We are all well aware of how awe inspiring and majestic our back yard that is the North American continent can be. The more time we spend exploring it, the more likely the probability of something fantastically terrifying happening to us becomes. After being raised in a small town in rural Alaska I went on to become a combat search and rescue operator in the U.S. Air Force. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a lot of the world and experience some amazing things. Many of these things were pretty freaking scary, but what follows is the single most terrifying experience of my life. This happened when I was just 13 years old.

Growing up in Alaska meant growing up hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and just general outdoorsiness. By the time I was 12 I had already killed Caribou, Moose and a crap ton of small game. I’d never killed a bear though.

Alaskan bears are divided into four types, polar, black, brown and grizzly, with the most dangerous of these being the polar bear. They're very similar to each other in behavior, but different than the other two types in that they won't attack you for food. Given the opportunity they will stay away from you and will only attack if startled or made to feel threatened.  It’s often said that if you hear a Polar bear growl it will be one of the last sounds you will ever hear. Food sources are so sparse in the arctic that it’s not uncommon at all for a Polar bear to track and hunt a human. The second most dangerous is actually a black bear. Black bears are scavengers and are not above eating carrion. They won’t hunt you like a polar bear, but if you stumble upon one, they may kill you and bury you so they can come back later and eat you. Brown and grizzly bears are very similar. They’re so similar in fact that for quite a while it was thought that they were the same species. There are some size and anatomical differences though. The bears that inhabit the interior region of Alaska where I lived were black and brown. Being that the available food sources in the interior of Alaska are not as protein rich as they are in the coastal regions, mostly small game and berries, interior bears end to be smaller than their costal cousins. This diet difference, along with the isolation of island life has really allowed the bears on the island of Kodiak to become a subspecies of grizzly bear. They are the biggest grizzly bears in the world, some standing over 9 feet tall. So, given the choice of bears to hunt, of course the obvious choice is a Kodiak. What’s the worst that can happen right?

Obviously I was not the first person to think hunting a Kodiak was a good idea. It has actually been going on long enough that the bears themselves are in on it. They know the sound of a rifle and they know that something has been killed. They will absolutely steal your kill from you if you’re not careful. Okay, on with the story. So my dad hired a guide and we went out on a hunt. After a day or two we found a good sized male bear and we started doing all the things one must do in order to get the bear in range. It took a while, most of the day in fact, but it finally walked into a clearing between some shrubbery and it was only about 250 meters away. The problem was that between him and us was a steep and rocky ravine that would have to be crossed to get to him. Whatever, it’s now or never and I had a shot. Okay, setup prone, check. Calm your damn breathing so you can freaking shoot, check (kinda). Get the chest in the crosshairs, check. Fire. Bear falls where he’s standing. A wave of excitement came over me the likes I haven't experienced since I was a kid. Next step, haul ass down the ravine, across the valley floor and up the other ridge. I just hunted a Kodiak Grizzly, the most powerful animal on the planet.

When I finally climb the ridge on the other side of the ravine and get into the clearing where the bear is I immediately set my rifle down and start inspecting him. No sooner do I kneel down next to him then I hear a loud growl and look up to see another bear leaping over brush that’s maybe 15 meters away, with me in his sights. This is it. The end. I know my life is over. I don’t even remember the conscious thought I had, but thankfully something made me grab my sidearm and blast away at this monster that is barreling down on me. Six slugs from my 44mag to the chest and he slumped onto his face and slid in toward me like a drunken baseball player sliding into home face first. I pissed myself. Literally.  

Almost as soon as the second bear stopped moving my dad and the guide came scrambling through the woods, no doubt thinking the worst after hearing the gun fire. They see two dead bears laying there and me standing there, looking dead with piss soaked pants.

The guide said we could contact DEC and claim the second kill as self-defense and we could keep hunting for one for my dad, or I could give him the second bear and we call it a day. Thankfully my dad chose option B. I had zero desire to see another bear up close and personal ever again. We think in retrospect that we had actually been tracking two bears all along as they were both very similar. They were most likely adolescent males that hadn’t gone their separate ways yet.

So, I survived. What hadn’t killed me had I guess made me stronger. Or did it? I don’t know for sure. I’ve never gone bear hunting again and I have no desire to ever again. I did learn three things that day though.  I’ll never hunt without a sidearm, there is nothing in North America that can’t be killed with a Browning BAR Mark II in 300 Win Mag, and what doesn’t kill you may keep trying. Stay frosty.


-J. Ledbetter

Forge Overland Contributor

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