By Larry H. Vielhauer, Ogdensburg, N.Y.
Ever since I was a young boy and my dad took me hunting, I knew my future would have something to do with hunting and the outdoors. In 1963, at age 13, I dreamed of being a taxidermist, and now I am one, full-time, after more than 50 years. Thanks to my parents, God, taxidermy and the NRA, I’ve been blessed to have hunted most big game across North America, including mountain lions in Utah and alligators in Louisiana, just to name a few. My most memorable hunt was my Kodiak brown bear hunt in Alaska. The hunt was scheduled for 15 days. Little did I know, I’d only need one day to fill my tag with a beast of a bear.
On April 15, 2014, the first morning of the springtime hunt, my assistant guide, Denali resident Ty Fulsom, acting as a spotter, saw a big boar about 2.5 miles from Dead Man’s Bay just before noon. Atlin Dougherty, the senior guide, and I began the long stalk to close the gap. Covering that distance took about 6.5 hours while spotting and monitoring the bear’s movements.
We got within 200 yards of the bear and set up for the shot, but the bear wasn’t cooperative. He was lying down and wasn’t going to budge. We waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, at 7 p.m., after a two-hour-long stakeout, the bear moved and I fired a few rounds from my Model 700, dropping him at 190 yards with the .338 Win. Mag.’s 225-grain bullets.
After hearing the shots, Ty met us, and after celebrating and photos, the bear was skinned. It took three hours and was completed by 10 p.m. Hiking 3.5 hours with 100 pounds of skin on a frame pack, the guides switched off carrying the load back to the boat. The following morning, master guide and outfitter Tom Kirstein measured the skull, stating that I indeed shot a Boone and Crockett-quality bear. After noticing his well-worn canines, we knew he was an old bear, too. Alaska Fish and Game later informed us that he was 14 years old after analyzing one of the teeth!
I was originally skeptical about its status as a record, only because I’ve seen some of the massive bears taken from the North. After all, the Boone and Crockett World’s Record brown bear, with a skull that measured 3012/16 inches, was taken on Kodiak Island in 1952, so I knew I had something special just based on that knowledge. History was on my side. Minimum skull measurements for a Boone and Crockett brown bear have to total 26 inches, and the All-Time Awards book requires at least 28 inches. The skull of my bear measured 29 inches after the 60-day drying period. The hide was massive at 10.5 feet, and the bear was estimated to have weighed 1,200 pounds. After all was said and done, my bear placed 131 out of 618 entries in the 14th edition of Boone and Crockett’s “Records of North American Big Game” (printed in 2017). It was the largest bear taken in North America in 2014.
Not only was I gifted with an amazing brown bear, I watched Jerry Skeens from Virginia take his bear on the 13th day of the hunt. After multiple days of rain and fog that hindered his hunting luck, we finally caught a break in the weather and got Jerry a great 18-year-old bear. The bear was one that we’d seen over several days. After drying it measured 273/16 inches and made the three-year Boone and Crockett Awards book. Jerry’s going back for a fourth bear hunt this spring.
Being in the taxidermy trade has it’s benefits, namely a pool of taxidermist friends. When the skin returned from the tannnery a year later, our team set out to created a beautiful full-body mount, complete with a habitat base laden with dead salmon. After weeks of work, the display was finished. In 2016, I drove twice to Missouri, as Boone and Crockett needed the bear’s skull for final official measuring. They also asked me to bring my display for a three-month public display for the Boone and Crockett 29th North American Big Game Awards. The awards and trophies my bear garnered will be cherished forever, much like the bear itself.
My success was due to a whole lot of luck, a professional and top-notch outfitter and his well-conditioned and experienced guides. I was blessed with a miracle. This hunt reminded me to never say no to your passions, dreams, desires or goals, and that by making a plan, those can become possible. All you then have to say is yes.
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