Hosea Rollo Sarber


Hosea Sarber,
The Man,
The Adventurer,
His Letters

Joseph A. Larkin, CPL

When you do research, you might find chronicles of some famous person from the past who really needs to be introduced to the hunters, gun lovers and adventurers of today. Just such a person was Hosea Sarber of Petersburg, Alaska. Hosea Rollo Sarber, was born April 11, 1897 and reared on a farm near Tyner, Indiana. I am sure he would have never guessed, that he would have a life of adventure in Alaska, that any red-blooded person could but. . . envy!

Hosea found a love for the out-of-doors through his life on the farm. He lost the sight of his left eye to a band saw blade that snapped while making a toy. This accident did not hamper his expert shooting ability. At the tender age of nine, Hosea and a buddy arranged for his first rifle by jointly compiling a letter order to Sears and Roebuck along with the tidy sum of three dollars, seventy-five cents, money earned by driving cattle for fifty cents a month. That rifle was a Stevens "Little Scout" .22 single shot. His dad did not know of the purchase so when the rifle came, Hosea hid the package under the schoolhouse until dark and then brought it home. When his dad found out about the gun, he gave a stern warning about gun accidents. That warning stayed with Hosea for life, as he never had a gun accident. His new purchase accounted for many a sparrow and woodchuck.

Hosea started his life of adventure in 1915, by taking a job as a harvest hand in the Dakotas. After the harvest, he returned to the farm at Tyner, Indiana. Hosea later enlisted in the Merchant Marine. His tour of duty took him to many seaports, including China and Japan. When his enlistment was up, he returned to Tyner for what would be the last time.

He headed for Alaska in 1922 and became a registered guide, later working for the U.S. Public Survey in Alaska on field surveys and even later, becoming an Alaskan Game Warden. One of his assignments was, as a member of the August 15, 1935, search for the ill-fated airplane of Will Rogers, the famous comedian and his equally famous pilot, Wylie Post.

I first heard of Hosea, while doing research on the famous Dr. Russell C. Smith custom rifles and found that the doctor corresponded with Hosea Sarber for many years, before moving from Barron,Wisconsin, to Petersburg, Alaska, in June of 1951. Dr. Smith's entry in this scenario started with an article in the February 1948 issue of American Rifleman, titled "Self-Loaded Gunnerman", written by F. Wallace Taber. Mr. Taber described a man who had multiple talents as a writer woodsman, stock maker, public relations expert, and game warden for the, then, territory of Alaska, soon to become our 49th state.

I learned later, that Hosea received literally hundreds of letters about that article. Each requesting all sorts of advice and favors. After a long search, I finally located and started corresponding with Hosea's son, Frank. He was very friendly and helpful, by allowing me to review and copy his father's correspondence with the many persons to whom Hosea had written over the years. It is filed in my library. For example, stock makers like Tom Shelhammer, Alvin Linden, Al Biesen, as well as, numerous other gun makers of the day, offered and traded advice, each recognizing Hosea as knowledgeable in his own right. Some wanted to become acquainted with a famous personage, as many letters were from armchair hunters, who never hunted anything bigger than a gopher. Some wanted to go to Alaska to hunt the gigantic Brown Bear, the ultimate Alaskan trophy. Many that wrote to Hosea, asked about the guns and the loads that he used on his hunting trips and job assignments. Several letters were from famous authors and magazine writers from all over the world. Famous gun writers such as Jack O'Connor, Warren Page and other scribes were considering plans, possibly hunts with Hosea. Many industrialists and famous personages of the day were also in constant correspondence with him, about hunting and advice.

His huge letter files reflect his interest and caring for the riflemen of that day.

Many of Hosea's articles can be found in issues of the American Rifleman magazine for the years, 1946, 47, 48, and 51. He submitted to other magazines, but at this writing I am not acquainted with them, perhaps a reader might advise, for reference, if any are located.

I located an interesting article on "Bears by Hosea in the book, The Great Outdoors (Brown and Bigelow, 1947). Hosea is mentioned profusely in Frank Dufresne's book, No Room for Bears (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965). Hosea's son, Frank sent me his dad's copy, signed by Frank Dufresne and I highly treasure it, among all of my collectibles. The copies of the Sarber letters too. One of the finest things a man or woman can have , is the reputation of being "The Best". Hosea Sarber is the perfect example of that. His untimely death in 1952 brought an end to a giant of the gun world. He must never be forgotten! Let us always remember, when we pick up an old book or magazine and thumb through the pages, we are placed in a different era of attitude. The writers of those times past were confident in themselves and did not depend on the "political correctness" of today or have people to do for them. They did everything for themselves. Something the young folks of today must learn.

The thoughts conveyed to us in the "fresh air" writings of those wonderful scribes of the past allow us to live each adventure with the writer, as we glue our interest to each page of a book or magazine of those wonderful days. There is no such thing as an old book or magazine article, there is just a change of authorship that creates the realistic view and attitude from the past. As I mentioned, the adventures of the past were such that life and limb were involved in every movement of a hunting trip. The game animal they sought, could change the role of the hunted, to the hunter. . . in an instant! The old-timers clearly conveyed this very thought in their articles. Let's find all the old hunting books and resurrect the old magazine articles on adventure and let the modern readers decide for themselves.




By F. Wallace Taber
Waves licked monotonously at the barnacle-covered rocks of Mitkof Island. A bald eagle lifted from the carcass of a salmon, floated lazily aloft. Herring gulls' raucous expletives rent the solitude. A sea otter slid from the kelp and submerged. Even the glistening ravens reveled in the warming sun's glow so seldom experienced in drizzly southeast Alaska.

Hosea Sarber took in all of these things with a single glance. All these and more. Stealthily, he edged from rock to rock, sometimes stretching for a reassuring peek, again squirming on his knees through a tide pool. Hosea felt the sun's warmth. So did his quarry, now basking on the crests of the waves 300 yards offshore.

When he reached his nearest vantage point, Hosea eased the barrel over the top of a kelp-festooned boulder. A 10-power scope brought the hair seal closer as the dot wavered, seeking a spot midway of the forehead. Gently, Hosea maneuvered his rifle in cadence with the rise and fall of the ocean where the wary seal rocked.

hairy seal

Years of experience dictated the exact spot where the bullet must enter the skull to bring instant death. A fraction of an inch of error, although it would still kill, would allow the seal to submerge. Hosea had lost many of the oceanic dogs before he mastered the trick. Now, though 250 yards and an undulating sea added hazard to the shot, Hosea squeezed with assurance mustered only of experience.

Croaking, the raven bounded from the rocks at the blast. The eagle flapped furiously to gain altitude. Gulls screamed as the sharp roar swiftly drifted to sea and was lost. Gushing blood turned the surf to crimson. The seal floated, dead -- proof sufficient of the accuracy of Hosea's aim.

Ten minutes later, Hosea eased his outboard-driven skiff out of hiding and sped alongside the bobbing seal. Shortly, there were four seals in the bottom of the boat and Hosea's work was accomplished.

Yes, I said work. Collecting seals is as much a part of Hosea Sarber's work as cancelling checks is a banker's. And no more skilled engineer, no finer master of his craft anywhere than he. Shooting and all the preliminary events from hand-loading to stalking is with Sarber a science bred of constant practice. Even the guns with which he performs his miracle shots are scientifically hand-manufactured by Sarber.

"Store-bought guns and ammo sort of leave me cold," he said, when I put the question. "Besides, fashioning the stock and hand loading the ammo is half the fun . . . like the first nine holes of golf." He practices what he preaches, too!

HRSarber Hosea Sarber in his office - Petersburg, Alaska

To talk with the man at his desk in Petersburg, Alaska, amid a den full of trophies, including no less than fifty blanks from which rifle stocks will be fashioned . . . to talk with him is most misleading. From his one good eye a crisp smile originates and spreads down sturdily-chiseled features to satisfyingly lift the corners of his mouth. Nowhere a more contagious greeting. In manner, he is mild. As an authority on Alaskan wildlife as well as all phases of shooting, he would be the last suspected, Yet there is none more experienced.

Although he modestly refrains from comment, any sourdough north of Metlakatla will promptly christen Hosea Sarber the world's greatest bear hunter. In his forty-five years, he has shot more black, brown, grizzly, Kodiak, and polar bears with both camera and rifle than any man alive or dead. So schooled in the ways of the wild is he that stalking a Kodiak to within twenty feet is commonplace. Last summer, he put U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cameraman Emmett Haddon within five feet of a giant brown bear. And, heavens to Betsy, Haddon lingered to snap the photo! Hosea had promised Haddon a shot at fifteen feet. As a consequence, Haddon's exposure was out of focus . . . so was the Texan's hair! Not so Hosea's .375 Magnum. All the time, safety off, it was pointing at the base of the grizzly's neck. One false move and the bear would have been a rug.

"Fortunately for all concerned," said Haddon, "especially me, she didn't waver from her course as she passed."

Sarber was born a Hoosier with a genealogy boasting a combination of Scottish, Irish, and German. Born of farming parents, Hosea naturally acquired a love for the out-of-doors. A companion love for guns was a logical aftermath. Addressing a letter "Dear Mr. Sears Roebuck" at the tender age of nine and without his parents' knowledge, Sarber gained his first gun -- a .22 Stevens Little Scout single shot.

"I recall." said Hosea, "I got it with cash I made at the rate of fifty cents a month driving cattle.The little gaspipe cost mr three dollars and seventy-five cent. I had a hell of a time making out the order. With the help of a sidekick, we wrote the letter telling Mr. Sears Roebuck the number of the catalogue page. We haunted the post office. When it finally arrived. we were so scared we hid the package under the schoolhouse until dark. That wonderful long-range weapon killed many a sparrow and woodchuck, out to an extreme range of fifty yards or more.

"When Dad learned about it, he consented to let me keep the gun, but gave me strictly to understand no accidents! He gave me instructions and, Mister, I knew better than to violate those stern words of wisdom . I've never had a gun accident."

Hosea wasn't counting the "gun" accident which cost him the sight of one eye. Barely five years old, he was fashioning a wooden gun on an old band saw when suddenly the machine flew to pieces. Fortunately, his one-eyed vision puts to shame that commanded by the majority of unhandicapped.

Today, Sarber, almost without regret, advises, "I have always had exceptionally fine eyesight. Seems to have made my right eye much stronger. Being normally right handed, I find that the accident, if anything, made shooting even more of a natural for me -- no master eye or any such thing."

Sarber sought bigger game than woodchucks, squirrels, cottontails, and the like which the middle West had to offer. Before he was twenty years old, he was Arctic bound. The gold he sought was on the Kenai, on Admiralty, Chichigof, Kodiak, and in the Stikine. It had four legs, a keen sense of self-preservation, and a fabulous reputation. What teen-age lad hasn't thrilled to the identical urge and promised himself that someday he, too, would kill a giant Kodiak, a grizzly or Alaskan brown bear. The only difference was that Hosea kept his promise.

In the months that followed, he trod the Klondike, mushed over little-traveled trails and sieved the vast expanse of wilderness for nuggets few others sought. To his repertoire were added caribou, moose, deer, goats, and sheep. But, most of all, it included bears. How many bears? Even Hosea will not hazard a guess. No, his war on bears has not been that of a gun-crazed game hog. On the contrary, Hosea has photographed far more bears than he ever hopes to shoot. His work, however, often calls for shooting bears, even as it does for collecting seals. For, Hosea had not been in Alaska long ere he learned that he could both work and play at his favorite pastime . . . just being out of doors. It was fifteen years ago that he joined the Alaska Game Commission for which he still serves, now as Wildlife Agent.

Having had an opportunity offered few men, Sarber grew to know guns and ammunition not by their trade-mark, their publicity, or their factory ballistics. Sarber learned about them in relation to their effect upon big-game targets. He learned and was not satisfied. Even the stocks made by the masters failed to fit him properly. Fifteen years ago Hosea began fashioning his own. Even before that, he was reloading his own ammunition. Today Sarber is famous throughout the Territory not only for his marksmanship but for his meticulously tooled stocks and fastidiously tried and proven hand-loads.

"I started with the old Krag .30-40," he reminisced. "Also load for the '06, .279, .257, .220 Swift, .220 Arrow, .22 Varminter, and am tooling up for others, mostly wildcats. I reload because of the finer ammunition resulting -- better accuracy and more killing power -- as well as for the economy where thousands of shots are fired. Too, it's half the fun of shooting."

When I visited him at the Petersburg office of the Alaska Game Commission, Sarber showed me his gun collection, which includes nine Model 70 rifles in .375 Magnum, .30-'06, .270, and .220 Swift calibers. Also, it includes four .220 Arrows and a .22 Varminter. All the varmint rifles have heavy or bull barrels. Finally, there is a fine little Mauser in .257 caliber and several Mauser actions recently acquired and destined to assume a place in the gallery after painstaking revamping.

Sarber's preference in scopes on the varmint-type rifles with which he lambasts seals and such are the Lyman Targetspot in the Jr. and the Super-Targetspot in 10 power. For light hunting-type rifles, Hosea prefers the Lyman Alaskan. In all, he uses Lee Dots. For mounts he prefers the Tilden and Redfield Jr.

Game Commissioner

"Such guns as the '06 and the .270 with proper loads" (the italics are Sarber's!) "I use for everything in this north country and have no complaints insofar as killing power with my handloads is concerned. Factory ammo, however, is a sad story. I have used the .375 on brownies and like it but, again, factory bullets are no good for heavy game like that. They won't penetrate . . . go to pieces like tallow. When I am guiding a cameraman whose life depends upon my ability to shoot, I want tp stake my confidence in the .375 or the 160-grain Barnes bullet and 53 grains of 4350 powder is plenty all right. I have killed three big brownies with this load . . . one shot each!"

The seal-control work at which Sarber excels is not entirely practiced as a seal-control measure. Although there is a bounty on the hair seal in southeast Alaska because of its depredations on the salmon industry, Sarber's control is only a means to an end. He uses the seals in manufacturing a highly attractive wolf poison.

"For some reason, the blubber of the seal makes the most efficient bait known for wolves," Sarber told me. "Wolves go nuts over it. I also ship barrels of the processed oil to the States and other points for use on coyotes and other predators."

Quizzed on the necessity for wolf control, Sarber advised that in southeast Alaska it was a must.

"Without control," he said, "the wolf increases completely out of proportion. The devastation on deer, smaller game, and fur-bearing species is unbelievable. Even beaver are practically exterminated where wolves are allowed to increase uncontrolled."

Ensconced in the Game Commission's boat Black Bear, powered with a 110-horsepower Buda Diesel hi-speed engine,Sarber patrols the world's greatest and most picturesque inland seaway which runs Juneau to Metlakatla. On deck the thirty-eight footer is both skiff and speedboat, which will put Sarber into the shallowest of bays or the narrowest of narrows at speeds up to twenty-five miles an hour.

Early last fall, Sarber was patrolling the moose-hunting country far up a mainland river. Through the grapevine which superlatively exists in the sparsely settled Territory, he learned of a cow moose which had been illegally shot and left to rot. Although comparable to searching for the proverbial needle, Sarber ultimately found the kill. By then it was two weeks dead. As he had anticipated, a big bear was in full possession of the remains. As is its custom, the giant bear had scratched more than a ton of turf, brush, sod and other debris over the carcass. When Sarber came on the scene, the brownie, a really big and fine specimen, was lying right on top of the kitchen midden.

"At my approach, the bear raised up on his haunches," Sarber told me, "a purely defiant attitude which indicated back seats not available -- SRO"

"I eased up to about seventy-five feet and huffed at him a bit to see just how determined he was. I learned! I also spoke to him several times and walked back and forth to make sure he saw me. At times like this, a grizzly is really dangerous. They are not to be monkeyed with.

"Satisfied that his attitude was defiant, I gave him a handloaded 160-grain Barnes bullet under the eye from the .270 and settled the argument. He was a beautiful specimen. Wonderful pelt. Too bad some hunter could not have had him. His pelt is now well salted and will be mounted for my office wall."

"Incidentally," Sarber postscripted, "enough evidence was found at the moose kill to convict the three men involved in the cow killing!"

The P.S. is typical of the Sarber modesty. Although repeatedly unable to secure a statement other than, "quite a few," in reply to my how-many-bears question, I finally secured a hair-raiser which almost prompts me to sell my camera and invest in '06's or the like.

"I guess my narrowest escape from bears was the time the big female Kodiak came back with her two grown cubs -- two-year olds." Sarber related the story only because Forrest Examiner Jay Williams could verify it' he was 500 yards off watching through binoculars.

"I was taking photos and acting as a guide, guard, at cetera," Hosea said. "The bears were feeding in a typical grassy meadow at the head of a bay. In order to get the photos, I had to come out of the forest between the bears and their only cover. Needless to say, this was inviting catastrophe. I knew of the danger but wanted the shots. So long as I was quiet and careful, all went well. Once in position, I snapped shot after shot of the bears moving about unaware of my presence. Distances varied from twenty-five to forty feet!"

"Finally, one of the cubs spotted me at about sixty feet distance. Immediately, he began huffing and blowing. This set the mother on fire. As the old girl huffed and blew, I took one more photo before discarding the camera for the Springfield with its 200-grain handload. It wasn't necessary to fire, however, for the she-bear soon settled down again. Sensing the alarm was over, i put the rifle over my arm with the safety still off and picked up the camera for more shots. As I did this, my arm accidentally lifted the bolt handle."

"No sooner had I begun to maneuver for another shot when the she-bear got her cubs before her and started for cover. She was going well around me. Feeling that she was not trouble bent, I jumped up and rushed at her, huffing and blowing. I knew she would stop, possibly turn and give me one last parting picture. Not so this old gal. She stopped only long enough to swing her ponderous weight about face and rage into determined charge. Although both cubs came along full speed with the mother, I was concerned only with the she-bear."

"Carefully -- it has to be done this way or else -- I eased off a shot only to have the rifle misfire because of the lifted bolt. With but seconds to spare, I managed to jack in another cartridge and get the shot off. It had to be perfect. There would have been no third opportunity. The bullet entered just back of the left jaw, smashed the neck and lodged in the back of the right lung. I learned this later. At the moment, my greatest relief came from the fact that she had been knocked flat. The cubs veered, passed me at fifteen feet racing for cover. I had the rifle on them but didn't need to shoot. When Jay and I later measured the distance, the telling shot was gotten off at twenty-seven feet!"

Hosea explained to my query that he ran at her only to stop her for more photos. "It was purely a case of provacation. Cameramen are all nuts anyway! I know that she would not have charged had I not provoked her. I did learn one thing from the encounter, however. Brownies and grizzlies can definitely be turned back for photos and such by making certain sounds at them. I have done this a number of times since."

As successful gunnermen go, never was there a more perfectly handloaded melodrama than that which satisfied the dreams of a Hoosier farm lad who got his first gun by writing "Dear Mr. Sears Roebuck."