My passion for hunting North America’s apex carnivores stems from the same desires that caused me to abandon the metropolis in which I have lived most of my life. I grew up in the scorching suburbs of Phoenix but moved to the rural mountains of Utah as a teenager where I learned to hunt and fish. I crave outdoor adventure and find it impossible to tolerate the detached urban lifestyle in which so many stay confined. The longing for wild and remote places recently led me on a long-awaited return trip to the interior of Alaska where I experienced a thrilling hunt for the ancient grizzly bear.

The pursuit of these majestic and deadly creatures in a glacial fed drainage they have dominated with their predecessors for millennia under the backdrop of unparalleled mountains cannot fully be captured in words. The yearning to harvest a large “grizz” in The Last Frontier has occupied my thoughts for many years. My return to Alaska was more than a decade after my first DIY bear hunt there, which had been a life-changing experience.

I lived and worked in the Alaska interior after high school where my bear hunting days began as a side note to other adventures. One of my roommates had grown up in the area and was an avid fisherman. We became good friends and did multiple trips together over several years. I helped him harvest his first caribou and we later trekked into his favorite remote drainage to fish spawning salmon. He told me to expect bears in the area, so I brought my hunting rifle and bear tags. This turned out to be a wise decision. 

The amount of bear signs we saw on that trip was incredible. Within the first 24 hours, we had multiple grizzly sightings and awoke to a huge black bear entering our tent. The bear escaped into the brush as I scrambled for my gun. The fire had been lit inside me and I was no longer thinking about fishing. I shot my first black bear that evening at eight yards after confronting it on a riverbank. We had hardly finished skinning when another grizzly appeared further downriver shortly before dark. I made a quick stalk, and a well-placed 200 yard shot dumped the bear into the river. It then launched out of the water like a rocket into the alders, snapping them in its wake. We tracked and recovered my first interior grizz under the light of our headlamps. It was a five-year-old boar with spectacular fur, just shy of seven feet. I will never forget the relieved feeling I had when we reached camp that night after packing two bears out in the darkness all those years ago. It was an incredible DIY adventure.

That adrenaline fueled fishing trip-turned bear hunt hooked me for life. My friend and I later returned to the area, and he shot a huge black bear during another close encounter. I passed on multiple younger bears before bad weather set in and did not fill my tags that year. This only deepened my newfound Ursid craving. Nevertheless, life’s circumstances forced me to push that appetite aside temporarily. I moved from Alaska for college and got married. I then enrolled in law school and begrudgingly returned to the same metro hellhole I had escaped in my youth.

I was in the city nearly eight years due to the demands of my career. I was never content and finally relocated my family back to rural Utah in 2019 where I work remotely for a firm that once dominated my life. I have been on several great black bear hunts since then. The longing to hunt grizz in Alaska again never faded but seemed out of reach for a time. That changed two winters ago when my brother-in-law, Klynt, and his wife moved to Alaska. I could legally hunt with him being a permanent resident within the second-degree of kindred. He grew up hunting with me and wanted to get back into it. The groundwork was laid for me to return North.

I planned for this hunt more than a year in advance. I built a new lightweight rifle chambered in 300 RUM specifically for the Alaskan bush, suitable for up-close confrontation and long-range shooting. I topped it with a premium optic for low light performance. I also purchased a Ruger Alaskan revolver in 454 Casull as my last line of defense in the alders. One tool that proved indispensable on this hunt was an adapter from Wiser Precision. It converted my trekking poles into ultra-stable shooting and glassing sticks.

August finally found me in Anchorage where Klynt and I embarked on a long drive deep into the interior. The salmon run was in full swing. The plan was to trek down the river confluence and patiently sit and glass for a big bruin as they would be feeding heavily on salmon this time of year. We would also enjoy some fishing for spawning sockeye, coho, chum, and pinks. It was wet and rainy but there would be a few breaks in the weather. The river flows were higher than usual, which created extra challenges. The amount of bear signs in the area were just as I remembered from years ago. There were trails throughout the alders with tracks, piles of scat, and fish remains around every corner. The fishing was incredible, as always.

That first evening, the weather had cleared and during our first sit we spotted a grizzly downriver. It quickly disappeared around a large bend. The wind was in our favor and the river drowned out our sound. I grabbed the rifle and shooting sticks and began a stalk on the opposite side of the river hoping to get a better look. Once we could see around the bend there was no sign of the bear. We waited awhile then slowly started back upriver to our sitting point. On our way back, a bear loudly blew out of the alders across the river thirty yards from us. Either the bear had doubled back, or it was another one altogether. We sat the rest of the evening and later spotted another grizz just a few hundred yards downriver as it caught a sockeye on the river’s edge. It was mature with a blocky head and broad shoulders, but was obstructed by thick alders and never presented a shot.

We fished and relaxed much of the next morning and then sat the same spot that afternoon. It was still early in the day when another bear appeared momentarily. I got set up on the sticks and minutes later spotted movement in the alders along the river’s edge. The bear started walking upriver towards us and came within 200 yards. It was definitely a grizzly but there was no shot, and it was too obstructed by alders to accurately field judge either. The bear disappeared momentarily and then finally stepped into the river. I instantly knew it was big and mature as it started to cross the river, quartering slightly towards me. The old bruin looked spectacular through my Zeiss scope. Right as it stopped and looked upriver, I steadied the crosshairs mid-shoulder and squeezed the trigger.

The bear dropped as the bullet crushed through the exposed front shoulder, passing both lungs, and exited. I immediately chambered another round as the mighty grizz sprung back to its feet, roaring and thrashing in the river. Blood poured out the shoulder and opposite rib cage. A quick follow up shot anchored the bear as he started to lunge downriver towards the alders. The moment I had dreamt of for years had finally happened. Yet, in the midst of this momentary excitement the shallow but strong current slid the large bear onto his back and swept him down the icy river. He gained speed through some thinner rapids and his back leg stuck straight out of the water as he rounded the bend, disappearing out of view.

Klynt and I had thrown on our packs and hustled downriver. The further we went, we expected to find the bear tangled up on one of the densely covered banks. We soon had rounded multiple bends and didn’t see any sign of the animal. The flow was high, but it seemed improbable the large carcass would still be floating on its back a half mile later. There were multiple obstacles including log jams and around each bend there were gravel bars. We crossed a bigger log jam and began to wonder if the grizzly had not fully expired and could have crawled itself into the alders somewhere. We spent the rest of daylight combing both sides of the riverbank and underneath every log jam. We found no sign of my bear. I was disheartened and in complete disbelief of what I had seen happen.

This made for a very long night. Klynt and I recounted the shot sequence, and he was certain he heard a death moan as the bear collapsed in the river. I was certain the bear had expired and held hope that it would turn up further downriver. The carcass must have had enough momentum for the current to roll it over the last log jam we searched, even though it seemed highly improbable at first glance. I also knew there was a shallow slough with calmer current and a larger gravel bar much further downriver. The carcass surely wouldn’t make it past that stretch of river, if it even made it that far.

The next day we anxiously trekked downriver looking for anything we might have missed. We eventually came to the big log jam and searched under it again. We scoured under every obstacle in the river until we finally approached the slough several hours later. I then noticed a patch of brown fur barely out of the water along the bank. I was elated to find the big grizzly submerged in the icy water nearly a mile and a half from where the bear collapsed into the water. I felt relieved and overwhelmed with gratitude as we rolled the wet bear onto the gravel bar.

The large interior boar was magnificent with long golden-tipped fur, a blocky head, and big claws and pads. As I began skinning, the hide was cold to the touch after soaking in the icy glacial fed river overnight. I knew we were in for a brutal task due to heavy alders and many river crossings. The brush was so thick it made for the slowest pack out of my life. We finally made it back to camp after nightfall, seven hours after finding the bear. I was utterly exhausted yet liberated. I am thankful to have experienced such a redemptive and epic hunt for the ancient grizz that has roamed my mind for over a decade. It was great to share this journey with my wonderful brother-in-law, Klynt. I feel like the prodigal son finally returning from a lengthy sabbatical. The interior of Alaska will always hold a unique place in my heart, and I look forward to the next adventure in this place that feels like home.