By day nine of the hunt, my 67-year-old bowhunter?s body was beginning to feel pretty whipped, then someone spotted a bear and I again rose to the occasion.
My guide and I climbed for a hour to reach a spot where we?d seen the bedded brown. When we got there, I peered over the edge and saw the furry
mass less than 15 yards below the cliff. Perfect. We waited a few minutes
to catch our breath and regain mental control.
As I started to draw, Fred tapped me on the shoulder and quietly whispered,
?No, it?s a sow.?
Sure enough, there, tucked-in close was a pair of tiny 10 or 15-pound
cubs that neither of us had seen until that last possible moment. We backed-up
quietly and quickly, without disturbing her in the slightest.
Even an Ohio bowhunter like me knew we?d be in big trouble, smack-dab
in the middle of her bedroom, if she woke up and found us there. An hour
later, when we returned to the shoreline, we looked up and she was still
snoozing with her babies.
The dream hunt began simply enough, during a conversation at my indoor
3-D league, when I casually mentioned I?d always wanted to hunt Alaskan
brown bear, but figured my dream was unattainable because of affordability.
It was three days later when the shop owner, Gary Pierce, called me
about an opening for two to hunt on Kodiak Island. A last-minute cancellation
necessitated a quick-fill by the outfitter?at a bargain price that fell
within my limited financial range. Would I care to join him? Would I!
When I contacted the outfitter to book the hunt, he graciously extended
the hunt from 10 to 15 days when I told him I?d be hunting with a bow instead
of a firearm. What I didn?t mention was that I?m retired and 67 years old?in
addition to being an avowed traditional bowman.
I received words of encouragement from my best bowhunting buddy, John
Rook, a nationally-known blind bowhunter. With John?s simply phrased, ?Go
for it!? I knew I made the right decision.
With less than 10 days to prepare, I stocked-up on rain gear and beefed-up
my Bob Lee longbow with a set of 70-pound limbs. Even with only three days
of practice, in a few arrows I was confident. If you go up in both bow
and arrow weight, everything else stays relevant in the shooter?s mind.
I was all set.
And then, in a blink of the proverbial eye and a pinch to make sure
I wasn?t dreaming, I was standing on the airport tarmac on Kodiak Island.
Layne Wilder, one of the guides, was there to meet Gary and me.
?You must be the crazy bowhunter from Ohio who wants to take a brown
bear with a stick and a string!? he smiled.
Layne, an employee of outfitter Fred O?Hearn, looked too young to be
a bear guide?though, at my age, everyone looks real young. Layne reported
that Fred had already located a couple of bears and one was hanging around
in an area near camp?and he said he was excited about hosting his first
bowhunters on a Kodiak adventure. My anticipation and excitement swelled.
We spent two days in Kodiak City obtaining our licenses, bear tags,
visiting with the locals and shopping for souvenirs. Everyone seemed amazed
I was hunting with a longbow.
As our float plane circled above our home for the next two weeks, we
could survey the campsite. We stayed in a 4-man dome tent and Layne had
his own 2-man tent. There was a one-room cabin tucked back in a spruce
pine grove, which served as a dining area and where Fred stayed and did
the cooking. There was also a large tent for skinning?if we were lucky.
During my first three days in Alaska, it rained at least five times.
But I was in awe of the terrain and scenery?it was everything I dreamed
it would be.
On fly-in day we couldn?t hunt, so we got a good taste of glassing the
mountainside. We watched a bear bed down and decided we?d try for it in
I didn?t sleep much that night, thinking about my first stalk and my
first Alaskan hunt. After a hearty breakfast, Fred and I started up the
mountain. The bear was still bedded and inactive?which is common for bears
first out of hibernation. Early in the spring, they will often gorge themselves
on food, then sleep for hours, Fred said.
Following a three-hour climb, we were level with the bear, only 90 yards
away. From a ravine, we could see him, facing up, laying on his rump. I
was challenged with covering 90 yards over short mountain grass without
being seen or winded.
I told Fred to stay put and I?d slip-up on the bear from below. When
I got there, I told Fred he could whistle, and when the bear stood up,
I?d be able to get a good shot from 15 yards.
?No way!? Fred laughed. ?Rule number one in this country is ?never leave
your hunter alone.? That bear would be on you before I could have the safety
off ?Big Iron? (that?s what he called his .375 H&H Mag.). We?ll both
We hadn?t traveled 20 yards when the bear began to move and looked in
our direction. He caught us right out in the open, and all we could do
was fall against the mountain and freeze in position. He stood on his hind
legs and began to sniff the air, trying to scent us.
It was the most magnificent thing I?d ever seen. He was huge, beautiful?and
Luckily the wind favored us and he wasn?t sure what we were. Fred used
a fawn distress call as he circled above us?hoisting his enormous frame
onto his hind legs four times, sniffing. Then he scrambled away, up and
over the mountain.
We were down the mountain in half the time it had taken to climb it.
But now, the excitement and adrenaline had really taken hold of me. Back
at camp, I began to practice diligently out to 40 yards?about my limit.
One of the guides reported he?d glassed another bear on a mountain across
the bay. By the time we crossed the bay and reached the area, he was nowhere
to be found. Such is spring bear hunting in the mountains of Kodiak Island.
But I remained determined.
The wind seemed to blow all the time and from every direction. For the
next two days it rained and snowed periodically, with one literal white-out.
During that time, we saw only two bears, both above the snowline and unstalkable.
Then, finally, the sun returned and we had a beautiful, clear day. We
hiked for about six miles to reach an area where we could see three different
While I didn?t relish the idea of climbing one, I decided I?d do it
to find a crazy lovesick boar who was looking for a receptive sow. We spotted
two different sows with cubs, and it was exciting just to watch them in
their natural habitat, instinctively training their young.
On all my hunting trips I carry a small tape recorder to give my blind
hunting friend John a blow-by-blow account of my activities. I was verbally
painting the scene into words while Fred was glassing when Gary and guide
Layne came running to our location to report they?d spotted a large bear
coming our way from up above. They set up an ambush about 200 yards from
us and we watched as the huge bruin closed-in.
Suddenly, a slight shift in the wind direction and the bear looked like he hit a brick wall at 300 yards. He stood up, sniffed the air, and took off down the mountain like a racehorse?it was amazing an animal that large could move so fast.
After that experience, I decided a bear?s sense of smell is better than a whitetail?s.
The next day Fred spotted a large bear, heading down from the snow, making a beeline for a sow with three cubs. As he came closer it became apparent she wanted nothing to do with him, savagely attacking him as he approached the cubs?an incredible scene which lasted nearly an hour. Finally,
he retreated into a ravine of alders and disappeared.
Well into the second week, after several other sightings, missed opportunities and drawing on the snoozing sow with two cubs spotted at the last second, the pressure and physical exertion were taking their toll on me. As we
were putting the skiff in the water on the morning of day 11, I told Fred I was beginning to wonder if my 67-year-old body could make it another day.
Across the bay Fred spotted a glimpse of a bear behind our cabin, heading into a small patch of alders and not coming back out.
?I?ll bet he?s bedding for the day,? Fred said. ?Do you feel like trying
for him? It sure looks good.?
I told him he only had a few more days to really wear me out, so I?d
give it a shot.
As we crossed the valley behind the cabin, my legs burned and I was
breathing heavy?I thought I?d never make it up the mountain. Gary and Layne
stayed at the cabin to serve as spotters and Fred and I climbed for two
hours, before Layne signaled that we were getting close.
We were close alright! As I nocked an arrow, Fred looked over his shoulder
and said, ?There he is?shoot!? The bear must have heard him?and the Kodiak
giant stood on his hind legs less than 25 yards away, looking to me like
he was 12 feet tall. He was huge.
A hunting buddy once told me never to shoot a standing bear, but this
time I really didn?t have an option. Years of practice paid off as my subconscious
took over and I made the perfect shot and execution. All I remember is
the sight of my bright pink fletching sticking out from behind his shoulder
and seeing him rumble downhill from us.
Fred broke my concentration when he said, ?I?ll stop him!? as he reached
for his gun.
?No, no,? I calmly reminded Fred, who had just witnessed his first-ever bowshot bear. ?He?s dead; he just doesn?t know it, yet!?
Gary and Layne, who had seen everything from below, hurried up the mountain to help us. An hour later, in a tangle of alders, Fred insisted on going
in with his ?Big Iron? at his side. In another 20 minutes he found him,
about 250 yards from where I?d released the single arrow.
My heart raced. My eyes were tear-filled. I said a short prayer of thanks
for a clean kill and good friends and a guide who kept saying, ?We?ll do
Later, Fred estimated the bear to weigh between 550 and 600 pounds.
The skull measured over 20 inches.
My friend Gary later took his bear with Fred on day 13.
All-told, in the 11-day hunt, we spotted 21 bears?not counting sows
and cubs. Even though we didn?t put a stalk on every bear we saw, somehow,
when it was all said and done, I think I was as tired as I would?ve been
if I had climbed up the mountain after every one.
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