I don’t recall exactly how old I was when the dream first started, but I must’ve been somewhere around 10 or 12. It was around that time I learned about grizzly bears, and from that point I would have the dream on a nightly basis. Whenever my elementary school class would go to the library, I’d be the only student who’d make a beeline to the magazine rack and look through old issues of hunting magazines to read about Alaska bear hunting adventures.
Finally, after years of saving money and meticulous planning, I was able to book my first Alaska grizzly bear hunt. On Sept. 14, 2005, I was met by my guide, Larry, at an Alaska airport. We spent the night in his camp, and the next morning we traveled the Chilkat River to our spike camp. We hunted for 6 days from that first bear camp and spotted 17 bears, but none was the size I was looking for. The next afternoon Larry took us to hunt a stream that had a good run of Chum salmon. When we arrived at the stream there was a sign on the road explaining we were now on the famous Dalton Trail. Jack Dalton had cut the 305-mile trail from Haines, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, in 1896, and charged each person $150 to travel his trail to the gold rush fields of the Yukon. Being a history buff, I was ecstatic that we’d be hunting on this historic trail.
We set up and watched a 200-yard section of the stream, and 30 minutes before dark, an impressive-looking bear stepped out of the woods and waded into the water. The wind was in our favor, so we began stalking the bear. The cover was thick but the sounds of the splashing salmon covered any noise we made. After walking 200 yards, I spotted the top of the bear’s head downstream. It was only 25 yards away but the cover was too thick for a shot. Then, almost on cue, the bear left the stream and paused for a few seconds on the bank. It was there that I was able to admire its unique coloration: dark brown legs and a rich golden color across the rest of his body. At that moment I knew I was staring at the bear that had filled my dreams for the past 3 decades. I quickly shouldered my .375 H&H Mag. and made a good shot into the bear’s lungs. By then it was nearly dark, but we could hear the bear moaning in the woods. We knew it was mortally wounded and decided to wait until morning before tracking it.
We set out early the next morning, and spread out in the direction we believed the bear had gone. We found my bear lying dead in a clearing about 20 feet wide.
As we drove back down the Dalton Trail on my last full day in Alaska, I reflected on my amazing hunt. It dawned on me that hundreds of gold rushers in 1898 had realized their dreams of striking it rich along this trail, and my lifetime dream had also come true, this time in the form of a golden grizzly!