over the years are familiar with Jake's history of bowhunting for bears.
Whether it be his two attempts for a polar bear , or his four unsuccessful attempts on an Alaskan Brown bear, the great
bears of this continent seem bent on being Jake's hunting nemesis.
Then there is the animal itself.
Stockier, but perhaps not quite as long as a polar bear, the Alaskan Brown Bear
is one of the two largest land carnivores on the North American
continent. Able to outrun a horse in a short sprint, chasing these animals is
not for the faint of heart.
On December 30th, 2009, I received a phone call
from Mark Gutsmiedl. Mark is a registered Alaskan guide and also a hardcore
bowhunter. Alaska had recently changed the application deadline for brown bear
on Afognak Island. What used to be March was now moved up to December. Mark
thought that since many people might not be aware of this change, I might have
a better chance this year. I applied online and thought nothing more of
After the spring of 2010 I was 0/5 on brown bear. Everyone
has a nemesis big game animal and mine was definitely a brown bear.
In the summer of 2010, I was outside preparing for the fall
season when a visit to my mailbox brought me a surprise. I had drawn the
Afognak Island bear tag for 2010. Despite my dismal track record on brownies, the
opportunity to hunt them again consumed me...once more.
Preparations began almost immediately. I borrowed a life-sized
McKenzie target from my friend, Bob Miller and started shooting everyday. Bob
told me to use that target as much as I wanted since he wouldn't need it back. I
practiced with broadheads all summer until my accuracy (and confidence) were in
Due to conflicts and other scheduling issues, the earliest
that Chris could make it to Kodiak was November 4th, more than week
after the season started. Allowing for logistics and a charter flight to Afognak
Island, we were looking at November 6th as our first full day to hunt.....weather
permitting. This started to concern me. Most salmon runs occur well before this
time and that late start could affect my chances for an opportunity to kill a
brown bear. Additionally, November can bring some pretty severe weather (a
typhoon had washed the fish out of the streams in the Fall of 2009). Nonetheless,
before I knew it, November 4th found me on Kodiak Island and we
arrived on Afognak Island early afternoon at high tide the following day.
The first thing we did was camp chores. We set-up the two
Bomb Shelter tents – one for the food, and one for sleeping. Once that was
done, I took my bow out for some shooting. I had packed a piece of foam and was
walking back from setting it up when I heard a motor! Sure enough, from the
mouth of the bay I could see a man and woman in a small raft propelled by an
outboard motor. They were scouting for Roosevelt Elk and Blacktails since both
seasons were now open. After a brief chat, they left and the three of us went
into the sleeping tent to unpack and go to sleep.....when we heard voices
outside again! Some deer hunters were passing by. They stated that they had
just scouted the entire valley we had planned on hunting, and had even managed to
kill a buck.
I am a positive minded bloke, but by now I started adding
everything up; we are late for the salmon, there might be weather on the way,
there is human scent up the valley, and a gun has been fired. I chuckled at
myself and wondered what else can go wrong?
The next morning, I got my answer. As Mark and I were
leaving camp to set-up a spike camp upstream, we noticed the stream looked like
chocolate milk! The sediment content was so high that I seriously doubted any
fish could survive in it. Another nearby stream did not look this way, just the
one that we intended to hunt. That was odd. Mark said that in all of his years
of guiding this area, he had never seen such a phenomenon.
The Lower part of the stream was gray with silt
I suggested it was probably caused by some type of mass wasting
upstream, like a landslide, and suggested we continue upstream to find it. This
stream was only six miles long on the map and the source of the sediment should
be somewhere up ahead. We traveled close to four miles upstream (seeing NO fish
and very little bear sign) until we found a small 3 foot wide tributary that
was supplying the source of the sediment. Just beyond that intersection we
found salmon, and ten yards beyond that we found fresh bear tracks.
Eventually, we found a large pine tree at the base of a hill
and set-up our spike camp 150 yards downwind from the stream. By now, it was
noon so we had a bite to eat then climbed the valley wall to glass the clear upstream
portion which held the salmon.
This lone pine would be base camp for as long as it took
Mark spotted the first bears. For an hour we watched a sow,
with three cubs catch fish. They slowly moved toward us before veering off to
our right at the junction of a sharp 90 degree turn in the river.
We continued to glass for close to 45 minutes when I spotted
a single bear 1,000 yards away. A quick glance through our binoculars confirmed
the bear was larger and solitary - probably a boar. He was headed for the upper
part of the stream which would likely bring him downstream and towards us.
Dropping quickly from our elevated position, Mark stayed
80-100 yards behind me, keeping dark brush and a pine tree behind him to
break-up his outline. While he had a loaded .375 on the ground by his knee, he
was going to try to video the hunt so long as things appeared to be going well.
The boar would need to travel a fairly curved section of the
stream before making a sharp turn to his right (right where the sow and three
cubs veered off to the southwest). If he continued following the stream, there
was a large pine tree one yard from the water's edge which had a large opening
in its lower limbs affording me an outstanding view of the stream and a 15 yard
The big boar was going to walk by me at 15 yards - then something happened...
If the bear followed the stream past my position, 15 yards would
be my longest shot. I was almost giddy with anticipation and
excitement. The bear continued lumbering towards me and I confirmed it was a
boar. The wind was blowing about 30-35 mph, quartering towards me from my left
(the northeast). The bear would be approaching from my right, so the wind was
good. My jinx was in trouble!
When the bear reached the 50 yard mark he started to “cut
the corner” off of the stream. His new approach would have him quartering
towards me at 15 yards when he reached the edge of the stream again. I could
hear my pulse pounding in my ears. THIS is what bowhunters live for.....an
opportunity.....our own personal moment of truth. I had an arrow on the bow,
and my release was clipped on my D-loop.
The bear had closed to 35 yards when he paused. I knew that
I had the wind in my favor, so he certainly didn't wind me. He took 2-3 more
steps, stopped, and then reversed his direction!
In situations like this, time seems to slow down. Our senses
become magnified. I remember thinking that the bear was between 8 ½ to 9 feet -
a shooter for me. I remember thinking that he was rapidly going to put distance
between us. I remember thinking that the far bank was 40-45 yards away, and
that I would not have time to range him.
I remember drawing the bow and telling myself that if the
sight picture looked good when his foot hit that far bank, I would take the
shot. When it did... I did. The bear presented a sharp quartering away shot. I
aimed 10 inches behind the last rib and released.
Watch Jake's Brown Bear Bowhunt Video
The arrow was perfect for elevation - my range estimate had
been fine. However, the arrow was 1 ½ – 2 inches left to the left of my aiming
point. Therefore, the arrow hit him in the right, rear ham with excellent
penetration. He roared, and let me tell you, it made the hair on the back of my
neck tingle. He turned to bite at the arrow then ran up the bank. I was now in
what I refer to as “second arrow” mode. ANY chance to put another shaft in that
animal will be taken....distance be damned.
I shot again when the boar was at 70 yards, and again my
elevation was right on, but I hadn't led him enough. Because of the sharp
angle, my arrow hit him in the back ham. He roared again, spun several
times, bit the arrow off, and continued to run to the south.
He was crossing a large field of waist high grass and
water-filled sluices. I took a long shot (just trying to get another arrow into
him), and this time I led him perfectly, but the arrow went just over his back.
However, instead of heading for the alders at the far end of the field, the
bear appeared to be slowing.
I signaled to Mark that the first arrow had hit him a little
too far back (for the shot angle that I was given), and I trotted the 80 yards
back to Mark's slightly elevated position. When I reached Mark, we could both
see the bear. It appeared that the bear was preparing to bed down in the field.
Mark kept the camera rolling as I circled downwind. I
approached the bear with the wind in my face. He was lying on his back with all
four feet in the air. Every 30 seconds, he would right himself and look around.
When he dropped his head, all four feet would then come back up in the air.
Jake draws on the big boar for a finishing shot
Once I got the timing of this routine, I continued to close
the distance. When I reached 40 yards, I saw him lift his head and expose his
shoulder. I immediately drew my bow and released, hitting exactly where I had
aimed. Unfortunately, he was laying in such a way, that what I thought was his
shoulder, was his rump. After thrashing around in the high grass for a few
seconds, he dropped his head again.
This entire event (up to now) only took 5 minutes, but it
sure seemed longer. My complete focus was to finish this animal off and end it as
quickly as possible. I closed to 17 yards. When he picked up his head (and I
could positively identify his shoulder), I released my last
arrow. The arrow hit an inch behind the shoulder. Within seconds, he dropped
out of sight into the grass.
Mark came over with the camera. We approached the area where
the bear had gone down but he was gone! We cautiously closed the distance,
only to discover that the bear had fallen into one of those deep sluices
partially filled with water. He was dead. I was not happy where the bear landed, but at the same time
The circle is the outline of the boar's pawprint
Reality set in. We now had a dead brown bear - probably
weighing 850-900 pounds, laying on his back in a deep, narrow sluice with 2
feet of water running over it. His last moments were spent pulling himself into
I swear that if that bear had weighed 10 more pounds, we
would have had to skin him in that ditch. After 45 minutes of struggling, Mark and
I managed to get under the boar in the water, and lift, then roll him out of
that sluice. We were a soaked and bloody mess. We took a few photos, and while
I spent a few minutes with the bear, Mark checked the trail back to the streams
edge. He only traveled 100 yards from where I shot him and he went down quickly.
The reason for that became evident when we saw the blood
trail. My first arrow had cut a major artery in his leg, passed through his
intestines and liver before anchoring in a rib on the left side.
The bloodtrail was pretty hard to follow... ;-)
Darkness was approaching, and Mark mentioned that he wanted
to skin the bear in the morning. I was concerned that other bears in the area
might try to eat my bear overnight, but Mark was confident they would not. We
left a couple articles of clothing on and around the bear, and I urinated a
perimeter as well......hoping that it would keep other bears away. When we
approached the next morning I sure was relieved to see that Mark was right, my
bear had not been bothered.
Jake Ensign and his hard-earned Brown Bear (notice sluice in background)
We skinned the bear, and I asked to pack it out (something I
prefer to do). Mark didn't seem to mind, so I carried the hide and skull while
Mark carried some of our essential gear back to base camp. As we approached
base camp (only one day after leaving it), Chris Cassidy was surprised to see
us back to base camp so soon.
Keeping a straight face, I told him that we ran into “a guy”
as well as a “female with three youngsters” (all true.....a boar, a sow, and
three cubs). Chris was assuming that I was referring to people. He was still in
shock from seeing the two groups of hunters the day before. Mark and I
played it up for about ten minutes, and when Chris started to think about other
areas where we might want to consider hunting, we confessed - I was already
tagged out! Chris was understandably pleased with the news and we spent the
rest of the day relaxing while we skinned and fleshed my brownie.
And this is what it looks like nekid...
The next morning, Mark and I returned upstream to pull the
rest of the spike camp. Almost as an afterthought, we visited the area where
the bear carcass had been. It was gone. Another bear had dragged it away to
an alder thicket. If that bear had found that carcass one day earlier, the hide
would have been ruined. I caught a couple lucky breaks when I needed them the
A few days later I arrived back in Kodiak and settled into
my hotel room. It' was only 8 pm, so I walked over to the Kodiak airport to
change my ticket. On the way back to the hotel I saw something walking in the
street - , in the shadow of the hotel streetlight, walking down the middle of
the road towards me, was a 10 foot brown bear!
The boar was walking at me some 100 yards away. I quickly
crossed the road, and made my way through cars in the hotel parking lot. About
30 yards from the front door of the hotel, the bear was about 60 yards away. I
ran to the front door and quickly entered. The woman behind the front desk
nonchalantly looked up at me huffing and puffing. Then she looks at her watch
and says “Yup, the kitchen is about to close for the evening, and that big bear
will be ready to visit our dumpster for the scraps.” A ten foot dumpster diver!
I sure hope that the person that had to take out the garbage can run fast!
I later told my guide, Mark Gutsmiedl that I didn't need to
go to Afognak to kill a brown bear. I could have stayed at the Comfort Inn,
watched football, drank beer, and killed a ten footer right by the dumpster.
Seemed like a fitting end to a fantastic, but short, bowhunt.