Solo Spirits and Cherished Friendships by Mike Mitten
“…When solo spirits meet nature’s worst, kindled flames take on life, warmth battles back frostbite’s march, sleep is welcomed and anxiety relinquished, Self-reliance cannot be bought…”
I was composing a poem for the ending of our hunting film Primal Dreams when I stopped to re-read the above lines. I was moved to tears as I questioned how many times our friend Bart Schleyer had experienced the same emotions. How often were his hands cold and fumbling, hoping for his match to ignite the tinder in the frosty alpine air? Maybe he had downed a sheep or was putting a herd of elk to bed, planning to spend the night on the mountain. I felt connected to him through the flames that burn within all true hunters. Bart had passed away the previous fall. The wilderness that he so deeply loved had became the very instrument God used to bring him home.
After completing a two-week solo hunt for stone sheep, Bart checked in with friends and family. He then flew to Reid Lake, west of Stewart Crossing, Yukon, for a scheduled two-week moose hunt. Being a permanent resident of Canada allowed him the freedom to hunt alone. Evidence suggests that on the first day of the hunt (September 14, 2004) Bart used a raft to move from his base-camp on the lake to a shoreline more conducive to calling moose. His chosen location provided a good view of the willow parks nearby and was approximately 60 yards from the lakeshore.
Although the cause of his death has not been officially determined, being killed by a grizzly bear seems likely. The RCMP found his remains with help from Bart’s friends Dib Williams and Wayne Curry. A search had begun after the pilot who dropped him off called authorities when Bart missed the pre-arranged pick-up time. Additional evidence found at the scene indicated that Bart’s body had been moved at least 100 yards from the moose calling location, where his bow, quiver of arrows, backpack, moose call, bear spray, and bloody balaclava were found. It was later confirmed by authorities that grizzly bears as well as wolves had consumed the majority of his body, resulting in the inconclusive cause of death.
Bart’s family and friends prefer to believe, as Bart would have wanted, that his death came from the teeth and claws of a bear. Various friends report that Bart said death in the jaws of a predator would be much more acceptable to him than one from lingering disease or illness. Personally, I find it more meaningful to explore the nature of Bart’s life than the details of his passing.
The Man Bart Schleyer
Whenever I talked to Bart, he made me feel special. He was interested in my stories and adventures and asked many questions. He was this way with everyone he met. In reality, Bart was the one who was special.
How does a guy do so much with one life? Bart was an exceptional bowhunter who made his own bows and a highly regarded international naturalist with unique skills in large predator capture, tracking, and study. He was a wildlife artist and humorous prankster. Above all else were the traits that allowed him the success he achieved in all avenues of his life: kindness, politeness, and generosity toward others. Through life’s challenges, Bart developed into a man who was strong, reliable, persistent, and capable of achieving great things.
Bart was born to Dr. Otis Schleyer and his wife Lula Rose, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1955. Dr. Schleyer, a physician who practiced in Cheyenne, loved to hunt. He took Bart along from an early age. Bart’s sister Claudia Downey tells of Bart’s childhood obsession with animals. “He didn’t just like them; he wanted to know everything about them, study where they lived and how they lived! My dad took Bart with him on safari to Mozambique when he was 10 years old. He had a chance to witness an incredible variety of animals that he could otherwise only read about. When he finally got a chance to hunt, he was drawn even closer. Hunting seemed to give purpose to his studies.” Bart would draw pictures of animals and continued to develop as an artist into adulthood.
Growing up, Bart spent a great deal of time with Glen Garton. Bart and Glen complimented each other’s passion for the outdoors. When they weren’t hunting, they were fishing or doing their own taxidermy. They also learned the meaning of a hard day’s work on a ranch owned by Bart’s father. Glen says, “One of my most enjoyable memories dates from the early 1970’s when Bart and I worked all summer building fence with Bart’s Grandpa Ed. After the daily labor was over, we would run wild over the rest of the ranch looking for shed antlers.” Grandpa Ed took great pride in the development of these two young men. Bart applied the work ethics taught by his Grandpa to all facets of his life, including hunting, wrestling, and wildlife art. He would not quit until he gave it his all.
It wasn’t until Claudia started dating Jim Downey, whom she later married, that Bart developed his fascination with archery and bowhunting. Jim, a bowhunter, says, “I may have introduced Bart to bowhunting, but he carried it so much farther. It became such a huge part of his life.” Bart started with a Bear Kodiak Magnum and later both he and Glen shot Damon Howatt bows. Bart and Jim hunted with compound bows one year. When Jim drew back on an elk and an eerie creak precluded the crumbling disintegration of the upper eccentric wheel, lessons were learned the hard way. The only blood letting that day came from Jim’s lacerations causing both men to return to the dependable simplicity of their recurves. Jim said, “A special thing about Bart was he always made up his own mind from information he observed. He didn’t worry about what other folks did or how they hunted. He was only concerned with what worked for him and gave him pleasure.”
Jim loved to hunt elk with Bart because Bart’s studies of wildlife were paying off. He could mimic the sounds and calls of nearly everything in the woods, and could he ever talk to elk! During the mid 1970’s, there wasn’t much in print about cow calling for elk. Bart could call with what seemed like an entire vocabulary of what is now termed “cow talk”. Jim explains, “Even with today’s modern calling devices, I have never heard anyone sound so realistic and convincing.”
He describes hunting elk with Bart when dense fog settled in. Navigation became difficult. After a while, Bart retrieved his camera from his backpack and started taking pictures. With darkness closing in and colors giving way to black, white and gray, Bart took pictures of Jim sitting on a huge rock. Then, switching positions, Jim took Bart’s picture. Bart sat there in the silence and with the distraction of the camera in Jim’s possession, he let out a few soft and lonesome cow mews that stayed aloft on the moist air. After a short time, and without creating any sound, a huge bull materialized out of the fog and stood staring at them. Light reflecting off by the polished ivory antler tips was haloed in the cool mist. The bull appeared like a ghostly pirate’s ship with towering mast of bone. Unprepared to launch arrows, man and beast were frozen in time as surprise and deceit were realized. The bull retreated a few feet and it’s form was slowly lost from the scene, but not from the memories of the two bowmen.
Bart’s sense of humor was refreshing considering his otherwise quiet personality. Jim recalled a snowshoe and backpack adventure to a remote mountain cabin. Arriving after dark, they cooked steak for dinner. In the dim candlelight, Jim made an easy target for Bart’s prank. When the first juicy piece of steak reached Jim’s tongue, it was covered with a quarter inch of salt! Once Bart started laughing, you couldn’t get angry with him. Claudia said that no aspect of a hunt was too hard and no amount of effort involved in a good prank was too much for her brother. Photos of Bart with the fruits of a hunt always brought a smile to her face. One shot showed him posed respectfully with a magnificent sheep at extreme altitude, but when she flipped to the next photo, Bart was pictured with the sheep while wearing a Halloween costume; Sylvester the cat or a goalie’s hockey mask. She even received realistic pictures in the mail of a human boot and leg caught in a huge bear trap that Bart obviously got great pleasure out of staging. Claudia would immediately break down in laughter. Other sheep hunters would meticulously go over their essential gear. Even to the point of cutting the handle length down on their toothbrush to assure the lowest weight backpacks. Bart would not concern himself so much with all of that. Anticipating his humorous rewards, he carried the props of laughter in his pack up the mountain with ease.
Glen Garton said that Bart once spent nearly an entire day fabricating a miniature telemetry collar and putting it on a bumblebee. Can you imagine the looks he got from his colleagues in the field? Glen also recounts one of Bart’s longest running college stunts. “In the basement of the apartment building where we lived, Bart found a house cat nestled in behind the furnace. Bart took that cat with him everywhere. It rode on the front seat or on the dashboard of the car, to campus, parties, and social events. Bart would dress it up in glasses, hats, and ties for the occasion. It was quite the hit and attention getter. But did I tell you that the cat was dead? Yes! It somehow died next to the furnace and became mummified in a statuette position free of decomposition or odor. Bart named it Sparky.”
Claudia recalls, “He was the kindest and most gentle person I have ever known. Our parents and grandparents taught us that if we didn’t have anything nice to say about someone, we didn’t say anything at all. Bart took that literally throughout his life. Some people’s first impression of Bart was that he was phony: too nice, too polite. But, that’s just who he was.” People tended to take advantage of his kindness and financial naivety. If Bart found out his neighbor was an elderly woman who needed help with a home repair project or simply a trip to the store, she became his priority for the day. Glen says, “Bart and I killed an elk up in the Big Horn Mountains, west of Sheridan six miles from the truck during warm weather. Bart didn’t want any of the meat to spoil, so we packed it out in one day. Bart would always carry the heaviest load. He said it was because he liked exercise, or that he needed to add additional weight to balance the pack. In hindsight, I think he loaded up so that others hunting with him didn’t have to work so hard. He did not have long ears like a mule, but he carried a pack like one! He always put other’s needs above his own.”
Bart was a wrestler for East High School in Cheyenne, where he won the state championship once and took second the following year. He graduated with honors in 1973 and received a college scholarship. He earned an associate degree and the nickname “Wolverine” Schleyer at Sheridan College while studying wildlife and art. Everyone seems to do crazy things in college, but for Bart craziness didn’t involve drinking. Sheridan had an event called the “The Coyote Test” in which people brought strange, nasty stuff to eat. Bart passed by eating the raw meat of a skunk. Some people might find that repulsive; however, it was symbolic of the mindset he developed later. He truly became an ultimate predator in his thinking, patience, determination, and stalking ability. Like a coyote, Bart was very adaptive and able to get by with bare essentials. Glen says, “That’s why he was such a successful hunter. He had incredible stamina and persistence. He would get caught in an ice storm without proper equipment, yet he ignored discomfort to stay on the sheep or elk, sometimes overnight!”
After Sheridan College, Bart focused his education on wildlife biology and transferred to Montana State University, where he received his master’s degree in 1979. Professor Don Collins taught an undergraduate class called Man and the Environment for more than 20 years. Dr. Collins says, “Out of the 42,000 students who took that class, Bart was a standout! He was knowledgeable in every thing wild, from animals and birds to flowers, trees, and shrubs. Bart spent a great deal of time alone in the mountains while working on his thesis, the activity patterns of grizzly bears in Yellowstone. It was as if he prepared his entire life to do this. He was superbly suited for the demands of the job. To conduct these studies, Bart used live capture techniques, and then placed telemetry radio collars on the bears to monitor their activities. Bart always had a smile on his face, seemed happy, and was never outspoken. I would describe him with two words: gentle and strong. He was very knowledgeable and had great compassion for both animals and people. For all his skills, he was not interested in notoriety. He was very unassuming and had incredible self-awareness and inner spirituality. I never met another quite like him!
“Teachers like me must demonstrate a certain degree of showmanship in order to stimulate enthusiasm. We have to nurture our egos and publish our works to secure grants and funding. Bart did not have that exploitive type of arrogance, but his patience and attentiveness to others would have enabled him to be an exceptional graduate school teacher.”
After college, Bart stayed in Montana where he worked for Fish and Game and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. He made vital contributions to a team challenged with determining the reaction grizzly bears demonstrate following encroachment by humans. It was also important to know the habitat requirements and birthing and mortality rates of the bears, including those living in the remote Bob Marshall Wilderness. His experiences in backpacking and self-reliance fostered through years of bowhunting made the research work easy for him. He stayed out in the mountains for months at a time. Packing meat for bait and heavy cable for foot snares became routine. He didn’t just endure physical hardship; he enjoyed it.
Bart Meets Paul Schafer
Bart planned his vacations and work schedule around hunting seasons. His appetite for the hunt never diminished. In fact, after meeting Paul Schafer, Bart found another hunting partner he could count on to be ready for a bowhunting challenge. Paul was well known and highly regarded as a skilled bowhunter and bowyer. They became extremely close friends. Paul was five years his senior, and Bart more than once wrote of Paul’s hero status. Professor Collins (who knew both men as students at MSU) was baffled by their friendship. “Paul Schafer was a stereotypical “jock”. He set many records and gained much notoriety on the football field and wrestling mat, but around campus there were many students and faculty who did not appreciate Paul’s arrogance and less than dignified conduct.” Collins concedes that many young men change dramatically as responsibility dictates maturity. Learning that Paul had become a world renowned bowhunter who was modest and generous with his time and mentored youths and championed ethical conduct afield, he could easily believe that Bart had as much influence on Paul as Paul apparently had on Bart. “You see, Bart was the epitome of everything good in humans. There is a saying in Montana to describe people like Bart: ‘He was a man to ride the river with’.”
Bart used a 90# bow Paul built for him to take a huge bighorn ram in Sanders County, Montana in 1987. Its horns had heavy bases and broomed tips. Bart described it as one of his toughest hunts and he was very proud of that ram. It was the only animal he entered in the Pope and Young Club records. Bart continued to hunt in Montana, but even the vastness of that state didn’t seem wild enough for him. He began to hunt with a friend named Brad Adams. Bart and Brad met at the Montana Bowhunters Association banquet in 1982, but Brad moved to Alaska in 1985 where he started guiding for moose and brown bear on the Alaskan Peninsula. Bart was in great physical shape and well prepared for the adventure waiting for him in Alaska.
Brad described a hunt for Sitka deer on Kodiak Island on which Brad’s close friend Jeff Booth, who worked for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, accompanied them. Bart and Jeff hit it off right away. They had a great time stalking the beautiful, stocky Sitka bucks. Bart would wear deer ear liners (used for taxidermy) attached to his head to present the deer a more calming silhouette as he crept within bow range. “To see him stalk was a thing of beauty,” Brad laughs. “We would often hunt in separate directions, but when one of us would return to camp with a buck, Bart would be so incredibly excited. He was genuinely as happy, or in some case even happier, than whoever made the kill. Then he would say, ‘Oh, I got one too’ as he presented a pack loaded with meat, hide and antlers. He was modest and shy and never gave himself any credit.” The three of them never dreamed what waited for them there the following year.
In 1992, Bart drew a coveted brown bear tag for Kodiak Island. Paul Schafer came up from Montana to film the hunt and act as Bart’s backup. Brad and Jeff came along to help spot bears and hunt deer. Usually they would spike-camp out, but this year they made camp where they were dropped and hunted out several miles from there. On the first day they saw a gigantic brown bear that Bart guessed to be a 10-footer. Brad describes what the first few days were like: “Staying on the beach provided easy access to kindling and firewood. We made a campfire every night, giving everyone an opportunity to tell stories. It was inspirational to have Bart, who was an incredibly skilled hunter and very modest, trying to get Paul to tell stories about some of their adventures together. Paul would finish a tale and Bart would jump right back in, pressuring him to tell another. “Tell about the time you…,” Bart would plead! As much as Paul seemed embarrassed, Bart would not let him off the hook. That went on night after night, with these two incredibly humble men telling wild tales of their experiences, achievements, and mishaps. Bart would break out into his infectious guttural laugh and Paul would just giggle, but it was a toss-up to tell who had the bigger smile.”
On the fourth day, Jeff, who didn’t have as much time to hunt as the others, decided to test his skill on deer. Bart, Paul, and Brad went on a trek to spot bears and look for a good spot for a spike camp. After venturing inland six miles, they crested a hill and spotted a large bear moving along the valley. They decided this solo bear was in a good position with the wind in their favor.
Moving closer, they stopped on a rise. The bear was paralleling an alder thicket. It was a good time to re-group and design a plan of attack. Brad was hyped and felt honored to be part of the decision processes… such as it proved to be. As they paused briefly, Paul looked at the bear and said, “OK, let’s go.”
“That’s it? That’s the plan?” Brad asked. At that point, he realized Paul and Bart were seriously in the zone. Brad had a video camera of his own and was experienced enough to know that two hunters stalking a brown bear was enough, so he stayed behind to capture the event on film as Bart and Paul removed their boots and began to close in on the bruin.
The crosswind was perfect. A deer interrupted the stalk temporarily by walking between bear and hunters, but it glanced at the two motionless forms and continued by. The hunters breathed easily: their plan was still intact. Bart and Paul kept brush between themselves and the bear while crawling to a slight depression. With the bear at 40 yards, Paul had his camera rolling. The brush was just high enough to conceal them both. Unexpectedly, the bear heard a noise it didn’t recognize, presumably something from the camera, and started huffing and rearing back on its hind legs to get a better view. Then she (the bear turned out to be an old, dry sow) started popping her jaws and advancing toward the intrusion while Bart and Paul held fast. This was the moment they had lived for!
From Brad’s vantage, it appeared that the bear was in the lap of his two friends. But back at the heat of the action, the depression afforded them concealment even as the bear swaggered forward with her massive head swaying side to side. It reached a distance of less than 20 yards. Bart’s experience and patience allowed him to let the bear pass until its front nearside leg moved forward, clearing a path to the heart and lungs. When it did, Bart launched a cedar arrow into the bear’s side. She immediately growled, spun, and bit at the shaft. The arrow broke and backed out, dangling from the bear’s dense coat as it fled and creating the appearance of a shot a little far back. Furthermore, a good length of the shaft was visible, making Bart believe that penetration was poor. This convinced Bart to take two long shots at the bear. The first missed the moving animal and the second arrow, which turned out to be tipped with a Judo point, landed in front of the bear to be broken by her feet as she reached the sanctuary of the nearest alders.
After regaining their composure, Brad and Paul felt optimistic about Bart’s shot and arrow placement. Bart, however, was worried about the shot placement and arrow penetration. Paul reassured him: “She made it to the alders, but was pretty sick already. That was incredible!”
Bart expressed reservations about the ethics of his two long shots at the wounded bear. Paul gave his opinion: “It’s not irresponsible to take a less than perfect shot at an animal that already has an arrow in it.” Paul confirmed that the bear slowed down before it entered the alders. Brad knew that Bart was genuinely concerned for the animal and gave little consideration to his performance in front of his hero, Paul.
As evening approached, the men decided to take up the trail. They quickly proved Paul and Brad’s description of events accurate. The perfectly placed arrow left the bear dead 25 yards inside the alder patch. Bart was happy and relieved, but humbled by the praise he received from his friends. In his usual fashion, he gave his backup, Paul, credit for giving him the confidence to achieve his goal on this special hunt. Brad, who guided many bear hunters before and since, says: “It was the most awesome close encounter I ever witnessed. I can’t compare these two (Bart and Paul) to anyone else. It had nothing to do with records; they hunt for the moment!”
It was ironic that a bear researcher like Bart ended up killing a bear with a tattoo in its lip, indicating the bear had been previously collared. It turned out Bart’s bear was 24 years old and its study collar had been removed six years prior. The hide squared eight feet, nine inches. The bear represented one fulfilled goal of this trip, and now the four men could focus their attention on filling Sitka blacktail tags for the rest of the hunt.
The Loss of True Friends
Paul Schafer died in a skiing accident on January 18, 1993. This was a very emotional time for Bart, who reached out to many of Paul’s friends in hope of staying connected to a man, friend, and hero he loved. He made a sheep hunt in the Brooks Range with Jeff Booth and Brad Adams, during which they planned to launch a cedar arrow of remembrance in Paul’s name. Bart wrote eloquently of this hunt (Reunions, Farewells, and The Good Medicine Bow. TBM, Feb./March 1998), but he did not complete the entire story.
After eight days of chasing sheep, Jeff unselfishly told Bart where a good ram had bedded. Bart finally had some breaks go his way. He survived “ram fever”, launched the first lethal arrow from the Good Medicine Bow, and recovered one of the most magnificent Dall rams Brad had ever seen. Bart stayed on the mountain overnight and returned with his sheep in the morning, narrowly missing Jeff’s departure. Jeff was on his way to meet his wife for a caribou hunt. As Jeff piloted his Super Cub over the campsite, Bart held up the skull and attached horns from the 12-year-old ram and gestured an ecstatic thank-you to his friend. Jeff waved congratulations and farewell in return by tipping his Super Cub’s wings. Unknown to Brad and Bart, Jeff’s plane crashed that day in the rocks three miles up the canyon.
The crash occurred August 18th, but Bart and Brad didn’t learn that they lost their friend until they came out of the mountains on August 26th. Jeff’s body was not extracted until the 8th of September because of weather and terrain. Brad and Bart planned another ceremonial hunt, this time in Jeff’s memory. Before the hunt began, they embarked on a ten-hour climb to the crash site, where they recovered personal items including pictures, Jeff’s wallet and some picked-up horns Jeff had collected. After returning to camp, they climbed to their lookout point to wing another arrow, this time inscribed to Jeff Booth. They brought some of his ashes up and scattered into the wind to mix with the spirit and memory of Paul.
Bart Becomes a Bowyer
Before Paul died, Bart felt called to make his own bow. He didn’t want to hurt Paul’s feelings by retiring the bow he’d given him, so he told Paul his intensions. Paul proved enthusiastic and supportive. Unbeknownst to Bart, Paul intended to make a longbow for him as well. He sought advice from Ric Anderson, his friend and owner of Mariah Longbows. Paul never got a chance to finish the bow, so Ric went ahead and made one for Bart with a dedication to Paul inscribed on the handle. A short time later, Ric received a thank-you gift: a canvas painting Bart did of a caribou bull. It now hangs in Ric’s home to serve as a reminder of good deeds and fellow bowmen.
For Bart’s first bow, he used what he had on hand: Alaskan birch. Birch is a very difficult wood for an inexperienced bowyer. Bart’s initial attempts failed, so he sought help from Doug Theiner, who owned a rock shop in Willow, Alaska. Doug was an experienced bowyer with over a thousand bows to his credit. Bart came to Doug with an idea about making an ancient flatbow design. He was full of ambition, but lacked quality starting material for a selfbow. At the back of the shop, Doug found an old Osage stave he’d bought years earlier from Bernie and Joe Swank of Mystic Longbows. Bart wanted the completed bow to be a takedown version, so he brought the stave to Jack Harrison in Wasilla to get some sleeves made. Jack was also a very experienced bowyer, but he had a different vision for the Osage stave than Bart did. Jack started to plane the piece of wood, thinking that was what Bart wanted. Bart was too polite to say anything, but upon returning to Doug’s he shouted, “Shoot a fish! He turned it into a piece of lumber.” Bart did gain some valuable knowledge from that piece of hedge wood, and he later laughed about the incident.
Bart eventually made a takedown version of a Meare Heath flatbow, with wide limbs, a narrow handle, backed with sinew from a Russian boar killed by a Siberian tiger. He later used this unique, 105-pound bow to put down an early season caribou. Bart was a spiritual man who needed to feel grounded to the earth, his family, his vocation, and his past, and his bows reflected all of these qualities. Doug says, “Bart kept the bows that were special to him, but he would often build a bow and show it to folks in Russia or around Dan Foster’s taxidermy shop, where he worked for many years. If someone mentioned how much they liked it or raved over the style and workmanship, Bart would just give them the bow. You can’t imagine the disbelief on their faces!
“Getting a chance to hunt with Bart was truly one of the greatest treasures of my life!” Doug says. “Bart would always be the first to jump up and fetch water, make a fire or set up the tent.” He had a great sense of humor. Once Doug and John Goodrich were coming back from hunting moose and knew that the pilot would soon fly into Bart’s camp, so they went to the store to pick up some extra food supplies to be shuttled in. If you’ve ever camped in the wilderness, you know what joy extra food or a care-package from home creates. The pilot did his part and brought the gifts to Bart. You can imagine the roar of Bart’s laughter rising higher than the northern lights as he opened his package and saw that all the extra food he so anticipated was plastic! Plastic apples, bread, fruit, and pork chops. The toys kids play house with. The stuff grown-men show appreciation and love with.
Bart hunting with his own bows was like an accomplished singer writing his own songs. On the first hunt Doug and Bart made together, Bart seemed sheepish about asking Doug to hunt with him. “I am not sure if you feel comfortable hunting with a guy who has the names of his deceased friends written on his bow,” Bart explained.
Jay Massey had the highest respected for Bart and Jay once wrote that Bart was one of the greatest bowhunters of them all. Bart certainly appreciated his friendship with Jay, especially when Jay took to the field with his version of the “Medicine Bow” backed with sinew that Bart had removed from a Russian elk killed by a tiger. The passing of power and spirit through gifts of sinew was practiced by indigenous people of the plains where Bart grew up, and now by these two hunters in Alaska.
Bart was relentless with everything in his life. Once when Doug and Bart went fishing for the day, they found the fish less than cooperative. After several hours, Doug just had to say enough is enough, and he found a cool place to stretch out and sit on the bank. Bart would have none of it. He continued casting over and over. He kept trying and wouldn’t quit. It wasn’t his first time fishing and it wasn’t like he never caught a fish before, but he continued until the 10 hours were up. Doug said, “Bart wasn’t unintelligent, but he was bound and determined to play it out. We were fishing for the day, and by golly Bart was going to fish with everything he had regardless of the outcome. It wasn’t in his character to quit.”
During a caribou hunt there is often down time due to weather or poor herd movement. Bart and Doug would use this time to build bows and arrows on the tundra from alder limbs dry-roasted over a fire and willow arrows fashioned with stone heads they chipped out. The hardest part was to collect fibers from vegetation on hand for tying and making the bowstring. The bows were not very powerful but could be used for close shots at small game, and keep a person alive if needed. When the caribou started moving again the two would whip out their ‘real bows’ and go after them, Bart with his Meare Heath flatbow of his own making and Doug with the hornbow he constructed from near ½ inch thick sheep horn. Bart always liked the stability, power and reliability of the longbow, while Doug’s hornbow was only 44 inches long and very smooth. Even traditional guys sometimes just have to see whose bow was faster. Bart pulled back on his 75-pound longbow and launched a heavy ash arrow upwards towards the horizon. He then let fly with an identical arrow using Doug’s 65-pound Dall sheep hornbow. At first, Bart was not impressed with the light and somewhat awkward feel of the horsemen style bow; however, when he had to walk 30 yards further to retrieve the arrow shot from it, he became a believer. Bart read up on this style of bow from experts including Jack McKey (founder of ZI. KI. A., Inc., Whitefish, Mt.). He wanted to make a composite bow using a wood core and horn limbs from Asian water buffalo or Dall sheep.
Bart’s colleague from Russia, John Goodrich, came to hunt moose in Alaska with Bart and Doug. Doug describes how they were all glassing the same valley when a nice 65-inch bull appeared searching for cows. Bart said, “Look at that good bull. John, why don’t you go down and get him?”
“Doug, he’s all yours!” John replied. “Let’s see what you can do!”
Doug then passed the opportunity back to Bart. Three guys arguing about letting each other have first crack at a huge bull was the exception in Alaska by then. Sheep hunting in particular was becoming nothing but a foot race up the mountain, and Bart didn’t want any part of it.
In 2000, Brad and Bart drew bison tags in Alaska. They shared the same campsite for a day or two in the Farwell area, west of Kuskokwim River. Bison were scarce and wide-ranging, so they elected to hunt separately. Brad stashed some fuel in the brush and then flew downriver. Glassing an open willow park the next day, he spotted a lone bison feeding with its head down. The soft breeze and sphagnum moss provided him quiet passage to the buffalo 30 yards away. He could only see the top of the animal’s back and was unable to identify its sex. Feeding forward, it finally lifted its head, giving Brad a clear look at the huge bases of its horns and confirming that it was a bull. Brad slowly lifted his bow and sent an arrow into the animal’s chest. The bull collapsed quickly, resulting in a fitting end to a perfect setup.
It took some time to pack out the meat. Brad then flew up to Bart’s camp to retrieve the fuel. Brad told of his good fortune and encouraged Bart to fly back with him to his camp, which he would soon be vacating. Bart had several good chances at bulls there. On the fourteenth day of the hunt, Bart stalked within range of a herd bull as it emerged from a dusting bowl caked in mud, but another bison approaching from behind sent out an alarm snort that spoiled the opportunity. Other hunters would have been very disappointed, but Bart used the experience to strengthen his resolve.
His next opportunity came two days later when he discovered an old cow he couldn’t resist stalking. His arrow flew true, bringing the long hunt to an end. Bart was selective about the animals he shot, making every effort to take mature representatives of the species. He was respectful and grateful for the 13 year-old-cow. Bart lived off the meat he shot, so he was glad to have his freezer filled with buffalo.
More Hunts with Friends
Bart worked at Foster’s Taxidermy during the off-season for many years and was very close to the owners, Dan and Becky. There he met Dale Routt and established a lasting friendship that involved many hunts together. The first came in 1992, into the Tok Management Area for Dall sheep. Bart and Dale prepared for a ten day hunt and carried heavy packs 21 miles into one of the most remote valleys in the area. They found rams, but their enthusiasm was short lived. Two rifle hunters crossed a river and walked through a closed unit to hunt the unit they drew tags for, reducing their hike to eight miles. Bart never considered that short cut an option even though it was legal to do so. Bart and Dale stayed and hunted for two more days, but with other hunters in the same area, the spot lost its mystique, so they packed up and hiked the 21 miles back out.
Dale and Bart loved to hunt moose together. Dale confirmed that Bart was an excellent caller, so good that he even called in a grizzly once. Dale says, “Bart would make so many different sounds that it was like being in an entire herd of moose. Good calling allowed Bart to stalk within bow range of herd bulls reluctant to leave their cows. Even though Bart could deliver an arrow with exceptional accuracy, he didn’t like to take shots at moose over 20 yards. Once in the Alaska Range, we packed out an entire moose in four loads, calling ourselves Neanderthals as we labored under 200-pound packs. Bart laughed nearly the entire way out. If we killed a big bull early, we would just go back out to film other moose. Bart loved his video camera.”
Hunting in Alaska takes a lot of money, even for residence. Bart worked hard to make sure he had a hunting fund each fall. His yearning for solitude and a romantic experience while hunting led him to the Yukon. In Alaska there are over 100,000 licensed hunters, but in certain areas of Canada there are only 3,000. He found new areas with good numbers of undisturbed moose. Looking at the large antlers lying around the homes and cabins gave him a good idea of the local and regional genetics. He became a permanent resident of Canada. Thus, enabling him to continue his quest for a stone sheep, which he couldn’t afford in Alaska. Being a Canadian resident also fulfilled his requirement for health care.
Dale describes Bart affectionately as a contradiction. “Bart would be dead serious during a hunt and then a switch would go off and he would say the silliest things. He really wanted and needed the meat, but would pass up many lesser animals to get a chance at a mature representative of the species. Bart was passionate about researching and saving the grizzlies, yet he would hunt them where they were plentiful. He loved people and was very social, but he never really set down roots and often hunted alone. He needed money to finance his hunting, yet he would spend many hours making bows only to give them away. He always seemed happy and loved to joke, but carried a huge burden of sorrow and depression with the loss of many close friends. He didn’t want to talk of his own achievements, but he would pry stories out of others while listening intently. He would never give himself enough credit for his artwork or bow building and often called his work junk. Now, others cherish those items. He was very competitive with himself, yet gave anyone he hunted with the first chance at a stalk or first selection of a hunting area. He was strong and self-reliant, yet as meek and gentle as they come. He was truly a special man!”
To Russia With Love
Dr. Maurice Hornocker, founder of the Hornocker Wildlife Institute, is a world-renowned authority on large cats, primarily the American cougar. He wanted to build a team of researchers with sufficient skill and knowledge to study the Siberian tiger. Bart had considerable experience catching grizzly bears using the foot snare technique developed by Jack Aldrich. Dr Hornocker hired Bart as a capture specialist in 1993 to work on the Siberian Tiger Project in Russia. Russian scientists were having difficulty capturing adult tigers using box or log traps. Although skeptical of the foot snare, they were open to suggestions. This paved the way for a joint international effort to study tigers in their natural habitat with the goal of stabilizing and eventually increasing their numbers. Bart had the skill and enthusiasm for the job, and the personality and lack of arrogance to fit well with the team. This was very important since it was vital for the research team to work with and gain support from the Russian community. The Soviet Union was in disarray, and team members were acting as ambassadors to a nation undergoing great changes. Dr. Hornocker says, “We were not there to show the Russians how to conduct their research. This was a joint effort of like-minded scientists whose goal was to help each other learn more about tigers.”
Electronic predator calls imitating distress cries from wild boars were used to draw tigers into an area where foot snares were placed. This method worked on young tigers, but it did not often fool adult cats. Catching them required many thousands of set-hours along trails or scent trees. Once captured and tranquilized, accurate measurements and assessment of health were recorded prior to tagging and securing a radio-telemetry collar around the animal’s neck. This was vital to understanding the range, habitat requirements, and the birthing and mortality rates of the tiger population.
When I asked Dr. Hornocker to describe Bart, he answered: “Bart was the king of the understatement. I once asked Bart how one of his bowhunting trips in Alaska went. Bart told of finding a beached whale that bears were feeding on. Bart made a stalk across the open shore towards two of them as they fed. Somehow they detected his presence. One ran off, but the larger of the two came at Bart. ‘What did you do then?’ I asked.
“Bart simply said, ‘Well, I shot him.’ That was it. He never really got too excited with his story telling. Bart was a great guy. One of best.”
Bart worked in Russia for many years and established lasting friendships with many of people there, including fellow field researcher Losha Kostyria and Dale Miquelle, director for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Russia. Bart fell in love with the deputy director, and they had a son named Artyom. Bart also met Galina Maximova, the director for the URAGUS Club, a youth ecological organization. Bart spent a great deal of time there making bows and arrows for the kids and teaching them to shoot. Even though they weren’t allowed to hunt with bows, they could still feel a connection to the land as they developed archery skills.
My brother Mark and I talked to Bart in the spring and fall of 2003. He spoke of his work with the Siberian Tiger Project, Hornocker Wildlife Institute, and Wildlife Conservation Society. Bart said they captured and collared over 30 adult tigers, but recapture had become difficult using foot snares. He said that using tranquilizer darts shot from a helicopter was more productive and enabled them to continue to plot data from the animals and replace batteries in the telemetry collars. He indicated the work was exciting, rewarding and at times very intense as they monitored vital signs and maintained anesthesia during capture. Of the tigers on study, more than half of their food prey was elk (red deer), while boar comprised about one fifth of their diet. It was rare for tigers to prey on livestock, but some aged or injured animals were forced to hunt near human settlements. One tiger he tracked would catch dogs and consume them in his lair, leaving only their heads.
Some older tigers would also stalk and kill brown bears, which were easier to catch than elk. Following tigers with radio locators, Bart could read these stories in the snow. The tigers usually just walked the bears down from behind. The big cats had killer instincts and usually about a hundred pound weight advantage on the bears. They would go straight for the neck and sever the spine at the base of the skull. Every once in a while the trampled snow would tell of a furious fight, which always ended with a dead bear. During the study, the team determined that vehicle injuries and poachers caused most tiger mortality. Bart said that if the tigers were going to survive, humans were going to have to want them to and find ways to share the same ecosystems. I could tell that Bart was proud of the team’s work as they made progress in habitat planning, forest usage, establishing travel corridors, and public relations. Insurance policies were provided to farmers who suffered livestock losses. He said, “The science is great, but ultimately we need the support of the people who live and work along side these great cats if we are going to succeed.”
My conversation with Bart continued as I described the two-week black bear hunt I just finished. I told him of making 91 bear sightings. Too much devils club in the wrong place spoiled my goal of taking a mature male. However, I did view the hunt as a success. Bart listened as I told him stories of filming a newborn calf moose, mountain goats jumping a gorged above me, and Dall sheep that followed the green-up to feed at lower elevation. He was very interested in the film project my two brothers and I were working on with Gene and Barry Wensel. Bart went on to tell me of his plans to guide brown bear hunts and that he was pleased to have received his guide’s license. We concluded our talk with a discussion of hunting bears and Bart’s plan to build a horn bow. Ironically, as I left Fosters Taxidermy shop, Bart went back to the task at hand, fleshing a grizzly bear hide. This was the last time I saw him.
Bart The Guide
During the fall of 2003, Bart guided for Brad Adams on the Alaskan Peninsula. Sitting at the campfire with his first client, Bart could not avoid the inevitable as his client asked, “So, how many bear hunts have you guided?” Bart paused and then replied, “I hoped you wouldn’t ask me that. Well, you are my first.” His client seemed concerned, but he did not realize he was with one of the most experienced outdoorsmen and hunters in Alaska. Bart, as always, was reluctant to talk about himself and his past hunts. Later on during the hunt Bart proved his worth as he led the hunter to a large bear. The shot was true and the hide squared 10 feet, 6 inches. Brad said Bart and his clients were 100% successful as they took another bear that fall and three more in the spring. Bart really enjoyed these hunts, so much that he even tried to refuse a $1000 tip offered by a gracious hunter.
At first I was reluctant to write an article about Bart because I knew him as a private person. But, I don’t think he would mind stories told on his behalf; he just wasn’t one to tell them himself. Glen Garton reaffirms this. “I found out that Bart was in a National Geographic documentary called Tigers of the Snow which showcased the work being done in Russia with the tigers. I would have loved to watch it, but Bart never mentioned it was on TV for fear that might seem like bragging. After I found out, I told everyone, and Bart didn’t mind.”
Bart’s sister Claudia has a similar story. “I would talk to Bart on the phone and ask how and what he was doing. Bart would reply, ‘Oh, not much.’ Later I would find out he was involved in capturing the first tiger in Thailand. Or, that he was called in to catch a man-eating tiger in Nepal. I think he caught it in seven days. These events were very exciting to us, but to Bart they seemed to be nothing more than everyday occurrences.” Sitting at a campfire with Bart, Brad Adams realized that Bart was probably the best in the world at live-capturing tigers. Brad was very close to Bart, so he felt comfortable asking him point blank how he felt about being the best. Bart would not admit to his skills. His only reply was, “There are a few Russians who are very good as well.”
Bart’s modesty was his dominant character trait. He felt that all true hunters were naturalists, but all naturalists were not hunters. I can’t think of a better ambassador to champion the cause of hunting and wildlife conservation. Although there is much work to be done, I trust that the stamina of “Wolverine” Schleyer will rise to motivate others in the responsible use of the great outdoors.
The intent of this two-part article was not to create a legend, but to inspire wildlife conservation efforts from those who follow the lead of Bart Schleyer. The Schleyer family is very grateful for the outpouring of support and donations to Bart’s memorial, an educational fund for his son, Artyom. They ask that I make it clear that Artyom is being well cared for by his mother and family.
The memorial fund is a great avenue for those who wish to show their appreciation to Bart for his lifetime of generosity. I have seen Artyom’s smile as he hugged the neck of his aunt’s dog. If he has the character shown by his father, then donations made on his behalf are an investment in our future. I would like to close with a quote from Bart’s father, Dr. Otis Schleyer: “Grieve not for Bart! He led the life he wanted. Bart did not accumulate monetary wealth, but he was a multimillionaire in the wealth of friendships. It was said he had the soul of an angel and the body of Hercules. Smile and farewell to a wonderful human being.”