Spot & Stalk
Jul 22 2022
Patience Pays off on Kodiak
Originally published March/ April 2016 in Bear Hunting Magazine
By Billy Molls
Nestled at the base of the Brooks Range Mountains, our camp was set on a tundra bench beside a crystal clear stream. The bugs were all but gone and the willows were turning yellow. A gentle arctic breeze felt good against our faces as we sipped hot coffee. To the west, the otherwise drab, brown tundra was aglow with waning rays of sunshine. We watched as a small group of caribou filed by our tents. Life was good.
“I think they’re done,” I said, dumping a small fry pan filled with Dall sheep tenderloin steaks onto my hunter’s plate.
Seated on the ground, he cut into one of the sizzling kabobs with his pocketknife and took a bite. “Mmmmm. This is incredible!” my client marveled. “All those miles and blisters on my feet were worth it!”
After four brutal days of stomping up and down mountains eating freeze dried food, Andres Lagos (Spain) and I were thrilled to rest and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Nearly midnight, it still wasn’t quite dark when we finished eating our second round of fresh organic protein.
“I loved sheep camp, but this is a beautiful spot,” said the first time Alaska hunter. “I’m glad the pilots were able to move us so we can try to find a grizzly.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I’ve seen bears every time I’ve hunted here. We’ll get up early and see what tomorrow brings.”
The following morning we climbed part way up the mountain’s nearest camp to survey the open tundra. There were hundreds of caribou scattered about the endless grass, lichen, and sedge-laden prairie, including several mature bulls, but Andres wasn’t interested.
Still well before noon, I spotted something very peculiar. “I think I just saw a bear, but it could have been a wolf,” I declared, still focused on a large thicket. “In the sunlight it almost looked white.” Several minutes went by before I spotted it again. It was indeed a grizzly with a brilliant blonde hide that is extremely rare to find outside the northern reaches of the Last Frontier.
“Oh! There he is,” Andre piped up. “What a beautiful bear!”
“It’s not a giant, but it’s an adult bear. Probably a four or five year-old sow,” I stated. “We’ve got a decent chance of finding a bigger one, but not with that coloration.”
“That’s exactly the kind of bear I’ve always hoped for,” Andres stated.
We watched the bear feed on crowberries before disappearing in a large brush patch. After nearly a half hour, with the sun high and hot and no sight of the bear, we were confident that it had bedded down in the shade. We loaded our gear and hiked two miles to a downwind promontory that overlooked the bear’s last known whereabouts.
After glassing for several hours, we were beginning to wonder if the blonde rascal had somehow slipped away through a fold in the terrain. While speculating where our quarry may be, I spotted movement less than 50 yards from where we last saw it. “That’s him!” I exclaimed. “Grab your pack. Let’s go!”
After a long nap, apparently the bear had decided to make up for lost time. With Andres close behind me we ran, tearing through the brush in effort to cut off the quick-stepping bruin in the steep-cut creek bed between us. A quarter-mile later, we peeked into the river bottom. The grizzly was already nearing the opposite rim of the ravine. “Let’s set up over here,” I whispered, duck-walking to a subtle outcrop.
Reaching the natural overlook we fell to the ground. With the bear quickly approaching we were forced to set up immediately. We shed our packs. I propped mine up for Andres to use a rest from the seated position. As we maneuvered to find a suitable arrangement the stealthy predator sensed the motion and froze still.
“Get on ‘im!” I whispered. The bear stood tall and alert less than 100 yards away, focused right on us. “Don’t shoot. There’s too much brush in the way.”
Andres shifted slightly to find a more comfortable rest. Then everything changed.
“Here he comes.” I stated flatly. “He wants to eat us. Take him right in the chest.”
“Kaboom!” Andres’ .270 Weatherby barked, just before the grizzly charged down into the riverbed toward us. The bear lurched, turned, and ran.
“Hit ‘im again!” I ordered.
Andres fired a second round just before the bear disappeared from sight. We waited quietly. Nothing moved.
“Whoa!” my hunter gasped. “That was bloody exciting!”
“That first shot looked solid,” I offered. “I don’t know about the second one, but as thick as this brush is I think we would have heard him running if he was still alive.”
We crossed the thigh-deep river and approached cautiously. Disregarding the faint blood trail, I went directly to where we lost sight of the bear. Thirty yards later we found her dead.
“Yes!” Andres cheered. “What a bear!”
The dry sow was bigger than I expected, and the hide was every bit as good as we hoped.
“That’s a great bear, Andres,” I congratulated him. “And one heck of an adventure!”
Billy Molls guides hunters across Alaska for brown bear, grizzly bear, Dall sheep, caribou, moose, and wolf. He is also an author, freelance writer, public speaker, and producer of The Modern Day Mountain Man DVD series. For more information call (715) 205-7766 or go to www.billymollsadventures.com.
Genetically brown bear and grizzly bear are the same species. Boone and Crockett recognizes Alaskan bears north of the 62 parallel as grizzlies, and those south of it as brown bears (there is a slight deviation from this boundary around the Cook Inlet). While brown bears are able to grow more than twice the size of their inland counterparts due to their more temperate climate, longer growing season, and better food source (salmon), the coastal bears tend to be less aggressive. Grizzlies, in general, live a tougher, more opportunistic existence. The author has found the latter to be much more prone to charge.