November 04, 2010
"Dusk was falling on the tranquil lake as I subconsciously disciplined myself. Don't Rush the shot. Focus on the kill zone."
As the small porta-bote drifted toward the huge Alaska brown bear eating a salmon, I ranged the distance at 41 yards. Although darkness was beginning to fall on the mirror-surfaced lake, I could clearly discern this huge brownie on the shoreline. While in the process of nocking an arrow, I wondered if the bear would walk into the bush before I could get a shot. Our 45-minute journey to get near this brownie was in its final seconds. The question was, would I have time to get a shot? Since September 11, 2001, I've had a vision of bowhunting Alaska brown bears. While bowhunting in Alaska on that memorable date, I arrowed a nice bull moose.
Unfortunately, the brown bear season didn't open until five days after the moose season had closed.
My guide and friend Greg Spickler, also a Maryland resident, told me he was going to work for Wayne Woods of Woods Outfitting in a different area. After guiding a couple of years there, Greg advised me that Wayne had an excellent brown bear area on Prince William Sound near Cordova. He also mentioned that, in 20 years of outfitting, Wayne had never had any bowhunters succeed. They had all simply resorted to rifles.
After communicating with Wayne for a couple of years, I booked the 14-day bowhunt for mid-September 2007. It took me almost a year to prepare and get my gear in order. I practiced shooting at a 3-D bear target almost every day and watched every brown bear video I could find.
Finally, after two five-hour flights from Maryland, I arrived in Anchorage and, several hours later, took the one-hour flight to Cordova. Wayne met me and drove me to an apartment that served as his base of operations. There, I met my assigned guide, Blake Trangmoe. Unfor-tunately, due to health reasons, my friend Greg was forced to retire from guiding and couldn't join me on this hunt.
On Sunday afternoon, pilot Mike Collins flew Blake and me by floatplane to our destination. During the spectacular one-hour flight to a remote lake, I videotaped glaciers, pristine wilderness, and several bull moose.
By suppertime, we had set up camp and begun observing bears on the shoreline. The lake was about a mile wide and four miles long, and brown bears constantly patrolled the shore, searching for salmon. They frequented one area in particular. According to Blake, the bears all walked across a certain log as they fed. He had camped here for 21 days prior to my arrival and had seen two to five bears per day. We decided the community log would be a good area to place a treestand.
Our primary transportation was a three-seat, 12-foot Porta-Bote. This was an incredible fold-up boat with two aluminum oars attached by small wing-nut oarlocks. It proved to be a very effective vessel. On Monday morning, our first official day of hunting, we set up my treestand near the community log and returned at 4 p.m. to hunt. We saw five bears that night, including a wise old sow with two cubs that busted us. That night in camp, we heard bears walking the gravel shoreline, popping their teeth and groaning near our tent. We banged tin coffee cups together, and the racket seemed to quell their curiosity.
Over the next couple of days, rain poured down and we saw only a few bears. Finally, the weather broke, and Friday morning was warm, sunny, and pleasant. The mirror-surfaced lake was picturesque with the green mountains as a backdrop.
As my big brownie fed along the shoreline, my guide and I paddled within bow range on the lake's still waters. I was amazed as the red Lumenok disappeared through dark fur.
By 4 p.m. we were in our stand, and at 7:15 p.m., Blake spotted a huge bear on the far shore of the lake, a mile away. He exclaimed that this was the largest bear he had seen yet! We watched the bear fish from our right to left for three-fourths mile. Then the monster turned around and started back.
"Let's go for it!" Blake said excitedly.
We descended the tree, and Blake rowed the Porta-Bote feverishly across the lake as I held my bow and watched the bear feeding at a steady pace along the shore. Our pursuit seemed doomed, but we had to give it our best. I could see the determination in Blake's eyes as he rowed as hard as he could.
Halfway across the lake, one of the oarlocks broke, and we looked at each other with sunken disbelief.
"Hand me that paddle," I said, and we began paddling canoe style until we were 200 yards from the bear. At that point, the bear stopped, turned, and looked at us. We both froze. Once the bear continued feeding, we resumed paddling. Will we ever get close enough for a shot? I wondered.
The bear was approaching a 90-degree bend in the shoreline. Rounding that corner, the animal would be broadside, presenting a perfect shot angle. I ranged the bruin and whispered, "Fifty-five yards."
"A couple more strokes," Blake responded.
The rangefinder now read 41 yards. I had already set my single-pin sight on 40 yards. The bear glanced at Blake's movement as he lay forward to give me more room. Nocking an arrow and attaching my release to the string, I still feared the bear would spook and walk into the bush. Dusk was falling on the tranquil lake as I subconsciously disciplined myself. Don't rush the shot. Focus on the kill zone.
Still seated, I drew and held my fiber- optic green pin on the back of the front leg and halfway up the body. Very slowly I squeezed the release and immediately saw the blazing-red Lumenok in flight. As it disappeared into dark fur, the bear roared thunderously, spun, and ran into the bush. Then all was deathly silent.
Blake turned to me with thumbs-up jubilation. "Dead bear," he said.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure it was a heart shot," I said. As we paddled ashore, I thanked God for this incredible opportunity and just sat there humbly for a moment to recompose my trembling body.
Deciding we would be wise to wait until daylight to recover the bear, we paddled back to camp on a super high. Reminiscing over the chronology of events, I could hardly believe we had paddled a mile in 45 minutes and watched a bright- red Lumenok pass through the heart of a huge Alaska brown bear -- in only five hunting days. This was the most incredible
thing I'd ever experienced.
That night, our excitement from the hunt kept us from sleeping much, and the next morning, we savored our coffee while viewing our waterfront real estate for the last time before the work began. After breakfast, we retrieved our treestands and arrived at the bear kill site by midmorning.
My guide Blake Trangmoe is impressed with the size of my bear's feet and claws. The 20-year-old female bear squared close to nine feet.
We found the huge brownie piled up in a ditch surrounded by alders, only 50 yards from the shore. We had to clear the area with bow saws, and after many exhaustive efforts, we finally rolled the semi-stiff monster over. I couldn't believe the animal's size, and to our amazement, we found that the bear was a dry sow. Her front teeth were totally worn down. After taking photos and skinning, we were back at camp by midafternoon. Blake said the bear weighed approximately 800 pounds and squared nine feet.
Minutes after arriving at camp, we had an unexpected visit from Mike in the floatplane. He told us a two-day forecast of bad weather was headed our way and that we needed to pack. In short order, I had my gear aboard the floatplane and flew to Cordova as Blake disassembled camp. Mike would return directly to pick him up.
Once back at the apartment in Cordova, we spent two days preparing the hide and skull for my return flight home. When not guiding for bears, Blake is a taxidermist in Montana, and he did an excellent job of hide preparation. I had a chance to do some sightseeing of this famous seaport city before flying home a week early with my trophy bruin in check-in baggage. All the way home, I€ˆcould picture myself drifting on still water, watching that red nock disappear through dark fur.
Author's Notes: I dedicate this article and the opportunity to experience the excitement and freedom of this ultimate hunt to SP4 Shane W. Woods. Shane spent his short life growing up in the wilderness of Alaska. He had an inherited passion for hunting and fishing. His whole life was an adventure that most sportsmen could only lease for an occasional week or two (as I did). Shane felt a compelling force to serve his country and joined the Army. On August 9, 2006, Shane lost his life in combat in Iraq. Wayne and Mae Woods of Woods
Outfitting in Palmer, Alaska, are proud of their son's legacy. Every sportsman and citizen today should be eternally grateful to Shane and his fallen comrades for their supreme sacrifice for our freedom. I thank God and salute them every day.
After the 60-day drying period, my bear scored 2215„16 inches, ranking it No. 58 among more than 100 P&Y record entries. A biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimated her age at more than 20 years.
I used a Browning Mirage Compound bow at 70 pounds draw weight, Beman ICS Hunter Camo arrows wrapped with Easy-Eye wraps, Lumenok nocks, a 100-grain Muzzy Phantom broadhead, T.R.U. Ball release, a Leupold RX-II laser rangefinder, and Nikon Travelite bino-culars. I wore Under Armour Cold Gear and Scent-Lok apparel. For information on this hunt, contact Wayne Woods, Master Guide of Woods Outfitting, PO Box 3037, Palmer, AK 99645; (907) 376-3892.
The author is a retired Maryland State Trooper and an avid big game bowhunter. He works as a bow tech at Dick's Sporting Goods in Bel Air, Maryland, and is a member of the Pro Staffs for PSE, Muzzy, and Easton.