In the spring of 2006, my son-in-law, Sagen Juliussen and I went brown bear hunting on the Alaska Peninsula. We were in search of a big bear. As we sat on the spotting hill with the cold wind hitting our faces and chilling us within, I thought to myself, why am I here? I’m sure, at one time of another, that thought has crossed the minds of many Alaskan professional hunters while brown bear hunting during those long, cold, wet and many times boring days. And, I’m sure our clients as they sat shivering, were more than likely thinking, and we paid money for this! I have hunted brown bear in Alaska for 38 years. I have had some great experiences and some miserable experiences but as we say in the business, “that’s brown bear hunting.” My main thought however is, what is really the most important prerequisite for taking a 10’+ brown bear. Is it skill, patience or luck? I have personally guided on eight 10 footers with another 27 being taken by AAA Alaskan Outfitters Inc., in which I was a partner for twenty- one years.
Brent Jones and I started AAA Alaskan Outfitters in December 1983. Our first season was the 1984 spring brown bear season in Cold Bay, Alaska. The first two bears we harvested were a 10’ 10” B&C 29 5/16 and a 10’2” B&C 28 5/16. A great start but how did it happen? I don’t think I had ever seen a ten foot bear before this particular hunt. I had honed my brown bear hunting skills as a resident hunter. I went on seven different brown bear hunts with friends and had been in on eleven brown bear kills which included an 8’9” and an 8’6” for me. A 9’3” was the largest of the eleven. I had hunted Kodiak three times and the Alaska Peninsula four times. One of those hunts was even around the Cold Bay area. Now I’m in the guide business and my first hunter takes a 10’2” B&C brown bear. So what did I do differently? Nothing! It had to be luck. I guided clients on 10’+ bears the next three springs.
The first and I think the most important thing about hunting for that 10 foot brown bear is to find an area where there are 10 foot bears. It doesn’t do any good hunting an area that has few if any 10 footers. There are only two units in Alaska where a hunter would have a good opportunity and they are Kodiak (Unit 8) or the Alaska Peninsula (Unit 9). Sure you might find one in some of the other Units but the odds are not in your favor. Check out the record book. While this will put you in the general area, you still have to do some research. Non-resident hunters need to check with many different outfitters to see what they say the chances are for a 10 footer and to check out how they have done over the past five to ten years. If they haven’t been there that long and can’t show you what the previous outfitter’s big bear success rate was, steer clear and keep shopping. Take the longest hunt the outfitter has. If you are just looking for any bear ten days is fine but to increase your odds do a longer hunt. Plenty of guides on the Alaska Peninsula do the full season spring hunt which is sixteen days. Find out how the outfitter pays their guides. If it is by the hunt instead of by the day, you may get rushed because whenever a guide completes one hunt, they will usually get another hunter. AAA paid their guides by the day with a $500 bonus for a 10 footer giving them more incentive to get their client a big bear.
Patience plays a major roll for the hunter and the guide. There are many long and cold hours spent sitting on the best spotting hill glassing the mountain sides in spring and late fall and on the valley floors or stream beds when salmon are around. Not only does the guide have to have patience, the hunter must as well. You may pass up 10 maybe 20 or more bears. But if it is the 10 footer that you are after, you must pass and hold out possibly leaving without a bear. We had one hunter who hunted for 42 days with three different outfitters until he took his 10’ B&C bear with AAA. That’s patience and a lot of cash. I had two hunters harvest 10’+ bears on the last evenings of a 16 day hunt and a 10 day hunt. They stayed the course, listened to the guide and got lucky. Many people will say they made their luck. I like that and sometimes doing everything right does work.
Skill plays an important role – more so in spotting, stalking and judging the size of a bear than in getting that 10 footer. Sometimes and I hate to say this but the least interested and inexperienced person in the world can be in the right place at the right time and take a 10 footer. There are many guides who have worked for me that are just as skilled, have as much patience, hunted in the right areas and have never been in on a 10 foot brown bear kill. That’s where luck or fate or if you are a Believer, answered prayer comes in. I don’t consider myself very lucky but I have had clients that for some reason were very lucky. A great example is one of my clients who was looking for a good representation of a brown bear. He harvested a 10’ bear the third day of his hunt. He also took a 40” ram on the first day of his sheep hunt and a 60” moose the opening morning of his moose hunt. What was that? Was I that good of a guide, being at the right place at the right time, luck, or divine intervention? He has since taken a few African hunts that didn’t produce as well. Did his luck run out?
Brent Jones, my past business partner, is a very skilled and patient hunter. I place him at the top of the field when it comes to hunting, plus he is one lucky guy. The spring of 2004, my last year in the guide business, my hunter and I sat on a spotting hill for six days. The hill was three miles from camp. I was looking for a wounded bear across from this hill which I thought was a 9 footer. He was the largest bear we had spotted. That afternoon Brent came up the valley looking for another bear and spotted a 10’8” across from our hill and his hunter harvested it. I’m there six days and he is there one afternoon. Right place right time, just pure luck or one in the same? The following story of luck is one of many but one of Brent’s best. His client had just harvested a 395 B&C caribou in front of the tent. As they were taking pictures, a 9’ 3” brown bear came down the stream. The bear went down, the hunter was done and both animals were laying 100 yards from the tent. Brent had also videoed both kills. Skill, right place at the right time or luck?
This year’s spring hunt went well. After two days on the spotting hill and the fourth day of the hunt with the wind in our face, we decide to move up valley to spot. I spotted new tracks coming into the valley. Big wide tracks in fact, he had plowed the snow with his chest in many areas. A big bear for sure. At 3:00 P.M., the bear moved out of the alder to feed on the new green shoots. He was truly a big bear. My guess was he was over 10’6”. The wind was wrong for a stalk so we waited. We then moved down stream hoping the wind would change or that we could work our way up the mountain. As we moved down stream, Sagen spotted another bear. He was moving across the hill toward the larger bear. After checking him out with the spotting scope, we decided he was also a big bear, but not as big as Mr. Big. I told Sagen that we might see a fight but more than likely the big bear would run the other one off. At least that’s what I thought. I was just hoping they both wouldn’t leave. As it played out the smaller bear moved right to the big bear and without a fight the big bear got in his old tracks and left the valley. I couldn’t believe it. We still had one bear and now the wind had changed in our favor. We made our stalk to within 180 yards. Sagen’s 338 Winchester ultra magnum did the job. Guess what, we had a super bear. He was 10’1” with a possible 28” B&C skull but that 338 had wasted it. Still a great bear! I’m sure now that the other one was over 10’6” easy. A little bit of skill for the stalk, a little patience waiting for the right bear and luck, that’s bear hunting at its best. I guess if we had a lot of luck we would have taken the 10’6”+ bear.
If you are looking for a 10 footer, select the right area and book with a good outfitter. The skill of your guide is important and patience for both of you are even more important, but without some luck forget that 10 footer.