What Makes Us Different
The cabin at Zachar Bay.
Because of the challenges involved in hunting for big bear your guide is especially important to your success. And by your guide I mean the person accompanying you in the field, not who you booked with. We have three spring permits and one fall permit and each year I guide three of these hunts personally, often times with my son Kiche (a very capable guide in his own right) packing and co-guiding. A gunsmith friend of mine, Andy Hawk, who started out as a packer and trained up guides one client each spring. Both Kiche and Andy are class A assistant guides. For seventeen straight seasons at least 50% of our clients – each and every year – have taken male bears with skulls measuring 26” or better, eight of these years we were 75% on 26" or better, and in 2010 we were 100%. Nine bears went 28” or larger. That is a very difficult average to maintain. During this time we've been either 75% or 100% each year on taking bear. Nearly all of the clients who haven't taken bears were passing up animals looking for monsters. We have many repeat clients trying for ever larger animals.
Bear hunting requires a good amount of patience from the hunter and your guide. Most of the time you are sitting on your butt for long hours glassing, often in inclement weather. People get cold and they get bored. You have to fight past this. I'm never bored for long; I love glassing for bear.
What makes hunting for big bear especially tough is you are going to see some brutes that you have no chance to get, and all you can do is watch them and hope they do something to give you a chance later. They have an incredible sense of smell - they can wind you from at least a mile – and if it's dry they'll pick up your scent off your rubber boot “tracks” from “yesterday”, and either way you will not see that bear again on your hunt. Soooo, you can't just charge after every big bear you see, especially when the wind is variable, or the terrain is especially difficult, or you'll run every big bear right out of the area. Some guides try to counter that by hunting a new area every day, but running and gunning is not my style, dogged tenacity is, particularly when we've seen a “monster” near by, or the tracks of one.
The bear's habits combined with the “gallimaufry” of alder, black birch, elderberry, cottonwood and “clawing” salmon berry makes every hunt a chess game between man and beast. While young 3 to 5 year old animals are full of equal parts energy and ignorance, and are typically waltzing around showing themselves off risking death by bullet, the big boys – who become especially wary by age 6 or 7 – are using all that cover to their advantage. These bears don't reach physical maturity until age 10. Males can live into their upper 20's, while females sometimes make it into their 30's, and that's a lot of accumulated experience.
Any mature male bear is an intelligent animal, and despite their dominance in the food chain, they are plenty smart enough to recognize that humans are trouble. It would be accurate to say that the Kodiak bear and the hunter respect each other about equally, and for the bear this respect is manifested through avoidance – given the chance.
Of course if you hurt one of these guys all bets are off. They have varying personalities, just like people, and some bear will continue to retreat, while others - at some point - will attack their pursuers. Females with small cubs can be especially aggressive if bumped into at close range.
All this said, some great herbivore guides never quite get the hang of hunting big bear, mainly because the bear's habits are so much less predictable, and the level of patience required is so much greater. To be consistent at taking big bear one needs to be a student of the species and maybe a little fanatical too.
You may have heard rumors of Alaskan Guides firing off three or four shots to your one at the moment of truth. Some clients may come away wondering if they actually contributed - meaningfully - in bagging their bear? We will always be mindful of and considerate of your feelings during your hunt. Each hunt is a “team” effort warts and all.
If your code demands that you do all the shooting, short of stopping a flat out charge, we will accommodate you. Everyone should know too that on all Unit 8 Kodiak Archipelago bear hunts a lost wounded bear counts as your bear – you can't shoot another one.
Our basic philosophy is, first you have to hit the bear; after that we'll hold our fire so long as it appears you can get in some more shots before the bear disappears for good. In my experience most clients will encourage their guide to help out if the guide thinks the bear might escape. It's in this “no mans land” after the initial hit that I think too many guides don't give their client's a fair chance at killing the bear themselves. Our hunts respect the client.
Specific conditions can and should influence these decisions. For example, shooting a bear right at dark where there can't be any follow up until the next day, or when falling rain can immediately wash out the blood trail, might influence everyone involved to be more proactive in getting a bear down before losing sight of it. The important thing is for these issues to be discussed early in the hunt so decisions can be made on their basis.
Another situation we are repeatedly faced with while goat hunting is whether to shoot a particular goat that is likely to destroy itself crashing down a rocky mountain side, or possibly hang up in inaccessible cliffs where it can't be retrieved. These two scenarios happen every year on Kodiak resulting in lost and,or, unmountable goats. We don't consider this a satisfactory outcome to a goat hunt. Often times by having extra time and patience we are able to get a desired animal by waiting for it to move to a better location.
Unlike mountain sheep horns and capes which are pretty tough, goat horns are fragile, and the face skin on a goat is very thin and easily damaged. Sheep horns and sheep face skin are tough because of their head butting dominance battles, while goats hook at each others' rear quarters with their very sharp horns in a much more dangerous skirmish.
Our goat hunts are a full ten days long for a reason. A longer hunt allows for us to be more selective in taking bigger goats, and it allows for weather related down time of which there can be plenty on a given hunt. I've noticed there are five to seven day goat hunts being advertised, and while they might be a little cheaper than mine there is no way – over the long haul – they can be as successful in any other dimension.