Hunters: Eric Arnette & Kevin Fain
By Lisa L. Price
Eric Arnette sat on the Alaskan tundra in a nerve-wracking bubble of fog, staring for an hour and a half at the spot where he'd last seen his guide, who had disappeared into an alder thicket in pursuit of the huge, possibly-wounded, possibly-dead grizzly bear. How long should he wait before radioing for help?
Eric and hunting buddy Kevin Fain had wanted to go on a moose hunt for forever. They booked with Adams Guide Service, and met with outfitter Bob Adams in Aniak on Sept. 1. Adams, a pilot, would fly them to a bush camp.
"I hate to tell you this, but the state of Alaska changed the date for the opening day of the moose hunt. It won't start until Sept. 5," Adams told them. "I promise to get you a moose. And there are a ton of grizzlies in this area. If it makes you feel better, we'll hunt grizzlies for a few days."
Adams offered them a greatly reduced price on the grizzly hunt, and the two friends looked at each other with smiles.
"Our sole purpose had been to hunt moose, and we thought we'd be sharing a camp," Eric said. "Bob pared down our gear and we were taken about 20 miles apart and dropped off on the tundra with a guide and a tent."
Hunters can't fly and hunt on the same day, so Eric and his guide, Mason Kiebert, spent the day glassing, seeing seven grizzlies. The next day dawned foggy, making glassing largely fruitless.
"Late in the day, I'm all kinds of stir crazy and said, 'Let's just go walk,'" Eric said.
The two hiked about three miles to a knoll overlooking a creek bottom choked with alders. They saw two distant grizzlies heading into the bowl before a bigger bear came out of it, closer to their spot.
"It was the first bear I'd seen up close, but Mason said, 'You won't see a bigger one,'" Eric recalled. "It was about 180 yards away when I shot, and it flipped, hit the ground and took off running into the alder thicket."
Mason gave Eric his radio and showed him how to call for a plane if needed, and then he disappeared into the thicket in search of the bear.
"So I'm sitting there wondering if he's okay ... if the bear was just wounded or dead. How long should I wait? What if he's hurt and I wait too long? He was in there for an hour and a half," Eric said. "Finally, he comes out and says he couldn't find any sign."
Meanwhile, the first two bears they'd seen had narrowed the gap and popped out directly across from the hunter and guide's vantage point.
"I wasn't nervous, although they were only about 100 yards away. We had that gnarly thicket between us," Eric said. "Then, suddenly, one came right at us. We could hear it thrashing our way through the brush, and then it popped up right in front of us at only 20 yards.
"I remember it like it was yesterday. The wind shifted, and I felt it on the back of my neck. And, just like that, the bear turned and ran," he continued. "We hiked the three miles back to camp, and I was feeling terrible."
The next day was even foggier.
"I said I still felt good about my shot, and we decided to hike back over there," Eric said.
Once there, Eric found his original position and guided Mason to where he remembered the bear standing. Not 30 yards from the spot, Mason found the dead bear, which squared 9 feet and wore a Boone-and-Crockett noggin. (Unfortunately, during its care at an Alaskan expeditor, an inch and a half of bone was broken off the skull, disqualifying it.)
Eric and Mason searched for a caribou for a few days before Adams picked them up and flew them to moose camp.
"I could see from the plane that it was more rugged country - bigger valleys and marshy spruce forest - and big drainages, thousands of yards long," he said. "The next day, we glassed for hours, moving around on an upper rim, looking into those drainages."
Eric thought he saw a moose antler, but it was so big he wanted to dismiss it as only some brush or piece of a tree.
"Before the hunt, I'd never seen a bear, and I'd never seen a moose either," Eric said. "But then I saw it move and realized it was a paddle on a big bull moose."
As he and Mason started down the opposite side of the drainage, the moose also stood and started moving down the valley. The men concentrated on keeping the wind in their favor and keeping track of the moose, which bedded again. Eric got set up for a shot, and for the next two hours sat looking through his riflescope, as Mason looked through a spotting scope.
"The whole time, I was ready to pull the trigger," he recalled. "To make matters worse, a storm was fast approaching. The sky was getting dark, and the wind was picking up. I just stayed glued to the scope, even when rain started to splatter us."
With the weather deteriorating quickly, Mason started grunting at the big bull. Finally, the moose stood and Eric's .300 Winchester Mag barked. The moose dropped, and, just as quickly, Mason dropped to the ground ... laughing.
"That's the biggest moose I ever saw!" the guide managed to say. He'd known it the whole time, but didn't want to put pressure on Eric by sharing his observation. The book-class rack was 75 inches wide.
"I was just darn glad to have gotten a moose, but then we get over to it, and the antlers were huge ... the body massive ... I was absolutely shocked at the enormity of the thing," Eric said. "The longer we looked at it, the bigger it got, and then Mason grabbed it and pulled and we saw the other side of the rack. Incredible!"
The two field-dressed and quartered the moose. The next day, Adams dropped off another guide and the three packed it out.
"It was only a mile of packing, but the vertical climb was 1,000 feet," Eric said. "It took us the whole day."
Adams flew the moose and its antlers (which weighed 107 pounds) back to base camp by tying the antlers on the wing strut of his plane. The rack was so big that he had to charter a bigger plane to transport the rack to Anchorage. Adams' own couldn't accommodate it, the hunters and their gear.
Back at base camp, the two Texans saw each other for the first time since their arrival. Fain had also taken a grizzly and a 64-inch moose, a barren ground caribou and a black bear.
"The trip was tremendous from so many aspects. I'll never, in any category, get a better animal," Eric said. "And I'll never duplicate the hunt. It defied what I had imagined, and it was the trip of a lifetime."
Editor's Note: To book a hunt with Eric's outfitter, call (Bob) Adams Guide Service at (907) 688-1499. The website is www.adamsguideservice.com.
-- Reprinted from the October 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.