As I said at the end of the previous story—it was later that very same day, just a few miles farther into Idaho Inlet, that we found another good-sized bear cruising the high-water mark of the beach, so we decided to try to set up an ambush. He was approaching a section of the shoreline that required him to leave it for a couple hundred yards because of some vertical bluffs that dropped straight off into the water. We went ashore and set up against the cliff just 20 yards short of the spot where his trail rejoined the beach. Before long we heard a heavy limb snap directly overhead, and I readied myself to draw. One guide chambered a shell, just in case; the other turned on my old eight-millimeter movie camera.

The bruin took his time descending off the bluff, but when he finally appeared, he was on a second path we had not seen—about 35 yards out, with a huge deadfall spruce tree lying on the beach between us, projecting well out toward the water’s edge. As he wandered into the open, he clearly sensed that something wasn’t right. His nose was high in the air, but, even though he turned broadside to me several times, the many limbs of the deadfall prevented me from even considering a shot.

After nearly a minute of aimless circling, the bear headed for a rushing stream about 70 yards away, his head low to the ground and presenting a quartering-away angle for a possible shot.

I certainly would not take that shot today, but I was far less experienced then, so I went running toward the water (far enough to clear those spruce limbs), planted my feet, took careful aim, and let fly an arrow at about 55 yards (paced off later). The shot looked good, and, as the big boar shuffled forward and crossed the stream, a loud roar confirmed that I had a pretty solid hit. On top of the far stream-bank, he stopped and turned to face me directly from around 80 yards distant. A second, final arrow “split” his ears, passing harmlessly over his head, and then he vanished into the forest.

Actually, the first arrow had made what looked to all of us like a perfect hit, right behind the shoulder, burying itself nearly to the feathers. I was confident the animal would not go more than 100 or—at most—200 yards, but we all sat down to wait for an hour, just to be on the safe side. I took advantage of the time to go over once again with my guides the vital importance (to me) of their not putting a bullet in my bear should we happen to find him still alive!  Unless, of course, he actually charged them—or me!  Now that my arrow was in the beast, angling forward through the vitals, no firearm use was justified in my mind, unless somebody’s life was in jeopardy.

When we finally entered the woods where he had disappeared, the feathered end of my arrow shaft lay 15 yards inside. A quick measurement told me that about 20 inches of shaft was missing—presumably all inside the bear. The spoor, or blood-trail, looked pretty decent, yet not as good as I had hoped for. Our quarry had headed straight up the hill, and my two guides immediately split up, so as to cover one another, and began slowly advancing upward — about 30 feet apart. I was instructed to stay in the middle, at least 20 yards below them. Watching their actions, and hearing the tension in their voices, it didn’t take me long to absorb the idea that we were involved in a deadly serious business. Meaning, I figured, an activity that could turn deadly in an instant, with little or no warning.

In truth, I have learned over the years that there is nothing most hunting guides in the Far North fear more—and, therefore, loathe more—than having to trail a wounded brown bear or Grizzly into the brush. Although I didn’t realize it back in 1978, I have since learned that, under such circumstances as we were in then, bear attacks from very close range are quite common and often result in death or serious injury to guide, or hunter, or both.

After 50 yards or so of uphill progress, the spoor my guides were following became very difficult to find. In an effort to make a bit of small talk, I asked if either of them had ever been charged at point-blank range by a brown bear they didn’t know was there until the charge began. Their terse, simultaneous, one-word answer in the affirmative told me instantly that the timing of my question had been less than ideal. Kenny and Fagan were clearly nervous and not enjoying our adventure at all. Before long, however, they picked up the trail again, and when the underbrush soon started to thin out, they both began to breathe easier.

When the bear’s tracks finally reached the snowline, about 500 feet above sea level, the blood-smears on the snow became frequent and heavy. From that point forward, following his trail should prove no great challenge, I thought to myself. I didn’t realize at the time, however, that my bear was actually still alive, and that we were pushing him ahead of us. With hindsight, the multiple beds, about 50 yards apart, really did tell the story. I was so very sure my broadhead was buried deep in his rib cage that I just knew we would come across his carcass at any minute. In fact, I was so convinced we would soon find him dead that I began to lag behind my guides so I could film the ample sign and impressive footprints inthe snow. The tracks were now easy to measure, and I could scarcely believe how big they were. The bear’s front paws measured a full seven inches across the pads, and the length of the rear feet matched exactly the length of the imprint of my size-13 hip-boots.

All of a sudden—with my guides perhaps as much as 100 yards ahead of me—a rifle shot rang out, followed immediately by a second one, and 15 seconds later by a third. Then dead silence. A nauseous feeling welled up in my stomach, and I charged up the slope as fast as I could manage. Just inside the next patch of timber to which the tracks led, I found my two guides standing around talking and smoking cigarettes—but with no bear in sight.

Once I had regained enough breath to ask a question, I blurted out, “What happened?  Did he charge you?”

The one-word answer was “No.”

“Well, why the hell did you shoot, then?” I shouted, barely in control of the rage rising within me. “Where is he?” I persisted.

“Down the hill about 50 yards below us,” came the reply. “Behind that brush pile.”

In a flash of anguish, I realized that my guides, in their heart of hearts, had never really believed an arrow could kill a brown bear. Unfortunately, it had fallen to me to be the first bowhunter they had ever guided. Ironically, much to their chagrin, and to my increasing bitterness, when we reached the dead animal below and skinned him out, we discovered that only one of the three bullets had made it through the brush and reached his hide. The one bullet that did had passed broadside through his rump, just three inches from his tail.

What suddenly became painfully clear to all of us was that my arrow had actually killed the bear on its own, and that he was right at death’s doorstep when my guides finally caught up with him and spotted his motion below. The fact that we had been pushing him probably hastened his death. What Kenny and Fagan had not seen, before they fired their three shots, were the telltale signs in the snow of the big bruin rolling down the steep hillside and right through that big brush pile.

It turned out that my arrow had, indeed, been fatal—even though it never actually entered the rib cage at all. In taking off the hide, we learned just how deceiving appearances can be. At the moment of impact, with the bear’s head down, the front leg striding forward, and the quartering-away angle rather severe, the broadhead had actually entered through the rear part of the upper front leg just above the elbow, passed under the armpit, skidded completely around the rib cage underneath the hide, traveled the length of the neck, and ended up right under his chin! Nothing like the hit we had imagined, but—over the course of three hours—it had proved lethal, nonetheless. Because of the final position of the arrow, the bear could not comfortably lower his head, so his only easy direction of travel was up.

I leave it to the reader to imagine the depths of my desolation at the outcome of the events related above. I knew I had killed an Alaskan brown bear with my bow, but I also knew I could not claim the animal as an archery kill because of the bullet hole in his hide. It was to be 21 years before I would again attempt to harvest a brown bear, and I still didn’t have a clue that Mr. Murphy had already surreptitiously entered my life so he could plan for me many more lessons (beyond this first one) in his School of Hard Knocks.

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9 thoughts on “The BAREBOW! Chronicles: The Trigger-happy Guide Disaster

  1. Well all I can say is when you go with a guide for dangerous game you play by their rules not yours, three lives are on the line. Three hours for the bear to die and you thought you had a good killing shot. Sounds like you were the one that got a little trigger happy and put others in harms way due to your need to get a bear. Pretty sad.

    1. I’m with Greg.

      Just because you can (eventually…3 hours later) kill something with a bow, doesn’t mean you should.

  2. Would you take that shot today? I would hope not. Have heard bow hunters talk about the elk they STUCK. Didn’t really try to find them. Just went after another one. That was told to me at the Elk Horn Cafe in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. And went and found elk they STUCK! Never have respected bow hunter after that. Learn to shoot a real weapon. Kill quick and enjoy the meat. The meat God gave us.

    1. Ted — As I said in my story, that is not a shot I would take today. However, I hope you are not suggesting that no grizzlies or brown bears are ever wounded by rifle hunters. Or that all such wounded bears are recovered. When I took my second archery Brown Bear in the fall of 2004, the boar was stone dead within 8 or 9 seconds of the arrow leaving my string. That story will be published by OutdoorHub later this spring under the title, “The Ultimate Heart-Shot.” Hunters need to spend less time criticizing and fighting with each other, and more effort focusing their firepower on the anti-hunters. I suggest you get off your moral high-horse, go after the real enemies of wildlife conservation, and stop lecturing people about what constitutes a “real”weapon. I wonder how many World Record animals you’ve taken with YOUR weapon; I’ve taken four with mine. You might want to go back in the OH archives and read Barrow! Chronicle #60. I’ll accept your apology anytime you care to offer it.

  3. I would like to comment on posts made by both Ted and Greg. First of all, this is an open forum, and anyone posting a story or comments here is open to criticism. I have several comments to make. Ace Luciano posted a brilliant article titled, “Why Hunters and the Hunting Industry Should Worry.” He gave three concerns. Concern number 1 was “HOLLYWOOD AND MONEY.” Concern number 2 was “ANTI HUNTER MOBILIZATION.” These two concerns are beyond the hunting community’s control. His third concern is within our control and is:

    I would like to comment on posts made by Ted, Brad, and Greg. First of all, this is an open forum, and anyone posting a story or comments here is open to criticism. I have several comments to make. Ace Luciano posted a brilliant article titled, “Why Hunters and the Hunting Industry Should Worry.” He gave three concerns. Concern number 1 was “HOLLYWOOD AND MONEY.” Concern number 2 was “ANTI HUNTER MOBILIZATION.” These two concerns are beyond the hunting community’s control. His third concern is within our control and is:

    “Concern Number 3: HUNTER VS. HUNTER

    It is looking more and more like I will not hunt a lion or elephant in my lifetime. Regardless of what you think, that in and of itself is a disappointment to me. I was fortunate to sit in on a press meeting that addressed the violent attacks on several outdoor personalities as well as the loss of television show venues and sponsors. Everything that was said in that meeting was true, and it was appalling at some of the treatment that these people received.

    Even more appalling was the LACK OF SUPPORT THEY RECEIVED FROM OUR SIDE.

    What do I mean? Here are some quotes from discussions that I found:

    From a waterfowl forum- “I hunt, but I would never shoot a lion or an elephant. Shame on them for doing that. ” From Facebook- “I’m a ‘meat hunter’ and believe that you should eat everything that you harvest. People that go to Africa and just kill a bunch of stuff to prove their manhood disgust me.” “She’s not a ‘Hunter’ anyway- just a spoiled rich girl that daddy sent on some expensive trip.” – From a LinkedIn Group.

    This should concern all of us. You know what? I’m happy that girl’s father is so successful that he can spend $150K on hunting for his daughter. Success should be celebrated, not castigated. Think how many jobs his money provides. Think how many people were FED as a result of that safari! I say GOOD FOR THEM.

    …But I am in the minority, and that’s a BIG PROBLEM. While we fight, argue and spit at one another about baiting, leases, bow vs. gun, trapping, hunting with dogs, hunting in enclosures, trophy vs. meat hunting, television celebrities, women, etc., the “other side” is ABSOLUTELY UNIFIED in their ONE MISSION…


    and if you’re NOT worried, you SHOULD be.”

    The comment made by Ted “Never have respected bow hunter after that. Learn to shoot a real weapon. Kill quick and enjoy the meat. The meat God gave us.” is appalling. Who are you to say what a real weapon is? Are there unethical people that go out in the field with a bow? Of course there are. Are there unethical that go out in the field with a rifle or muzzleloader? The answer is the same as with unethical people that go out in the field with a bow. To lump all bow hunters in the same boat as the very unethical people you mentioned that were out in the field with a bow is just plain silly. Any people that go in the field that have the ethics you mention do paint all hunters in a bad light, but to say every bow hunter is the same is ludicrous. You notice that I never called them hunters? Are poachers hunters? No they are not. Poachers are law breakers. Hunting is a legal, ancient, and wonderful activity. Whatever reason or way you hunt, I am glad you are in the field. Teach others about hunting. The people you mentioned are not hunters. Hunters are the true conservationists. Hunters have ethics. Safari Club International has a code of ethics that should define our community:

    Recognizing my responsibilities to wildlife, habitat and future generations, I pledge:

    • To conduct myself in the field so as to make a positive contribution to wildlife and ecosystems.

    • To improve my skills as a woodsmen and marksman to ensure humane harvesting of wildlife.

    • To comply with all game laws, or the sport of fair chase, and to influence my companions accordingly.

    • To accept my responsibility to provide all possible assistance to game law enforcement officers.

    • To waste no opportunity to teach young people the full meaning of this code of ethics.

    • To reflect in word and behavior only credit upon the fraternity of sportsmen, and to demonstrate abiding respect for game, habitat and property where I am privileged to hunt.

    Ted, I am glad you are appalled by the people that you mentioned. I am for sure. We all should be, but be last thing we as hunters should be doing is attacking another hunter. Our enemies, the animal-right community, are, as Mr. Luciano said, absolutely unified. Mr. Dunn is one of the most ethical people I know, and his hunting ethics are above question. He has spent his entire lifetime improving his skills as an outdoorsman. He is the epitome of this code of ethics.

    Brad, with your comment, “Just because you can (eventually…3 hours later) kill something with a bow, doesn’t mean you should” are you saying that we should eliminate bow hunting? Are you saying that we should wipe out an entire section of our hunting brethren? We need cohesion among hunters, not division. I work to defend hunters’ rights, and this is the last thing we as a community need.

    Finally, I believe the guide was in the wrong. A guide should shoot only if lives are in danger. That wasn’t the case here. You may disagree with my assessment, and I can accept that, but I can’t accept hunter attacking hunter. Why are we bringing up what hunters do wrong? Why not mention what hunters do for conservation? Why not mention what hunters pay in Pittman-Robertson funds and what P-R funds did, and do, for conservation? Why not mention that wildlife thrives because of hunting, not in spite of it? We hunters are the good guys.

  4. After reading this i was taken aback. The writer took a Chancey, if not . reckless shot on a healthy animal and the shot turned out to be a Poor one at best. Your Guides tracked a Very Dangerous animal that was wounded while you Lollygagged well Out of the action and you whine about them taking a shot at something that should have been dead a VERY long time before. And you have the gall to play a sort of “Victim” because they put a bullet into it. The writer would have us believe that he was , or is a responsible hunter and yet he is clueless to how irresponsible he was on so many points. If you and I were hunting and you did something like that i would not only never go hunting with you again.The Bear suffered needlesly and you whine about the guides taking a crappy situation and turning it into something positive Hang your bow up and get a hobby where your reckless stupidity and arrogance wont make something suffer and possibly get someone other then your Dumb ass self killed

  5. Being an avid bowhunter I have mixed emotions over this story and the comments. First of all taking a high risk shot on ANY game animal is completely UNACCEPTABLE, especially at deadly game…”4 world records” or NOT….this comment in itself shows narcissistic arrogance that has no place in the world of hunting. Next I will touch on the fact that more game is found wounded by firearms in Michigan alone that all animals wounded by bow in the entire western states. So the” real weapon” comment is equally as asinine as the “4 world record” comment…. As hunters we have to stick together UNITED WE STAND DIVIDED WE FALL… there is no room for pompous, asinine, ignorant, arrogant, narcissistic, bullshit. Now on to the crux of the story itself…. I personally have and will tell any guide I hunt with if he puts a bullet in any animal I shoot He better have a tag for it, and I won’t be paying for it, unless it’s attacking someone, I’ve watched numerous guides on TV immediately follow up the hunters shot on bears with another shot, no threat, no imminent danger involved, on the other hand if I wound something I will accept the responsibility that measures need to be taken to recover the animal and protect human life while doing so. The sad fact in this case is the guides obviously after the strain of following a wounded bear for three hours, with the hunter not present obviously panicked and started flinging lead….hence only one hit out of three, in the ASS IN PARTICULAR, and lastly the blatant irresponsibility of the hunter who’s number one goal should be to stay close to the guides and see to the bears end of suffering with a follow up shot of his own immediately upon sighting the bear. Wandering around chronicling with a camera in this case is another narcissistic attitude and personally I believe a delusional attitude towards your own importance and showing no respect for the life of the animal you’ve shot.

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