This is a very long read.
Let me start this by saying that this hunt is not available to everyone. First, I am an Alaskan resident and get my tags for hunting Prince of Wales Island over the counter. This avoids the drawing process that non-residents have to go through, and I get two tags for that region. Secondly, I have a brother that lives on the Island and he has a burning desire to seek out and hunt the largest black bears. He routinely takes P&Y class bears with his long bow or recurve.
Thats not to say its easy or there is a gigantic record book bear behind every tree. He works harder than most by setting out baits that require not only extremely hard work but tactical scouting.
While the most popular method on the Island is to cruise roads or bays looking for animals in spots for a favorable stalk, he uses a different strategy. He looks to the interior of the Island and favors remote lakes far off the beaten path. These lakes require a substantial hike from the nearest road access often through jungle like second growth. Once he finds a likely water body he packs in his kayak or a canoe and seeks the far shores. This nearly insures no competition from other hunters and hunting bears that have largely never been disturbed by man.
Then he scouts the lake shore looking for drainages and creeks that flow into these remote bodies of water. Since bears tend to follow these aquatic highways, it is often a good place to set up a bait and trail cam.
Its then that he floats a 55 gallon drum in lashed to a canoe or towed behind a kayak. Then its more trips to haul in bait that usually consists of dog food and grease.
This is exactly what happened in May when he set a bait on the far shore of a lake filled with trout and plenty of bear sign. Soon he had pictures of numerous potential book bears visiting the site.
I flew down from my home in Palmer, AK to Prince of Wales Island and met my brother at the small airport in Klawock. We gathered supplies, shot my bow and readied for the next morning when we would drive out to the interior of the island.
We drove north and reached a remote spot to park the truck and slipped into the woods dressed lightly for the hike down to the water. The mosquitos appreciated our lack of bug spray and T-shirts and hovered around us to the waters edge. We pulled out the stashed canoe and I tried to remember how to make it go forward and not paddle in circles.
We shot across the lake, tied up the canoe and silently crept to the tree stands. The first thing I noticed was the enormous old growth trees that grew up the hill away from the lakeshore. The second thing that stood out was the bare ground beaten flat by large footprints of the bears.
We settled in the stands and it wasn’t long before the forest returned to normal. Ducks landed on the lake and we could see beavers making their way through the still waters. The wind was calmer than most nights and in the right direction when it did blow. About the time we would relax a beaver would slap his tail on the surface of the water just below us and nearly send us out of our stands.
For five hours we sat there, thankful we had brought a Thermacell. We were both somewhat surprised that nothing had moved in that time frame, but I was actually starting to “unwind” and was thankful to just be back in the woods.
My brother saw him first and whispered he could see a bear coming. This was the first bear of the evening and while he had hundreds of pictures of really good bears, this one had never been captured on camera.
Im not sure at this point if he was passing through and smelled the bait or was looking for a receptive sow, but he clearly was a dominant male by the way he swaggered in our direction.
As mentioned above our bait was a 55 gallon drum filled with dog food and a little restaurant grease mixed in. I had also bought some Twinkies in town and set them on top of the barrel. We have a running joke that you must put a Twinkie on the barrel or you won’t get to shoot a big bear. We had actually brought in dog food with us that night and had some left over. My brother poured it at the base of a tree about 10 yards from the bait.
The bear stood on his hind legs and rubbed his back on the way in, that was the first time we got a clue that he was a bigger bear. He then came into the left over bait and began to feed. Both my brother and I exchanged glances and whispers. He asked me what I thought and I said he looks big, but its the first bear, first night.
Two years ago we hunted hard for 7 days without little luck. It wasn’t until the last five minutes of shooting time that a good boar came in on the last night. I was fortunate enough to take that bear that went 19 7/16, but that’s another story for another time.
We actually watched this bear feed for about 15 minutes before he came to start eating out of the bait barrel. My brother cuts a 10” hole in the side of the bait barrel 2/3rds of the way of the up. The 10” diameter hole is a built in measuring stick for skull size. An 18” bear can easily stick his head in the hole and eat. A 19” bear has to slightly push his head in the barrel. A 20” bear will have to push hard to fit, or not be able to fit at all. Anything over 20” will not fit.
When this bear got to the barrel he never even tried to fit. He just sat down and reached his paw in. It should be noted that the barrel is suspended 6” off the ground on a chain and the bears back was taller than the top of the barrel.
I was still undecided in as much as I really needed a good relaxing hunt to wind down from my job, and didn’t want it to end quickly. It was at that point that Scott reminded me that I was now a resident of Alaska and had two tags!
I quickly grabbed my bow from the hanger and readied for the shot. Here I was 8 yards from what was a bear bigger than any Ive ever had in range and suddenly my heart started going crazy. I felt my hands begin shaking as well.
The bear had reached into the barrel with his left paw giving me a perfect angle to his vitals on his left side. I anchored and steadied for the shot as he rotated his leg back. I knew the next time he reached I was releasing the arrow.
He did exactly that and I pulled the release. The arrow hit nearly exactly where I was aiming, but he was rotating slightly backward when the arrow reached him causing a slightly high/forward hit. The bear whirled and ran back into the forest, we could see the arrow had achieved about 18” of penetration.