The grizzly bear is an almost mythical creature. Folklore from the first writings from North America depict the strength, attitude and danger of Ursus arctos horribilis. To me personally, the grizzly has always been the premiere big game animal in North America. Dangerous game hunting has become my true passion, and as we are limited to the species of truly dangerous animals on this continent, the grizzly quickly becomes top dog.
Grizzly and brown bears are the same species, but there are some big differences. The brown bear lives near the coast, thus he lives through shorter winters and grows much larger due to this and a plentiful diet of salmon. Grizzlies are inland omnivores, and much of their diet consists of berries. Big brown bears grow to over 10 feet, while most grizzlies will only measure 7-8 feet. No matter the size, these bears dominate the food chain in their given location, and virtually anything that moves is seen as a food item, up to and including the huge Alaska-Yukon moose.
In Alaska, populations of brown/grizzly bears have been on the rise, and opportunities for hunters are very high. There are some brown bear units that are strictly managed for huge brownies (Kodiak Island, the AK Peninsula, etc.) that only allow a hunter to take one bear every four years, but most of the state is on a bear a year bag allowance. Recently a few areas have been opened up to year round hunting while others allow sportsman to take up to two bears in a year. These changes definitely show what kind of bear population Alaska now has.
There are basically three types of grizzly/brown bear hunts; spring, summer and fall. In spring, bears are targeted as they emerge from their dens. During early spring, tracks in the snow will show hunters where the bears have travelled, and lead them to the den. As spring progresses, bears begin eating new growth and foraging. There is also a lot of movement as boars are on the prowl for receptive sows during the breeding season.
Spring hunts require a lot of glassing and patience. The days are very long, and generally the weather is nice, so it is a great time to bear hunt Alaska.
For areas that allow June through August summer hunts, streams are the ticket. Bears concentrate on streams and rivers to gorge on salmon, and stalking along these waterways is the most effective hunting method. This can be very up close and personal hunting as alders and other vegetation often choke the streams, and hunters may never see the bears until they are in really tight. This is heart pounding and intense hunting, but the one drawback here is that the bears’ coats during this time are at the thinnest of the year.
To me, a fall hunt can be a combination of sorts. If there are salmon left in the streams, you can still find bears there, but many times either the hunt is after the salmon runs are over, or in the case of inland grizzlies, there are no fish where they live anyway. If bears aren’t eating fish, they will be eating berries as fast as they can during September and October. Blueberries and a host of others are ripe for the picking, and in their hast to build up as much body weight as possible before the impending winter, bears spend almost every waking hour vacuuming up the fruits of Alaska.
It was berries that produced my first grizzly. I was on an inland Alaskan hunt in September, and we were dropped in a large valley that had blueberry covered hillsides as far as the eye could see. We were too far from the coast to have any fish, so it was fairly obvious where the bears should be.
During the first couple of days we saw a few bears, but they were all sows and cubs, so we decided to take a long hike toward the head of the basin one day after lunch. We trekked three to four miles, and setup my Nikon ED50 spotting scope to glass a couple of draws. Almost immediately, we spotted a blonde bear half way up a large hill, and he was moving berries like a Cub Cadet.
The afternoon was winding down, so we made haste, and covered the last mile or so quickly. Huffing and puffing we finally got above the bear’s last seen location, and as I began stalking up to an edge where I could peak over, the bear stood up at 35 yards. The bear had gotten my sent and immediately dropped out of sight.
Carefully I eased over to where the hillside opened up, but he was gone. I guessed that he had hot the thick alders, but my guide suggested we move down to where we could see the far side of the draw in case he came out across from us. We hadn’t walked 50 yards, when I felt a weird presence, and I looked over my shoulder, and the big grizzly was walking across an avalanche shoot only 70 yards above us. He was watching our every move, and since he had the high ground, he didn’t seem to have any fear at all.
I quickly positioned my .300 Win TC ICON for a shot and sent a 180-grain Winchester XP3 slamming into his chest as he squared up on us. He came barreling down the hill and into the alder thicket. I was not looking forward to wading into that jungle after a wounded grizzly, but Fate didn’t require that. We looked to an opening below the alders and the bear was standing there on the brink of collapse with his head held low. I put a quick finisher behind his shoulder, and my quest for a grizzly was complete.
The beautiful blonde collared bear is my favorite trophy, and that hunt gave me a true addiction for hunting these incredible creatures. I will be on the AK Peninsula this fall to try for a big coastal brown bear, and then back the next spring in an every year unit to try for another. There is truly something special about pursuing these huge predators, and there is no better time than now to hunt them.