The Hawthornes checked into the Comfort Inn
in Gardiner, Montana.
We're planning on going into Yellowstone the next day.
The owner and his sons are hunting enthusiasts.
Who'd a thunk?
I feel like I'm being watched.
The eyes are watching me.
I'm starting to feel paranoid.
And just a teeny bit uncomfortable.
Interesting story about this bear.
A Trophy To Die For
Hunt of a lifetime in Alaska nearly
costs one Montana man his life.
When you travel to Alaska to hunt brown bear, you hope to have the adventure of your life. But for Rod McAllister, taking a giant bear was only the start of it. The life and death part came when he suffered a heart attack after the bear was down.
McAllister, 54, had never hunted Alaska before despite a lifetime of taking big game of all kind with his sons.
"I have four boys and we all hunt," said McAllister, who owns the Comfort Inn in Gardiner, Montana. Consequently, we have everything from rams to elk to deer, to goat mounts. We've got 14 elk here in the Comfort Inn."
"I've killed a lot of bear in Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, but never a brown bear. This was going to be a hunt that a buddy of mine were going to go on and really, we thought we'd see some bears, but we were mostly going to take pictures of them," he said.
McAllister was supposed to meet his friend in Alaska for the November hunt, but at the last minute, the friend couldn't come. So McAllister went on the hunt alone with guide Steve Johnson of Eagle River's Ultimate Alaskan Adventures Hunting Guide Service.
"Steve guides off of Cook Inlet. That's the area we were hunting. We took a float plane out of Anchorage and flew into Judd Lake on the Talachulitna River. We had our base camp there," he said.
To say brown bears were plentiful on the river would be an understatement. The river was full of red salmon and the brown bears were making the most of it.
"We'd been seeing bears every single day - 20 to 30 bears a day. And I hunted eight days,"McAllister said. "On the eighth day, October 17, I shot the big brown bear."
Using a new .375 H & H magnum he purchased for the hunt, McAllister said, "I think the first shot was the killing shot, but as he was rolling around toward me, I shot him two more times. The guide was saying shoot him again, and I shot until he said don't shoot him anymore.
"When I first shot him, he was 70 yards away. When he ended up, he was 30 yards away," the hunter said.
That was 6:30 in the evening, but getting to the downed bear proved to be another adventure.
"Because there were so many bears around, we couldn't get to it. Every time we got close, the bears would chase us out of there. As it got dark, there were more and more bears coming to the river, so we went back to camp. We didn't take pictures or start skinning it out until the next day.
When they returned, McAllister said, "The guide told me it's the biggest bear he'd seen ever, and he's been guiding for 25 years. The hide turned out to be 11 feet, 4 inches square. How much did the bear weigh? How do you weigh something like that? It's not like you have a scale or could lift him. I can tell you from skinning out buffalo that it was just like skinning out a buffalo. It was well over 1200 pounds, for sure. The guide figured it to be 1400 to 1500 pounds, but how do you judge that?"
After the pictures were taken, the hunter and guide started the skinning process and that's when things went horribly wrong.
"I think it was me lifting on the bear's body trying to move him around, when all of a sudden I felt light-headed and faint. I sat down and told the guide something isn't right. That's when the heart attack really hit me," McAllister said.
"It felt like somebody was standing on your chest and they weighed about the same amount as a truck. It kept getting worse and worse and you couldn't get it off. Nothing would stop it. It was like that for the better part of two hours," he said.
They had a satellite phone with them, but it hadn't been working all week as Johnson was trying to check in with his pregnant wife back in Eagle River. He never could get through.
For whatever reason, when he dialed that phone for emergency, it immediately went to emergency. "The dispatcher dispatched a helicopter from Anchorage. They sent a Jet Ranger from the hospital," McAllister said.
The guide raced back to camp for the first-aid kit that McAllister brought along, which included pills for assorted ills that his doctor had given him for the trip.
"I chewed a handful of aspirin and a pain pill," McAllister said. "But it took two hours for the helicopter to get to us. I was laying there in agony. My guide was doing everything he could. But basically, I was laying there dying next to the bear. The pain was unbelievable."
When the helicopter arrived, they loaded McAllister for the two-hour flight back to Providence Hospital in Anchorage, where Dr. Paul Peterson took over.
"He said I had a 95 percent blockage. It wasn't a blockage per se. It was a blood clot on the main right artery. It popped and the heart attack started when we were tipping that bear over. ... If it had been on my left side, he said I'd be a dead man," he said.
Seven weeks later and back safely in Montana, McAllister said he feels fine.
"I feel like I'm 40 years old," he said. "My wife got me walking. And my four boys are not cutting me any slack. They're all going to college in Missoula and they came home for Thanksgiving. We went out elk hunting. We didn't get any, but it wasn't like they were telling me to take it easy. They said, let's go!"
The bills for his trip are another matter, especially because McAllister is self-employed and has no insurance.
"Let's see," he began, "It was $12,000 for the helicopter ride. The doctor's bill was $11,800. The three-day stay at the hospital was $62,000. Then I had to pay $11,000 to go on the hunt. And I bought a $4000 gun to go up there. I'm sure this turned into a $110,000 bear."
McAllister also plans to have the bear turned into a standing, full-body mount to be displayed in the Comfort Inn along with the many other mounts there, though he admits, "Trying to find a spot for an 11-foot bear is going to be challenging."
Adding on the cost of the mount to all his other costs seems only reasonable. After all, it was the hunt of a lifetime for McAllister, just as he hoped it would be. And the best news is that he survived it to hunt again in the future.