September 17, 2014

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Scarface the Bear

Jim Dowdell and Scarface

Jim Dowdell, in the man cave of his Grafton home, holds the skull next to his mount of “Scarface”, the largest Grizzly ever taken with a handgun.

Every hunter dreams of an adventure in Alaska, the last American frontier. Few of us will get to see Alaska, even fewer will get to hunt the Grizzly bear. But to Grafton’s Jim Dowdell, the only way to dream is to dream BIG. Big trip, big guns, and a very big bear!

 

In September of 2006, Jim made his way north with the goal of bagging a Grizzly with a handgun.Using a handgun on big game takes skill, and you need to get close, so it takes courage. But Jim found an outfitter who took him on with the understanding that if Jim didn’t make a quick, clean kill, he’d have to fire a follow-up shot himself to dispatch the bear. Grizzlies are dangerous game; and a wounded Grizzly is a terror. Jim knew how it would go if he missed the shot. After all, he chided himself for having put a guide in that very situation on a previous hunt.  Jim was not about to let it happen again.

Flying a four seat bush plane out of Fairbanks, Jim made his way to camp across terrain that required him to wade through high streams and heavy brush. Even in camp they had to be careful with their noise and cooking odors so as not to alert the bears that men had entered the area.They left camp only in the late afternoon when they knew bears were most active.

The first day of hunting brought little result. Beautiful scenery and the majesty of the Alaskan wilderness are wonderful to behold, but Jim had come for a big bear.

On the second day, about 4:30 they left camp under dark skies and made their way again across cold streams that threatened to strand them. However, they knew their best chance of seeing a Grizzly would be as it strolled along the water looking for fish. On the other side of the river they found the landscape was clear, just a stony river bed. They trekked downstream about a half mile to a small island of driftwood logs, where Jim’s guide, Dan, had them take cover and watch the banks.

As evening fell, Dan and Jim peered through their binoculars and sat silently.Jim, looking farther upstream followed the river as it branched to the right. Suddenly, his heart raced as he saw something moving in their direction. He excitedly pointed the object out to Dan. It was a bear, a very dark bear which, as it approached, seemed to get larger and larger with every step. Waddling downstream, its head swaying back and forth, it was oblivious to the duo that lie in wait concealed in the brush a few hundred yards away.

Cautiously, Jim crept forward to a large uprooted tree stump that would make a good support for his shot. Still, the bear was out of range, and he’d have to wait and see if the goliath would come closer and present himself a target. The wind in his face, the water making just enough noise to cover their excited hushed sounds, Jim watched as the bear ambled slowly closer.

Jim, now in prone position with his .375 JD Jones Thompson Contender pistol firmly rested, heard Dan kneeling beside him with his rifle and whisper“anytime you’re ready.”Jim waited.

After about ten seconds of mind-racing terror Jim heard Dan intensely whisper “Take the shot!” But he couldn’t yet, the bear was still too far to be sure and Jim knew he had just one chance to get everything exactly right.  He continued watching the bear as he grew larger in his scope. About three to five seconds later, Dan sputtered through his clenched teeth, “Shoot the bear!” At that same moment the bear turned to the left, offering the once in a lifetime shot Jim had been waiting for.

As he slowly squeezed the trigger, the .375 boomed in response. The bellowing of the dark grizzly as it went down confirmed the hit. Instantly he set the .375 down and picked up the five shot .454 Casull revolver to finish the job.  As his hand grasped the veritable hand cannon Jim heard Dan shout, “Shoot again!”

Later, while dressing the bear out, they would find that the first shot was all that was needed. Although Jim fired several more times to make sure the giant bear was done, the first shot was perfectly placed, piercing the mammoth bear’s heart and killing it instantly.

And what a bear it was! The Alaska Department of Fish & Game later determined this timeworn male was 17 years old. He had surely seen his share of brawling too, as one of his cheek muscles was torn away exposing a vicious looking fang. A hole in his snout, probably caused by another bear’s bite, went clear through the roof of his mouth. The nickname “Scarface” fell easily on this impressive old bruin.

The next summer Jim got the official word on just how big his bear is. Amongst all the Grizzly Bears ever recorded by Safari Club International, his ranked as number 29. As impressive a statistic as that is, so much more impressive was the news that the world’s #1 ranked Grizzly Bear ever taken with handguns is the bear Jim Dowdell calls “Scarface”.