The death of Arthur Dubs a few weeks back brought to mind our conversations of six years ago. We were discussing his life and the possibility of me writing his biography; however, after a few meetings, telephone conversations and a few beginnings, we just couldn't get the project going.
A multi-millionaire, movie mogul, philanthropist and one of the world's legendary big-game trophy hunters, Dubs rarely let a day go by without dreaming of his next outdoor adventure.
An Internet search will tell you that Arthur Dubs took his polar bear in 1960, but an old-fashioned search of newspapers will show you it was actually 1961.
The bear stood nearly 12 feet tall on its hind legs and is estimated to have weighed at least a ton. It's located in Elko, Nev., at the Commercial Hotel and Casino, where a sign incorrectly says it was killed by Eskimos.
Dubs downed more than 200 of the world's top trophy animals on six continents.
One of Dubs' biggest unfulfilled dreams was a museum to house his animal collection. He wanted it to be located in Medford or at least in the Rogue Valley, his home for his entire life.
— Bill Miller
When I last spoke with him, he had just returned from a hunt in the mountains of the former Soviet Union. He had hoped to bring home another world-record sheep that would top the two previous world records he already held, but for one of the first times in his life, he failed. Well into his mid 70s, he admitted the trek had been just too demanding.
In the home that he built himself when he was barely 20 years old, Dubs showed my wife and me his private museum, a couple of dozen mounted sheep that he had killed over the years, including the Desert Bighorn he shot in Arizona's Aravaipa Canyon in 1988, the largest ever taken.
He said it was that bighorn that, after nearly 20 years away, had rekindled his love of hunting and the outdoors.
"I was involved in construction, the film business and a lot of other things at the time," he said. "I finally stepped back and realized I wasn't having much fun. I had to get back to nature while I could still get around."
He had begun hunting small animals as a boy near the family home along Bear Creek in Phoenix. By the time he was 30, he was designing and building custom homes and making enough money to take on bigger game.
In 1961, well known Rogue Valley landowner and sportsman John Day suggested Dubs hunt polar bears in Alaska. There, on March 3 in the Bering Strait, Dubs took down his first and perhaps most enduring record — the world's largest polar bear.
"We flew out from Kotzebue, Alaska, about 180 miles to the Siberian sector of Russia," he said. "We saw bear tracks on an ice pack, landed and began to hunt him."
It wasn't long before the bear appeared from behind an ice mound, and at 350 yards away, Dubs began firing.
"I loaded up my rifle twice before I could bring it down," he said.
It was an unusually warm day, and Dubs said that after he and his guide had skinned the bear and began dragging the heavy hide back to the plane, they could hear the ice cracking all around them.
"We barely got off and we only had five gallons of gas left," he said, "but we made it back and landed just before sunset."
It was his hunting and the movie camera he always brought along that brought Dubs to the movie business in the early 1970s. His first major success, "American Wilderness," was a carefully edited collection of scenes filmed during six years of personal hunting trips. It was shot for $26,000, self-edited in his Medford home, and grossed more than $12 million in theaters.
One of the most successful independent moviemakers of all time, the man who brought the world 14 family-friendly adventure films, including "Windwalker" and "The Adventures of the Wilderness Family," Dubs surprised Hollywood in the mid-1980s by walking away.
"Anything I want to do, I know I can get there," he told me. "Even if I have to work day and night, I'll do it. I never run out of gas."
In many ways, Arthur Dubs was like the sheep he loved to hunt. No matter how difficult the path ahead, he would tenaciously butt heads with any obstacle and ultimately reach his goal.
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at email@example.com.