SCI Convention Spotlight: Bowhunting Brown Bears – at Night (Legally!)
OutdoorHub Reporters 02.06.17
Challenging a 1,000-pound Alaskan brown bear with an arrow might be the biggest hunting challenge in North America. Normally, it means stalking the bruin on foot with a rifle as back-up, but changes in Alaska hunting regulations have altered how archers can take this adventure.
Current game regs allow baiting brown bears if the nonresident archer is accompanied by a guide in certain sections of southern Alaska. This allows for treestand and ground blind tactics to be employed, much as with black bears in many northern regions of the United States as well as Canada.
I learned about this new development while walking the aisles at the 2017 Safari Club International (SCI) Convention. I interviewed Jay Osting, a booking consultant for Bowhunting Safari Consultants, one of the country’s oldest bowhunting specialty hunt brokers.
“The baiting of the brown bears was legalized in the last few years in certain units in southern Alaska,” Osting said. “Outfitters have learned how to bait these bears into certain areas in structured hunts through the night in low-light conditions. Technically it’s night, yet it doesn’t get actually dark. You hunt from about 7 p.m. until about 5 a.m. It’s a long hunt, and sometimes baits are hit during the first part of the hunt, and others in the wee hours of the morning.”
Osting says the guides have learned that it isn’t practical to interrupt the hunt during the night to walk into to the baited area or pull out in the evening to hunt during early morning. They like to hunt through the evening and into the morning.
“There is never a time when it’s too dark to shoot,” Osting said. “It’s totally legal, and the guide will be with you the whole time.”
Alaskan bear guides use trail cameras much in the same way as deer hunters so that they can gauge the size of bears in the area, and determine if a big bear appears in a pattern. “Generally, they will have a good idea if a hot sow is there, or a big boar is feeding regularly,” Osting said.
“The hunt we have in our catalog has resulted in 100 percent success, including well-known bowhunter David Samuel, who took his first brown bear. You can also shoot a black bear,” added Osting, “but the hunt is focused on brown bears, and it’s a full 10 days. Bowhunters sit in elevated treestands, 12-15 feet high. Ground blinds are an option, but the hunter must be comfortable.”
Gear for Brown Bears
Osting says the most difficult part of the brown bear hunt is the equipment. “If a bear approaches, you must be absolutely quiet, and there can be no noise from movement such as drawing your bow, or clothes brushing against clothes. Brown bears aren’t like black bears. A black will hear a noisy bow, and it might look up or around. But one errant sound and a brown bear is gone. They are very cautious going in to a bait. They know it’s not right, but if they haven’t been disturbed, they will still cautiously approach.
“Once a bear travel pattern has developed, the hunter goes to watch the bait and must ensure his bow doesn’t creak, or the arrow noisily drag across the rest. We suggest fleece or other soft clothing that is comfortable. Our treestands are more homemade and roomy, so you can stand up and stretch. Night hunting is unusual, yet our clients have been successful and happy with the hunt.”