Archery Grizzly Bear Hunt
Since I have no desire to hunt polar bears which I cannot import into the United States, my quest for a grizzly would complete my North American 28. The hunt for these beautiful, large, highly dangerous animals with my archery equipment represented the pinnacle of my hunting career. I booked the hunt with Freelance Outdoors in order to hunt with Mark Gutsmiedl who has guided several of my friends, and has vast experience bowhunting for grizzlies.
The hunt near Unalakleet, Alaska in early June coincided with the breeding season for grizzly bears. After months of training and archery practice I was ready and my equipment was prepared. As a safeguard I traveled with two bows. I left a back up bow at base camp when we headed to the field. Unfortunately, my Garmin rangefinding bowsight was not functioning correctly in the field. I could not get it dialed in and my small target was not big enough to catch errant shots and I quickly broke all of my practice arrows and tips. Saying I was frustrated and nervous would be an understatement.
Fortunately, the next day I was able to have my back up bow with a conventional sight dropped off at our spike camp. Two shots with a hunting arrow was all I needed to confirm that this set up was dialed in.We saw several bears from our glassing knob over the first two days. But when Mark saw a big boar with a sow on day 3, we knew it was worth making the more than 5 mile trek to get a closer look. After slogging our way through marshy tundra and up and down several hills, we got to within 500 yards of the bears. Mark acknowledged my desire to try to take a grizzly with my bow, but emphasized that this particular bear was a giant and that taking him with a rifle from a good position a few hundred yards ahead would ensure that we didn’t blow this once in a lifetime opportunity. I told Mark that I would consider that option as we climbed the last 300 yards up the steep hill to the proposed shooting position.As I climbed the last hill I considered all of my training, my family at home, and the dangers associated with sneaking into very close range of these two bears and my answer became crystal clear and emphatic. I would much rather take the risks and try my stalking, archery skills and my nerve against this giant bear and fail than have a hollow success with a rifle. I declined Mark’s offered rifle and said it was archery or nothing.
Mark completely understood and supported my decision. However, I was a little shocked when he informed me that he would stay back at the 200 yard position and video the pursuit as the younger guide Brandon Hamilton accompanied me on the final approach. Brandon was an experienced bear guide but had never been an on an archery hunt for grizzly and Mark wanted him to get the experience so he could help with Lance Kronberger’s growing backlog of Bowhunters. I figured I was only going after the biggest grizzly that Mark had ever seen, so what could go wrong with an inexperienced backup. So I okayed the change of plans and Brandon and I started our stalk. I was all in, let’s go Brandon!All went well as we took advantage of the terrain and the 12-15 mph consistent wind direction. Until I got about 50 yards from the boar. The tundra was extremely dry and crunched with each careful step. I stopped immediately and froze as the big head of a grizzly fixed on me from just over the rise 30 yards to my right. The sow had just lifted up her head from her napping position and had me pegged. I didn’t move an eyelash and barely breathed as she stared at me.
After a minute or so she laid back down with her head out of sight below the ridge line. The boar was still well out of sight and I needed to get to the saddle ahead of me to have any chance at him. One more very careful step towards him and his girlfriend was up again and staring at me. She was a very big girl in her own right, nearly an 8’ grizzly! And now she was sitting up staring at me. I froze again. Breathing seemed unnecessary and too dangerous. After a couple of minutes that seemed to last for hours, she again laid back down. The wind was in my face and she couldn’t determine what this thing that blended in to the yellow grass so well thanks to my Kryptek Highlander camouflage was. After a couple more motionless minutes I tried again. One very serious attempt at a silent step was an epic failure as she sat bolt upright on her haunches and stared at me. She tried desperately to get my scent as she tilted her nose up to the sky and swayed. She would not lay down again. I knew this stalk was blown and there was only one thing I could do. So I walked straight at her. As she stood up facing me Brandon loudly whispered “Stop Bob she’s going to charge you!” He indeed had a great point as she was now staring at me like a dog pointing at a quail and lightly growling. I told Brandon, that if she charged I would have to shoot her in the face with my bow, but there would be no chance at the boar if I didn’t press on. I was more angry that this opportunity was about to blowup than I was scared by the growling sow 27 yards away. I walked right at her.She didn’t like that. As I had given up on stealth realizing this was now or never, she turned to my right and started walking to get downwind of me. I hustled to the ridge line and saw the boar. Holy crap! He made the plus sized sow look like a cub. I asked Brandon for a range…..Brandon? He was gone. So was the sow and now the boar was getting up to leave. Instantly I heard Brandon running up from behind me. He was convinced that the sow was going to charge once she got our wind and was watching my flank. He ran up behind me and ranged the walking boar, “42 yards!” The boar didn’t like the situation either. His girlfriend had left and he could hear the running foot steps and our talking. He was headed down the hill in a hurry! I came to full draw as we did our best attempt at making fawn distress sounds and doe bleats with our voices. I was subconsciously counting the distance of each of his big strides down the hill.
At once he stopped and spun back uphill to look for the cause of the sound. It was a split second before I released the arrow towards the crease of his nearest shoulder. It happened so fast I could not be sure of my hit. But the answer was clear as he bounded down the mountain at full speed for only a couple of seconds before he tipped over and expired on the tundra. I triumphantly raised my bow in the air and then collapsed into an emotional shaking pile. I had held my 50 yard pin on the right shoulder crease and the arrow had gone through the shoulder, through the chest cavity and passed nearly completely through his left thigh. To me it seemed as though the arrow, like the harrowing stalk itself had been divinely guided. When we reached the giant bear I was humbled and grateful for the help of Mark and Brandon and this giant beautiful grizzly which has been officially scored as the new number two Pope and Young record.