First hunt leads to big bear

Sterling man shoots biggest Kenai bear since 1960s

Neil Strausbaugh and his brother wore chest waders and walked midstream of a small creek looking for a big brown bear near Sterling in late September.


“It was an odd way to hunt,” he said.

Moving through dense brush and up a creek choked with spawning silver salmon, two miles of underbrush, huge tracks and plenty of bear sign passed slowly by before they crossed the animal they were after — a half-ton bear 12 yards away standing with its giant head tilted skyward more than 10 feet up and sniffing at the wind.

“He stood up beside us,” said Strausbaugh. “His head was just huge.”

The bear was indeed huge, said Kenai Area Biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Jeff Selinger. Strausbaugh’s kill is one of the biggest to ever come from the Kenai Peninsula, he said.

Measure by its skull, the bear is up there with the big Kodiak Island brown bears — the biggest brown bears in the world, he said.

“It’s defiantly a trophy,” Sellinger said.

Three days into the hunt, on Sept. 28, Strausbaugh dropped the big standing boar with one 450 marlin round to the neck.

“He was out instantly,” Strausbaugh said of the bear he shot and killed.

On its shoulders was the second largest head of any brown bear recorded by the state on the Kenai Peninsula. Under the “green skull” measurement of Fish and Game Strausbaugh’s bear was 29 inches around the skull. The biggest Kenai bear on record with the state is 29 4/16ths inches. Selinger said the state archives hold records for 811 bears killed since the early 1960s, when record keeping started.

Nothing says there are not bigger bears out there; they’ve just not been killed. Last May, Selingers crew darted and collared an 868-pound male fresh from the den. There was no fat on him yet, he could have put on 400 or 500 pounds over the summer, he said.

Strausbaugh’s bear could have easily exceeded 1,000 pounds, he said.

Sixty days must pass before the Boone and Crocket Club would consider measuring the bear skull for their record book.

The skull and hide weighed more than 200 pounds, creating one of the heaviest packs Strausbaugh has ever hauled. Both items must be carried out from the kill site and seen by someone from fish and game as part of the hunting process.

Of the 1,189 brown bear permits issued on the peninsula for this hunting season, 37 or 38 have seen harvested bears. One kill remains a rumor and Selinger is looking into it the truth of it.

Last year 666 permits led to 27 bears being harvested during the season, he said.

Strausbaugh said was looking for a big bear in the hunting area, during his first brown hunt based on information from his family. Many bears were in the specific area and at least one was big. His first chance to hunt bears locally; Strausbaugh said that much of the success belonged to his brother who noticed the specific hunting area’s bear density.

“I just happened to be in the shooters seat,” he said. “It’s probably the biggest brown bear I will ever see.”

Strausbaugh is having the mammoth hide made into a rug.

Reach Greg Skinner at


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