They flew in on a Cessna outfitted with skis, traveled by dog sled and slept in a 6-by-8-foot tent on the ice. The temperatures made Wisconsin winters seem downright balmy.
But for two hunters, the elements weren’t the toughest part of a trip to Canada’s remote Northwest Territories.
The men are now trying to get the U.S. government’s permission to bring home the prizes of their adventure: two polar bears shot on the frozen Beaufort Sea near a place called Tuktoyaktuk.
Nick Mueller and Philip Majerus have been waiting more than 15 months for the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue special permits that will allow them to import their trophies. Although the Canadian government allows people to hunt polar bears, the United States had prohibited hunters from taking their hides home until Congress changed a 22-year-old law in 1994.
Mueller and Majerus are among more than 50 Americans who have applied for permits and are awaiting the wildlife agency’s ruling.
“It’s typical bureaucracy,” said Majerus, who owns Auction Specialists Co., Lomira Petroleum Products, and Kountry Korner gas station in Lomira, Wis.
The bear hides are being kept, appropriately enough, in cold storage at a taxidermy shop in Calgary. If and when permission is received to ship the carcasses home, both men plan to have the creatures mounted by taxidermists for display in trophy rooms already filled with specimens from North America and Africa.
The hunters say the polar bear adventure topped their years of trophy hunting. The two set off in March 1996 to Tuktoyaktuk, 550 miles northeast of Fairbanks, Alaska.
Eskimo guides lead the two-week expeditions that begin with a flight far into the frozen wilderness. Hunters live in tents and travel by dog sled. Temperatures might get up to zero and they drop to 30-below and colder.
“It’s quite a little discomfort,” said Majerus, 52, who suffered frostbite in pursuit of the 9-foot bear he shot on the second day of the trip.
Mueller spotted his polar bear the next day near a block of ice and shot it after the bear spotted him, too, and began approaching.
Mueller’s bear measured more than 10 feet and weighed more than 1,000 pounds. His 60-year-old guide told him it was the biggest or second-biggest he had ever seen.
Canadian officials allow native Eskimo tribes to bag a limited number of polar bears each year. Rather than hunt the bears themselves, though, the Eskimos work as guides for the going rate of about $15,000 a hunt.
U.S. law does not allow imported polar bears to be used in moneymaking ventures, said Pam Hall, a biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service. They can only be kept as trophies, she said.
It could be another one or two months before the agency rules on the permit requests of Mueller, Majerus and the others.
Those whose requests are granted would then pay a $1,000 fee that the U.S. government will put toward research and management programs to conserve Alaskan and Russian polar bears.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.