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Ed P Zaruk

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Barney Lamm and the Great Polar Bear Hunt
by Ed P Zaruk   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Sunday, April 04, 2010
Posted: Sunday, April 04, 2010

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Barney and Doc Eisntrout, two tourist outfitters in Northwestern Ontario go on an Alaskan polar bear hunt in 1957


Dead in the winter of 1957, Northwestern Ontario camp owners, Barney Lamm and Dr. Clifford Eisentrout, took off from Kenora, Ontario for Alaska.  Overloaded with survival gear and an extra 47 US gallons of gas in a belly tank, they flew non-stop to Edmonton where the plane, a 150 Super Cub, was immediately grounded by the DOT.  Barney's mechanics at Ontario Central Airlines had installed unauthorized pods on CF-JFO made from agricultural tanks in the wing struts for baggage storage. Four days later they took off, the plane having been re-certified as experimental, their destination, Point Barrow.  (Only Barney could have pulled something like this off.

Snubbed by professional guides at Point Barrow who charged $10,000 for a hunt, the pair struck out on their own for the Arctic Ocean.  Landing at Kotzebue, a village of 350, on the Chukchi Sea, they secured lodging and next day set out on the hunt.   

'Worst part of flying over the ice was trying to land," said Barney, 'the ice was constantly changing and we'd be anywhere from 75 to 125 miles out from land."Temperature was 30 to 40 below (F) with constant winds."  Three days they flew before spotting their first sizable polar bear.  Barney took the opportunity to fly over Russia a bit, just to say he'd done it.  Pack ice is constantly shifting as sea and wind push it into a jumble of pressure ridges.  Herding the bear toward an area of flat ice where they could land was old hat as they'd done it many times with wolves back in Ontario.  Barney no sooner had the plane down than Doc was out and after the bear in the ridges.  It took two shots to bring the 900 pound beast down. 

Bad weather held them up for three days before they found Barney's bear in the pressure ridges.  This time it took some skilful flying, to herd the bear for several miles toward a narrow band of flat ice.  'This is the most treacherous part of all,” Doc Eisentrout said.  'There's no way to test the ice until you land on it."

Again both men left the airplane to hunt down their quarry.  Barney was using a .35 calibre automatic rifle. After two shots, the gun jammed.  The wounded bear turned and charged. Hammering furiously on the breech, Barney managed to clear it just in time to drop the 1200 pound animal.

The Alaska guides began talking to them again after their success, but they were to find out how reckless they'd been.  The flat ice they'd landed on was last night's new ice which had not yet broken up on the relentless currents.  The Alaskan pros always flew with two planes as it was not unheard of for one to break through the ice.  They also never left the airplane without a rubber inflatable.  Flat ice was known to break away, leaving stranded hunters watching their airplane drift away on another ice flow.

To fill out their month long hunt, Doc Eisentrout, who was also an American, made application to the US Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service for a wolf permit.  Issued on February 27, 1957, permit # A-FAI-57-9 allowed the two men to hunt wolves from the air as long as the, 'permittee shall be accompanied on all hunting flights by, Barney Lamm." 

Hunting along the north slope of the Brooks Range, the pair of ardent hunters managed to bring down 30 wolves with a $50 bounty on each, and the hides sold for $30 a piece.  Nice way to pay for their trip.  Not that expenses weren't high.  If you listen to an interview they gave to radio station CJRL in Kenora, there are some surprising cost for hamburgers, even by today's prices.

 Barney and Doc's interview

     (Remember, this is radio that is over 50 years old)

 (I'd recommend opening or printing the PDF file so you can follow the four and a half minute interview) 

Click here for a transcript of the interview

 With only enough room for Doc's pelt, Barney's, which weighed over 160 pounds, had to be shipped back home.  By April 11thBarney was at the Northwest Sportsmen's show in the Auditorium at Minneapolis, Wisconsin, promoting Ball Lake Lodge.  After an 18,000 mile journey with no radio, flying over barren ice and snow, often in whiteout conditions, it must have seemed pretty tame. 



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