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The polar bear is one of the rarest and most prized of all big-game trophies. Living on the almost inaccessible ice floes of the Arctic Ocean, huge, wily and without any instinctive fear of man, it represents to the hunter the ultimate in dangerous prey. Here, in excerpts from his hunting diary, is the dramatic story of how Dr. William Fisher, a Bellingham, Wash. dentist, hunted and killed a 1,200-pound polar bear on safari in Alaska with his home-town friend Robert Shaw.
FRIDAY: 3 p.m.: It's 18� below but the sun is still shining. We're all tired but the weather is too good to miss. Bush Pilot Bob Savaria is heading the plane right out across the open lead ice, at 300 feet. In the other plane, Bob Shaw and Pilot Dick Moorhead follow us out.
Now we've picked up tracks, but they're very confusing. Looks like a sow and cubs from what I can see, but looks like a big track too. We split up and follow in two directions. Now I can see the tracks clearly—sow and cubs, so we pass it up. Here comes the other plane, wings waggling, so we pull in after them.
There he is! This is the bear we'd like to get. He's so wide across the rear he waddles as he walks. We stay well away from the fellow as we don't want to spook him. He's really a big one, dwarfing everything we've seen before.
We gain altitude to spot a possible landing field, but there isn't a chance anywhere near. The thin ice holding our bear is five miles across, surrounded by wild icefall where thin ice meets permanent ice. There's a tiny ice island in the center, but it looks impossibly small as a landing field. The bear is heading right for it! Hind legs spread out and flattened to the ice, he's pulling himself along with his fore-paws. Every now and then he breaks through. I ask Bob if there is any way we can land on the ice island, and down we go for a look. I've got my fingers crossed. We're coming in low—10 feet—looks rough and far too short. Back up we go, away from the bear. He's still inching along, but a long way off. That decides it. We're going to try.
If we do get stuck, the other small plane can ferry us out—I guess. We hit the ice within 20 feet of the near edge, bouncing violently on the hillocks. Hope the skis stay on. Here comes a great mound of snow on my side. I yell at Bob to turn the plane. We're sliding sideways; we've stopped. We jump out to see if the landing gear is undamaged—it is. Now I wonder how we'll get off.
There are pressure ridges all around our little island, chunks of ice ranging from 10 to 30 feet in height. We're completely hidden from the bear. I take the .375 Magnum and climb the ridge to peek over. Bear is still heading our way but I see no more than his head through the glasses. He's about 1,500 yards away and has fallen through the ice again. Wonder why he has his mind set on coming here?
The other plane has left. They're waiting on the horizon, watching us through glasses. I crawl up the pressure ridge over chunks of ice as big as pianos, slipping and sliding.
A thousand yards away now. The wind is in our favor. Evidently he didn't see the plane land. He's still coming. I'm locating a good spot to shoot from—can't shoot him out on thin ice as he'll fall in and we'll lose him. I really see him now, without glasses. Five hundred yards out and still coming. He just went through again. There! He comes out and starts maneuvering sideways to us. Change of direction? No, now he's turned again and coming head on right toward me. Bob is staying well back and to the side. He has his rifle to back me up. I tell him not to shoot. This is my bear.
He's getting closer and closer, out 80 yards now. I can shoot any time, but if I do he'll fall through and that ice will hardly hold the weight of a man. The bear can use it because he knows how to distribute his weight over its surface. I'll wait. The ice is better close to the island. He's coming right toward me. Forty yards, and now he turns toward the right. I slide back down from the ridge and run on my side, looking for another place to climb up. Can't find one. I look up. There he is! Right on top of the ridge above me, not 20 yards away, head weaving on the long neck. He sees me—he's growling—he hasn't decided whether to come for me or slide back down the far side of the ridge. No time to do anything but shoot—try for shoulder. He falls off on the far side. I yell to the others to stay back and climb up the ridge—bear may be wounded. I peek over, ready to shoot. My gosh! He's fallen through the ice dead, just his back leg is sticking out. We may lose him. I squirm out and grab his back leg. The thin ice sways like the deck of a small boat in a choppy sea, giving with each step. Bob comes running with a rope. We tie it around the hind leg and hold on. How the devil are we going to get him out? Must weigh well over half a ton. Photographer Halmi and Bob and I put our backs against the ridge and pull. Nothing happens. We've got him, but then again we haven't.