From the earliest days of history bears have captured the imagination of man. Few animals have been so widely represented in literature, dating back at least as far as their mention in the Old Testament—"And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them" (II Kings 2:24). Other tales of bears have come to us through the writings of Aristotle, Virgil and Ovid, on down to the fable of Goldilocks and the exploits of Davy Crockett. Only a few generations ago several of the western and northern tribes of American Indians—among them the Navajo, Hopi and the Kwakiutl—believed that bears, like white men, were another kind of people. They reasoned that bears can stand erect and walk on their hind feet and that a skinned one looks much like a man. Some tribes even believed that grizzlies were their remote ancestors, and the hunters apologized to the bear before they attacked him.
Some curious beliefs are still common among civilized people—such as the idea that bears catch fish by tossing them out on the bank with their paws. There have been lots of drawings and descriptions of this performance, but it is a safe bet that no observer has ever seen it done, no matter what he may have thought he saw. The miles of movie film which have been made of bears fishing show that the paws are invariably used to pin the fish to the bottom. The bear then takes the fish in his mouth and carries it ashore.
There is another durable old yarn that bears kill men by hugging them to death. It has been proved over and over again that they do nothing of the kind. In the rare instances when unwounded bears attack men they usually charge in on all fours and bite, in much the same way that a dog attacks, except that the man is bowled over in the process. They sometimes do stand up in coming to grips with a man, particularly when they are surprised at close quarters. When this happens the bear may throw a paw around his victim and pull him in to be bitten, but that is as close as they ever come to hugging.
Contrarily, a few writers have maintained that big bears are so fearful of man they try to run into the next county at the first sign of human presence, and that they never attack unless they are forced to defend themselves or their young. In many cases this is undoubtedly true. However, there are plenty of exceptions, and no one man's opinions will ever settle the arguments. The bear is too unpredictable and too much a part of American folklore ever to succumb to cut-and-dried analyses.
One thing, however, is sure. The sportsmen of the North American continent can claim the finest bears on earth, and these include the world's largest four-footed carnivores. But I wish that somebody knew exactly how many kinds we have. Scientists certainly don't. According to some authorities, there are no less than 86 North American species and subspecies of the genus Ursus alone, which takes in only our grizzlies and Alaska brown bears. On the other hand, one eminent modern authority contends that all bears in this genus belong to a single, highly variable species.
Against this background of scientific contradictions it seems to me text that for the average sportsman the best means of classification was arrived at in the last two editions of the hunters' official record book-Records of North American Big Game, compiled by the Boone and Crockett Club. In these volumes the bears are divided into four kinds—black, brown, grizzly and polar. The black bears and the polars naturally have their own lists in the trophy ratings, and for practical reasons the big Alaska brown bears and the grizzlies are listed in separate classes. Each of these inhabits a wide stretch of territory and has many separate and distinct characteristics. And with each type the size of the trophies varies considerably in different parts of their ranges.
The black (Euarctos americanus) is, by a wide margin, our most hunted bear. He is found throughout an enormous range which practically covers the forested parts of the continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the limit of trees in the arctic down to the Tropic of Cancer in the higher mountains of Mexico. As his range might indicate, he is remarkably adaptable. And while his numbers have been greatly reduced since the days when Davy Crockett killed 105 in a single year, he has adjusted to modern conditions so well that he is still roaming the woods in fair numbers within a hundred miles of New York and Philadelphia. Including an estimated 75,000 in Alaska, there are now roughly 250,000 black bears in the United States, and loads of others in Canada, where estimates in the remote areas are unavailable.
As might be expected, in most of their range their fur is a glossy black. However, since at least 14 subspecies have been described by scientists, it is not surprising that the black shows a variety of color modifications in separated parts of his vast homeland. Some have more or less brown on their muzzles, and many have white spots on their chests. In the Rocky Mountain states, and on up through western Canada into southern Alaska, there are areas where completely brown specimens (the so-called cinnamon bears) of the true genus Euarctos americanus are at least as common as the black ones. In those regions, many a brown has a black mother, or vice versa; frequently we find both colors in the same litter, in which the number of cubs may vary from one to four.
Taxidermists in the Northwest have told me that hunters occasionally get large browns of the black species confused with grizzlies. There is no good reason why this should happen. For while some grizzlies of similar color are no larger than really big cinnamons, they can be distinguished at a glance. Grizzlies have a different profile, both in head and body. Seen from the side, the front part of a grizzly's head looks to be somewhat dished in (see illustrations on pages 76 and 77); the black's head shows a much straighter line. Also, the grizzly has a conspicuous hump over his withers, and his higher and less sloping hindquarters give him a lankier look than any black of the same size. When you can examine the claws, the difference is unmistakable. The blacks are the only North American bears that can climb trees, and their strongly curved front claws, short and sharp, are well suited to the job. The front claws of grizzlies are long and nearly flat. Finally, you will find few blacks in real grizzly country, for the grizzlies often kill and eat them, and the blacks stay out of their way.
While it may not be too difficult to conceive of a cinnamon-colored black bear, it is downright startling to learn that a black can also turn out to be white, or even blue—which really means the color of a Maltese cat. The white variety (Euarctos americanus kermodei) caused quite a stir when it was first described from Kermode Island, off the British Columbia coast. But as soon as sows were seen with white and black litter twins, it was realized that the white bears—which are not albinos—were just another color phase of the common kind, rather than a separate species as originally thought.
The other principal variant, the blue-gray glacier bear (Euarctos americanus emmonsii), also is found with black twins. These blues seem to be rather small, but size is probably due to local feed conditions. While most glacier bears have been taken in the mountains near Yakutat, in Alaska, a few individuals of this strange mutation crop up in widely separated parts of the continent.
Like all other American bears except the polars, the blacks are omnivorous feeders. They eat grass and skunk cabbage, many kinds of berries, nuts, fruit, roots and other types of vegetation, meat, fish and carrion of various sorts, and insects such as ants and the bees that they find with honey, which they greatly enjoy. In the salmon country, where the commercial fishermen shoot them and leave them, the carcasses are soon devoured by their surviving relatives.
The average adult male black bear weighs about 300 pounds, but the large ones are much heavier. A couple of summers ago, near a popular resort in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, a big garbage dump lying close to a well-traveled highway was a magnet for all the bears from miles around. Tourists in passing cars stopped for the inevitable photographs. The Conservation Department officials knew that it would be only a question of time before somebody got hurt, so they began to live-trap and ear-tag the bears before transporting them to distant areas where they were released. In the course of this program a couple of specimens taken in box traps were so huge that it was decided to anaesthetize them and weigh them. The larger of the two weighed 605 pounds, which equals the top weight of present-day grizzlies found in Wyoming or Montana.
However, both weights and field or hide measurements of bears are essentially meaningless (weights vary with the seasons, and hides can be stretched). Therefore the official records are based on the measurements of the clean, dried-out skulls, which cannot be faked. For the world record black bear the length of the skull, 13[3/16] inches without the lower jaw, is added to the greatest width, 8[12/16], to get the official "score" of 21[15/16].
A sportsman who does his trophy hunting on a continental scale is mainly interested in where the specimens with the largest skulls can be taken. With black bears, unlike our other species, this question has no simple answer, for the occasional giant may come from almost any part of the map. In the official records the top 20 trophies are from no less than 11 states, Canada and Mexico. The present world record was bagged in 1953 by Ed Strobel in Wisconsin, but it is closely approached by others from Alaska, Louisiana, California, Pennsylvania, Nova Scotia and the Queen Charlotte Islands off the British Columbia coast.
Depending on where it is done and how the sportsman goes about it, hunting for a trophy black can vary from an almost impossible assignment to a downright cinch. Along with their intelligence, excellent hearing and amazingly keen noses, I believe that some bears, at least, can see a lot better with their tiny eyes than many people seem to think. Furthermore, blacks in the more civilized sections have learned enough about man to do a very efficient job of taking care of themselves. A hunter who sets out to find his bear during the open season in states like Pennsylvania or New York (where the use of dogs is illegal) has only the remotest chance of ever seeing one. The best bet in the East is to look for them in September on some of the Canadian blueberry barrens. New Brunswick, for instance, has some excellent bear country where an accomplished still-hunter may get his trophy in the early part of the fall; or, in a good beechnut year, he may connect during October when the bears are up on the ridges feeding on nuts.
The surest way to get a black bear is to hunt him in the fall along the salmon streams, on the islands of the southeastern Alaskan archipelago or on the adjacent islands off the British Columbia coast. They certainly grow as big up there as anywhere else, and they are so plentiful that in the course of a week or two you can hardly fail to see a good one. All you need do is to sit down where you can watch a creek in which the bears are fishing and wait for one that suits you to show up.
I tried this system—and one other—in the Queen Charlotte Islands half a dozen years ago. My companion was Jack Fraser, a crack fishing guide and keen hunter as well. We started by walking up from the mouth of a creek which was full of spawning dog salmon. After we had gone upstream for a couple of hundred yards I saw a sea gull fly off with some salmon entrails in its beak. It had been cleaning up after the bears. Forcing our way through the salal thickets to the water's edge we came to a glade near the shallow riffle where they had been fishing.
"There's no use hanging around now," I said. "It's too late in the morning. But if we are here at 4 o'clock this afternoon I'll bet that a bear will walk right into our laps."
"We'll see," Jack said. "But we have some time to kill. Let's try another hunting system for a while."
Then he set off on what struck me as an aimless walk through the woods. I followed. Taking care to stay away from the heavily used bear trail that led to the riffle, we crossed a low divide to a game trail that ran beside another creek and worked our way silently along it into the gentle wind. We hadn't gone a quarter of a mile before we saw a bear start across a fallen tree trunk that bridged the stream. A shot from my .30-06 tumbled him into the shallow water, close to the farther bank.
"Now I'd like to see how your theory works," Jack said after we had dragged him out and skinned him. "There's no bag limit here on bears, you know."
At just about 4 o'clock, beside the first creek again, I blew some air into the small rubber pillow which I carry in case there may be need to sit still in wet or snowy country. Jack settled down beside me, and for perhaps 10 minutes we were perfectly still. Then, without a sound, a fair-sized bear showed up, not more than 35 yards away. Very slowly I raised the rifle and started to squeeze off the easiest kind of a shot, with results that were equally startling to Jack, to me and to the bear. I had shifted my weight on the pillow. The air inside swooshed from one of the pillow's three air compartments into another, right in the instant of my trigger squeeze. The bullet went a yard over the bear's back. We had just a glimpse of his fat rump as he switched ends, and in a split second he was out of sight.
Regardless of where they are hunted, wild black bears are almost never dangerous to man. In fact, after spending a lot of time in many parts of their vast range I'm personally convinced that an unwounded black in his own environment is no more fearsome than a deer. A sow with cubs may sometimes try to bluff, making quite a show of her threats, but I've never heard of one that charged in earnest.
The really dangerous black bears are the so-called tame ones, like those that used to be chained up as tourist attractions at roadside refreshment stands and gasoline stations. The semitame black bears in our national parks are almost as dangerous. They have learned to beg for handouts from tourists in passing cars. This can lead to trouble, since the bear, flashing out a taloned paw to grab a sandwich, may very well take the sandwich owner's forearm along with it.
I cannot leave the black bear without noting that he is a confirmed camp robber. The utter mess that a curious and hungry one can make in an unguarded tent or cabin must be seen to be believed. He will tear up everything in sight, including mattresses, canned foods and all sorts of containers. It is this trait, far more than his rare killing of sheep or pigs, that makes him hard to get along with in settled regions. But his greatest enemies are the western sheep-herders and the commercial salmon fishermen on the northwest coast. These men commonly shoot every bear they see, in season or out, and they kill many times more of them than all the licensed sportsmen on the continent.
ALASKA BROWN BEARS
Alaska brown bears are surely big enough to need no exaggeration of their size. As with grizzlies, though, many reports of their weight and length have been fantastic. These are the bears which have been touted for years as the world's largest carnivorous animals, but this is far from true. The warm-blooded sperm whale eats the giant squid, which certainly isn't a vegetable. Sea elephants, walruses and bull Steller's sea lions are all carnivorous, and any bear is a dwarf by comparison. So the best that can be claimed for a big Kodiak is that he is the largest carnivore that spends most of its life on land. As for his true size, a giant brown may weigh just over 1,200 pounds in May, when most of the big ones are shot, and a bit more than 1,600 pounds before he dens up for the winter. Standing on his hind feet in a normal position, the very tallest will not quite reach a height of nine feet.
There is no question where the biggest of these brownies can be found. Of the 20 largest ever recorded, 15 are Kodiak Island (Ursus middendorffi) specimens. The king of them all, the world-record brownie scoring 30 12/16, was collected on Kodiak Island in 1952 by Roy Lindsley of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a habitat group which is now on display in the Los Angeles County Museum. Incidentally, this is the only bear that Mr. Lindsley had shot in the 20 years he had worked with them in the course of his job. Of the remaining five all were Peninsula bears (Ursus gyas), four from the storm-swept reaches of the Alaska Peninsula and one from Unimak Island off the Peninsula's tip.
The fact that the Boone and Crockett scoring system uses skull measurements for its rankings may have something to do with the apparent superiority of the Kodiak brownies, whose skulls are quite different in shape from those of the Peninsula bears. Although the biggest Kodiak skulls may average a trifle shorter, they are definitely wider and show a higher, distinctively domed forehead that can be spotted instantly by anyone who has studied them.
Afognak Island, close to Kodiak, has bears of the Kodiak race, and smaller brownies live all along the coastal mainland and its adjacent islands, such as Montague and Hinchinbrook, down into southeastern Alaska, where Baranof Island marks the southern limit of any race ever classed in the brown bear group.
Strangely, the cubs of these gigantic beasts are so tiny that they weigh less than a pound when they are born, blind and hairless, while the mother is hibernating in her winter den. The baby bears promptly start nursing, and they grow so fast that Kodiak cubs are about the size of foxes when they take their first look at the outside world in late April or early May.
As with blacks and grizzlies, the easy way to shoot a brown is to watch the salmon streams in the fall. At that time of year you will see lots of bears, but the trouble is that the dense thickets which border the streams are then in leaf, and the grass along the banks may be five or six feet high. This cover conceals the places where the bears are bedded down, making it almost impossible to pick out the biggest trophy. Moreover, the king-size males have learned, in perhaps 40 years of experience, that it is safer to do their fishing after dark, so only the sows and young males are apt to appear when there is light enough to shoot.
Therefore, the knowledgeable trophy hunter tries to be in brownie country around the middle of May, before the salmon have started to run. Just out of hibernation, the bears, big and small, will be up on the mountainsides, where they are easy to spot on slopes that are often covered with snow. It is then mainly a matter of searching with binoculars and waiting for the big old males, which usually are the last to leave their dens.
This kind of hunting sounds deceptively simple. Actually, you may need to do some climbing to reach the vantage points from which your watching is done and then make another hard, fast climb to get within range of your trophy. Very long shots should be avoided at all costs, and it is almost criminal to shoot at an un-wounded, running bear when he is heading for a nearby jungle of alders. To follow a wounded brownie into brush like that—where you can hardly see a dozen yards even though the leaves are off—is to endanger your guide's life as well as your own. For a wounded brownie in such cover is one of the most dangerous animals on earth.
Foul weather is almost the usual thing in brown bear country, but Alaskan weather is capricious. The bears often start to move when a downpour suddenly stops; so unless the hunter is sure that the rain will last all day, he'd better be out on the job.
The conviction that not many bears are shot in camp paid off handsomely on my Kodiak Island trip in 1955, when I hunted around Deadman's Bay with Hal Waugh. On a very nasty morning we cruised down in the boat to the end of Horse Marine Canyon. After we had walked inland to a rain-lashed knoll, we huddled on top of it for hours, glassing the surrounding slopes. While we saw only two bears that day—as compared to 15 others we had passed up in the three days before it—the second of them was the monster I'd been waiting for. He showed up during a brief stop in the rain. A short climb brought us as close to him as the terrain would allow—a distance of 148 yards. The telescope sight of my .30-06 was perfectly zeroed, and I shot from the prone position. My first 220-grain bullet broke his neck. That bear, a first-prize medal winner that scored 30 5/16, still ranks as the biggest Alaska brownie ever recorded by a nonresident sportsman.
These great beasts come in all shades from pale blond to dark brown. Most hunters seem to prefer the dark pelts. I may be biased, as my own trophy is a blond, but I always thought the pale ones more distinctive. Regardless of color, some of the spring brownies will have badly rubbed pelts, for they start to shed their heavy fur a couple of weeks after they leave their winter quarters. But if you are lucky, and if your bear has been out for only a few days, he'll have the richest fur you can possibly get.
Grizzlies were once thought to be the largest bears on the continent. And, indeed, back in the 19th century the California grizzlies grew to fearsome size. Long hibernation was unnecessary, since the climate insured an almost year-round supply of food; and with streams full of salmon to supplement their other feed, they had little to do in the course of a year but eat and grow. Unfortunately, nobody will ever know just how big the California grizzlies grew to be. They were almost gone when this century began, and that was before any accurate big-game records were kept. Today they are completely extinct; and there remains not one skull of a California specimen big enough to equal some of those from grizzlies east of the Rockies, which, of course, are a good deal smaller than the massive Alaska browns.
Traditionally, the grizzly has been regarded as the most ferocious of American animals. When the Lewis and Clark expedition went west a century and a half ago, grizzlies chased members of the expedition into the ' Missouri River, prompting Captain Meriwether Lewis to write that his men would rather meet two hostile Indians than a single bear of this kind. Only a dozen years ago in the Yukon, there was no closed season on grizzlies. I was in the Yukon at that time and asked the game commissioner in Whitehorse why the bears were given no protection. He answered that no protective measures could then get popular support, because Yukon grizzlies were killing or mauling people every year. One of them had just killed an Indian boy who was picking blueberries with his sister, and this attack, like a few others he mentioned, was certainly unprovoked.
Most people think of grizzlies in terms of the famous silvertips, whose coats show a grizzled effect caused by silvery or yellowish tips on darker hairs. Actually, hides of this type are in the minority. Over their range as a whole, these bears are found in a bewildering assortment of colors that run from nearly white to jet black, and include gray, or almost yellow specimens, along with brown ones that may be any shade from pale to very dark. There are also all sorts of mixtures, such as dark bears with pale heads. Among the 14 bears that I once saw in a single small area in British Columbia the colors varied from a perfect silvertip to a most astonishing mahogany brown sow with an almost orange stripe around her middle. This fat old mamma had a pair of plain brown yearlings with her.
As the illustration on page 77 shows, there is, in shape at least, a more or less typical grizzly. This animal inhabits the interior of Alaska, as well as many Canadian areas—British Columbia, western Alberta, the Yukon territory and the Barren Grounds of the Northwest Territories. In the United States, where they once ranged from the Dakotas and the western tip of Texas to the Pacific, they are almost gone, except in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana and in the protected areas of some of our national parks. A few very small grizzlies still survive in Mexico, nearly all of them in the mountains of Chihuahua.
But I must add that sportsmen who now hunt in Alaska are faced with a surprising question: Just what is a grizzly bear? This problem has been bothering the Records Committee for years, for there are areas in Alaska where it is virtually impossible to separate the true grizzlies from the smaller races of brown bears. Even the reliable index of skull shapes breaks down when you try to compare them. For only the size of the best Peninsula bear skulls distinguishes them from the smaller skulls of grizzlies found in other parts of the continent; and no scientist alive can consistently tell the skulls of some small female individuals of the Peninsula race from the big male grizzly skulls from other regions. To make matters worse, what might be called true Alaska grizzlies often wander down into brown bear country; and as they often interbreed with their bigger cousins, nobody can classify the hybrids or their variously mixed descendants.
Because the positive identifications of these intergrades is impossible, the Boone and Crockett Club 20 years ago threw up its hands and classed all the browns and grizzlies together in a record list called Bears of the Genus Ursus. From the scientific point of view this was logical enough. But there were outraged howls from the sportsmen when, inevitably, the giant brown bears practically took over the records. The biggest grizzly shot outside the brownie range in Alaska ended up in 89th place.
In a way, the protest of the sportsmen made sense, for no bears south of Alaska's Baranof Island had ever been scientifically classed as browns, and no bears from the Rocky Mountain states or from Canada could ever be mistaken for Kodiak or Peninsula brownies if the top specimens from each group were seen side by side. For these reasons, plus the fact that grizzlies have a great emotional appeal for many hunters because of their association with American history and the winning of the West, it was felt that the genuine grizzlies deserved a record list of their own.
The present way of separating the grizzly and brownie records was arrived at in 1949, after the Boone and Crockett Club appointed a special committee of trophy-minded sportsmen on which I served. I suggested that grizzly records would be meaningless unless the specimens taken in brown bear country were barred, on the principle that these animals had some brown bear ancestry which might make them bigger than any normal grizzlies. To make such a distinction would require as exact a definition as possible of the areas in which brown bears or their descendants might be found. I then suggested that our top museum experts and the best field men in the Alaska game department might be able to supply the necessary map. These suggestions were adopted and the map was drawn up.
As it stands today, this map defines the range of the browns as extending roughly 75 miles inland from the coastline between Baranof Island and Unimak Island. In general, everything on the inland side of that line is a grizzly. But it must be emphasized that the 75-mile limit is not absolute. While the Records Committee knows of places where the browns don't seem to roam that far in, there are a few other regions where a big brownie may wander up a salmon stream until he is considerably farther from the coast. Appropriate action is taken in listing these specimens, even though the sportsman who gets a huge trophy far inland naturally wants to regard the 75-mile line as rigid.
Up to now, the existing rule has worked out fairly well. Although six of the top 10 grizzly trophies are from Alaska, the world record specimen—scoring 26 10/16—was taken in 1954 by F. Nygaard, a commercial salmon fisherman, at Rivers Inlet, B.C. But the problem of keeping the record list of honest grizzlies from being invaded by brownies or their intergrades is still so complex that the brownie map some day may have to be drastically revised.
The polar is quite unlike the other three American bears. First of all, he is not really a land animal but exists mainly on the ice pack that stretches over the Arctic Sea. It is true that in alternate years the sows usually leave the ice and come ashore to hibernate and have their cubs. However, the males rarely see land again after they leave it for the ocean ice in the first spring of their lives.
Furthermore, the males, unlike all their American cousins, normally do not hibernate. They spend the year out in the open, prowling for food. Alone among American bears, the polar is almost entirely carnivorous. He lives mainly on seals, with a rare feast of carrion when "he finds a dead whale or walrus. In summer he catches several kinds of sea birds by swimming up beneath them when a flock is resting on the water.
Because the bear usually has to kill something to get a meal, I believe that when you encounter a polar bear in winter a couple of hundred miles from land he is more likely to attack than any other animal. He attacks not because he is mad at you. He simply wants to eat you.
On the Pacific side of the arctic this fearlessness usually brings little damage to the bears. They live too far north to be harried by the commercial salmon fishermen who kill so many coastal brown bears, grizzlies and blacks. It is only on the Atlantic side that they take a bad beating, for there the crews of sealing vessels shoot every polar bear they can find.
The polar has another unique quality which, as a trophy hunter, I find most fascinating of all. The biggest, found off Alaska, are longer and heavier than bears of any other kind in the world. I stirred up a mild tempest three years ago when I first published my convictions on their superior size. The Alaska brownies had always been considered the biggest in every way. But that claim seemed doubtful to me after my first trip to the Alaskan arctic in 1949, and those doubts were confirmed when I returned in 1956 to collect my own polar bear trophy. While mine turned out to be good but not gaudy—it is now tied for 32nd place in the official records—the fact that this bear was only 2½ inches shorter from nose to tail than my very exceptional Kodiak brown was significant. For I knew that much bigger polars had been taken.
In the last couple of seasons a few hunters have taken nose-to-tail measurements of unskinned polars that were reported to be as long as 10 feet 6 inches. While there is nothing official about these field measurements, the figures are interesting when compared with the nine-foot maximum for browns. Those big bears were not weighed, but a Carnegie Museum specimen, which now ranks no higher than 18th place on the basis of skull measurement, was once weighed in pieces. The reported total was 1,728 pounds. We have no reason to think that any brown bear comes close to this.
Most of the Alaskan polar bear hunting centers around Kotzebue, which is just north of the Arctic Circle. The best time to go is in March or very early April, when there is little open water. A few sportsmen have gone out with Eskimos and dog teams for a fascinating adventure that is, nevertheless, highly uncertain in terms of producing a trophy. You will not see polars unless you reach the kind of rough ice formations where the bears can find cover from which to stalk their seals. And since these men on sleds cannot get very far from their bases, they have little chance unless the right kind of ice can be found nearby.
Hunting with a light airplane is much more dependable, and hence more popular. Those who have not tried this method may condemn it as unsportsmanlike. Admittedly, a plane enables you to cover hundreds of miles of ice in a single day, turning an often impossible task into a very simple one. But success is by no means certain, and this type of flying can be hazardous.
A summer hunt with a ship is the exact opposite. This kind of hunting, now practically unknown in Alaska, is the usual thing on the Atlantic side, where a few boats go up into the arctic waters from ports in Norway. The hunters do nearly all of their shooting from the ship. The bear couldn't climb aboard if he tried. He is either shot when he is swimming or while he stands on some floe. If there is a less sporting form of big-game shooting I have never heard of it, and the yellow stained summer skins of polar bears are not to be compared with their rich winter pelts.
Despite such hunting practices as this, the future of bears as game animals now looks considerably more promising than it did some years ago. There used to be quite a commercial demand for their fur, and the larger species suffered from a certain amount of hide hunting when rugs made from the skins of brownies, polars and grizzlies brought high prices on a worldwide market. There was also a lot of trapping, particularly for black bears, in the days when bearskin shakos were widely used with the dress uniforms of various European regiments. The disappearance of these markets has helped the bears greatly. And—while the idea may seem a bit mystifying—so has the enormous increase in the number of sportsmen who like to go bear hunting.
The truth is that bears, along with the other game species on this continent, would soon be wiped out almost completely were it not for the interest of sportsmen in the animals' welfare. The 15 million hunters in the United States and Canada are strong enough politically to see that game gets the effective legal protection it needs. And as the present sale of hunting and fishing licenses brings in close to $100 million every year, the state conservation departments, along with those of the Canadian provinces, are now staffed by real experts in game management. Furthermore, the laws are more strictly enforced, for the money from hunting licenses now enables these same departments to employ wardens of higher caliber. With all these factors in their favor, the bear populations in all species are holding up very well, and these supremely interesting animals will afford some grand sport for a long time to come.
Belonging to the genus Euarctos, the black is the most heavily hunted and most adaptable of North American bears. His range extends across the entire continent, from the arctic forests down to the high mountains of Mexico. His fur is usually glossy black with perhaps a white star on the chest or a tinge of brown on the muzzle, but some individuals in the species have hides that are all brown or, in rare cases, blue-gray or completely white.
ALASKA BROWN BEAR
The giant brownies live along a narrow coastal strip of Alaska between Baranof Island in the southeast out to Unimak Island beyond the tip of the peninsula. The most famous specimens inhabit Kodiak Island, where the present world record head, scoring 30 12/16 according to official measurements, was shot by Alaskan Roy Lindsley in 1952. Three years later Author Fitz bagged the biggest brownie-30[5/16]—ever taken by a nonresident sportsman.
Villain of a thousand tales of ferocity, many of them exaggerated or fictitious, the grizzly was first reported from the Canadian arctic by Explorer and Naturalist Samuel Hearne in 1771. Made famous in later years by the accounts of their aggressiveness in the journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition, these magnificent animals now occupy only a small fraction of their former range in the western half of the North American continent.
Although their small heads give deceptive skull measurements, recent evidence indicates that the biggest male polars from Alaskan-Siberian sector are the world's largest bears. The world record trophy, with a skull which scored 28[12/16], was shot in 1958 by Tom Bolack off Kotzebue, Alaska. One possible reason the males grow so big is that they normally do not hibernate, as do the other North American species, but instead hunt for seals all year round.