Spring is a time for early morning turkeys and late afternoon bear. I’m more the afternoon type of girl, but I do make exceptions. With bear hunting in Alaska, no exceptions are needed. You wake up at 9, eat breakfast and then hunt for the remainder of the day… sounds like the perfect hunt on earth. And it was.
There are several ways to hunt bear, but spot and stalk is the ultimate challenge. If you want to make that even harder, add a bow and try to make each stalk with four people.
When I say each stalk, I fully mean you will be making numerous stalks. Things will go wrong. The wind swirls, rocks slide and bear disappear. You will also run into something we called “pop weed” a.k.a. kelp. As the tide goes out kelp litter the shores where you will be stalking. Unfortunately when you step on them they make a loud pop. I can promise you it doesn’t make for an easy stalk.
In hopes of avoiding any popping, you find yourself jumping from rock to rock trying to keep your balance. Because of the tide, newly visible rocks are covered in slime making them extremely slippery. I can’t even tell you how many times I wiped out… but I learned to do it gracefully, if that’s even possible. Practice makes perfect, right?
Hunting on Prince of Wales Island
This was an unguided hunt outside of Ketchikan on Prince of Wales Island, also known as the black bear capital of the world. The area we were hunting is public land in the Tongass National Forest. It’s a place anyone can hunt if they do their research.
You need maps, a great boat and someone who thoroughly understands the tides and the ocean. I was hunting with a friend of mine from the Alaskan Coast Guard, o I guess you won’t find anyone much more knowledgeable than that.
Each day we headed out in a big boat and made the long journey from Ketchikan to Prince of Wales Island. Upon arrival we glassed the grass flats and kept our eyes peeled for any kind of movement. Once we spotted a bear we would pile into the small raft, decide where the best place was to hit shore and then put on the stalk.
After several long stalks we got within rifle range of a beautiful bear feeding. There was no way I could cut the distance before he hit the trees so I let my brother step up to the plate. He made a perfect shot and we had our first bear down later named “fluffy”.
These bear were coming straight from their dens so their fur was in tip-top condition and their behavior was fairly predictable. The bear needed to find green grass to get their digestive tracks started after their long hibernation. This meant there would be a short window when these huge boars may show themselves each evening.
On day two we spotted a giant bear feeding near a creek. It would be a long stalk, but we decided we were up for the challenge. We made a 500-yard stalk and closed the distance to 35 yards. The wind was perfect and the bear was near a creek, so our sound was masked by the running water.
We used every log and rock to our advantage and finally reached our destination. It was a huge fallen tree that provided just enough cover for us to get setup. Just as I was getting ready to draw, the wind swirled and the bear was on alert. Their sense of smell is unbelievable and this guy had us busted. Within moments he was lunging for cover and I was left with an empty feeling in my stomach.
Instead of getting down, I decided that if it happened once, it could happen again. Time was on our side and I knew this island had a lot more bear; I just needed to be patient. I decided to consider this a perfect “practice” stalk.
The weather stayed calm and allowed for perfect hunting. If the winds pick up even the slightest bit the seas can get nasty – fast. This isn’t like the little lakes in Minnesota; it is big dangerous water. If the weather is bad you have no choice but to stay inside, so I was thrilled with calm seas and blue skies.
Well not quite blue… Ketchikan is located in a rain forest and you might as well just get used to the drizzly conditions. Good raingear and the right attitude is a must. The bear are used to the rain, so as a hunter you better learn to enjoy it as well.
The trip was winding down and I was getting nervous. There were a lot of bear, but the stalks were tough. I refused to switch to a rifle, even though that would virtually guarantee me a bear. I had one goal in mind when I came on this trip. A spot and stalk archery bear. I decided I would rather go home empty handed than switch halfway through the trip.
With several hours to go before dark we spotted a huge boar feeding across a long shore. He was headed toward us and we made our move. We hit shore, all four of us, and made it to the edge of the timber. A small hill blocked our view of the open flat and our guess was the big boy was on the other side.
Patience pays off
Time to get aggressive. We got situated and when there was still no sign we hit the predator call. This was a homemade fawn in distress call that worked like magic. Within moments that boar was on top of the hill looking for his next meal.
I slowly drew while he was facing us and held my pin right on that big white V on his chest. I wanted to let go more than anything in the world. But I knew I had to make a good shot and a frontal shot was way too risky.
Thankfully he turned and as he quartered away I released my arrow. Initially it looked a little far back, but it hit at the perfect angle and made a clean pass through. The excitement of calling in an enormous bear within archery range was one of the best feelings of accomplishment I have ever experienced.
After an impatient 20 minutes we decided to follow the blood trail. We only went 25 yards before a huge bundle of black caught our attention. This bear was way bigger than we all expected and his fur was in mint condition. He was nearly 7 feet long, almost 450 pounds, and unquestionably a book bear!