading to the airport. Then the light blinks on my answering machine ... the message says, "Do not get on flight to Alaska. Will call back."
What kind of message was that, I wonder. It must be one of my buddies playing a trick. Two hours to departure, the telephone rings. My Alaska outfitter and friend Bob Wener has been in a plane crash. No other details. Don't come, hunt canceled.
Flashback: January 1992, Reno, Nevada - This is my second SCI convention and the first for my wife, Juanita. We meet Bob and Cindy Wener of Kniktuk Outfitters, and I immediately like them. Bob is trying hard to book some brown bear hunts for the spring of 1993. We talk and we ponder. These hunts are not exactly cheap. The convention ends with me telling Wener I'll call. I did, and I booked the hunt and sent a deposit.
Fast forward: May 1993 - Cindy Wener calls a few days later. Bob had been in a plane crash and now was in a hospital in Fairbanks. He had suffered a broken back and knee injuries, and had lost two fingers.
Bob had been a passenger in friend Rick Wolfe's plane when Wolfe suffered a heart attack and crashed into a mountain. He died on the mountain before the rescue helicopter arrived. Bob spent 12 hours on the mountain that night, cold and wet, but he was alive, stable and expected to make it.
Bob's guiding days are over, but he still outfits out of Dillingham, Alaska with his wife and son, Bret.
May 1994 - After being given the option of a full refund or another try at hunting brown bear with Bob Wener's company, I am in Alaska in late spring. There is snow and it is cold, and the bears all still seem to be sleeping. In 10 days of hard hunting, I see two bears. Bob says I can stay another six days and that the bears have to start showing up any day. I can stay only three days. Two days after I leave, another bear hunter kills a nine-footer in the same area I had hunted.
May 1995 - Bob Wener has a new area that covers more than a million acres. He says he has flown over it many times and seen lots of bears, but has never hunted it. I can return and try again at a substantially reduced price and we can explore it together. He was telling the truth. The area has lots of bears, but is also may be the toughest place to hunt them in Alaska - big mountains and not enough snow to land a plane on skis.
He ripped off the lower end of two outboard motors trying to get a boat through the ice. Three bear hunters spotted more than 50 different bears, but most were inaccessible. I saw 19 bears and had two opportunities to take an eight-footer, but Bob said I could do better. My bear hunting was starting to become a joke back in Maryland.
May 1996 - Bob says he is prepared for anything and has lined up snow machines, boats and a float plane, so I am back in Dillingham, where the locals know me by name - "Hey, there's Ted, Wener's adopted son. It must be bear season."
This time, I have talked four of my SCI Chesapeake buddies - Bill Strawberry, Francis Carnes, Reen Waterman and Art Ebersberger - into going with me. Strawberry and I are flown to a spike camp with two guides.
I am hunting with Bob's son, Bret, and he spots two bears even before we get the tent up. At sunup of opening day, we start climbing the mountain. The alders are as big and tangled as ever, but it is much hotter than on my previous trips. Bret and I see a sow and cubs; Strawberry and his guide see nothing the first day.
The second day is even hotter, but we do see a very good bear by itself on a far mountain too late in the day to go after it. Day three finds us crossing a mountain with four feet of snow and a running creek to reach the slope where we had seen the bear. We see only a sow with triplet cubs, but decide to stay until 8 p.m. At 9:30 p.m., we are about an hour from camp when Bret spots a bear in a place we had seen a young bear the previous day. This bear is larger, but it has dug a hole in the snow and we can't determine how much larger without getting closer.
We stop when we've reached the alders about 125 yards from the bear and wait for the bear to get up. It takes forever, but it finally moves. "It's a good 8 1&Mac218;2-footer, maybe bigger," Bret whispers. "This is your third trip. Do you want him?" I try to find a rest for my rifle, as the bear starts downhill with that "brown bear waddle." It looks like an enormous bear to me. I can't shoot, though, because the alders are too thick.
When the bear nears an opening, it stops and swaps direction. I can't believe this. I'm going to lose my bear without firing a shot. I stand up, and shoot it in the shoulder with my .375 H&H magnum - offhand through the brush. The bear doesn't even flinch. "Shoot him again," Bret says.
I am excited and my next three cartridges might as well have been thrown in the creek for all the good they did, but I calm down and reload, aim and shoot again. This time the bear drops.
Bret and I wait 20 minutes before approaching the bear. Bret is excited because the bear is much bigger than he had thought. "A nine-footer ... plus," he says. "An excellent bear."
After nearly five years of planning and three trips to Alaska, I have shot a brown bear. I am ecstatic.
Bret, Bill and his guide and I return the next day to skin and pack out my bear, and experience the toughest day of the hunt. The temperature feels like it has reached 100 degrees, and it takes two hours to reach the site. Bret packs the hide in his backpack while I carry out the skull. It takes five hours of fighting our way through alders along the river to reach camp, but we make it. My five-year crusade for an Alaska brown bear was over.
Postscript: Bill Strawberry shot a beautiful golden blond bear on the ninth day and was happy. Art Ebersberger never got another opportunity after that first day. He had to cut his hunt short because of business commitments. Francis Carnes saw 16 bears on the trip, and got to within 150 yards of a large bear when a smaller bear suddenly appeared. After a discussion, he and his guide decided it was a three-year-old bear with mama, and moved off. He was disappointed. Reen Waterman saw several bears, but never had a chance at any of them. They were always going the other way or were too far off, or were sows with cubs.