Sterling hunter finds nook for trophy bear

Posted: Friday, April 19, 2002

The bear is back. In October 2000, Sterling Resident Lee Riley shot an 800-pound, 9-foot-6-inch bear along the Kenai River near Skilak Lake. Last week, Riley's prize was returned to him in trophy form after nearly a year and-a-half with a taxidermist.

"Right after I shot it, I took it in there," he said. "And I just got it in my home (last) Monday."

"There" is Caribou Unlimited Taxidermy in Soldotna. Rick Richardson works at Caribou and said the skin had to be sent off to be tanned, a process in which the hide is made into a type of leather. And this one, he said, he believed was sent to San Francisco for tanning, before being fitted with a foam filling.

Richardson said he's seen animals this size, but he was still impressed with Riley's catch.

"It's a pretty nice bear for a local bear," Richardson said. "It's as big as the biggest bear we've done life size."

Riley's bear now stands at full height in the corner of a living- and dining-room space in his home. But he said there was more to getting the animal there than the long wait. Getting it into the house was a chore.

"Oh my God!" Riley said, recounting the effort. "There were six of us total, and it took about two hours to get it into the house.

"It wouldn't fit through one door, so we went through side door and took the screen door off," he said.

Riley said he discovered that something that size wasn't so easy to maneuver through a house without some adjustments. He said he eventually had to separate the bear from the platform.

"When you've got a 30-inch door and your base is 42 inches, it's hard to turn a corner," he said. "We didn't realize we would have to take it apart. The bear is so darn tall, by the time you get it through the door and get to the platform, the head is hitting the wall."

Then, Riley had to reassemble the trophy, a task he said was more than he bargained for and involved bolting the beast back to the base through holes in the bottom paws.

"It sounds easy, but the holes never line up," he said.

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