JD's Kniktuk Outfitters - Hunting Alaska's Bristol Bay for Brown Bear
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The following article is from HAND LOADER

Bob, Cindy & Brett Wener
Big Game Outfitters Extraordinaire

Exactly 12 hours before writing what you are about to read, I returned from my third Alaska big game hunt in five years with Bob Wener, his wife Cindy and their son Brett. Bob and Cindy own Kniktuk Outfitters and Brett, who is an aircraft mechanic by trade, guides for them as his schedule allows. Their beautiful home sits on the bank of Lake Aleknagik in a small fishing village that goes by the same name. Aleknagik lies about 5 miles north of Dillingham in Bristol Bay where the Mulchatna River dumps its crystal-clear waters into the Bering Sea. Most of Bob's clients fly by commercial airliner into Dillingham where they transfer to a bush plane on floats for the trip into camp. That's exactly what Art Wheaton and Jay Bunting of Remington and I did when going after moose, caribou and black bear during our most recent hunt with Bob. Then, for our brown bear hunt we rendezvoused back in Aleknagik and after a hot shower, departed by jet boat to another camp on one of a chain of lakes in the Wood-Tikchik State Park.

Depending on their locations, Bob's facilities can range from a small tent like the one Art Wheaton and I shared during the first few days of our spike-camp hunts for moose and black bear to a larger Quonset hut-style tent with a wood-burning stove such as Jay Bunting and I stayed in while hunting moose and caribou. When hunting brown bear the three of us along with our guides shared an old fishing camp cabin that in addition to being spacious, warm and cozy was smack dab in the middle of some of the best bear country I have ever set foot in. Many pleasant memories of that camp will linger in my mind forever, like the time a huge brown bear sow and her two cubs fed on spawning salmon not more than 60 yards from the door of our cabin.

Kniktuk Outfitters hunts in the Alaska Range of the northern Rockies with territory beginning on the Yukon border and reaching 400 miles into southwest Alaska. Most of their outdoor adventures take place in an area that encompasses all the drainages of the Nushagak River from its headwaters to the native village of Koliganek. Bob also hunts neighboring areas to the west including (by special permit) the Wood-Tikchik State Park, the largest state park in North America.

Due to their remoteness, the hunting areas can be reached only by bush plane or jet boat. Bob owns two planes, a Cessna 185 on floats and a Super Cub on tundra tires; during spring bear hunts, both planes wear skies for landing on frozen lakes covered with snow. In addition to being an excellent bush pilot, Bob is also quite cautious about the type of weather he flies in, and to people like me who place a high value on their hides, that's extremely important. Equally important, he is a real stickler when it comes to adhering strictly to the fair chase code and uses modern transport only to get his hunters into and out of camp. When hunting along various creeks and rivers, his guides have access to 18-foot flat-bottom boats with outboard jet motors for getting from one hunting spot to another, much like horses are commonly used in some western states in the Lower 48.

Bob Wener outfits for moose, caribou, black bear and grizzly bear, and his areas also contain wolf and wolverine. I have yet to see a wolf while hunting with him, and while I have no desire to shoot one, I do enjoy seeing them in the wild. I've seen only one wolverine on a hillside about a mile away as it was fast putting even more distance between us. As for barren ground caribou, Bob hunts the famed Mulchatna River herd with an estimated population of upwards of 175,000 animals. Nonresident hunters are allowed to take two bulls, but anyone who has hunted caribou knows it can be a feastor famine proposition and you either see lots of the animals or very few. Back in 1994, I hunted with Ed Weatherby, his son Daniel and Brad Ruddell and while we did not see vast numbers of caribou, we each got good bulls. In fact, my bull along with the Mark V Stainless in .300 Magnum I used on that hunt appeared in the Weatherby Catalog.

If Kniktuk Outfitters is known for anything it has to be some of the finest moose hunting to be found anywhere in the world. Hunter success usually runs around 80 percent with the majority of the bulls taken having an antler spread between 60 and 70 inches with good palmation and very wide paddles. In 1995, Bob Nosler and I hunted the giant animal with Wener and we both took fine bulls. That was my first handgun only hunt in Alaska, and I took the moose with an S&W Model 629 Classic DX with a red dot sight in .44 Magnum and a handload with the 300-grain Nosler bullet. I also took a good caribou on that hunt and used a custom Contender with a Burris 2-7x 1ER scope and a .309 JDJ handload with the Nosler 165-grain Ballistic Tip. Brett Wener was my guide on that particular hunt. On the more recent hunt with Brett, I bagged another good moose with a Model 700 BDL/SS that wore a Leupold 2.5-8x Vari-X-III scope. The rifle was chambered for Remington's new .300 Ultra Mag, a cartridge loaded to 3,200 fps with the Nosler 180-grain Partition.

Wener also offers excellent black bear and grizzly bear hunting and a limited number of brown bear hunts. Black bear hides taken from his areas usually square 6 to 7 feet with the occasional exceptionally large animal reaching 8 feet. Skulls of those bears will usually run from 17 to 20 points, using the Boone & Crockett method of scoring. The bear I shot squared at 6 feet, 2 inches, but I never got around to measuring its skull before heading home. Of the three animals I took on the most recent hunt, the black bear was the toughest as most of the rather lengthy stalks took place on a very steep sidehill covered with alder thickets while I was wearing torture instruments commonly known as rubber hip boots. Just prior to going after that animal, I watched five grizzlies and a smaller black bear feed on huckleberries on the same mountainside.

Wener hunts the grizzly bear in two areas. One is in western Alaska, which is accessible from his base camp on the Nushagak River. Since that particular area is just south of the Boone & Crockett boundary line that officially separates bears into the grizzly and brown classifications, animals taken in there are actually classified as brown bears. Wener also hunts in the Unit 20 south of Fairbanks, and a bear taken in that area is classified as a grizzly by B&C. Most of the interior grizzlies taken by his hunters square in the 7- to 8-foot range with colorations including a blonde body with dark legs, light blonde all over and silvertip (dark brown with gray guard hairs). The huge silvertip boar I took only a few days prior to writing this was most certainly a brown bear in both classification and size since its hide squared a hair over 9 feet and the skull exceeded the minimum B&C score for entry into the record book. I found the .300 Ultra Mag/180-grain Nosler combo to be most effective on that giant of an animal as well.

In addition to the usual flat-rate fee, Bob also offers an interesting sliding fee brown bear hunt package I have not seen offered by any other outfitter. Here's how it works. First of all, the base rate is about 40 percent less than the flat-rate fee, and that's all you pay if you don't get a bear. If you bag a bear you are charged a trophy fee based on its size and if the bear is big enough you could end up paying as much and possibly even a bit more than for the flat-fee hunt. As an example, if you shot a 9-foot bear on a sliding fee hunt, the total package would cost the same as a bear either smaller or larger shot on a flat-rate hunt, but a 10 footer would cost $1,000 more on a sliding-fee hunt What it boils down to is the sliding-fee package is an excellent deal for a hunter who has no interest in shooting anything but an upper-class trophy brown bear.

One big game animal I have not hunted with Bob Wener is Dall sheep, something I intend to change in the near future. This assumes, of course, that Lady Luck deems me worthy of drawing a permit for the controlled-use area in which he hunts. It's a 900 square mile area in the heart of the Alaska Range and the odds for taking a 40-inch or better ram are close to 100 percent, or so says Bob. Due to extremely light hunting pressure, a number of rams die of old age each year. It's a pack-in only area with no planes, boats or other vehicles allowed, so anyone who decides to take on this one should be in good physical condition. The bad news is, only a limited number of permits are issued each year. I hope to hunt there someday and already have the perfect rifle for the job: a 6-pound Model 700 in .257 STW built by Lex Webernick of Rifles, Inc.

In addition to fully guided hunts with all the trimmings, Wener also offers drop-off hunts for moose and caribou. On that type of hunt, he sets up the camp in advance and flies you in; from there on, you are totally on your own for the hunting, cooking and packing the meat to where Wener can pick it up by Super Cub or float plane. This is an ideal hunt for a couple of hunters who are good friends and know they can stay that way while on their own in the wilderness for a week or so.

JD's Kniktuk Outfitters, LLC
PO Box 1403, Riggins, ID 83549
Darwin Vander Esch - Booking Agent
208-628-3256 • Cell: 907-843-1715
Fax: 208-628-3256 • Email: darwinve@frontier.com