This all started with causal conversation at an indoor 3-D league I shot in. I was telling the owner, Gary Pierce, about my dream of a brown bear hunt and how I had given up this dream because of affordability. Three days later he called me. He had found out about an opening for 2 people to hunt brown bear on Kodiak Island. There bad been a cancellation and the outfitter needed someone to fill in "right away", so he had cut his price way down. It was in my range. I contacted the outfitter to inform him I'd be hunting with a long bow and he extended the hunt from 10 to 15 days. The first person I called was John Rook, World Renowned Blind Bowhunter, who is my best hunting buddy. Even thought he wasn't going, he said "go for it", and I did.
With less than 10 days to prepare, I picked up good rain gear. I had heard it rains all the time in Alaska. I borrowed a set of 7Olbs Longbow Limbs for my Bob Lee and I only had 3 days to practice, but the way I shoot, it didn't take me but a few arrows. If you go up in bow weight and up in arrow weight, everything else stays relevant. My subconscious mind makes everything workout just right. I was all set.
Everything was coming together fast and without a hitch. There I was standing in the airport on Kodiak Island. I had to pinch myself to make sure this wasn't a dream.
Layne Wilder, one of the guides was there to meet us. A young good-looking man walked up to us and said "you must be the crazy bowhunter from Ohio who wants to take a brown bear with a stick and a string." Layne looked nothing like a guide, he looked too young. Of course, at my age everyone looks too young. Layne has been working with Fred O'Hearn, the owner of the guide service for sometime. He is a very conscientious and a good guide. He informed us that Fred had already located a couple of bears and there was one hanging around an area just above camp that would be an easy kill. My anticipation and excitement was growing. It sounded to me like Fred was as excited about guiding a bowhunt as I was being the bowhunter.
We spent 2 days in Kodiak City leisurely getting our licenses, bear tags, shopping for souvenirs and talking to locals. They were amazed that I was using a longbow to hunt with.
As we flew over our campsite in a floatplane, our pilot said "Look down! There is your home for the next two weeks." We stayed in a four-man dome tent. Our guide stayed in a two-man tent. There was a one room cabin tucked back in a spruce pine grove, where Fred slept, did the cooking, and it had a dining area We also had a large tent for skinning our bears, if we were lucky.
I'd only been in Alaska three days and it had rained five times. I think someone was right about the rain. It looked to be like the mountains around the camp went straight up. They were snow covered and Fred said that's where the bears hibernate and they were starting to move down.
On the day we flew in hunting is not allowed, so we got a good taste of glassing the mountainsides, which we spent the better part of everyday doing. That day I watched a nice bear bed down and that was the one we were going after in the morning.
I didn't get much sleep that night, thinking about how this was going to go down, so far everything was perfect. After a good morning meal Fred & I started up the mountain, the bear was still bedding down Fred said when they come out of their winter sleep, they will eat and sleep for hours. Let's hope this one is still asleep when we get within bow range. After a three-hour climb up the mountain, we were level with the bear, only 90 yards away. We were in a ravine and could see him lying with his rump facing up. My first problem on this hunt was crossing the 90 yards of short mountain grass without being seen. I told Fred to stay there and I'd slip up on the bear to just below the cliff he was laying on. When I got there, he was to whistle and when the bear stands up, I'd be able to get a good shot I'd be about 15 yards away. Fred just laughed and said "No way. Rule #1, never leave your hunter alone. That bear would be on you before I could have the safety off on 'Big Iron'. (That's what he named his gun, a 375 HH Mag.) We'll both go." We didn't get 20 yards, when the bear woke up and looked our way. He caught us right out in the open, all we could do was fall against the mountainside and freeze. The bear stood up on his hind legs to sniff the air tlying to scent us. I have never seen such a magnificent picture in my life. He was big, beautiful and very dangerous. The wind was in our favor and he wasn't sure of what we were. Fred used a fawn distress call as he circled above us and he was up on his hind legs four tines, sniffing the air. Then up and over the top of the mountain he went. It only took us about half the time to descend the mountain as it did to go up. My partner, Gary and his guide were spotting for us and they had a bird's eye view of the whole scenario as it took place. The adrenaline was really starting to flow. When we got down, I started to practice out to 40 yards. That's about my limit with a long bow.
One of our guides Robin had glassed a bear on the mountain across the bay. By the time we crossed the bay, one and a half miles, Gary and Fred got to the area where the bear was last seen, he was nowhere to be found. Spring bear hunting in the mountains of Kodiak Island can be exciting, but boring and real tough. But driven by the "Bear God" within me, I was determined.
The wind seemed to be blowing all the time and shifting in all directions. The next two days we had rain and snow two or three times a day. One day it snowed so hard we were in a white-out. During that time we had only spotted 2 bears and they were above the snow line, so no chance for a stalking situation.
The next day the sun came out and the weather was beautiful. We decided to work our way inland. I think by design, I walk more than any bowhunter. Around 6 miles later, we were at an area where we could see 3 mountainsides. Looking up I didn't relish the idea of climbing up, but if a crazy lovesick boar looking for a receptive sow was there, I'd have to try to make the climb. We spotted 2 sows with cubs, it was just as exciting watching them in their natural habitat, doing their thing and training their young.
On trips like this I carried a small tape recorder so that I can give my blind buddy a blow by blow of everything I see. I try to paint a picture in words that he can see in his mind. It's what I call 'talk a letter'.
Fred was glassing and I was talking when up behind us came Gary and Layne almost running and in a sweat. They had been spotting above us and there was a large bear coming our way. They set up an ambush spot about 200 yards from us. We could see the bear and he was huge and we could see Gary and Layne. The excitement was growing, but a slight shift in the wind and "Bang", the bear stopped at about 300 yards from them, like he bit a brick wall. He stood up, sniffing the air, turned and left the area like a racehorse. I didn't think a bear that size could move that fast I'll tell anyone that a bear can smell you better than a white tail deer. That was it for that day, as we head back to camp. We spotted a couple of arctic fox and few black tail deer. We didn't seem to alarm the deer, probably because they had never see people before.
I don't know what the odds would be of me taking a brown bear with a longbow are. But I'd be willing to say that it's great. Brown bears will roam 25 miles just looking for the right female. So maybe a bear we see today we may never see again.
Fred had spotted a large bear high in the snow and he was heading down as we watched him, we knew why. There, just below the snowline was a sow with 3 cubs. He was trying to move in on her and she wanted nothing to do with him. We watched as he moved towards the cubs, and she would attack him. This went on for over an hour. Finally he moved off in a ravine of alders and disappeared. All the stories I've read on brown bear hunting, was you set up by a salmon river and pick out the big one when he comes in to feed. There are no salmon run this time of the year and its just hard hunting. Walking up mountains through inaccessible alder patches on our hands and knees. Sometimes it really makes you sleep good at night.
I was just about as tired as one could get on the 9th day of the hunt and I was ready to call it quits. Then someone would spot a bear and it was my turn for a stalk. I'd somehow rise to the occasion. Fred was just great as he would urge me on saying, "This is the one Lenny, it really looks good", as we watched the bear bed down just below a cliff. The wind and the approach was perfect. We climbed less than an hour. I peered over the edge and there he was less than 15 yards down and about 5 yards out. Perfect! We waited a few minutes to catch our breaths and get control. As I started to draw, Fred tapped me on the shoulder and in a very quiet and soft voice said, "No, it's a sow" and there tucked in close to her was 2 small cubs about 10 or 15 pounds, that neither of us had seen until now. We backed off very quietly and fast. We did not want to disturb a sleeping mom with 2 kids. Even I knew we'd be in trouble, we were right in her bedroom, if she would have awakened and attacked Fred would have to do his job. When we got back down to the shoreline, we looked up and she was still asleep.
As we took the skiff back up the bay, we got soaked. The bay had turned to a swirl of white caps. It took us a couple of days to dry out and rest up.
On the 11th day, as we were putting the skiff in the water I told Fred I didn't think I could make it one more day. After all I'm 67 years old and this hunt is draining me. We headed across the bay were we could glass 3 mountainsides. Fred was spotting way behind our cabin by a waterfall and he'd caught a glimpse of a bear going into a small patch of alders and never came out "I guess he's bedding down for the day. Do you feel like trying for him? It looks good," Fred asked me. I replied "Sure why not we only have a few days left. Maybe you can really wear me out."
As we crossed the valley floor behind the cabin, I could feel the burning in my legs and I was breathing heavy. I thought I never knew I'd be able to climb this mountain'. Fred kept telling me, "The bear is still there". We left Guy and Layne by the cabin as spotters. After about a 2-hour climb we were really slowing down. We made it to a small rise close to the bear. Our spotter band signaled that the bear was still there and real close. I knocked an arrow. I didn't think we were as close as we were. Fred looked over the rise and said "There he is, shoot." The bear must have heard him. He stood up on his hind legs. My goodness, I have never seen such a majestic animal in all my life! He was huge. He looked to me like he was 12 foot tall. We were between 20 & 25 yards away. My bear-hunting buddy Tim Finley always told me, never shoot at a bear standing up. It's hard for me to say what really happened next. All I remember was that my bright pink fletching was protruding from just behind his shoulder as he went down hill away from us. I truly believe my subconscious took over my body and made a near perfect shot. Fred broke my concentration when he said, "I'll stop him." I yelled, "No, he's dead and don't know it." Fred had never seen a bow kill before and didn't know what to expect. (Gary and Layne had watched the whole thing play out right before their eyes. They were already on their way up the mountain to give us a hand. On hour later, they were at the far side of the tangled alder patch where the bear had disappeared. Fred yelled for them to stand by, he was going in with "Big Iron". He still wasn't sure the bear was dead. The longer you wait the more you second guess your shot, but this one I was sure of.
Twenty minutes later Fred yelled "Here he is." he bad traveled about 250 yards and dropped in his stride. The alder bushes were thick. I let my bow bang on a branch, I knew I didn't need it anymore on this trip. My heart was racing as I made my way through the tangled mess. Gary, Layne, and Fred stood over this magnificent animal. All smiles, I was so happy and full of sorrow. I had tears in my eyes. I sat down beside the bear, said a small prayer of thanks for the clean kill and the good friendships I've had on this trip.
Fred estimated the bear to be 500 to 600lbs. and around 8 ft. As it turned out it was a sow. The green measurement on the skull was 20 1/4" If it doesn't shrink too much, it will make the Pope and Young Book.
In the 11 days I had hunted, we spotted 21 bears, not counting the one's with cubs, Of course, we didn't put a stalk on them all it just seemed like we did, as tired as I was.
I can't say enough about my guide. The encouragement he would give me day after day. just saying" We'll do it today" I knew he wanted the bear as bad as I did. It was just a matter of time and I'm glad he extended our hunt out to fifteen days. Without the extension neither Gary or I would have succeeded. Gary took his bear on the 13th day with Fred guiding. Layne had to fly back to Kodiak City on business.
As we took off from Kodiak City Airport, I thanked Gary for picking me to go on this adventure. He is a real gentleman and a fine person to be in camp with. It was a Kodiak adventure and a dream come true. I'll never forget it.
*Author Lenny Rock, Notes:
Bob Lee take-down bow 70lbs. @28"
ABS. Grizzly stick 50-80 arrows with bright 5" pink F1etching
Zwickey Delta 4 blade broadhead
Lucky Hook Charter and Guide Service FredO'Hearn
P0 Box 88
Kodiak, Alaska 49615