Ed Bilderback - Gone but never forgotten

From Ed’s daughter: Donee Bilderback-LeBeau

Dear friends & family,
I am sending you the copy of the obituary I just finished for Dad. It is probably too long and too personal for the newspaper, but I honestly felt like I held back as much as I could and still give an accurate picture of who Dad was. Anyway, the newspapers (Hilo, Ketchikan, Anchorage, Cordova) will probably edit this down, so I wanted to forward a copy of the original onto you. The hardest part of this process was going through the pictures of Dad and trying to select something to go with his obit……

I keep thinking I’ve cried every last tear I could possibly
have…. but I guess I’m not done yet……….

A Tribute to the Late Ed Bilderback by Ted Nugent

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 this morning at 9:05am, 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.

One of Fred Bear's greatest adventures and by his side, the great Ed Bilderback

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 1962, when at mere feet, Fred arrowed the longstanding world record Brown bear with Ed at his side.

Didn't matter the weapon, Ed was a master marksman with them all.

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.

Ed and Ted - Two kindred spirits.

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 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.


The lifelong sourdough hunter, fisherman, logger, trapper, miner; Ed E. Bilderback, age 84, from Cordova Alaska, died on January 30, 2011, in Anchorage, Alaska. He is survived by his children; Dan Bilderback of Anchorage, Donee Bilderback-LeBeau of Ketchikan, and Brian Bilderback of Roseburg, OR. Also by his sister Ethel Johnson of Cordova; and grandchildren Shay LeBeau of Ketchikan, Luke LeBeau of Chandler, AZ, Jesse LeBeau of Burbank, CA., Sage Bilderback of Anchorage, and his great grandson, Trejan LeBeau, Chandler, AZ.

Ed with his grandchildren: (l to r) Jesse, Luke and Shay Bilderback-LeBeau.

Ed was born in 1926 in Port Townsend, Washington, and lived there till his family moved to Ketchikan, Alaska when he was 9 years old. He and his brother Don Bilderback helped their father with an independent logging operation where they sold trolling & telephone poles, as well as logs to the spruce mill in Ketchikan. They began hunting & trapping at early ages, and won many prizes over the years that where offered locally.

After serving in the Army during WWII, Ed & Don purchased the Hansen Boat ‘Valiant Maid’ in 1948. They relocated to Prince William Sound and began commercial seining there. Over the years Ed also used that boat for seal hunting, charters, delivering mail during the winter months in the Sound, big game guiding (to the likes of good friend, Fred Bear, the archery king) and as a base for trapping for fur as well as for live animals for the zoo’s in the lower ’48 (He sent live wolverines, bears, and land otters). His exploits took him as far as Unimak Island on the Alaska Peninsula, to the southeast waters of Ketchikan. There are several films that still show on the Outdoor Channel, of some of these early adventures.

In 1966, Ed took his seine boat to Hawaii to fish crab, and charter
with the University of Hawaii till 1979, where he then returned with
the boat to Alaska. While in Hawaii he took up archery, and loved
hunting the lava fields in the mountains at Pouhakuloa, on the Big Island of Hawaii..

Fresh sheep, goat, and pig where always handed out to friends during those years. He brought many hunting friends from Hawaii back to Alaska to fish and hunt, and it was arguably the best times of their lives! Also during that time period, he still leased other boats & fished each summer in Alaska. Later, after helping with clean-up on the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Ed refurbished the Valiant Maid to it’s former glory.

In his later years, Ed concentrated his time and energy to placer gold mining out of Cape Yakataga, on the Gulf of Alaska. It’s rugged
beauty and rustic/primitive charm fit perfectly with his pioneering
spirit! Many great adventures and sunny summer days were enjoyed by family & friends with him there.

Papa Bear with his most trusted of guides Ed Bilderback.

Ed always did exactly what he wanted to in his life, and made his living doing all the things he loved! He was a doer, a giver, a sharer, an encourager, and a living inspiration. To the old timers he was an acknowledged leader, and to the “young-timers” he was considered a living legend. He truly lived life with an exclamation mark! His keen wit, great sense of humor, incredible background, and enthusiasm for life made him a favorite with all who knew him. He enriched the life of so many of us. We salute this great man, and will keep his memory alive in our hearts for years to come. Thank you Ed, for sharing some of your greatness with those of us who have known you, and loved you, all these years. As you’ve always said, “Happy trails………until we meet again”.

Family & friends are invited to celebrate Ed’s life on May 7, 2011, in
Cordova, Alaska.. More details will follow.