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Bear hunting by boat is anything but easy, and requires plenty of recon. John fink found a high spot to glass from in the hopes of spotting a bruin closer to the shore

When Brandon, first mate of the Sundy, nosed the bow of the small rubber boat against a near-shear rock face, my first thought was “What the heck am I supposed to do now?” Actually, I may’ve said that out loud, because Brandon’s simple response was “Get out.” As the waves broke against the rock, I did just that, getting a tenuous grip just as the young Brandon reversed the zodiac and spun it around for a trip back to our 50-foot mother ship and floating hunting lodge for the week. From here, there was nowhere to go but up.

The reason for my amateur rock-climbing adventure was a big black bear rooting through the detritus of the high tide line on a beach just a few hundred yards away. How I was going to get in position for a shot at the bear was still in question, but at that exact moment I was more worried about going for an unplanned swim in the Gulf of Alaska. Somehow, I managed to inch my way up the face and over the folds of boulders that lay between me and the beach.

I got a few nicks and bruises on my scramble and while crawling through the scattered matchsticks of an old-growth blow-down I found just past the beach, but it was my rifle that really took a beating on the weeklong hunt. Bounced around in a rubber boat, subjected to salt spray, dropped on rocks and even floated in a tidal pool—the Remington Model 700 XCR II in .300 Winchester Magnum stood up to the full Alaska Experience and still managed to put one 180-grain Remington Premier A-Frame on target when it counted.

Enhanced XCR

Introduced in 2005 as a weather-ready version of Remington’s venerable Model 700 centerfire rifle, the XCR quickly found a following among hunters who valued the 700’s reputation for accuracy and performance, and recognized the need for a gun that would stand up to tougher-than-normal use. As evidenced by its moniker—the Extreme Conditions Rifle—everything about the original XCR was built to tackle anything Mother Nature could dish out.

At the core, or more precisely, surface of the XCR system is Remington’s proprietary TriNyte coatings, a multiple-layered application that creates an impermeable barrier between the elements and the gun’s exposed metal surfaces, including the hammer-forged barrel, bolt, action and trigger. The first step applies an electroless nickel plating to a 416 stainless steel base, preventing moisture from reaching the metal to virtually eliminate the threat of rust or corrosion.

That leaves only abrasion and wear to worry about, which the engineers at Remington tackle with a diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating including nitrides and other compounds applied at the molecular level. This vapor deposition process creates an incredibly hard, multi-layered and micro-thin coating that registers in excess of 80 on the Rockwell scale. By comparison, a typical, untreated carbon-steel barrel rates somewhere in the neighborhood of 28 to 35 on the same scale.

When they were introduced in 2005, the barreled actions of the original XCRs were finished with a TriNyte coating colored to closely mimic that of the base stainless steel. With the 2010 introduction of the XCR II, Remington chose a matte black DLC coating popular among hunters wanting a more traditional looking rifle without sacrificing the durability and performance the XCR had become known for. While Remington doesn’t tout it as so, the TriNyte coating also creates a slicker surface, in my opinion. Whether it’s all in my head or not, I believe this results in a faster-operating rifle due to reduced tension between the hard surfaces of the bolt and action. Sure, it may only be able to be measured in milliseconds, but a smoother bolt cycle beats a sticky one any day.

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The Remington XCR II took plenty of abuse but shrugged off any effects from exposure to the elements, even saltwater, thanks to the patented TriNyte finish, which covers all the metal parts for added endurance and lubricity

The XCR II’s slick action and diamond-hard barrel are set in a synthetic stock finished in a distinctive green color that comes in just a shade darker than olive drab. Black rubber overmolded panels from Hogue provide a sure grip on the forend and pistol grip, a real plus in the cold, wet climate the extreme-condition rifle was designed for. A patented rubber SuperCell recoil pad and hinged floorplate with engraved XCR II insignia round out the sharp-looking rifle’s exterior.

There are not a lot of new things to be said about the venerable Model 700 bolt action, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Crafted from a single piece of bar stock, the round action (and its much-hyped three rings of steel) has been proven time and again to be among the toughest, most reliable available—a fact that’s not lost on rifle builders who overwhelming choose 700 (or 700-variant) actions when crafting custom guns.

The safety is Remington’s standard two-position model, which no longer locks the bolt down as it once did. Still, located at the right rear of the action, it’s easy to operate, going from the rear safe position to forward “fire” with a firm push.

The XCR II also gets fitted with Remington’s X-Mark Pro user-adjustable trigger. The company claims the trigger comes factory set at a crisp 3.5 pounds, but post-hunt, the trigger on my test rifle tripped anywhere from 4.5 to 5.25 pounds, as measured with a Timney spring-tension scale. I didn’t think to measure the trigger before the bear hunt, so if the added weight and 0.75-pound variability is a result of the tough conditions the gun was subjected to in Alaska, I can’t say. The pull is crisp, however, and virtually creep-free.

Last Frontier Testing

Outside of Alaska, few places on earth offer more varied, or more difficult, hunting conditions. On hunts there for caribou and bear, I’ve been swept downriver, lost a pack off a cliff, ceded a wounded caribou to a grizzly and been stranded in the Interior for more than a few days. In short, The Last Frontier is the perfect proving ground for both hunter and his equipment, and I jump at any chance to return.

Of the many exciting hunts the state has to offer, a boat hunt for bears looks to be one of the easiest—on paper, at least. Cruising the coast in the relative comfort of a 50-foot vessel, glassing the shores and mountainsides for trophy black bears. Warm bunks, fresh-cooked meals and a friendly crew. Sure, the hunt is unguided, with the crew of the Sundy merely acting as transporters for your hunt. By Alaska law, they’re not allowed to help you with any part of your hunt, including finding bears nor helping with retrieval. Still, more than one outdoor writer has made these hunts sound like a pleasure cruise, like the Caribbean, only with bears.

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The reality sprays you in face when you hit the beach, if not before. A rough crossing in a rubber dinghy and open-water landing on a boulder-strewn shore are just the start of your hunt. From there, it can be a hand-over-hand climb up near-vertical mountains, through the worst brush and blow-downs you could ever imagine. If you’re not crawling over moss-covered timber, you’re pushing through woven alders and Devil’s club, a particularly heinous plant that swings its nettle-covered head toward you with every step.

And as for the bears on the beach, well, they’re few and far between. As Capt. Al Henderson of Ninilchik Charters (ninilchikcharters.com) told us, those bears are the first to get shot. So the real trophies tend to be higher up the mountainside. Of these, you’ll see plenty. We lost count of the number of black spots we picked out of the clearings, as well as the white spots that turned out to be mountain goats. That’s right, these bears share the same vertiginous environs as the snowy-white cliff-lovers.

So, I considered myself fortunate to be the one sunning myself at the front of the anchored Sundy when what looked to be a large black bear appeared on the beach. Before the rest of my friends knew what was happening, I was pulling on my boots and wrangling the first mate Brandon from his nap, which might explain his surliness when I hesitated in going from boat to salt-encrusted rock.

My plan was to get prone atop the rock for an easy 200-yard shot at the bear, but an enormous snag had anchored itself between me and my trophy. Simple enough—I would just retreat a bit and make a wide circle downwind of the beast, who was still more interested in the bounty of the high tide line than anything else.

My stomach knotted when I mounted the headland to find a blow-down like none I’d ever seen. Massive pines had been spilled like matchsticks, but there was nothing to do but cross the nightmarish terrain. I climbed over, under and across the downed timber, crawling through rootballs bigger than a starter home. It was the perfect place to bump into a bear, not that I would have noticed with the sweat and dirt stinging my eyes.

Bruin Tough

I’ve often thought bears have a kind of ESP, a sixth-sense that alerts them to danger that would otherwise be impossible to see, hear or smell. It’s the only way to explain why the bear on the beach suddenly and without warning went from contentedly eating to briskly walking for cover. I’d just picked my way through the blow-down and was getting my breath before finding a solid rest to shoot from. Instead, the bear didn’t give me the opportunity to rest. Luckily, the shot was true, if a bit forward, but high enough to drop the bear in his tracks, just yards from the safety of cover.

For all the abuse the Remington XCR II took during the previous day’s hunt and on my short but brutal stalk, the real test of the TriNyte coating took place as we were loading the bear onto the zodiac. My friend Chris Ellis had joined me on the beach for a picture-taking session. We hadn’t noticed, but the tide had dropped, leaving a 20-yard stretch of slick rock and knee-deep tidal pools between us and the rubber boat. Dragging the bear across this cheval-de-frise was difficult to say the least, and at least once I, along with my rifle, ended up sitting in saltwater. All I can say is that an XCR II floats, if just briefly, and I’ll always remember the sight of the hollow stock bobbing in the cold waters of the North Pacific.

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Paired with a Leupold scope, Remington’s fast-handling XCR II bolt action can endure days of harsh abuse and still put accurate shots on target in a hurry.

On the Sundy, we stripped the rifle down, poured water from every crevice, dried it thoroughly and swabbed every inch with RemOil wipes. A week later, back at home, the rifle showed little wear, unlike my bruised and sore body, and almost no rust, save for a bit on the follower spring and rear of the bolt, both which don’t enjoy the benefits of the TriNyte coating.

After my bear was skinned and butchered, I spent the next few days following my friend John Fink up the steepest mountains we dared climb, chasing bears that disappeared into the forbidding brush that covers coastal Alaska. Though Fink never managed to tag a bruin of his own, I can think of no better way to put a gun, and the man behind it, to the ultimate test. Both he and I agree that we’d return someday and I’d have no qualms about carrying that same Remington XCR II again. For more information, visit remington.com or call 800-243-9700.

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Bear hunting by boat is anything but easy, and requires plenty of recon. John fink…