Pittsburgh — Rod Debias, of Windber, had longed to take a grizzly bear with a bow from the time he was 12.
He got his wish – and then some – in Alaska in 2009, when he shot the largest grizzly ever taken with bow and arrow, according to the Pope & Young Club, the record-keeping organization for bowhunters.
In April, Debias traveled to Phoenix to receive the club’s award for his world record. It took six years to be recognized because Pope & Young previously hadn’t allowed the use of arrows with lighted nocks, a device that helps hunters track wounded game in low-light conditions.
The club decided to permit the use of illuminated arrows last year.
Pope & Young scores bears by adding the jaw width and the skull-to-nose-tip together. Debias’s bear measured 271⁄16 inches, which bested the previous record by about an inch. The skull weighed 150 pounds, as did the hide, but there was no way to measure the bruin’s overall weight, he said.
“It was the middle of nowhere … not like Pennsylvania, where there are check stations.”
Debias shot the bear at 3:30 a.m. on a spring morning near the village of Unalakleet. He and his guide Don Stiles had spotted the bruin a few days earlier. “Don said he was one of the five biggest bears he’d ever seen,” recalled Debias. “He was with another bear, a female, but the wind wasn’t right to stalk him on the open tundra.”
Although Stiles offered Debias his rifle, Debias was determined to use his bow, and hoped he’d get the opportunity at some point later, he said. “We backed out of there, because we knew that if he caught our scent, he’d be gone. He never knew we were there.”
Debias hunted three more days without crossing any tracks, taking turns with Stiles for an hour of shut-eye here and there, he said. “We didn’t have tents or sleeping bags. We’d just sleep in depressions in the dirt.”
Before dawn on May 25, as Debias and Stiles were preparing to move on, Debias caught a glimpse of a big bruin over his guide’s shoulder about 380 yards away. “He was walking right towards us, swinging his shoulders the way big bears do,” Debias recalled.
“When he was 200 yards away, Don whispered, ‘It’s the big guy,’ and I asked him to range a stick for a point of reference,” Debias said. “From that point on, we didn’t talk.”
When the grizzly was within 10 yards, he stood up and it was then that Debias realized the animal’s true size, he said. “I know he didn’t see us. The wind was perfect – 40 miles an hour to my nose – and I could smell his breath. It smelled like road kill.
“Then he turned, and when he got to 30 yards and I couldn’t see his eye – and knew he couldn’t see me – I drew back my bow and shot him through the heart.”
He ran 30 yards and was dead, Debias said.
He and Stiles returned to Unalakleet with the head and the hide, which were promptly displayed for the locals to admire. Villagers were told where to find the other remains, so they could retrieve the meat, Debias said.
The bear was made into a mount that will be displayed permanently at the Boone and Crocket Museum of Heads and Horns in the BASS Pro complex in Springfield, Mo., Debias said.