I heard the guide starting to breathe faster and faster as the bear continued on a dead run straight at us, 150..100..75…shoot, shoot, shoot!
I know for some people bears just are not their thing…but that’s not me. I have had the chance to hunt black bear, grizzlies and brown bears and have enjoyed every one of those hunts. But there is definitely something about hunting brown bears, their massive size, their incredible strength, power and athleticism. I had the opportunity to hunt brown bears with my dad on the Alaska Peninsula a number of years ago and it is still one of my most memorable hunts. Then a couple years ago I had the chance to hunt brown bears south of Cordova with my bow, which was a truly epic hunt even though I came home empty handed.
Alaska Peninsula Brown Bear Hunt
I couldn’t believe it, here I was sitting on a knob glassing these huge grass flats interspersed with salmon streams watching for my dream bear in some of the most remote country in the world, when I just looked over my shoulder and saw this big dark shape sneaking along the slough to my left….
My dad had booked this hunt for us and I was pumped as I have dreamed for years about taking a brown bear with my bow, but that dream was short lived when I found out that the Outfitter would not let me hunt with my bow. But, beggars cant be choosers, and there was no way I was passing up the opportunity to hunt some of the largest bears on the planet, so I got my .338 dialed in and away we went.
We took off from Seattle to Anchorage to King Salmon where we finally loaded up on our charter flight out to our hunt camp. This hunt area can only be accessed by air or by boat, it is incredibly remote, which is why it tends to grow huge bears and giant moose. I have to say it is rather strange to be in the middle of nowhere and have a nice comfortable lodge with hot water and even satellite tv, but the truth is I didn’t spend much time in the lodge. As soon as we arrived the Outfitter was telling me how the silvers were running and that was all I needed to hear. Dad, his buddy Larry and I grabbed some rods and headed to the river. Even fishing was an adrenaline rush, as not only were we catching chrome bright silvers with almost every cast, but we could see where the brown bears had been catching numerous silvers as well. In fact we used the trails they had beat down along the river to navigate the 6-8ft tall grass.
We had two days to kill at the lodge before we would be flown out to our respective hunting areas. When it was finally time Larry and my dad loaded up in a couple of the Outfitter’s cessnas while I loaded up on the jet boat. My guide and I motored about 45 minutes down the river to where it met up with the Berring Sea. We set up our camp on a nice sandbar covered in giant bear tracks and rigged up our high tech bear warning system a string with pop cans and rocks. Not sure if it worked or not, but the bears tended to walk around our camp every night. From out camp we would hike up on to a nob that overlooked a huge grass flat that ran from the Berring Sea for about 5 miles inland before it hit the foothills. The flat was crisscrossed with salmon rich streams that we glassed for hours and hours on end looking for the right bear.
Brown Bear hunting generally consists of hours upon hours of glassing followed by minutes of absolute excitement and adrenalin. We saw a number of bears the first day, but nothing we wanted to pursue as we were looking for a mature boar. However, the second morning as I was sitting on knob hill as we called it, I happened to look to the east to check a nearby slough that showed a lot of bear activity, my heart jumped up into my throat as I saw a huge black shape coming out of the tall grass, when it stepped into the clear it turned out to be a huge black wolf, well it so happened I had two wolf tags on me and we hadn’t seen any bears in the vicinity so I laid down got a solid rest and BOOM! One shot from the ol .338 and the wolf was down. It actually took two of us to drag him the 350 yards back to knob hill. At this point I was quite happy as I had never had a chance at a wolf even after two sheep hunts in the Yukon, hunts in Northern Alberta and a previous trip to Alaska. Little did I know fortune was shining on me. I had literally just climbed back up Knob hill to start glassing when I picked up movement to my left, I turned and glassed through my trusty Swarovski’s and I was stunned to see another black wolf step out into the slough not even 10 yards from where I had just shot the other one. What did I do? Obviously, I still had 1 tag left…BOOM! In the span of 10 minutes I had shot two black wolves less than 10 yards apart. The guides were very happy as well, since the wolf population had gotten so large in this area that it was decimating the caribou and starting to impact the moose populations as well.
Ok, but I was here to bear hunt, the wolves were an added bonus. Day 3 in the field we woke up to some light rain and more fresh bear tracks around the perimeter of our camp. I ate a little oatmeal, had a cup of coffee and headed up knob hill. We had been glassing for probably 2 hours when we spotted what looked like a pretty decent bear about a mile and a half away. We decided it was worth a closer look, the only problem was there wasn’t exactly a lot of terrain features to hide behind on this huge flat, so it turned into a true game of cat and mouse. Every time the bear looked another direction we would sprint as fast as we could (if you can call it a sprint when wearing hip waders) 25-30 yards and then lay down. The strategy worked like a charm, the only thing was the grass flat was actually floating on top of water, so every time we laid down we got wetter and wetter.
As the stalk progressed the rain got worse and worse, but we were finally within about a ½ mile of the bear and were trying to get a good look at it, when suddenly it stood up on its hind legs for 30 seconds and started looking around, when it dropped back to all 4 legs it came on a dead run straight at us. We still weren’t sure if we wanted to take this bear or not as we watched it closing the distance in an amazingly short amount of time. The guide told me to get my rifle ready just in case, the only problem was that my scope cover had a leak, so I was having a heck of a time trying to see out of it, I finally found a corner of semi-dry shirt and was able to dry the lens just enough to see about this time I could hear the guide starting to breathe faster and faster and then he started calling out yardage, 150 yards, 100, 75 and still the bear was coming on a bee line right at us at 50 yards the guide stood up and started hollering as we just weren’t sure this was a bear we wanted, the bear paid no attention to him whatsoever, next thing I know I hear shoot, shoot, shoot! BOOM…BOOM…BOOM…BOOM! I emptied my gun as quickly as I could with all 4 shots being solid hits (I will claim luck over skill on that as I was shaking like a crab who sees a pot of boiling water). The bear was down not more than 25-30 yards from us. It ended up being a 18 year old dry sow, she went a little over 9ft, so not the monster I was hoping for, but hands down the trophy of a lifetime.
I got back to the lodge on day 5 of the hunt day 7 of my trip, got a chance to get cleaned up and was just sitting down to enjoy an adult beverage with my guide, when the Outfitter came in grinning from ear to ear and said “your dad just shot a monster!” When we finally got the details it turns out my dad and his guide got to watch this massive bear absolutely thrash another bear which they figured would have been close to 10ft. Well my dad’s bear ended up going 10’4” and was aged at over 28 years. It was a true warrior who most likely would not have survived the winter as his winter coat was not coming in, in fact he had a few bare patches (pardon the pun) where he had no hair at all. Two days later we got word that Larry had gotten his bear which ended up going 9’10”. So all in all, we had an amazing trip and the opportunity to make new friends and memories to last a life time.
Brown Bears are the biggest of the big, but not necessarily the baddest of the bad, Brown Bears (as we hunters refer to them) except for Kodiak Brown Bears, are technically classified as the same species as Grizzlies, even though Brown Bears tend to grow substantially larger, live in closer proximity to one another and in general have a less ornery disposition than their interior cousins the Grizzly. However, this doesn’t mean that a Brown Bear still won’t attack people, as we have all seen and heard the stories, but generally they are less inclined to take aggressive action towards people than Grizzlies. Kodiak Brown Bears however are considered their own unique sub-species of bear as a result of their having been separated from the mainland for the last 12,000 years.
For those of you looking to hunt brown bears, there are a few things to keep in mind. The largest bears tend to be found on the Alaska Peninsula and the Kodiak Archipelago. This is mainly due to milder weather overall, longer feeding seasons, and access to high quality food (clams, sedge grass and salmon). But for us as non-resident hunters, these larger bears, truly come with a price as we have to have a guide for these hunts and the hunts on the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak tend to be quite expensive.
However there are still some more affordable options to hunt coastal brown bears and grizzlies, one of my personal favorites is a Coastal Brown Bear hunt near Cordova, we saw 27 bears and made a number of stalks on 9ft plus boars, eventually I made a great shot on a good boar, only to have an equipment failure which resulted in only about 3 inches of arrow penetration. This is a bear every year area and has good numbers of 8.5-10ft bears, plus on fall hunts you can combo Mountain Goat or Moose. We also have baited brown bear hunts, which are high opportunity hunts and great for archery hunters and less mobile hunters. If you want help planning your own Alaskan Adventure, be it brown bears, grizzly, black bear, moose, mountain goat or caribou sign up for Specialty Adventure Services newsletter and then give us a call as we have access to some of the best Outfitters and hunts not only in Alaska but around the world.
Alaska Brown Bear Hunting Overview
The Alaska Peninsula on average produces about one third of the approximately 1500 brown bears harvested every year in Alaska. Alaska alternates between spring and fall seasons on the Peninsula to help protect population numbers, so in odd years they have a fall brown bear season and on even years they have a spring brown bear season.
One of the benefits to hunting the Peninsula is that they are guaranteed tags, meaning you don’t have to put in for the draw. Kodiak on the other hand issues many of its permits by way of the lottery. Depending on which hunt you draw, it may be a fall hunt (Oct 25-Nov 30) or a spring hunt (April 1 – May 15). They also separate the tags into resident versus non-resident, and only give out a total of 496 tags.
So if you want to hunt Kodiak and are a non-resident you will need to book a hunt with an outfitter and then put in for the draw, as you cannot submit an application for the draw as a non-resident unless you can show you have a contract with a guide/outfitter. In addition, both Kodiak and the Peninsula limit how often a hunter can harvest a bear with current limits being 1 bear every 4 years.
But let’s not forget, there are lots of great coastal brown bear and grizzly hunts on the mainland as well. So if a Brown Bear or Grizzly hunt is on your list, stop waiting and saying someday, we can help you make it happen today.
Give Shad a call at 509-679-0225 to plan your next world class hunting adventure.