Alaska is the best brown bear hunting destination in the world. Over 30,000 of those animals inhabit its wild spaces. And those are not just any bears, but officially this planet’s biggest bears especially on the Kodiak and other islands and coastal areas. The Last Frontier can boast miles and miles of unspoilt wilderness of breathtaking beauty – and a well-developed outdoor tourism industry, making these areas easily accessible, and offering a range of fly-in, yacht-based, lodge or camp, backpacking or floating adventures.
Where do you Find Brown and Grizzly Bears in Alaska?
The range of the brown bear covers practically the whole state of Alaska, excluding a number of remote islands. They vary, however, in looks, size, and behavior, and are thus divided into five main populations:
- Kodiak Brown Bear: Found on the Kodiak Archipelago islands, these are among the largest brown bears due to a consistent diet of rich salmon. They’ve been isolated from the mainland bears for about 12,000 years.
- Peninsula Brown Bear (or Coastal Grizzly): These bears are found on the Alaska Peninsula, especially in areas like Katmai National Park and Preserve. They also have a diet rich in salmon, making them larger than many interior bears.
- Interior Grizzly: These bears are found in the interior regions of Alaska and are typically smaller than the coastal bears due to a more varied diet which relies less on salmon and more on vegetation, berries, small mammals, and occasional larger prey.
- Northern Arctic Brown Bear: These bears inhabit the northernmost regions of Alaska. Due to the harsher conditions and scarcer food resources, they are generally smaller than both the Kodiak and Peninsula bears.
- Bears of the Southeast Alaskan Archipelago: This region includes the islands of Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof (often referred to as the ABC Islands). The brown bears here have a slightly different genetic makeup, interestingly having some genetic material from polar bears, likely due to past interbreeding.
Brown Bear or Grizzly?
For biologists, a grizzly bear is only a regional subspecies of the brown bear, which is a generic term, and the differences in size and behavior are determined by environment and diet more than by the genes. In Alaska hunt talk, however, “brown bears” and “grizzlies” are different animals, with different habitats and approaches to hunt. Trophy books determine whether the bear is classified as a grizzly or a brown bear according to the location of the hunt. For Boone & Crockett the boundary lies at the 62nd parallel, while SCI makes their judgment by game management areas.
How Big is Big?
The trophy size for a brown bear in Alaska begins at 7 feet from nose to tail. This is already an impressive beast – it will stand a good two feet taller than you as it rises on its hind legs to assume its intimidating posture. On the Kodiak and some coastal areas bears of 9–10-foot class are not uncommon. Interior grizzlies are somewhat smaller – most trophies average between 6.5 and 8 feet, and a 8.5 foot grizzly is a trophy to be proud of.
Your guide will help you with a rough estimation of the trophy size, but a rule of thumb if a bear resembles a dog, it’s probably too small. Big bears don’t appear to be high on their legs and will usually seem to have a bit of a humpback profile. A narrow head with an apparently longish muzzle is an indication of a smaller animal, a big bear will have a big, dome-like forehead and its muzzle would look short and small in proportion. Perhaps the best indicators are the ears: the smaller the ears are in proportion to the head, the bigger the bear is.
When to Hunt Brown and Grizzly Bears in Alaska
Bear hunting seasons depend on the wildlife management areas, but usually happen in May-June for spring season, and September-October for the fall season. Note that many areas have seasons every other year, e.g. spring seasons in odd years, and fall seasons in even years, or the other way round.
Bears emerge from dens in March to April, with exact timing depending on the region within Alaska and local weather conditions. They feed on sprouted vegetation, scavenge winter-killed carcasses, and hunt newborn moose and caribou. Late spring is also the mating season for bears. During this period, males might roam extensively in search of receptive females. This is a setting for spring hunts, when glassing over slopes that offer the best available food can be very effective.
The start of the summer season usually sees the peak of salmon runs. Salmon become the primary food source for many bears, especially those near the coast. They can consume massive amounts of fish every day to build up fat reserves. They are concentrated on rivers and easy to find. In areas without salmon or between salmon runs, bears feed on berries, and in the late fall, as temperatures drop and food becomes scarcer, they will try to kill a moose or caribou and gorge on its meat. This especially refers to inland grizzlies, who may be highly aggressive at this stage.
How Do You Hunt a Brown Bear in Alaska
Spot-and-stalk is the most common method of brown bear hunting in Alaska, but there may be a world of difference in the ways how you get to see the bear, and how you stalk it. In the open tundra, hunters and guides may spent hours on vantage points, and once a suitable bear is located, they try to approach it. That doesn’t always work, however, especially in some river valleys or coastal areas with thick vegetation, or because the bears are scarce. Then the hunters will have to move from one point to another – sometime cruising the shore in small motorboats, sometimes floating down the river, sometimes on foot. Some outfitters may offer you hunting over bait, and even using calls.
Good salmon runs attract salmon, and consequently bears, predictably year after year. A lodge built near such an area offers you an opportunity to hunt in comfort, or serve as a base camp, from which you access a spike camp in a more remote area.
The yacht serves as a movable lodge, allowing the hunters to travel from one area to another without any need to pack and unpack. The hunt itself commences from motorboats, by cruising along the coastline and spotting the bears. Once the animal is spotted, you land and stalk it. Alternatively, you land first and explore inland areas, or even enter the rivers.
Fly-In Camp Hunts.
Bush planes are a regular means on transport in Alaska, and you will often have to use one to access the lodge as well. And flying in is essential when it comes to reach the most remote backcountry animals. There, you’re likely to hunt out of a stationary tent camp, spending a few nights in spike camps if needs arises.
Horseback, Backpacking, and Float Hunts.
Brown bears are territorial beasts, and the size of the territory depends not only on sex and size of the bear, but on food availability as well. On prime salmon runs, territories become ephemeral, and bears of every description can coexist in peace near each other. In areas of less abundance, a big male would want to control quite a lot of ground, and guard it jealously. In such places, you may have to move a lot to locate a shootable bear, going from one spike camp to another, and this can be achieved by backpacking, floating down the river, or on horseback.
What Rifle for Brown Bear Hunting in Alaska.
Short answer: a big one. The recommended minimum for brown bear hunting in Alaska begins with the .300 Magnums, and continues into the .338 and the all-time classic, the .375 H&H. On many coastal hunts, where bears are big and distances are below 100 yards, you can even go African with a .416 Rigby or similar. The bear is a tough animal, with dense muscles and strong bones, so pick a heavy bullet (in the .300 Magnums, the heaviest that your rifle can stabilize) in a proven design with a good reputation for retaining its weight and deep penetration. Moisture and humidity are always a factor in Alaska, so a rifle with a plastic stock and stainless-steel action makes sense.
The same trends apply to bows: fixed blade over mechanical, heavy arrow, and as much draw weight as you can handle. Above all, if you’re new to bear hunting, study the anatomy of the bruins – their vitals are located differently as compared to ungulates such as deer or elk – and practice, practice, practice.
A brown bear is one of the most dangerous mammals on this planet, especially if it’s angry and set on killing you. It moves incredibly fast and represents a ridiculously small target as it runs towards you, hopping up and down at that. That’s why you shoot to kill and keep shooting until there’s no doubt the beast is dead. If things don’t go as planned, the Big Five rules of African safaris kick in. That is, do what the guide says, exactly what the guide says, and nothing but what the guide says. It is all right to offer your help in tracking the wounded bear, but only if you’re confident you can really handle it, and don’t take offense if the guide declines.
What Else Should I Pack?
Wherever and whenever you go in Alaska, it’s a safe bet it will be wet. On many salmon run river hunts you may have to literally spend day after day in chest waders going up and down the river – don’t save on the quality of your waders or hip boots. Your regular boots should also be waterproof and warm.
Avoid any clothing that doesn’t go well with high humidity and moisture, like cotton. The outer layer should be waterproof and breathable, with a quiet outer shell for stalking. For the base layer, select moisture-wicking and insulating merino or synthetic. Add insulating layers according to expected temperatures. “Insulated and waterproof” should be your mantra for every item from balaklava to backpacks; pack dry bags to keep your gear dry.
The outfitter will provide you with camping gear such as tent, stove and fuel, cots and cookware, but the sleeping bag and pad are your responsibility. Do not forget navigation devices such as compass and a GPS device, and it’s a good idea to get or rent a satellite phone. High-quality binoculars and spotting scopes are essential. Sometimes, especially on spring spot-and-stalk hunts, you may face blazing sun and a risk of sunburn, and in the warmer months bloodsucking insects are to be reckoned with. In this case, pack sunglasses, sun screen, and insect repellent. A first-aid kit, including your personal medications if any, completes the list.
Licenses and Tags
Non-residents can’t go hunting by themselves in Alaska; you need to be accompanied either by an Alaska resident who is your first degree relative, or by a licensed guide. The guides can usually provide their clients with tags according to a quota, so you don’t have to worry about drawing or not drawing.
How Much Does It Cost?
Short answer: a lot. Interior grizzly hunts at our online marketplace start at about $12,500; add travel costs and associated fees will easily push the figure towards 20K. The prices currently average between $25,000 and $20,000, and a yacht-based hunt for the coastal monsters with a great chance on a 10+ feet trophy may easily top over 40,000.
As always, pay careful attention to what is and isn’t included in the price, starting from how many days are actually included versus needed for the hunt. A hunt of the same duration – 1 day for getting in, 5 days for hunting, 1 day for getting out – can be listed as a 5-day hunt by one outfitter, and as a 7-day hunt by another.
Another important thing is travel. For fly-in hunts, the air drop to the camp is usually included into the price, but some outfitters prefer to list it separately. Travel to the little, remote town, from where you flight to the camp starts, is, by contrast, often your responsibility, and can be a challenge in itself. There may be other associated costs, such as native land use fee, so look carefully into what is and isn’t included in the listed price.
It makes perfect sense to combine a brown bear hunt in Alaska with a hunt for another animal or animals, as travel costs, which take the most part of the total bill, are the same, so the second or third animal comes out cheaper. Some natural combinations are spring brown bear with black bear, fall brown bear / grizzly with moose, fall interior grizzly with caribou. Black-tailed deer is an option for coastal hunts. Many outfitters also throw in wolf and wolverine as an opportunity species. This is not a decision you can take on the spot, because you need to have relevant tags on hand. Discuss your options for combination hunts and chances for each trophy with your outfitter, and be sure to set your priorities straight.
Brown bear or grizzly hunting in the wilderness of the Last Frontier is a dream for many outdoor adventurers. It is not cheap, but you will get priceless emotions and memories that will last your lifetime. Many hunters save for years to make their Alaskan dream come true. If you want to book your brown bear or grizzly hunt in Alaska, an online marketplace like BookYourHunt.com is a great place to compare and contrast offers that come directly from most reliable and reputable outfitters, and book it at no extra cost with best price guarantee.