Donations to the NRA National Firearms Museum tend to vary. A well cared for colonial musket, a prized hunting rifle, or the pistol grandpa kept in his nightstand. Each are inspected, restored (when necessary), and if it is truly a fine piece ... put on display. That wasn't quite the case when it came the polar bear we have in the lobby.
Donated by the estate of Robert E. Petersen, this polar bear was the first ever taken with a handgun. On the left you see Senior Curators Doug Wicklund and Phil Schreier unloading the the 12-foot 8-inch polar bear from the trailer. Later joined by National Firearms Museum Director Jim Supica, Assistant Curator Matt Sharpe and a few helping hands, they found the perfect spot to put Petersen's bear on display.
On February 26, 1965, publishing magnate Robert E. Petersen was hunting outside the village of Kotzebue, Alaska in the Arctic Circle. With a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum, Petersen came within 25 yards of the 1,500 pound polar bear and took him with five shots. How cold was it? Records show that temperatures were hovering at 50 degrees below zero.
Here's what NFM's Wendy Cunningham had to say about the polar experience:
“I know what you're thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” Made infamous in by Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty” Harry Callahan, surely, had Dirty Harry been released sixteen years earlier, Mr. Robert E. Petersen might have been reciting this to himself as he raised his Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum to singlehandedly take a 1500 pound polar bear, the newest addition to NRA Headquarters, and the Robert E. Petersen Collection ...
Fast forward forty-six years later, I watched in wonder as my coworkers struggled to set Mr. Petersen’s prized polar bear upright, my 5 foot four inch frame dwarfed in comparison. The skill, the nerve, and the firepower it took to take this bear. It was five shots, not six, and that bear’s luck just ran out.
Read the rest of Wendy's coverage on the American Hunter magazine website.