As the world flies forward at a lightening fast pace and people understand the natural world less and less, there are a few men and women whose spirits crave a different path.
In a business like hunting, often the greatest legends fly under the radar. The true embodiments of the hunting lifestyle are self-reliance, freedom, woodsmanship, and an understand of nature, and these traits require that an individual spend most of their God-given life in the outdoors. These men and women generally live such remote lives the general public has little to no knowledge of their accomplishments. One such man was Bart Schlepper.
Bart’s biography reads something like a folk tale of legendary men like Daniel Boone, Jim Bridger, Jeremiah Johnson, or other characters of days gone by. Born in Wyoming as the son of a doctor, Bart Schleyer grew up cultivating a love of the outdoors at an early age. Under Wyoming’s big blue skies, Bart cut his teeth hunting animals like mule deer and antelope while trailing his old man’s shirttails.
In addition to the wild abundance of the Cowboy State, Schleyer was also fortunate enough to travel to Africa as a young boy and pursue wild game. On the expansive savannahs of Africa, Bart took an array of animals including gazelles and lions over the course of several hunts.
At a young age Bart Schleyer had already achieved hunting milestones that would take some men a lifetime to achieve and he was yearning for a new challenge. In his late teens he was introduced to the witchery and romance of archery. The rest of his life was spent exploring the world with a simple stick in hand, pursuing some of the biggest and most dangerous game in North America.
A man unenamoured with the trappings of the modern world, Bart Schleyer crafted his own longbows and would spend weeks at a time on solo hunts in some of the most rugged locations on this great land. While he did pursue animals, the hunt was part of a larger experience Bart pursued until he died; adventure.
It was the backcountry that truly called to Bart’s heart, and the only place he felt at home in the world. As a student at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, Bart developed a deeper knowledge of animals and eventually earned a master’s degree in wildlife biology. While a student at the university, Bart developed a reputation as an expert trapper. In true Schleyer fashion, the animals he trapped were North America’s most dangerous game: the grizzly bear.
Bart Schleyer started trapping grizz in the 1980s for research purposes, as they were making a resurgence in Yellowstone park. This Paul Bunyan of a man developed such a keen insight into the habits of predators that he soon became one of the top big predator trappers in the world. So prestigious was his name in the trapping world that he was asked to spend time in Asia trapping Siberian tigers to be collared and monitored. Making this transition exhibits Bart’s intuitive senses when dealing with animals. Bart simply understood the big cats mind’s better than any other human being.
When looking at Bart Schleyer’s story, it’s impossible not to recognize the man’s lust for the ultimate. He hunted grizzly bears with a longbow, or trapped them, collared them, and then would track them for weeks on end before returning to civilization, staying in the backcountry for 30 to 40 days at a time.
Physically Bart could outlast anyone. Not only did he have the endurance to last in the backcountry for 40 days at a time, but had to pack an 80-pound pack full of meat and trapping equipment around the rugged mountains as well. If you’ve spent anytime in the backcountry, you surely will have an appreciation for this. Legend has it while Bart was at camp he would do a sit up, pushup, and squat routine to stay fit. Most people do those exercises to get ready for the backcountry.
The Final Frontier
Like most adventurous souls who wander this earth, Bart soon felt tugged to the most remote place in America: Alaska. The last truly wild place in America, Alaska was the only place big enough for this big man. I think there are more than a few folks out there who crave the freedom to walk all day in any direction without restraint until the sun goes down, then get up and do it again.
You have to admire Schleyer for following his heart and scratching the ever present itch of adventure. While in Alaska, Bart continued to hunt big game in with his traditional equipment.
Wild hearts like Bart tend to walk a fine line throughout their lives, balancing precariously between this world and the next. Their lust for an adrenaline rush, ultimate experience, or a longing to see what’s over the next ridge drive them into situations and places many men would find uncomfortable or down right dangerous. In September 2004, Bart embarked on a solo moose hunt in the Yukon. At some point, Bart was attacked and killed by a grizzly in the lonesome bush.
It’s tricky to sit down and judge the life and death of a man you’ve never known. When judging men like Bart Schleyer, it’s best to listen to what those who knew him best said about him. His description as “the happiest man alive” and the “last wild man” by close friends shows his true nature.
Bart’s soul hungered for a life of substance and he was brave enough to follow his heart. It meant he would have few comforts or luxuries in this life, but he would do and see things most men only dream of. So as long as the geese fly overhead and the rivers flow from the mountains, I hope there are people like Bart Schleyer and wild places for them to roam.