January 24, 2022
After bailing on a trip to hunt moose with good friend Adam Grenda, Justin Shaffer had a redeeming chance the following season.
While hunting elk in Utah, Shaffer received a message from Grenda saying “I just shot your moose!” Grenda killed a giant 73-inch bull after Shaffer decided to change plans and head south. The playful banter of the message left Shaffer feeling happy for his friend but, at the same time, jealous and longing for a big moose of his own.
As the next year rolled around, Shaffer joined Grenda back in the same area looking for the moose of a lifetime. The first five days of the trip were filled with poor weather and less-than-ideal hunting conditions. After changing locations following a break in the weather, Shaffer found himself in the land of giants. As he describes it, “some of the most beautiful country you could imagine.”
They spent some time hiking through the area looking for a bull worth chasing. The next day they went to their glassing knob.
Grenda glassed up a giant bear telling Shaffer, “Take a look, he’s big.”
Shaffer responded, “No kidding man, he’s huge. We should go kill him!”
But the duo was looking for a moose, not a bear. So the hunters decided to stay in their glassing position and search for a moose. But eventually, the temptation was too great to resist, and soon they were off after the bear.
The stalk came together quickly and Shaffer was soon in position behind his .338 Ultra Mag. At the shot, Shaffer knew he hit the bear back. The bear spun, snarling and biting at the wound and barreled into the tall alders and willows.
“Have you ever gone into the bush after a wounded bear?” asked Grenda.
“No, have you?” responded Shaffer.
“Nope,” said Grenda.
As the two were talking they heard the bear roar from the thick brush, so they decided to give him some time, knowing he was hit hard. They hoped he would die and they wouldn’t have to trail him into the alders—one of the most dangerous situations a hunter could be in.
After waiting nearly half an hour, they tried to gain vantage into the thick brush, when the wind hit the bear’s nose, he roared and growled again. Shaffer had no choice but to go in after him.
He cut the bear’s trail perpendicular as to not follow his exact track and give him the opportunity to charge—wounded bears bed and look back on their tracks. Roughly 35 yards into the brush, he was able to pick out the bear through the rifle scope. He shot through the brush and the bear erupted! A charge ensued and Shaffer shot him square in the chest at six paces, which killed the bruin, but he decided to drop the rifle and pull his pistol just in case.
“Up until that point I was nervous, but never scared,” said Shaffer. “I picked up the rifle and tried to reload it, but I was shaking so hard that you could just hear the rattling of a cartridge in the open chamber.”
The bear never moved after the second. The two field dressed him and got him stored away from the kill site and went on to pursue moose for the rest of the day. On the afternoon hunt, they located a big bull and bailed across the waist-deep river in pursuit. Once across the river, they couldn’t locate the bull again, so they called until nightfall to see if he would come in. Since they were early in the rut, the bull never came to the cow calls. They retrieved the bruin and returned to camp.
The next morning, they returned to the same glassing knob in search of a big bull. It didn’t take long until they located the same bull from the night before. He was in a big open meadow, the same meadow from the night before.
“We knew it was the same bull because he had a five-inch drop tine on the right side,” said Shaffer.
They took off again towards the river but decided to stop before dropping down and crossing again. They decided to set up and call from the opposite side and hoped to catch the bull cruising across the distant hillside.
They caught the bull moving into a lone patch of trees and Shaffer again found himself on the trigger of the .338 Ultra Mag.
“Just wait,” said Grenda. “He’s going to come out, I’ll give you a range.”
The waiting game had begun, and they knew that there was no way this bull could leave the patch of timber without having a shot opportunity. Shaffer recounts that it was a long shot but very doable, especially due to the lack of wind in the early morning.
“We sat there for what seemed like forever,” said Shaffer. “But in reality, it was only 10 minutes before Adam spotted the bull.”
Grenda exclaimed, “How the hell did he get over there? Look 300 yards to the right. The next group of trees, he’s in there!”
Shaffer repositioned for the shot and patiently waited for the bull to exit the timber. They both concluded that it was a different bull than they had been pursuing. He was traveling in a different direction, and it would have been impossible for the other bull to leave the patch of timber without them seeing.
Grenda caught a good look at the paddles and knew this bull was a giant. He told Shaffer to get ready for a shot as he thought he would come to the opening before the drop-tine bull.
The bull stepped out into the opening and Grenda said, “That’s the mega-giant, shoot him.” He was swaying and grunting, calling at the other bull. Grenda cow called at the big bull to stop him for a shot.
“I put the crosshairs on the point of his shoulder,” said Shaffer. “It dumped him. And just five or six seconds later, the drop-tine bull came out of the timber and postured over my bull for thirty minutes. Then he took the cows and left.”
The bull was a true giant, his spread was 75 3/8 inches wide. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime bull, Shaffer was elated. They worked diligently to get the bull quartered and ready for the pack out.
This was a true Alaskan adventure that ended with two amazing trophies that were taken within 24 hours of each other. Shaffer’s bear measured at nine feet—being an inland brown bear, this is a giant—and the bull’s final score was 243 inches—placing him well into the standings for Boone and Crockets all-time record book.