Brown bear has been the symbol of Russia for over two centuries – ever since Punch, the Charlie Hebdo of the era, drew Napoleon as a circus lion tamer and the nations who allied against him as beasts. The cartoonist picked a bear for Russia and so it stuck. As with every stereotype, the reality is much more complicated. Russia may truly be called a bear hunter’s paradise – the problem is that there are so many variants and choices. In fact, there are six (and, according to some experts, even eight) varieties of the brown bear in Russia, inhabiting different localities, requiring different methods of hunting – and fetching different prices! Let’s try to walk you through some basic options.
Central Russia: Convenient and Affordable
The most convenient – and affordable – variety is the European brown bear, inhabiting Central Russia from the western borders to the Urals. The main advantage of Central Russia is logistics – all hunting preserves are located within a few hours from Moscow by high-speed train, local train or a local flight, and for certain localities you have the option to come through the beautiful city of St. Petersburg. Another advantage is the price. Lower operating costs and higher competition between outfitters translate into attractive offers: with proper planning and booking in advance you can easily fit the bottom line for your hunt into the $1,500 – $2,000 range. That doesn’t include the cost of travel to Moscow, which starts from $250 (from Europe) to $500 (from the U.S.) for the round trip.
The final cost of the hunt will depend on your outfitter and method of the hunt. With some outfitters the trophy fee is included in the package, while others charge it additionally, according to the size of the skin – or the weight of the animal. Here you’ve got to do your homework, as misunderstandings could be costly. The average weight of European brown bear ranges from 150 to 250 kg. (330-550 lbs.), but every now and then lucky hunters harvest 300 kg.(660 lbs.) monsters. As a matter of fact, you can get a record-sized brown bear anywhere across its range – it’s just that in some localities the probability is higher than in others.
The European brown bear inhabits thick woods, so spot-and-stalking methods are impossible. The most common methods require the use of high stands. There are two main seasons for this:
– over bait in spring
Bears leave their dens in April, being proverbially hungry, but the forests have little to offer in terms of food. In the old days they used to kill scores of peasants’ cows and horses; then a hunter would sit up over the carcass in an attempt to get even with the predator. The tradition goes on today, but the guides don’t wait for the bear to kill a head of game or cattle, and instead set up baits in advance. The refreshments aren’t limited to rotting meat or fish – some guides use fruits and vegetables, and even expired cakes and sweets obtained from local stores or bakeries. Trail cameras give the hunters a clue to how many bears visit the baits and how big they are. Waiting on a high stand can at any time change into a stalk, if the bear reaches the bait before the hunters. The biggest variable of this hunt is the weather, which determines when precisely the bruins will end their hibernation, so good communication with the outfitter is paramount if you want to avoid empty trips.
– over oat fields in autumn
This hunt takes place in August and September and is similar to hunting over bait in spring. The difference is that fields of oats, in milk-wax stage, form a natural bait. The stands are usually improvised structures, constructed anew each year as the bears shift their feeding patterns, and offer only minimal comfort – yet, you must remain absolutely immobile if you want to convince a real big bear the field is safe. Russian hunters have been killing bears that molested their fields for centuries, that’s why the bruins are uncommonly vary as they approach the oats. Another variable that your success depends on is availability of alternative food sources – if the forests abound in berries, mushrooms and nuts, the bears may not feed on oat fields at all, or visit them unpredictably. Because of this hunters are advised to keep contact with the outfitter for updates on the current situation with oat fields and bear activity.
Kamchatka: The Monster Bear Kingdom Far Away
Kamchatka is known to every bear hunter as the home of some of the world’s biggest bruins, seconded only by Kodiak – maybe. Land of volcanoes, geysers, unique landscapes and impressive salmon runs, it’s a hunter’s Fairy Kingdom – and as all fairy kingdoms, it’s far, far away. Figure in at least $500 over whatever you paid for your transfer to Moscow for a round-trip ticket to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, depending on the season. Still, this won’t be the most expensive leg of your trip – getting to bear hunting grounds will probably require a helicopter flight, and in case you didn’t know, the Mi-8 helicopter guzzles up nearly a gallon of fuel per second! You can try to do your math and figure out the costs of transporting everyone and everything necessary for your hunt, not to mention regular visits to the hunting grounds for poaching control, setting the camps, etc. in the off season. This all is included in the daily rate or the package price, so an average bill of about $9,000 in the fall and $10,000 in spring shouldn’t come as a surprise. A pleasant surprise, for some – Kamchatka hunts used to cost a lot more just a few years ago, but stagnating economy and weak ruble changed that.
Whatever the price, Kamchatka is well worth it. The average Kamchatka bear is from 250 to 270 cm (8 – 9 feet) in length, with decent chances for bagging a 10-foot giant. An additional advantage is that Kamchatka is one of the few places where the bears are often in the open, so you can scout around, choose the biggest bruin in the neighborhood, and then stalk it. There are two seasons for bear hunting in Kamchatka, in spring and in autumn [click here to learn more about the difference between them] :
– the spring bear season in Kamchatka
In the spring, you and your guide will ride a snowmobile across likely places (the hunter usually sits in the sleigh pulled by the snowmobile), looking for big tracks and glassing for big males feeding on freshly thawed out dwarf pine. Once the bear is located, they stalk it on foot.
– the autumn bear season in Kamchatka
The autumn season runs from August 20 to September 30. At that time, bears concentrate over best salmon runs, and you’ll have an exciting opportunity to watch them fish, feed, and fight for better places as you glass the river beds for the trophy of your dreams. You and your guide may move along the river beds, or sit up over known best fisheries, or, alternatively, you can scout for bears near dwarf pine thickets. When you see a bear that’s big enough for you, you stalk it. September is the best time to be in Kamchatka, with the weather still warm, but bloodsucking insects already gone – and you can have some outstanding salmon fishing thrown in for good measure. [check out Kamchatka bear hunting trips]
Between Kamchatka and Moscow: Siberian Bears
Somewhere between Moscow and Kamchatka, in terms of both distance and price, are the Siberian bears, which abound in both Western, Central and Eastern Siberia. They resemble Grizzly bear in North America in terms of coloring and size. Average length of the skin is from 230 to 245 cm (7.5 – 8 feet). A hunt will cost you approximately $3,500 – $4,000, not including your travel expenses. As usual, you’ll come through Moscow, and a round trip from the Russian capital to Irkutsk will cost $300 or more. Pricing varies depending on the season, so please ask the outfitter for updated rates before the hunt. Spot and stalk hunting is possible in some localities, but the most common method of hunting Siberian bears is baiting. As everywhere else, success depends on weather and availability of alternative food, with activity of logging companies as an additional variable. [check out Siberian bear hunting trips]
Only in Russia: Hunting the Himalayan Bear.
The south-eastern Pacific coast of Russia offers you a unique opportunity to hunt a different species of bear – the Himalayan bear. Only in Russia is this species still found in sufficient numbers for an open season! This bear is smaller than a brown bear, most trophies being 200 to 215 cm (6.5 – 7 feet) in length, and features a beautiful black pelt with a characteristic white triangle on the chest. Traditionally it was hunted in the dens, which this species makes in hollow trees, but since 2012 the season was limited to November 30, efficiently banning this method. Most trophy hunters tend to find denning not sporting enough anyway. Today, Himalayan bears are mostly hunted in August and September by sitting up over the bait. These bears share their habitat with Amur tigers, who sometimes come to check out the bear baits – if reading old Indian Shikar stories makes you wonder what it felt like when a tiger came to your machan, here’s your chance! (No, you can’t kill the tiger.) Prepare to shell out about $9,000, before travel expenses, and a round trip flight from Moscow (this city is pretty much unavoidable) to Khabarovsk starts from about $400. [check out Himalayan bear hunting trips]
Himalayan Bear’s Bigger Neighbor
In addition to the Himalayan bear, the taiga near Khabarovsk and Vladivostok is home to the Amur variety of the brown bear. They get almost as big as Kamchatka bears – 230 to 245 cm (7.5 – 8 feet) – but are more difficult to hunt, because of the dense woods they inhabit. The only possible method of hunting them is baiting in spring and autumn; rotten fish is often used as a bait. The price and travel costs are the same as for Himalayan bear hunt – roughly $9,000 for the hunt, and from $400 for a round trip from Moscow. Pricing varies depending on the season, so please ask the outfitter for updated rates before the hunt. [check out Amur bear hunting trips]
The Mysterious Bears of North Caucasus
In the South of the country, the mountains of North Caucasus are inhabited by perhaps the most mysterious of the Russian bears. The Eastern, or Caucasian mountain bear is said to have relatively small size, light-colored coat, and outstandingly evil disposition. The small size of the trophy, combined by relatively high cost of the hunt, don’t inspire much interest among trophy hunters, though hunts can be arranged and adventurous hunters interested by unique species and experiences do go out now and then after this bear.
Even though the unknown caricaturist for the Punch probably had no interest in bear hunting, his choice of bear as a symbol of Russia proved more than appropriate. As you can see, the country offers bear hunting opportunities for every taste and wallet. Why don’t you start exploring bear hunting in Russia with BookYourHunt.com now!