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Adventures from the Archives - Fred Bear’s Barren Ground Caribou

Alaska 1959

Bowhunting legend and industry pioneer Fred Bear hunted all over the world with stick and string. In the late-1950s, his good friend and fellow Boone and Crockett Club member Glenn St. Charles found a hunting honeyhole in the wilds of Alaska. He shared that spot with Fred and a few others. What transpired was nothing short of a backcountry bowhunter’s dream come true.  



Fred Bear’s name is synonymous with bowhunting, yet he was a self-proclaimed “gun man” until his 30s. His father taught him how to hunt rabbits when he was six, and there was no stopping the adventurous young Fred Bear after that. When he was 24, he saw a film about Arthur Young's bowhunts in Alaska and dove headfirst into the world of archery. 

Fred Bear with his record brown bear. For scale, Bear was about 6 feet tall.

In Fred’s books and other writings, he didn’t seem infatuated with records or killing the animals with the biggest headgear. Besides, it’s tough to get within 40 or 50 yards of your quarry just for the chance at a shot with a broadhead. Even so, Fred got 14 animals into the Pope & Young Club’s record book, including two Alaska brown bears and two grizzlies. One of those brown bears made the Boone and Crockett records, and his highest-scoring trophy in our records is a barren ground caribou from Alaska’s Little Delta River.

In his early bowhunting days, Fred hunted Michigan and occasionally Wisconsin. In 1942 he traveled to Canada for moose and bear, then to Ontario. He ventured west to Wyoming for pronghorn, mule deer, and elk. In 1955, he bowhunted Africa. In 1958 and 1959, Glenn St. Charles, Pope & Young Club founder, invited Fred to hunt Alaska at an old trapper’s cabin he found. Fred meticulously recorded details of the hunt in his book, Fred Bear’s Field Notes. Read his member spotlight article to learn more about Fred and his commitment to archery and conservation. 

The Hunt

This record-book hunt took three solid years to evolve, but Fred and his hunting buddies didn’t seem to mind. This was the stuff they lived for. It started in 1957 when Glenn St. Charles and his bush pilot became momentarily lost while flying over the Alaska Range in a Super Cub. When they looked down to find their bearings, the men saw a game-rich valley, complete with a trapper’s cabin. Glenn and a group of happy hunters landed 10 miles away on an old surveyor’s airstrip. With smarts and sweat, they cleared an airstrip (by hand) closer to the cabin. That would set the stage for Fred’s hunt in 1958. 

When Fred landed on the new airstrip in mid-August 1958, he was a “week’s hiking distance” from another human. While waiting for the other hunters to arrive, Fred hauled gear to the cabin and repaired the handiwork a grizzly did to the front door. For the next two weeks, Fred, Glenn, and the others radiated from the cabin to explore, make meat, film, take photos, and live their hunts to the fullest. Fred took a caribou and a sheep; other hunters in the group did the same. When they left camp for the season, they nailed crosscut saws to the front door with the teeth facing outward. They hoped it would discourage bears from destroying the door again. 

Fred Bear was a fan of camo, Borsalino hats, and big, open places where he could test new gear and himself against the wild.​​​​​​​

After having so much fun the first time, Fred and a few others returned the following year. The bear (or bears) returned as well. This time, they entered through the roof and left by busting down the front door from the inside! The men were unfettered because they had nearly an entire month to hunt—and hunt they did. Again, the cabin was a hub for various spike camps around the valley. 

Fred wrote a detailed yet nonchalant account of his caribou hunt on the first evening of caribou season. He spotted a “good caribou bull” near a creek lined with willow. The wind was in his favor, blowing in rain and sleet. On his hands and knees, Fred stalked the bull in the open. At 40 yards, he let an arrow fly with one of his experimental broadheads. It went low and right but severed the femoral artery. The fatally wounded caribou ran 400 yards, crossed the creek, and died. And that’s it. Fred embellished more on his misses than his hits, and his record-book barren ground caribou is no exception. 

At the end of a month in the Alaska backcountry, Fred wrapped up his journal entries with a detailed accounting of expenses. The total cost for 121 “man days” in the field was just shy of $7,000. It was 1959, after all. Just before the accounting, though, he wrote a rather telling and heartfelt entry. “I have not heretofore had the pleasure of hunting with a finer group of men. All true sportsmen dedicated to the handicap of hunting with the bow. Thrilled by a kill but satisfied with a food stalk or a close miss. I hope we can do it again another time.”


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About Adventures from the Archives

The Boone and Crockett Club’s records contain more than 70,000 big game entries, from musk ox to mule deer. Among those entries are more than a few stories of adventures afield. To celebrate those trophies, their habitat, and the hunter, we’re bringing those stories back to life with each installment of Boone and Crockett’s Adventures from the Archives.


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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt