Story and Photos by: Austin Griffey
Where I live on the Big Island of Hawaii, there are only a few species to hunt.
Spanish Goat, Mouflon Sheep, Pigs and Axis Deer comprise every hunting opportunity in my corner of world. I’m not looking for sympathy, I know I am blessed with opportunity. It is just that it has been a lifelong dream of mine to pursue an Alaskan Black Bear with a bow. I don’t know if I am intrigued by black bear because they are large predators or because there are no bears on the Hawaiian Islands. Either way, when the opportunity came about last spring to hunt bear along the Alaskan coast, I didn’t hesitate to jump on a plane headed for Anchorage.
Everything seemed perfectly timed for this spring hunt. The weather was right, the ocean was calm, and vibes were great! My buddy Byron and I arrived in Anchorage on a beautiful spring day and immediately headed to the harbor where we met Captain Gino of the hunting vessel “Long Shot.” Gino is a seasoned captain and the adventure started quickly. We boarded the Long Shot and headed south toward our chosen bear hunting area right away.
Our first stop on the trip focused on seafood. Gino wanted to pull some shrimp pots he had set the week before. He wanted us to have a complete Alaskan experience and that meant Spot Prawns were on the menu. The first pot we pulled was full of monster sized shrimp. Some were bigger than my hand and all were something I had never seen before! The second pot full as well and from that moment on, I knew that this was going to be an amazing adventure.
It took us a while to get to the hunting area, but once there, we immediately started seeing bears from the boat. My buddy and Captain Gino started coaching me on how to judge a good bear by the size of their ears. Big ears: small bear, small ears: big bear… sounds easy right?! After looking at a few bears I couldn’t tell a difference. They all seemed to look the same. That is until we rounded a point along the shoreline and all of a sudden, the boys yell “There’s a good bear!” I quickly grabbed my binoculars and focused them on the rugged shoreline, but I wasn’t fast enough. The bear disappeared into the thick bush before I could get a good look.
Captain Gino knew the area well and told me that there is a muskeg opening nearby with a small creek flowing through it. He thought the bear would head to that area and he urged me to prep my gear for stalk. I was hesitant at first because I didn’t get a decent look at the bear, and I had no idea how I was going to be able to get close. I was archery hunting after all. Gino looked at me and said, "Austin, get off the boat and go get that bear.” Growing up in Hawaii, I have spent most of my life on a boat. If there is one thing I know, it’s always listen to your captain.
We eased the boat close to shore so that Byron and I could easily get off on the beach and the stalk was on. The two of us eased through the thick brush and soon found the bear's track leading to the muskeg area Gino mentioned. I was star struck by the sights and sounds around me. Soaring eagles above and roaring waterfalls on both sides. Alaska is truly an amazing place.
It didn’t take long to locate the bear. In fact, the bear told us where he was before we saw him. Just ahead on the top of a small hill Byron and I could hear two bears fighting. At least, we guessed that was happening. We could hear the growls and grunts of two bears and figured one of them must be the bore I was after. I gave my cell phone to Byron and told him, “Film this, let’s get close.”
The wind was perfect, blowing in our face, and we slowly crept up the edge of the forest toward the bears. Once we spotted the bears, they were about 100 yards in front of us. The bore had found a sow in heat, but she wasn’t happy with his advances. The sow was grunting and pushing the boar down the hill toward us. They argued and bounced around in and out of the brush until they closed the distance to about 40 yards. Thinking I was going to get a shot from that distance, I wasn’t expecting what was about to happen. As I calmed myself and got ready, the boar started backing down toward us through the brush. The sow was angry and seemed to be winning the argument. She kept his attention while I drew my bow. My Kryptek Altitude gear blended me perfectly with the Alaskan bush and while I waited for the perfect shot, both bears closed the distance even more. Thirty yards, twenty yards, ten yards, holy smokes. Hearing their grunts and roars up close slowed down time. I couldn’t believe what was happening just feet in front of me. With seconds to spare, the boar backed right up nearly into my lap and when I saw a window to his vitals, I took my shot from less than 10 feet away.
My arrow was perfect and the big bore took off into the thick bush. The sow ran up into the opening to our left and paused, trying to figure out what just happened. Byron picked up his rifle and shot the sow at about 100 yards dropping her in her tracks. I looked to Byron and could only say one thing, “That was nuts!” The video Byron took with my cell phone captured most of the action. It is easy to see from the expression on my face that the entire sequence was intense.
After all the commotion settled, it started misting and getting dark. Byron went back to the boat to alert the crew of our success while I sat in the small muskeg opening taking it all in. When Byron returned with help, we went to look for my bear and it didn’t take long to find him. I was amazed at how beautiful Alaskan bears really are. His coat was jet black and full. His claws were worn and ragged. This was a fine trophy to bring back home to Hawaii.
Wild Alaska is a humbling and powerful experience for any hunter. Sharing big ocean, big mountains, big bears, and big shrimp with good friends are memories I will never forget.