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Adventures from the Archives - Grancel Fitz’s Alaska Brown Bear

Alaska 1955

Armed with a .30-06 that he took on every hunt in North America, Grancel Fitz was on a quest to find the biggest Alaska brown bear that Kodiak, Alaska, had to offer. Even though Fitz was never a regular member of the Club, his contributions to refining the Club’s scoring system produced serious hunting karma because this bear was an absolute monster.


In his hunting heyday of the 1940s and ‘50s, Grancel Fitz wore a waxed mustache of various lengths. He gave it a coat of ‘stache wax to hold the twisted points at attention and posed alongside his trophies while wearing a sweat-stained cowboy hat, a pipe clenched in his teeth. 

Fitz was friends with several Club members, even though he was never a member himself. That never dulled his enthusiasm for helping the Club shape its scoring system, which was adopted in 1950 and is still used today. Nor did it temper his desire to kill 25 species of North American game, which he completed in 1959 with a jaguar. He was the first hunter to accomplish such a feat. 

Before Fitz devoted most of his time to hunting, he was a pioneering giant in advertising and commercial photography. In the early 1920s, the advertising industry was experimenting with photography as a marketing tool. His clients included Pontiac, Chevrolet, AT&T, Ivory Soap, and numerous others. By 1945, he had turned almost entirely to big game hunting. He wrote about his hunting adventures for Outdoor Life and Sports Illustrated. He authored North American Head Hunting, chronicling a dozen of his hunts for everything from whitetails to polar bears. 

At Club headquarters in Missoula, we sometimes find historical gems stashed in boxes and files. The following highlights were pulled straight from a manuscript that Fitz typed on a typewriter, made edits and notes by hand, and titled “The Big Blond Kodiak of Deadman’s Bay.” 

The Hunt 

Grancel Fitz left his New York City apartment to catch a 12:05 a.m. flight to Anchorage in May 1955. He was flying to Seattle, then Anchorage, then Kodiak to hunt with outfitter and guide Hal Waugh, who Fitz described as a “big, soft spoken, very well-informed man in his early forties, conservative in his claims and free from the slightest aroma of bull.” 

The Alaska brown bear and grizzly bear are classified as the same species, Ursus arctos. However, Kodiak’s genetically isolated bears have slightly varied skull proportions, claw shape, and dentition, which sets them apart from brown bears in Alaska. For those reasons, Kodiak’s bears are considered a separate subspecies.

When they first met, Waugh asked Fitz how he found out about his outfit in Alaska. Fitz explained that thanks to the Boone and Crockett Club’s Big Game Competitions, he could see which guides found the largest trophies. Fitz noticed that Waugh’s bear hunters had won three competitions since 1950. And Fitz wanted a trophy. 

Bear hunting wasn’t new to Fitz, though he had never seen a Kodiak bear (as he called them) in the wild before. On the first day of the hunt, he saw 14 bears. Most were young, too far away, or sows with cubs. It’s important to note that Fitz’s writing always weaves a conservation message into his narrative, advocating that sportsmen pass on shooting sows and smaller specimens. To Fitz, selecting only the biggest old boars was sound conservation. 

After that first day, the well dried up. They saw only one bear in the following days, but it gave Fitz a chance to talk with Waugh to learn about bears—plus, it gave him plenty of story material. The men discussed the traits of mature bears, noting that old bears don’t play; they are all business. They discussed preferred calibers. Waugh carried a .375 Magnum. Another guide preferred his .300 Magnum. As for Fitz, he stumped hard for his favorite, the .30-06. He took some ribbing on that one but in his defense, he said, “The payoff is on where your first bullet lands.” His theory would be tested the next day at Deadman’s Bay. 

Aside from scattered cottonwoods, firewood is hard to come by on Kodiak Island, according to Fitz. They heard a log had washed up on shore near their hunting spot. After dropping off two of their crew to saw it into manageable sizes, Fitz and Waugh went to look for bears. A mature boar finally appeared after the hunters sat glassing in the rain. 

The men made their best guess at the bear’s trajectory and headed to intercept it. Just below a ridgetop, as the wind drove the rain nearly sideways, Fitz took off his scope cap and hat to peek over for a look. There stood a very big a bear. “Quite suddenly, as I studied him, what I can only describe as his awesome stage presence hit me with an impact that was startingly hard,” Fitz later wrote. “I sensed the tremendous muscles rippling under the shaggy coat that blended so well with the tundra. I noted his huge head. This was more bear than I had ever seen, or ever expected to see.” 

The big boar was only 30 feet from brushy cover when it faced the men head-on. It turned just enough for a shot. Aiming at the height of the bear’s spine, Fitz touched off his shot, and the bear’s head instantly dropped. Follow-up shots were likely unnecessary, but no one wants to track a wounded bear, especially into thick brush. The bear was very dead and very sunk in the mud. It looked like “the biggest drowned rat in the world,” Fitz wrote. 

Fitz's Alaska brown bear was recognized with a 1st Prize at the 7th Competition held in New York City, New York, in 1956.

The crew took measurements of the hide and the skull. It measured eight feet, nine and a half inches long from nose to tail. Its front paws were nine inches wide. He took the skull to Samuel B. Webb, chairman of the Club’s Records Committee. At the time, Fitz’s bear placed second to a bear taken by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee on a scientific expedition. Fitz didn’t consider this bear’s demise sporting enough to count. He unabashedly claimed his bear was the “biggest skull ever recorded by a sportsman in any part of the globe.” Today it ranks as number eight in the All-time records. 


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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