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A Toast to Brown Bears, Alaska, and Sunshine

November 2019
Story by Dave Johnson
State: Alaska
Species: Bear - Brown

I have been to Alaska bear hunting a number of times. In the fall of 2018, I hunted with Master Guide George Siavelis who guides out of Cordova, Alaska. This was not my first trip with George. In my opinion, one could not find a better brown bear guide because of his knowledge and hunting experience. He runs a very good camp, and his wilderness expertise/experience proved extremely helpful on this trip. I should also point out that 7 out of his last 11 hunters have shot 10'+ bears. George personally guides all of his clients in the field rather than hiring registered or assistant guides. 


I flew into Anchorage and then took a flight to Cordova. The next morning, we took a small plane to our camp and had to wait until the following morning to begin the hunt. Brown bear hunting is basically a stationary event in that one does not want to spread their scent, which would scare the bears out of the area for the entire hunt. We basically sat in a couple of strategic spots, which provide good visibility, glassing the shoreline and river mouths where the bears constantly fish for salmon. The stalk in a canoe would begin when a bear that met the size requirements was spotted. On several occasions, the wind was such that it was not feasible to get within shooting distance or the bear just disappeared in the woods.


The weather on this trip was outstanding and something not normal for Alaska. We had nine days of sunshine with no rain, and temps were in the 30 to 60 degree range. This abnormal weather was partially responsible for the large number of bears we saw. Even though I had the opportunity to harvest several respectable bears, I was holding out for a 10 footer.


On the eighth day of my 10-day hunt, we decided to go watch a different spot at the far end of the lake. George said that he doesn't see as many bears at that end, but he sees a very large percentage of big bears there. While paddling to this new spot, we came across and startled a large bear that was fishing at the mouth of the river. After being spooked, it ran down river.


The area we were hunting was like a rainforest with very thick vegetation. It should be noted that this coastal area gets 300"+ of rain per year. The area we hunted from at this end of the lake was a ridge that once near the top one could see over the majority of the vegetation and had a good line of sight to a couple good salmon pools in the river, from 100 to 400+ yards away, where the fish congregated and bears frequented. The hike to this vantage point was a bit unnerving in that the foliage was so thick that it was like walking in a tunnel. There were bear trails, tracks, and scat everywhere. Once we got to where we were going to sit, we did some trimming and settled in.


At about 6:30 p.m. or so, a bear came walking upstream in the river. George took one look at him through his binoculars for one second and then looked at me with excitement in his eyes and said, "Dave, that's the bear you've been waiting for!" When George gets excited about a bear, you know darn well that it's a hog. George checked the wind and it seemed wrong for an immediate stalk on the bear where he was currently fishing. We decided to go down the ridge to make sure the wind was doing the same at the bottom where it would really matter. At the bottom of the ridge, sure enough, the wind was wrong. Any further stalking would have blown the bear.


Sadly, we worked our way back up to the top of the ridge, and for almost two hours, we continued to watch the bear catch and eat fish and then disappear into the woods. George said that almost always a bear fishing where he was will eventually come up around the bend in the creek where there's more fish and then we'd be able to shoot him. Even though we continuously checked, the wind never changed direction. I suppose I don't have to explain to any serious hunter how hard it was to sit and watch the giant bear of my dreams fish for well over an hour right in front of us, within 300 to 400 yards. Finally, the bear wandered back downstream and out of sight. George and I looked at each other. It was extremely obvious that both of us were very, very disappointed. George said, "Maybe he'll come back up. There's nothing we can do but wait and hope. If not tonight, maybe we'll get a crack at him tomorrow, but whatever we do, we don't want to go down there with a wrong wind and blow him out of the area."


Shortly thereafter, I heard branches cracking to my left. I tapped George on the shoulder and pointed in the direction of the noise. George was on the other side of a very large spruce tree and could not hear the faint sounds. George said, "Well, it's gotta be a brown bear because that's all that's wandering in these woods because of how many brown bears are here."


Just then, two almost grown brown bear cubs stood up on their hind legs, peering over the brush about 25 yards away. We now knew that we had a sow and cubs in our laps. Then, we heard her charging and spotted the very big sow flying by her cubs, coming full bore at us. George said, “Stand still, don’t run, and don’t make any noise.” That was easy for him to say as he was standing to my side but slightly further away from the bears.


Our guns were up and scopes were sighting on her head as she came fast. I asked George if I should shoot. He immediately told me not to shoot unless he did. The enraged sow stopped 12 feet away from me and rose up on her hind legs and growled. She popped her teeth in a way that I will never forget, 12 feet from me! Without George’s coaching, I surely would have shot when the bear first charged us and my hunt would have been very different. The sow went back a few yards in the brush and stood and growled and moaned for what seemed like an hour but was probably only a minute or two. The cubs were long gone, so she walked slowly away into the forest. After they left, George’s comment was, “I was getting my money’s worth on this hunting trip!”


We then settled in to spend the rest of the evening watching the creek. About 15 or 20 minutes later, the bear we were watching earlier came walking back upstream around the bend in the river. As I said before, when George gets excited, you know it is a good bear. This one was easily 10'+. It stepped up to the pool, caught a fish, and started to eat. George said, "The wind is still wrong. He's got to walk up around this bend below us so we can move down the ridge without him winding us." We waited and watched him fish and waited and watched him fish some more. He caught fish after fish so easily. George reassured me that usually once they get to where he was they eventually come around the bend that we so badly wanted him to come around now. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, sitting still and watching that giant bear fish and not going after him. However, I trusted George completely, so we sat and watched for what seemed like forever.


George and I whispered back and forth while we watched the monster catch fish, and we both started getting very worried that he might not come around the bend until after dark. At least here he was again. If I would have shot the charging sow, I would have never seen this giant 10' bear again in my life. Then, I looked down and there he was past our bend and coming towards us. We could now move down on him for a possible shot. I almost couldn't believe it! We needed to move fast and close the distance while it was catching and eating fish. During all stalks, we continuously check the wind direction. The vegetation was so thick that we could not see more than a few feet; however, there was a small opening 30 yards from the river's edge where we set up the ambush. Waiting was the hardest part in that we could hear the bear walking up the creek towards us. It kept getting closer and closer, and all of a sudden there it was 30 yards from me, looking at the creek, searching for fish. I took this opportunity and was able to make several clean shots. Unfortunately, the bear died in the river. It took an hour for George and me to drag it through the water, even though it was floating, to the edge of the river and get it on the semi-dry bank. By this time, it was quite dark and we left the skinning for the next day.


When we returned the next morning and I saw the bear in the full daylight, it was then that I fully realized how big of a bear I had harvested. We took photos in the rare Alaskan sunshine and skinned the bear. With the weather staying good like it was, we were able to make contact and fly out that evening. After a hot shower and dinner in Cordova, George and I toasted brown bears, Alaska, and sunshine.


Overall, this was the best hunting trip I had ever been on.