Spring Bear Hunting in Alaska: The Thrill of the First Bear
By Austin Manelick
“He's going to come right underneath us. Can you see him?” I ask.
“No, I can't,” she says.
"Shoot him! Shoot him!" I say as a 500-pound interior grizzly bear walks directly under our tree stand.
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The bear spooked and ran about 10 steps away, pausing for just a moment. My wife, Jordan, clicks the gun safety off and readies for the shot.
Weeks of planning and years of dreaming can culminate for a target species in that magical seven-minute window. My wife has been slowly getting into hunting over the last few years and has finally committed to becoming a full-blown huntress.
Seeing the photos of my hunts and hearing me talk about my experiences has piqued her interest. On top of that, her father helped shape her into an outdoorsy person from a young age, and now she finally wanted to start hunting for herself. Jordan’s goal is to take one of every animal in Alaska — a goal shared by many Alaskans across the state. I mean, why else would you want to live in Alaska?
Jordan’s first animal was a bull moose, but she has always wanted a bear. I told her targeting moose is a great place to start because sometimes you run into bears while you’re out there. We never ran into one on Jordan’s first moose hunt, and her dream of taking her first bear continued. The beautiful 58-inch, 3X2 bull that she was able to get made her extremely happy and she was able to forget about the bear for a while.
With bears in hibernation, we moved onto other animals, like blacktail deer. Jordan scored her first mature Boone and Crockett blacktail, but she still yearned for a bear. Unfortunately, winter had come to town and hunters across the state were forced to sit back and lick their wounds from the fall’s hunting failures. Oh the joys of being an Alaskan.
When spring finally rolled around, that meant only one thing: bear season. We left our winter dens, much like the bears, started to venture back into non-snowy activities. Jordan kindly reminded me she still wanted a bear, as if I needed the encouragement. We went out to scout a few locations across the state, but my old haunts were unsuccessful in that no bears were harmed on the adventures. Every weekend from there on out was planned around getting Jordan her first shot at a nice bear. The first weekend, we hopped on the four wheeler and ventured out to a south-facing slope that was known as a spot where bears would forage post-hibernation and pre-rut. Unfortunately, we only saw a sow and her cub. Being weekend warriors and not having time on our side, harvesting a bear was going to be tough. Another weekend, we decided to float down the Noname Creek and look for rutting bears chasing sows in heat as the season progressed. We drifted along with another group of hunters targeting bears above the treeline feeding on skunk cabbage. We saw several bears up high in goat country and made several feeble attempts, but no success. We noticed the bears were indeed chasing sows and knew that the rut was on.
Not having the time that was needed was making it even more difficult to get Jordan’s first bear. I decided to try my luck at bear-baiting. Throwing every tactic in the book at these critters, it would only be a matter of time before we connected, I hoped. I decided to put up a bear bait in an area that was not easily accessible in a location that holds bears. After several trips to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office, I decided where I would put my bait. I spent more nights baiting and checking trail cameras than I care to admit.
The very first night that Jordan and I set the bait, she got her shot. Ripping full throttle on the 60/40 Yamaha jet in the tunneled hulled 1660 SeaArk Boat, we got to the spot and hiked to the stand. Not long after settling in, we caught movement along the side slough adjoining the bear stand. The grizzly bear came out of nowhere and started ambling toward us.
This was the bear Jordan had been looking for, strutting in and rolling around
like he owned the place. We knew that this was the target bear, a beautiful grizzly that could push all the other bears out of the area.
Jordan could see the bear, but he didn’t pause long enough for her to take a shot. He disappeared briefly in the thick brush. But then, just as quickly as he disappeared, he showed up again directly underneath us.
The adrenaline was pumping on a whole different level as the grizzly bear smelled the ladder steps up to our tree stand.
“Wait. Wait. Wait,” I whisper as he smelled the oils from our hands on the tree stand steps and spooks.
The 500-pound snarling bear almost knocked us out of the tree. He paused at 10 yards to confirm with his nose and looked directly at us. Jordan, with the rifle already shouldered, swung up to shoot him.
“Now!” I said to her, but the front of her rifle got caught on the concealment branch as she swung.
The situation got more tense as Jordan pauses to find the target. We’re talking about adrenaline through the roof! It seemed like an eternity went by before Jordan found a hole to shoot through as the bear turned to leave. She nailed him with a perfectly quartering-away shot. We watched the bear pile up and just like, that Jordan’s dream of taking her first bear came true. We walked straight over to the grizzly and admired him. Jordan was one step closer to her goal of taking every type of animal in Alaska, and I couldn’t have been more proud of her.