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"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.