Some campfires never die. Spirits stay with us. Memories burn on. Life becomes fuller with time and presence.
As I boarded my flight from my home in Texas to guide some snowbound hunters in Michigan this fine winter day, I received the text I was pretty much ready for.
By all accounts, the greatest natural born hunter/marksman/woodsman/naturalist that ever lived went on to the Big Hunt upstairs [on Jan. 30] at 9:05 a.m., Alaska time.
Ed Bilderback, Fred Bear's personal and most revered Alaskan bear guide, succumbed to his recent stroke at the age of 84, and his beloved daughter Donee was kind and loving enough to share this great man's passing with me as it occurred. To have been welcomed into this amazing family was yet another stroke of powerful good fortune for this old American hunting freak, and in spite of a heavy, somber heart, I smiled knowingly that Ed Bilderback lived his gift of life to the fullest.
You should recall that most momentous of hunting moments, when Fred and Ed sneaked up to that massive boulder on the beach of Wide Bay, Alaska, that overcast day in 1964, when at mere feet, Fred arrowed the longstanding world record brown bear with Ed at his side.
You may also remember the incredible shooting feats by Bilderback, where from the swaying, bobbing deck of his Valiant Maid fishing trawler, he busted small bottles, one after the other out of midair with his .30 caliber M1 carbine. Fred had told me on numerous occasions that he had never witnessed another man shoot bows or guns better in all his life, and what a total confidence builder Ed represented when backing him up on close quarters dangerous bear hunts.
I could go on and on about how Ed lived the ultimate rugged individual mountain man life of pure independence, how he made his own way back when Alaska was still raw and uncharted, but the best way for me to convey how Ed epitomized the quintessential outdoor lifestyle is to tell you how he captured wild wolverines by hand to transport them live to zoos.
You heard me right. Wolverines, known to be the most elusive, mysterious, ferocious, kill crazy beasts on earth. Ed would somehow catch them alive, hogtie them, wrap the devils in a burlap bag and share a little Super Cub cockpit with the unruly animals to destinations unknown. How's that for adventure, kids?
My hero Fred Bear had introduced me to Ed many years ago via phone and letters, and I was blessed to establish a friendship with Ed like I had with Fred. Finally just a few years ago I was able to fulfill a lifetime dream of meeting Ed on an annual spring bear hunt to Alaska. Making the rendezvous that much more special was the fact that my son Toby and good hunting friend Scott Young were also able to meet up with the great man, who in person exuded all the positive characteristics of the Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett we thought he would.
I was very fortunate also to capture Ed's adventurous wit, knowledge and amazing historical perspective in extensive video interviews, most of which we aired on our 'Ted Nugent Spirit of the Wild' TV show on the Outdoor Channel. Stop and think about it for moment; Fred Bear, who is considered by many to be certainly one of the greatest hunters of all times, constantly gave the bow to Ed as being, in Fred's estimation, the greatest hunter of all times. That is really saying something.
So I am sure old Ed is settling in around the campfire up there with his old buddy Fred, Bob Munger, probably Daniel and Davy, Elmer Keith, Howard Hill, Louie Schreiner, my dad and uncles, Clint Starling and all our hunting buddies long gone, and I am also quite certain it is a rousing, laughter filled campfire with a sagging gamepole nearby, glowing embers being stirred, reflecting in the eyes of our heroes of yore.
Do yourself a favor. Right now, go to the phone and call your dad, mom, grandpa and grandma, son, daughter, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, all your hunting buddies everywhere, and just talk about our beloved sport and keep the glowing memories on fire while you can. I am so very glad that I reached out to Fred and Ed and others to remain connected while still of this earth. The bond we share in this incredible hunting lifestyle is something to behold. Cherish the people in your lives that share it with us, and never fail to celebrate it together at every opportunity. We can't always go hunting together, but we can always reminisce and have fun talking about past hunts and future campfires.
Ed Bilderback; in the wind, he's still alive.
Ted Nugent is an avid hunter. He came to be known as 'The Nuge' and 'The Motor City Madman' during his legendary career as a rock guitarist. He has released more than 34 albums, including the triple-platinum Cat Scratch Fever (1975) and Double Live Gonzo! (1978), and has sold more than 30 million records. He wrote this as a personal tribute to his friend Ed Bilderback. This remembrance first appeared in Alaska Newspapers Inc.'s The Cordova Times and is republished here with permission.
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