As I told you last week, I will be going to Alaska in mid-August on a Coastal Brown Bear hunt. Any type of weapon is legal for the hunt (that meets the AK regulations for archery and rifles). However, Brown Bear with archery equipment is indisputably one of the top challenges North America offers the archer. Behind the Polar Bear, the Brown Bear is the largest land carnivore in the world. Kodiak Brown Bears can even rival the size of the largest Polar Bears.
I’ve been preparing for this hunt for almost one year and, I have to admit, I was intimidated by the idea of bowhunting for such a great beast at first. My alternatives were slim as 99% of my hunting for the last 20 years has been with archery equipment. On a hunt with so much at stake, I questioned whether I should take a rifle as my primary weapon. It wasn’t that I was concerned with getting close to a bear, but it was the thought of coming home empty handed from the hunt. However, this has faded.
Perhaps I may be over overconfident, but I am not overly concerned with difficulty of stalking close to a big bear. If you can successfully stalk and harvest a wily whitetail from the ground with archery equipment, then you’ve got the skills to stalk a brown bear. The success of the hunt will lie with the uncontrollable factors like: weather conditions, number of bear sightings and spotting bears in stalkable areas.
A second category I would call the semi-controllable category. In this category I would place the most significant variable of any hunt – the shot. This is much more controllable than the other three, but even with adequate practice and training, the moment of truth has so many more variables than target practice that it is almost semi-controllable. So much of the sequence of actions leading up to the shot are authorized by the “auto-pilot” function of the hunter, or the – unconscious decisions made based upon training, preparation and instinct. You can train, and you should, but the instinct part is harder to manipulate and change. Some people’s instincts are better than others and fate seems to favor them when it comes to actually bringing home the game.
The instinct to know when to draw and when to shoot are less teachable than most people think. The ability to perform at the highest levels of your ability while under intense stress is what separates a good shooter from a good a hunter. Practice scenarios can aid in replicating the emotions and physiological circumstances of a true shot situation, but nothing can temper a hunter like actually being there and letting the circumstance train them.
As I said in last week’s blog, I have been a compound archer for the last 20 years. I love shooting compounds and will never give them up. However, in the last few years, especially for bear hunting, I have been shooting traditional equipment. Bears are the perfect traditional archery animals. They are big, they are soft skinned, hunts are usually close range and they don’t jump the string like ungulates. Look for more and more archers turning to traditional equipment for bear hunting in the coming years.
For my brown bear hunt I will be carrying a custom Timberghost recurve made by bowyer Kent Roberts. The bow will be 52-inches long and have around a 60-pound draw weight at 27 inches. The bow is being made right now and will be ready soon. The bow will be Bocote, Osage Orange, a dark African wood (unidentified) and phenolic (a man made material). For now I have been practicing with a recurve that Kent has lent me that is almost identical except for the aesthetics.
I felt like the decision to carry the traditional bow was made for me rather than it being a decision that I made by rational choice. If rationale was used, all Brown Bear hunters would be carrying a rifle. However, with my recent success in Canada with traditional equipment, it didn’t make sense for me to carry anything else. I am confident in my decision to carry a recurve and despite the outcome, it is the right decision for me.
That being said, we will be also be carrying a .338 on the hunt. If the circumstances of the hunt prevent a close stalk and ethical shot after our options on the 10-day hunt are exhausted, I am not be too proud to shoot one with a rifle. On a once-in-a-lifetime hunt like this standards can be flexible, as long as they are within the boundaries of the law and are 100% ethical. I have been discussing this with my guide for sometime now. We will have a plan of action in place for the hunt that will help us decide at what point we use the rifle or not. However, I am going into the hunt with 99% of my effort focused on bring home a bow-kill Brown Bear.