It was as if it were a gift from heaven. After helping to guide four guys for brown bears in Southeast Alaska, I had a week left in the season to hunt one for myself. My friend Jim Boyce, one of the best bear guides I know, and two friends were in on the deal, so off we went. The weather was sucky the whole time, with heavy rains and winds and a rough ocean, but we kept plugging along until one afternoon, the sun came out and we found him catching salmon on a stream mouth.
A quick stalk and I was within 35 yards and came to full draw as the bear grabbed a fish and turned and walked right at me. I held the bow until he was at 15 yards, and when he turned to walk back up the creek I put the 20-yard pin on his ribs and let her fly. He was quartering away and my broadhead hit the bear perfectly; it ran just 17 steps before piling up dead right in the middle of the river.
Would you be able to hold it together after sneaking with 15 yards of this monster brown bear with only bow in hand? When I plunked him in the ribs he only ran 17 steps before falling over graveyard dead..
Talk about a rush! For the area he is a big bear, squaring 8?, 6? with a perfectly dark near-black hide. You can read all about it in the upcoming issue of Bowhunting Xtreme. But the whole thing got me to thinking about bowhunting grizzly and brown bears and the issue of when someone is really ready for the challenge.
That issue was driven home on the guide portion of this trip. One of the clients brought his bow, but he was a poor shot with mismatched equipment and little real bowhunting experience. I watched him shoot a few practice shots ? he had to be forced to shoot before we left ? and it scared me. Thankfully after the first day, when a whopper bear walked within 25 yards of him and he failed to even draw his bow, he came to his senses and became a gun hunter, because the chances were real that had he loosed an arrow at a big brown bear it would have turned into a real problem.
I speak with a lot of bowhunters from coast to coast each year. Most of them hunt locally, but all of them dream about one day hunting an exotic place for a dream animal. For many, that dream animal is a big bear. To them I say two things ? Excellent!, and then I say, you best get ready, because drawing on 800 to 1,000 pounds of an animal as fast, powerful, and nasty as a grizzly or brown bear you have stalked on the ground is absolutely nothing like shooting at a whitetail buck from a treestand.
If you share this dream, you need to do a few things to get yourself prepared above and beyond the usual stuff like making sure your equipment is perfectly matched and tuned. Perhaps the most important is choosing the right outfitter. There are lots of outfitter choices, and you want to hunt with one who has experience with archers.
Because you will probably not hunt with the outfitter himself but instead one of his guides, ask if he has a guide who is either a bowhunter himself or has experience guiding bowhunters. This is very important! Your guide will be the one who gets you into position for a shot and also be there with a big rifle to protect your back should things get a tad dicey.
Also, in most places you can hunt spring or fall. I recommend bowhunters choose the fall, for two reasons. First, the bears will be concentrated on salmon streams, making them easier to locate and creating some noise to help mask the sound of your stalk. Second, spring weather is very iffy. If you end up hunting while there is still a ton of snow on the ground, your chances of a bow shot are greatly reduced. Fall weather is more predictable.
Of great importance is bowhunting experience from the ground. If you are a tree stand hunter, make it a point to stalk some deer, wild hogs, or other animals so you can get a feel for what it takes. If you have never hunted black bears before, do so, even if it is from a tree stand over bait. That will help you when it comes time to precisely place your arrow as well as see how bears move.
Lastly, keep in mind that even though accepting this challenge has inherent risks, more and more bowhunters are successfully stalking grizzlies and brown bears every year. Most of them are average dudes just like us, guys who do not make a ton of money but love to bow hunt and have spent most of their field time deer hunting. It is not an impossible dream, just one that takes some serious thought and preparation to make come true.
For me, it is addictive. To date I have taken 12 brown/grizzly bears, three of them with a bow, and been in on twice as many other successful hunts either as a guide or hunting with friends. Sneaking within spitting distance of a huge bear with nothing but bow in hand is guaranteed to slow time down to a crawl and make your hands sweat, even on a frosty fall Alaska morning.
It is guaranteed to make memories you will never, ever forget.