If you ask any person that has spent any amount of time in the outdoors what their top 5 Bucket List hunts are, Kodiak Island Brown Bear would surely be on that list. When I graduated with my Master’s Degree my dad was kind enough to send me on one of these hunts as a graduation gift. After doing some research on outfitters and several phone conversations, I made the decision to go with Dennis Harms of Alaska Trophy Safaris. He sent a check list on what gear to bring and what to expect, so I was as ready as I could be when it was time to leave for Alaska.
At that point in my life I had never checked a firearm onto an airline, so that was a new experience for me and I was quite nervous, however that turned out not to be a big deal at all. A TSA agent met me at the ticket counter, poked around in my gun case and that was it. After stops in Seattle and Anchorage, I was on the last leg of the flight to Kodiak. I was also surprised to find that you are able to fly commercial airline into Kodiak Island. Upon landing, I wasn’t sure what to expect, I had the assumption that all of Kodiak Island was complete wilderness, this is not that case at all. Dennis picked me up from the “airport”, unlike any commercial airport I had ever been in, it was very small, and then we headed off to Alaska Fish and Game to retrieve tags and licenses. With the formalities were complete we headed to the hotel to drop off some of my gear and pick up another hunter.
Next, we headed down to an old naval base for sight in. I actually think Dennis just wanted to ensure that we could handle firearms and were not going to be involved in a firearm accident while in the field. Once sighted in, it was back to the hotel for a nights rest and some food. I was surprised to find chain restaurants and a Wal-Mart in Kodiak City. I spent some time walking around the bay where some of the boats from Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch harbor for the non-crab season. The next day we boarded a float plane and flew 100 miles to the South end of the island where I would call home for the next 10 days. My guide had been on that end of the island for several days setting up camp and doing some mild scouting. The tents we had were amazing, outfitted with cooking areas and gas stoves to keep us warm. Cooking dinner that night was a treat, I was mentally prepared for MRE’s and tuna fish, we had a gas stove and were able to cook pork chops, hamburgers and all things along those lines.
The next day it was time to hunt. We got up, ate breakfast, made some instant coffee, then headed out. To get to the area where we hunted was about a 4 mile one way hike down the beach, then up to a 300ft elevated area. The first several days were fairly slow and we spotted several bear but they were all approximately ½ mile away. On the third day it was much of the same, however on our hike back to camp a sow decided she wanted the play with seaweed on the beach directly in our path. We continued to walk until we approached to about 15 yards, then she turned and ran away from us approximately 100 yards but continued to rest on the beach. We decided we were going to make as much noise as possible to get her off the beach, we encountered her again at about 15 yards only this time she ran off the beach and we never saw her again.
The following day the weather was quite bad so we hiked to a spot closer to camp in case the weather really turned we could return to camp quicker. After spotting for about 5 hours our packer made the spot on a bear about 1200 yards away. After checking him out for a while through the spotting scope the guide decided we needed a closer look. So we trekked across a river and through rugged alder filled terrain until we could get down wind, about 300 yards away from the bear. The guide decided that we needed to get into a good position for a shot in case he turned out to be a good sized bear. We “army crawled” until we were 175 yards from him. Once we got to that position and watched him dig a bed for about another hour we decided that he was the one.
Once that decision was made the snow started. It didn’t just start, the bottom dropped out (we actually found out later that NOAA classified the storm we were in as a blizzard, you can only imagine what that was like for the guy from Texas). I watched him in my scope for about 15 minutes until my scope was starting to fog and get wet, so the scope cover went back on. When the guide told me the bear was starting to shift positions, we all mounted our guns, took the scope covers off and waited. Finally the bear got into a position to scratch his back on a tree, at this point the only thing I could see on the bear was a light patch of hair in the center of his chest, so I let a round fly. As soon as I felt the trigger break the snow picked up even more. It was snowing so hard that none of us could see the bear to put another shot on him. About 25 seconds later we hear some alders crack and the most terrifying ROAR you have ever heard. That is when my guide rolled over on top of me and started yelling and hugging me. They call that roar the death scream and that is the bear’s “last words”. We waited a little bit and then began to track him down. Once we found him we got him into position for pictures, took some then had to place a tarp over him and come back the next day to complete the cleaning.
The bear is in its permanent home now, as a rug in my living room floor. The real trophy is the memory of that trip and being able to put a check mark next to the item Kodiak Island Brown Bear on my hunting bucket list.