It seemed like traveling to the end of the world for this rare subspecies of brown bear. I went to the majestic Land of the Siberian Tiger and the world’s largest forest. To get there, I flew over halfway around the world and back for incredible trophy. It would have been slightly shorter to have flown to Anchorage, Alaska then to Russia, but I chose instead to fly 12 hours from upstate New York where I live to Moscow. I wanted to stand in the middle of Red Square, see the Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and drink-in the rich culture that is Moscow. I thoroughly enjoyed my day-and-a-half romp through this historic city.
My journey continued as a flew another eight hours from one side of this giant nation to the other. I landed in Khabavsko where I was met and drove five hours into a completely isolated wilderness deep in the Siberian forest. I arrived at camp to learn that I would be in bear camp with Weatherby Award winner Alan Saekman. Alan had already been in bear camp nine days, logging in more than 100 hours in various bear stands. He had only seen a couple of cubs in all that time.
After arriving in camp, I shot my gun to make sure it was on and was pronounced ready to hunt. I quickly changed and was whisked away on a four-wheeler for an extremely bumpy one-hour rough ride. We approached the tree stand with caution as only a few days prior a large tiger was caught by the trail camera in the middle of the day. I also learned that Alan had hunted out of the same stand but had no luck. I was bone weary from my eight-hour flight, five-hour drive to camp, followed by my one-hour hour four-wheel adventure.
I had to fight to stay awake in the stand. My adrenalin finally subsided as the hours rolled by and jet lag and exhaustion hit me in various waves. I was fighting sleep until I heard a twig snap and came to full alert. I glanced over at my Russian guide whose stoic face had not changed expressions since we climbed into the stand. It was dark but judging from the noise I assumed the bear had circled around.
I picked up my gun, preparing for a shot, when my guide finally leaned over and touched my arm. The bear’s vitals were blocked, so I was unable to take the shot. My guide wanted me to shoot, but through my scope no shot had presented itself.
My frustrated guide gave me a mean look. The bear had turned and was now looking at us. I squeezed of a shoot that hit the bear perfectly. The large boar jumped and spun around. My guide fired two follow-up shots with his semi-automatic Russian rifle. I worked my bolt quickly and fired my second round that hit the bear’s ribs, dropping the bear only a few feet from where he had been standing. I decided to put a final round into the bear, just to be safe, as trailing a 900-pound wounded bear through the rain forest was not high on my “to do” list.
My Russian guide actually smiled at me after I pulled the trigger for the final shot on the downed bear. I was totally overjoyed and completely exhausted. My bear was a really good one. We guessed the bear to be around nine feet tall, over 850 pounds with at least a 24 to 25-inch skull.
I felt bad for Alan who had put in so much time and yet I flew straight into camp and three hours later I had a big bear down out of the same stand he had been hunting. Alan told me that three other hunters also came into camp, harvested nice bears and left since he had been in camp. He was not having much bear luck.
Alan, being a wise man, brought along Hannes Pianner, a professional cameraman who was there to document the adventure. The problem was Hannes had only filmed raccoon dogs running around and two cubs in nine days. The next night Alan, Hannes and their guide went out to hunt but never came back. We were concerned but assumed they had vehicle troubles and were stranded.
The next morning the guides headed out to look for them, but as it turned out, Alan had decided to spend the night in the blind, hoping the bear might come in. It is no wonder Alan has won so many hunting awards. The darn thing of it was that nothing showed up.
We were all playing cards the next day, chatting about what a rough night it had to have been. I honestly don’t think I would have been able stay that long on stand. It was during our talk that I learned that Alan is 80 years old! The man is truly a machine. To hunt that hard at any age is tough enough, but to do it at 80 years young -- holy cow!
The next night Alan finally scored, harvesting a nice Asian white lipped bear that is known for the distinctive white V it has on its chest. Hannes captured it on film with some excellent footage.
The hunt continued. I wanted to collect the rare raccoon dog that only exist in a few areas of the world. Alan was still looking for his Amur bear.
The hunting got even rougher as a steady rain began that did not quit or waver, turning everything into streams and ponds. The temperature plummeted, as well, making the hunting wet and cold.
Alan stayed out later and hunted harder than I did in these conditions. I have been a successful athlete my entire life and consider myself to be a driven person, but I was given a lesson in determination and perseverance from a man who was not only 80 years old, but by a person who has proven himself over and over, winning many prestigious hunting awards. You would think the man would let up, but obviously that doesn’t exist in his DNA.
The hunt wore on, but the weather didn’t cooperate. After 14 long days of hunting, Alan’s trip was over. On his last day, Jay Link and two of his hunting buddies arrived at camp. I was shocked to learn that the two men were competing for the world’s highest hunting award: SCI’s International Hunter of the Year.
Alan has taken second place in this award an amazing four times, once to his wife Barbara! It was a thrill to be sharing bear camp with two of the best hunters on the planet. I enjoyed listening to the two men talk about their quest for various species. I was getting hunting lessons from these two extremely elite hunters. It was an amazing experience.
Alan left, and I hated to see him go. It was a true pleasure to share bear camp with such an outstanding person.
Jay Link has won SCI’s Pantheon Award, the World Hunting Ring back in 2011, and was the front runner for the International Hunter of the Year, so talking and sharing a small cabin with him for a couple of days was indeed educational. I just wish I had brought ear plugs. The man is also a world class snorer.
Jay and his two buddies hunted extremely hard for four days, but not a shot was fired. The largest typhon to hit Japan in the last 30 years struck, sending waves of rain and wind all the way to our bear camp. The animals were just not moving in this severe weather.
Jay is an official SCI scorer who was kind enough to measure my bear skull and if the score holds up after the 60-day drying period, I will have taken the fourth largest Amur bear ever!
I was in camp with the best of the best, but I am the one bringing home a world class trophy, proving once again that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
We all thank our good friend Anton Tonchev of Hunt Europe and Links Safari for providing this memorable trip to the far eastern part of Russia.--Darrell Sterling