August 06, 2012
I didn't start hunting until I was 31 years old. I figure that cost me at least 10 good years.
After hunting for more than 20 years now, I look back and realize how fortunate I have been. I've had the opportunity to hunt all over the world. I've learned the subtle nuances of the woods; how to be patient but persistent; and I've met some amazing people, many of whom I call friends. I have had my share of successful hunts, as well as many unsuccessful ones. We've all experienced those tough days, up before dawn, sitting 12 hours in the bone-chilling cold, knowing how much warmer it is in front of the fire watching a football game. But we've also known that moment of truth, when all the hard times fade into the background, the heart pumps wildly, and the arrow flies.
I take my hunting seriously, and I hunt hard. I guess it was a natural progression when I reached a point in my hunting career that I wanted to test myself and take what I feel is the ultimate North American trophy, the brown bear.
I first hunted the Peninsula brown bear in 2007. I had the opportunity to hunt with Gus Lamoureux and his wife, Koreen, of Ugashik Lake and Kodiak Bear Camp. We hunted hard for the first three days, and every day we returned to our tent exhausted, cold, and soaked from rain.
On that third day, we watched a bear moseying along a creek bed, so we got in front of him. As we listened to the bear take his time walking in the creek, we sat holding our breath, hoping today would be the day. Suddenly I was presented with a 12-yard shot, but the window of opportunity would close very fast. Before I knew it my arrow had passed through both lungs of the Pope and Young brown bear that squared at around eight feet. I'd never been so close to such an animal!
We had a great week in Alaska, and saw a lot of great bears, and while my bear was a gorgeous one, he couldn't compare to some of the behemoths we saw in that area. I couldn't get those big bears out of my head, so I vowed to go back to Alaska and try to kill one of those giant Peninsula bruins.
Because I was a successful brown bear hunter, I had to wait the requisite four years before applying again. In this particular region, brown bear seasons are only held every other year. I was finally able to acquire a tag in 2011, and the hunt was on!
As we made the 3,000-mile trek to Anchorage, and then to the Peninsula, on every size and type plane imaginable, our anticipation grew. With that anticipation came a certain amount of trepidation. Anything can and does happen in Alaska, and the weather is always a factor. You can be stranded at a spike camp for days, and because all travel is by bush or floatplane, that adds another level of, shall we say, adventure. Not only that, but I would be hunting an animal that can charge in a heartbeat and deliver a fatal injury in seconds. But for me, it's all part of the dream of brown bear hunting.
This hunt was totally different than my first trip. There weren't many salmon in the creek, so we were seeing fewer bears. We walked and glassed for three days from a high vantage point, seeing only a handful of bears that were too far away to make a move on. On the fourth morning, the decision was made to hike down to the creek and hunt the banks. After about two hours we spotted a good nine-foot bear. As he walked along the creek, we watched him cross over and disappear into the alders a good distance away from our position. I turned to my guide, Dwayne, and said, "Let's follow him."
Dwayne didn't think we could get on him, but we hadn't seen much, so I thought it was worth a try. We would occasionally get glimpses of the bear appearing in and out of the brush as we followed him for at least a mile. Then we saw him bed up. That was our chance. We had to cover 500 yards to get to him, and we made the first 400 yards without being detected. Quietly covering the remaining 100 yards of muskeg would be a challenge. We decided to have our cameraman, who also happens to be my son, Chris, set up there and get the stalk on tape from a distance.
Every step was carefully calculated as the mud noisily sucked at the bottoms of our boots.
The bear seemed restless, lifting his head numerous times to scan the area. We had closed the distance to 50 yards, nearly alerting the bear a few times with the sloshing of our boots. Then the bear rose. Sensing something wasn't right, the bear closed the distance between us and stopped at about 30 yards. He bluff-charged, and then rose up on his hind legs and loudly woofed at us, blowing snot out of his nose. I looked for an opening to shoot through but couldn't find one.
We've all shot at a standing bear on a 3-D course, but to me that is a one-lung shot, and it wasn't one I was willing to take while standing in front of a live brown bear. The bear dropped down, worked downwind into the thick brush, caught our wind, and was gone. It was a very intense moment, and one I will never forget.
Energized from this encounter, Dwayne, Chris, and I cut our way down to the creek to set up. During our stalk, we'd heard a bear chasing fish in the creek. The brush was thick, and walking was difficult, but we made it down and set up on a high bank about six feet above the creek with the wind in our face.
Just after getting set up at our position, we saw a bear about 100 yards away, and he was walking down the sandbar. Judging the size of this bear was not a problem — he was absolutely huge! As he got closer, everything was working out perfectly; the shot would be 25 yards on the edge of the sandbar. This is really going to happen! I thought to myself.
Then, the bear changed course and entered the creek. I froze as he headed right for the bank I was standing on. No one dared move as the monster bruin walked along the bank just three yards from us. I swear we could hear each other's heartbeats. After he passed by us, I carefully stood to take my shot at the monster bear that was now only five yards away! All I could think was, This is just like shooting a whitetail under my stand. Bend at the waist€¦ I wasted no time releasing the arrow, which passed through both lungs. As the bear ran off, I could see the blood pouring out of him.
I knew the shot was lethal, but not seeing him go down always creates doubt. The bear had bailed into some thick cover. So to say that tracking him was interesting is an incredible understatement. There was plenty of blood, but the bush was so thick that there would be no way to see a charging bear before it was too late.
Despite the anxiety, we pressed on and finally located my bear about 80 yards from where I had shot him. There was no ground shrinkage. I was in awe of that animal, and even though I haven't spent much time around brown bears, I knew this was a really big bear. I just didn't know how big. My bear currently ranks as the world record bowkilled brown bear in the SCI record book, with a score of 296„16. It comes in at number two all-time in Pope and Young with a score of 29 inches even, but that won't be official until it is panel scored prior to the Dallas Convention next spring.
My friends Tim Peloso and Mike Gilbert were also on this trip and hunted from another spike camp. Our outfitter, who flew in to check supplies on the third day, told me of the monster bear Tim had shot his first day. And Mike, who had run the camera on my hunt four years earlier, caught Tim's hunt on camera also. Tim's bear scored 2714„16. Neither Tim nor I could have imagined this outcome when we booked this hunt four years earlier.
I can't thank Gus and Koreen enough, nor can I say enough about Ugashik Lake Outfitters, their guides, and the areas they hunt.
Of course, having the opportunity to share such an exhilarating once-in-a-lifetime experience with my son was truly priceless.
Author's Notes: My equipment on this hunt included an 84-lb. Darton DS-3800, Easton FMJ arrows, 125-grain Slick Trick broadheads, Nikon optics, and scent-elimination products from Dead Down Wind. To book a hunt with Gus Lamoureux, contact him at (907) 248-3230 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.