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Russia’s Version of the Grizzly


Lords of the Taiga

Siberia is home to some of our planets largest bears.  Recently three Americans experienced the excitement and thrill of a winter hunt in the remote wilds of the former Soviet Union.  Searching for bears in subzero temperatures and knee-deep snow presented these hunters with a unique and memorable big game adventure.

Russia is an enormous country with immense tracts of untouched wilderness.  The opening of its borders has created an amazing opportunity for outdoorsman from around the world. 

Much of Russia’s diversity of wildlife is contained within Siberia.  Encompassing 75% of Russia’s overall landmass, Siberia is truly vast.  A person standing on the beach in Maine is closer to Moscow than a person on Siberia’s eastern coast.  Although Siberia is larger than Canada, it holds only 23% of Russia’s human population.  Three out of four Siberians reside within urban communities.  Those living in isolated rural areas are primarily nomadic herders, farmers or hunters. 

Permafrost covers nearly two-thirds of Siberia and winters are brutally cold.  In the eastern town of “Omyakon”, the temperature has been recorded at -71 degrees Celsius. 

Holding one-fifth of the Earth’s fresh water, Siberia’s Lake Baikal is the largest fresh water lake in the world.  Four hundred miles long and sixty miles wide, the lake is fed by 336 rivers and streams.  Lake Baikal has more endemic species of plants and animals than any lake in the world.  The area surrounding Lake Baikal and the neighboring “Taiga” region, are home to the Eurasian brown bear.  Known for generations as “Lords of the Taiga”, this bear is revered as Russia’s national symbol.

Also known as the Mid-Asian Brown Bear, it should not be confused with enormous coastal brown bears, like North America’s Kodiak.  Siberia’s giant Brown bears are the same species as those found in Alaska.  The Eurasian Brown bear is a smaller inland species, which can grow to a weight of 550 pounds and a length exceeding seven feet.  Like the North American Grizzly, these bears can be ferocious.  Although they would rather avoid human contact, they have a reputation for being a dangerous and menacing animal. 

In January 2005, three lucky Americans traveled to the Taiga region in search of this fierce and beautiful animal.  Their journey would be one of the greatest adventures of their lives. 

Taking part in the hunt were Rick Brophy, Joe Sebo and Wade Derby.  Wade is the owner of Cross Hair Consulting and has booked hunts for clients to destinations around the globe.  He had utilized his Russian contact to book eleven previous expeditions, which included hunts for this magnificent bear. 

The hunters met in Chicago and flew first to Germany, then on to Moscow.  From Moscow the group flew to Irkutsk where their translator met them.  The men were transported by automobile to the village of Oanlang, a drive of 550km by car.  The next morning Rick Brophy and Joe Sebo said goodbye to Wade, traveling to a hunting camp some distance to the north.

Wade described his comfortable accommodations in Oanlang as being similar to a bed and breakfast in the States.  Joe, Rick and Wade were among the first Americans to visit this remote village of about 1,000 residents.  Wade told me that as he walked about the village, groups of children gathered and followed him with wide grins and spellbound curiosity.  He said he could not have felt more welcome, or more at ease.

Finally the date and time of Wade’s hunt arrived at 5:00AM on the morning of January 5th.  The crisp morning air stopped the descending mercury at minus-41 degrees.  Their excursion into the Taiga wilderness began in darkness.  This far north, in January, dawn emerges about 10:00AM and nightfall arrives a mere seven hours later.  

After a five-hour ride in an automobile, the group stopped for lunch.  Then, Wade was seated in a sled and covered with animal pelts (furs) for warmth.  The snowmobile -sled caravan of five men and three dogs headed northeast across the Siberian wilderness.  As they traversed the frozen landscape, Wade had time to consider the history and solitude of their geographical location.  Mongolia is a mere forty-five minutes from their lunch stop, and China’s border was only two-hours to the south.  This was the land of Genghis Khan, home to Mongolian War Lords who in centuries past had conquered the mighty armies of Asia and Europe.  The Russian Steppes are ancient and timeless, holding great handfuls of the history of man.

The lead guide knew the location of an active bear den and steered the group in that direction.  About one hour into the sled ride, they discovered a trail with bear tracks lined out in the snow.  Gathering their gear, men and dogs followed the tracks on foot.  The three dogs, which resembled Akita’s and Huskies’, were restrained by leashes and were silent as the group trudged through shin to knee-deep powdery snow.  The temperature held tight at forty degrees below zero and Wade was grateful there was no perceptible wind.

Approximately thirty minutes into the hike they reached a small grove of trees and brush.  There was a raised mound of earth visible inside a spruce thicket, about fifteen feet directly in front of Wade.  The dogs were released and guides began speaking to one another in hushed tones.  Just to his right Wade observed claw marks on a tree.  The translator told him bears mark their den sites by scaring trees in this manner. Wade stepped behind the bear marked tree and brought his scope-less Russian made CZ75, .308 caliber rifle to the ready, bracing it on his hand and the tree’s trunk.

Almost immediately a dog began barking, announcing the presence of a bear.  Wade saw a vague impression of movement at the mound and heard a low guttural growl.  It was the bear, charging across the mound toward he and the guides at full speed.  Wade fired into the bear’s chest.  Almost simultaneously, two additional gunshots added to the blur of excitement.  Before Wade could function the bolt and fire again, the enraged bear stopped and fell nose first into the snow, only eight feet from his boots.  Wade said this nearly instant burst of time, transpiring in the blink of an eye, would be etched in his mind forever.

The second and third gunshots were fired by two of the guides, each attempting to halt the charging bear.  Only one of these bullets connected with the bear, striking a hindquarter.  Upon field dressing the animal, they discovered the round fired from Wade’s rifle had basically split in half.  A portion of the bullet had entered the bear’s heart, with the other half driving upward and penetrating the base of the skull cavity.  That was certainly a stroke of luck for Mr. Derby.

Due to subzero temperatures, the guides rapidly field dressed the bear, made their initial skinning cuts, and quickly loaded it onto a sled for transport. When they arrived in the village the bear was taken to a heated building in order to complete the skinning and to process the meat.  Experienced hands boiled the skull and salted the hide, preparing both for the long journey to America.  Wade said the guides were true professionals in their care of his magnificent trophy.

Wade’s bear weighed approximately 502 pounds, was nine years old, and measured 7′-2″ from nose to tail.  The skull was somewhat damaged by the bullet, but still measured approximately 21 inches.  Were it not for the damage, they estimated the skull would have scored 23 or 24 inches on the B&C scale.

Rick Brophy of Oakley, California and Joe Sebo from Atlanta, Georgia, each acquired their own Taiga trophies.  Joe’s boar measured approximately seven feet, and Rick’s was slightly smaller, at six feet long.  All three men spoke highly of the guides, and marveled at their knowledge and experience. 

Hunt Logistics

If you would like to book this hunt, or any of the thirty-six different hunts Wade can arrange in Russia, you can reach him at: http://www.crosshairconsulting.com/.  Wade explained some of the relevant issues and governmental requirements to me, and offered some advice.

Hunters can use their personal firearms in Siberia, but, Wade’s Russian contact arranged for he and his hunting companions to rent firearms in country.  Due to the short distances involved in this particular hunt, riflescopes should be removed and left at home.

The trip from Chicago to Oanlang took about 36 hours, which included a seven-hour automobile ride from Irkutsk to the village.  Wade told me there were no hitches or unexpected difficulties in their travel arrangements.  He strongly recommends spending the night in Moscow upon arrival in Russia.  This will provide an opportunity for site seeing and the chance to rest up.

Bears can be hunted in the spring, fall and winter, inland and along the coast.  The huge coastal Brown bears can be hunted on Sakhalin Island and the Kamchatka Peninsula, which is actually very near to Japan.  These bears sometimes measure an incredible 8.5 to 10 feet from nose to tail.

Some of the species available to hunters are Ibex, Snow Sheep, Marco Polo Sheep, Moose, Maral (like an Elk or Stag), Izuber (similar in size to a Tule Elk), Caberge (Siberian Musk deer or Fanged deer), Wolves, Wolverines, Black Grouse and Capercailzie – a turkey sized member of the grouse family.  These hunts range in price from around $800.00 to as much as several thousand.  In January 2005 the base cost of the Eurasian brown bear hunt was $4,500.00, which included all actual hunt expenses inside Russia.  With travel, the hunt experienced by Wade, Rick and Joe cost approximately $6,500.00.  When compared to the cost of hunting Grizzly bears in Canada or Alaska, or hunting the Alaskan Brown bear, this trip is quite affordable.

There are several certificates and clearances required by the Russian and U. S. governments, including a travel Visa and a CITES permit (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).  You must carry a copy of your hunting contract and Russian hunting license with you when returning to the U. S., as the bear will be traveling home with youThe guide must prepare a document written in English, which fully explains how you lawfully harvested the animal you are returning home with.  Wade has connections and practice to ensure each of these necessities is acquired, including a travel agent who arranges all international flights.

Mr. Derby strongly suggests hunters learn some Russian words and phrases.  He said he was thankful he had purchased a Russian phrase and wordbook, saying it was quite helpful while in the village.

Noting the differences in our cultures, these men suggest hunters should remain open minded.  The historical significance of the trip was not lost on Wade.  When speaking of his Russian experience, Wade said he felt it was a genuine privilege to hunt in Siberia.  In fact, he is making plans for a return trip in order to hunt bears in the spring of 2005 and Marco Polo and Ibex in the fall of 2007.

All in all, these hunters felt this was truly their trip of a lifetime.  Wade, Joe and Rick will always treasure their personal encounters with these “Lords of the Taiga.”

April 1, 2008 - Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws

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