It’s official! When Kenny Leo, a long-time Boone and Crockett Club (B&C) scorer based in Price, Utah, put the calipers on the skull of a giant grizzly bear shot by television personality and Oregonian Steve West, he knew he was looking at something special.
The bear was taken during a 10-day hunt in British Columbia with long-time friend and hunting celebrity Phil Phillips. At 26 2/16 inches B&C, the mammoth bruin eclipsed the previous world record score by a full 3 inches.
What’s more incredible is the fact that cameraman Craig Boulden caught all the action on film! Here is how the story unfolded:
“When I took up muzzleloader hunting, I was looking for a challenge,” West said. “I had been rifle and archery hunting all my life, but I had never picked up a muzzleloader. I was intrigued by the single shot, by the cloud of smoke and its limited effective shooting range.
“Being in television, sponsors are necessary for paying the bills and keeping the show on the air. Black Powder Inc. (BPI) was getting ready to launch a new line of rifles by Bergara, their barrel manufacturing company, and as well-known rifle hunters, we were selected to be sponsored by their company. Along with that Bergara sponsorship came the CVA (Connecticut Valley Arms) brand, another member of the BPI family.
“As we were laying out the groundwork for my sponsorship, it was decided that I would not only film hunts with the new Bergara custom rifles, but also pursue another Super Slam of North America with a CVA muzzleloader—a feat not many people have ever accomplished and a goal inspired by fellow Outdoor Channel host Jim Shockey.”
The Quest Begins
“I began my Super Slam quest in the spring of 2011. First I took a muskox in April, then a black bear in May, and then that fall I was able to take an elk, a mule deer and an exceptional whitetail.
“In March 2012, my cameraman and I went in search of a big mountain lion in Utah and took a massive cat with my CVA muzzleloader.
“The next animal on my list after the lion hunt was a grizzly in the coastal region of British Columbia, well known for record-book-size bears. I did my research and looked at the Longhunter Record book. The current world record was 23 2/16 inches and I realized that the average grizzly taken in the area I was hunting scored well over 24 inches, so I had a real shot at breaking the record. But it wasn’t my goal, which was simply to have a successful hunt recorded on film for the television show while checking off another animal on my quest to complete a Super Slam of North America.
“May 31, 2012. I arrived in Terrace, British Columbia, after a long 20-hour drive from my house in Oregon. Cameraman Craig Boulden had flown in ahead of me and was waiting at the lodge for me to arrive along with fellow TV show host and my good buddy Phil Phillips. We checked the zero on the guns, double checked our gear and got ready to head out the next morning.
“June 1, 2012. We headed out of Terrace mid-morning on a two-hour drive to the coast, where the Yukon Bear was anchored up in a remote cove. This 54-foot boat would be our home for the next 10 days as we covered protected waters and shorelines in search of both grizzly and black bears. With us on the boat were two of my personal clients, Rich Winkler and Alvin Moore, both looking for coastal black bears. With guide staff, hunters and cameraman, there were eight of us on the boat, and although a bit crowded, it was a good crew, and we had a great time. We had a five-hour run in the big boat out to our hunting area, so I took a break and grabbed a short nap so I would be rested and ready to hunt if an opportunity presented itself.
“Around 5 p.m., we stopped to pull up some crab and shrimp pots to collect our dinner for the evening, and at 6 o’clock we were anchored in a bay glassing a grassy shoreline that looked prime for bear activity. We really didn’t anticipate hunting that evening, so we sat down to a tremendous seafood dinner that was as fresh from the sea as you can get and listened to outfitter Bob Milligan tell us about two huge grizzlies that he had seen and videotaped.”
“This was one of his favorite grizzly hot spots, and he felt sure we would have a look at something in the next day or two. Thirty seconds later, Bob looked out the window, grabbed his binoculars and told me to get my gear. The big bear was on the shoreline feeding on tidal grass, and light was fading fast.
“I ran down to my room and suited up in my fleece, slipped on my boots, grabbed my pack and CVA muzzleloader and headed up to the deck. I loaded the gun with 150 grains of IMR White Hots pellets and a 405-grain Powerbelt copper bullet. Climbed down into the 14-foot skiff, and we headed to shore.
“With my personal resume including several years of guiding bear hunters in Alaska, I felt like I needed to finally put up my binoculars and take a look at the bear as we headed to shore. One glance and I knew it was a mature bear—we just needed to get closer to be sure he was a shooter. Given that my outfitter and guide has 20-plus-years experience guiding grizzly hunters, and had looked at a lot more bears than I have, I could tell from his enthusiasm and sense of urgency that this was a good bear and likely one I would want to try and stalk.
“We closed the distance to easy rifle range and set up in a dead fall tree, looked over the bear and decided he was a shooter for sure. However, after ranging him at 178 yards, we realized the bear was even bigger than we thought, and with my limited, but effective, Burris FastFire sight, I needed to be within 100 yards to make a perfect shot with the muzzleloader. So we hopped into the skiff and motored across the quickly filling tidal flat and approached the bear across open water.
At Stalk’s End
“Our goal was to reach a root wad sticking up out of the water that was close the bear. Bob’s skill at quietly navigating the boat was impressive, as we slipped the boat to within 60 yards of the feeding bear. The tide was ripping in, and now the bear was feeding in 2 to 3 inches of water. It wouldn’t be long before he headed into the timber and out of sight. And to top it all off, light was fading fast.
“I eased out of the boat, cameraman in tow, and made the final 10 yards to the stump. I climbed up and took a perfect rest at only 49 yards from the feeding bear. I quickly checked with my cameraman to get the thumbs up and eased back the hammer. My goal was to wait for the near front leg to go forward, then send the bullet through the chest and vitals, breaking the offside shoulder. But when I pulled the trigger all I got was a loud “pop!”—it was a bad primer that flashed back in my face.
“The bear quickly stared at me for what seemed like forever before going back to feeding. I slowly broke the gun open, put in a new primer and eased back the hammer. This time, when the near side leg went forward the gun roared, and the bear dropped in his tracks.
“After I reloaded, we got into the boat and made our way across the water to where the big bear was laying. He was already under water, so we dragged him to shallower water for a better look. He was everything we had hoped he would be, and I knew instantly we had a bear that could break the muzzleloader world record.
“After we caped him on the boat we measured the skull at well over 26 inches, which was well in excess of the current record. I later had long-time B&C and Pope and Young Club measurer (and legendary archer) Gail Martin measure the bear green at 26 2/16 inches. Next, official B&C measurer Kenny Leo from Price, Utah, officially scored the bear at 26 2/16 inches B&C, easily eclipsing the previous record of 23 2/16 inches by a full 3inches. I had the new muzzleloader world record grizzly.
“Special thanks go out to our sponsors and fans who make my incredible career possible. Also, to my good friends Phil Phillips and outfitter Bob Milligan for helping me on the hunt—couldn’t have done it without them! And to my cameraman Craig Boulden who got it all on camera for an incredible episode of Steve’s Outdoor Adventures. This was definitely a hunt I will never forget.”
For more information on BPI (CVA and Powerbelt), visit blackpowderproductsinc.com or call 770-449-4687. Learn more about the author’s program by visiting stevesoutdooradventures.com.