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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.