March 10, 2021
When I was young, I read every gun magazine I could get my hands on. My favorite hunting articles were the ones set in Alaska. Even from a young age, I thought the remote grandeur of the state made it ideal for an adventurous hunter. To add, my young mind thought hunting grizzly bears in Alaska would be the most exhilarating pursuit possible. Grizzly bears are known to be elusive, tough, and occasionally dangerous. Grizzly was a worthy opponent.
I’m now well into middle-age, but an opportunity to hunt Alaska opened up early in 2020. What started off as a plan to hunt caribou morphed into a combo hunt for caribou and grizzly. I felt like a kid again as the time drew near to gather supplies and pack my bags.
Gear & Gun
I quickly learned that hunting in Alaska requires patience. Weather delays were not uncommon, and my final destination was located a few hundred miles inside the Arctic Circle. Fog and storms postponed my hunting party’s arrival by about 24 hours.
Once at base camp, we loaded inflatable boats and spent 14 hours heading upstream to the most remote part of the world that I may ever see. I spent the next five days camping on a gravel bar next to the river when I wasn’t afield searching for caribou and grizzly.
The remote nature of this hunt reminded me of lessons I used to know more than a decade ago when I was deployed overseas for the U.S. Army, and I got a refresher: Cheap gear is rarely a good idea. If something broke on this hunt, it stayed broken until I returned home.
Our typical day would involve loading hunters and gear in boats to head upstream before finding high ground. Once we found terrain that offered a commanding view, we would use binoculars and spotting scopes to watch animals wandering below from the top of a mountain.
Boats were our primary means of transportation, which meant guns and optics got tossed in and out of them multiple times each day. Speeding up- and downriver also meant everything got coated with spray, especially when the boat hit rough water. Everything in the boat got soaked — repeatedly.
I took a Savage rifle on this hunt, the new 110 Bear Hunter. The rifle rode in the bow of the boat because I had to be able to get to it quickly should we unexpectedly encounter a griz. Unfortunately, riding in the bow of the boat also exposed the rifle to most of the spray from rough water. It’s never a good idea to purposefully abuse equipment, but in this case there wasn’t a lot I could do to protect it. After close to a week of this abuse, I saw no signs of corrosion and experienced no loss in performance from the legendary 110.
Designed in 1958 and patented in 1963, the Model 110 has been manufactured ever since, making it the oldest continuously produced bolt-action rifle in North America.
The 110 Bear Hunter’s barreled action is made from stainless steel, so that certainly helped fight off corrosion. The only maintenance I did during the week was to pull the bolt and wipe it down with a Ballistol wipe. This removed a lot of sand and grit, and provided a protective coating to aid rust prevention. It’s tough to get stainless to rust, but it can, as can the non-stainless components.
I was also thankful the Bear Hunter came with Savage’s synthetic AccuStock. Wood is not a stock material that would have fared as well in Alaska’s weather, but the synthetic stock held up just fine.
Savage’s AccuStock consists of a composite material molded around an aluminum bedding block. The bedding block gives the barreled action a rigid foundation and prevents it from shifting under recoil. The 110 Bear Hunter rifle, mine chambered for .338 Winchester Magnum, generates a fair amount of recoil. Leading up to the trip, and during, the stock did an excellent job of distributing the kick with no zero shift.
A second advantage of the AccuStock is the ability to fit it to the shooter. Each AccuStock incorporates Savage’s AccuFit system of comb inserts of varying height and stock spacers for length of pull. This allowed me to set up the 110 Bear Hunter specifically for this hunt.
I fit the AccuStock on the 110 Bear Hunter with my head as far back on the comb as possible. I was so far back that I had some scope shadow around the edge of my field of view. I set it up this way because shooting from field positions was going to allow the rifle to move under recoil, and I didn’t want to have the scope hit my face when the big gun roared. I also had a slightly higher comb height so that I had to press my face into the comb. This helped keep my head where it needed to be to get fast follow-up shots, even accounting for the rifle’s additional recoil.
On the subject of recoil, the 110 Bear Hunter rifle has a muzzlebrake that rotates between the active and inactive positions. When turned to the “active” position, the ports open and the brake diverts expanding gas through them as the bullet leaves the muzzle. The brake was effective for mitigating recoil, but I kept it turned to the “inactive” position for the duration of my hunt because I saw better accuracy from the rifle with the brake deactivated. Recoil with the brake turned “off” was stout, but not punishing.
Optics & Ammo
As it turned out, my only opportunity for an animal on this hunt came when an 8-year-old sow showed up to investigate our spike camp as we finished packing up our boats.
Our group had been hunting for four hard days and it was early enough in the season that there weren’t a lot of caribou out and about. The outfitter we were hunting with was Alaska Arctic Adventures (alaskaarcticadventures.com) and I can’t speak highly enough about the professionalism and talent they offered. However, when animals aren’t moving about, there isn’t a lot anyone can do.
We decided on day four to leave base camp, hunt all day, and then set up a spike camp on the river. This would save us a few hours of travel time because we wouldn’t need to return to base camp at the end of the day. Since we were so far north, it never got dark, and we also had a watch rotation where one of our group was always glassing through the well-lit “night.” This allowed us to hunt 24 hours a day.
We had just finished packing up camp, and I was on a slight rise talking to our group when guide Randy Krebill said, “Hey. There’s a bear right there!”
I spun my head to look and saw a large grizzly working its way down the gravel bar on the opposite side of the river. Another hunter called out the range of 410 yards, and I started to mentally prep for the possibility of a shot. I asked Krebill if there was any way we could get closer, but with a sad shake of his head I knew I was going to either have to shoot from our side of the river or let the bear go.
I wanted to build a position before I made the call. If my position was solid, I was going to shoot. I used shooting sticks up front and sat against the hillside with a backpack stuffed under the stock’s toe. It turned out to be a wonderful position, as stable as if I was shooting in the prone.
The biggest determining factor with making me comfortable enough to shoot that far with a .338 Win. Mag., other than the shooting position, was Leupold’s CDS turret system. I had a 2-12x42mm VX-6 HD scope atop the rifle, and Leupold created the custom turret caps that matched the Hornady 225-grain GMX load for the environmental conditions. It sounds like a complicated procedure (it isn’t), but with every CDS scope Leupold includes a coupon for a custom engraved turret like I used. You need to know what bullet you’ll shoot, the muzzle velocity, and some basic environmental conditions for where you’ll be before ordering the turrets. Since my shot was at 410 yards, I spun the turret until I was one click past the “4” and sent it.
The killing shot struck the bear in the chest on the left side, with the 225-grain GMX moving across the body and exiting on the right-side ribcage. The bear did a face-plant and never moved from the spot where she fell.
I’m normally a pretty reserved guy, but I found myself a little overwhelmed after realizing that my grizzly was down and she wasn’t going anywhere. A dream established as a young boy had finally come to be, and it felt like no other hunt I’ve ever experienced.
The rest of the hunt was successful for all my friends, as well. By the time we packed up and made our way downriver to the airstrip, our group had accounted for three caribou and two grizzlies. (The caribou was delicious.)
Hunts this far afield don’t come often. Do your research and find talented guides. You’ll want to take good gear and become familiar with it. Savage’s rifle, Leupold’s scope and Hornady’s ammunition helped me complete a lifelong quest. You can depend on them to live out your dreams, too.
Savage Arms 110 Bear Hunter Specs
Type: Bolt action
Cartridge: .338 Win. Mag. (tested)
Capacity: 2+1 rds.
Barrel: 23 in.; 1:10-in. twist, stainless
Overall Length: 44.125 in.
Weight: 8 lbs., 6 oz.
Stock: Savage AccuFit
Grip: Overmold, soft
Length of Pull: 12.75 in. to 13.5 in. (adj.)
Finish: Matte (stainless steel)
Safety: Two-position lever
Manufacturer: Savage Arms, savagearms.com
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