Before the Hunt
The excitement of my Kodiak Brown Bear hunt actually began at the 2017 Western Hunting & Conservation Expo (WHCE). As you may know, Alaska draw results are released that same weekend- often leaving hunters buzzing with anticipation. Each hunter anxiously waits for the results to find out if they will experience the hunt of their lifetime.
When I submitted for this hunt, I knew my chances were slim to none. Truthfully, I never dreamed my name would be drawn, but I craved the opportunity to take on one of the biggest bears in the world. Since there are only nine annual resident/non-resident tags, I had less than a one percent chance of being picked. Talk about luck of the draw!
Once the draws were announced, I remember receiving a rush of text messages from family members, as they excitedly chatted back and forth in a group text: “Steph got the Aliulik Peninsula!” This specific area is well-known for its high population of Kodiak Brown Bears, as well as some of the largest bears on Kodiak Island. I was shocked and immediately filled with excitement, as I was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. I was also proud to participate in such a highly-regarded tradition, as a 4th generation Kodiak Brown Bear hunter.
As a resident of Alaska, I was allowed to choose 15 consecutive hunting days between April 15 – May 15th (non-residents only get 10 days of choice). I would set out on this grand adventure with my favorite men- my father, and fiancé, Harlen, and my camera man Zach Kenner (shoutout to Zach for winning the Full Draw Film Tour at the WHCE in 2017). Experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime hunt with these three men by my side would make it all the better!
And So it Begins
Having lived on Kodiak Island my whole life, I was at a huge advantage. We were able to access and utilize our 50’ commercial fishing boat and our 34’ landing craft to travel and hunt within the entire area. Given most hunters fly into Kodiak for the hunt, their resources are limited.
Often, they camp throughout the hunt and canonly travel as far as they can hike from their tent. Plus, I have to admit: the comfortability of sleeping on our commercial fishing boat, the F/V Stephanie Lynn (named after yours truly), was truly luxurious.
Kicking off this exciting adventure was a 12-hour boat ride on the F/V Stephanie Lynn down to the Aliulik Peninsula- specifically, Japanese Bay, which would be our home for the next two weeks. The South end of Kodiak is well known for its rugged waters and dangerous weather patterns. So, despite a perfect weather forecast, we quickly encountered unforgiving waters, making for one rough ride. The swell was mighty and strong. Supplies slid all over on the countertops as I rolled from side to side in my bunk. My father drove the boat, while Harlen followed us in the landing craft because the weather was too rough to tow it. However, even given our unexpected start, nothing could hinder our excitement for 15 days to come!
Waking up on opening day, we were thrilled to see that the storm had dissipated. The water was like glass. Oh, the countless days I had patiently waited for this glorious morning to arrive! We drank our hot coffee and reviewed the area map one more time before setting out to take inventory of the land.
We were just 10 minutes from camp before spotting the first bear. We estimated it at about eight feet tall. Just down the beach, we found the mother and cubs, too.
What a promising start! Just a few minutes later, as we turned the corner, a small hillside came to life with bears everywhere. One of these bears would actually end up being the biggest bear of the trip, and possibly, the biggest bear I have ever seen in my life
Unfortunately, it was about a mile out of my area, so we just witnessed it from afar. We had a wonderful first day, exploring all of the permitted land. We saw upwards of 50 bears on that first day, but I was hesitant to shoot anything so quickly. We were just getting started and still had 14 days left to hunt.
On the second day, the inevitable Kodiak rainfall arrived. Since we were all lifelong residents of Kodiak, we were fully prepared for weather days. Kodiak actually gets more annual rainfall than almost anywhere in the United States and the month of May just so happens to be one of the wettest months. Those rainy days made us extra grateful for the shelter and protection of our commercial boat. We didn’t have to worry about a tent withstanding rain or waking up to the whipping noise of a tent every night. Better yet, waves of rain drops hitting the boat’s plexiglass windows sounded very similar to the relaxing sound of beach waves. We slept sound and dry until the rain cleared. Then, we were back to the hunt.
More than once, we saw bears that were nine plus feet in size. Despite our quick pursuits, we were all amazed at just how fast those bears can move! With their long strides and explosive power, they conquered mountains within minutes, or so it seemed. Without super human speed, we had no chance of getting a shot atthem.
Our 15 days of hunting went by quicker than we ever thought possible. Between traveling, spotting, stalking pursuits, and wasted rainy days, our remaining days were quickly dwindling. With only a few days left, we started to worry. Every day we saw fewer and lesser bears. Our nervousness continued to increase each day as we returned to the boat with empty packs.
When we woke up on the last day, we didn’t know what to expect. Where had the time gone? I had spent the last year prepping for this hunt. I envisioned and dreamed about my moment- when I would take down the world’s largest predator. I watched potential kills walk around the Peninsula for the past 14 days, leading up to the final day. Did I miss my chance? We honestly never expected to reach day 15 without a bear down. Going home empty handed felt pretty defeating- especially compared to the high hopes we entered the trip with.
As we started the final day, my nerves set in. Yet, at the same time, I felt strangely content about whatever the day might bring. I was thankful for the past 2 weeks in the God’s country with the most important men in my life, and our opportunity to hunt the Aliulik Peninsula together. It was bittersweet to say the least. Bear or not, this was a trip I would never forget.
The morning started with little bear activity, so I started to accept the reality that my hunt report might conclude “unsuccessful”. There was a solid chance I might not return with exciting news of my great kill.
Luckily, that’s not how this story ends.
We were about an hour away from exiting the Aliulik Peninsula when my dad called me to the top house. He spotted two bears at the top of the mountain- ironically, the same two we pursued a few days earlier. He was quick to remind me about the wonderful 14 days that we spent together, and whether or not I went home with a bear, it was a great trip. But, I was also given one more opportunity to fill my bear tag and without a doubt, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
We raced in the landing craft to the beach shore. There were only so many hours of daylight left. Not to mention, the ½ mile hike directly up the mountain. I remember the feeling of shock as we climbed because everything happened so fast. I was on an emotional roll-a-coaster as I realized I might actually fill my tag after all!
The bears were out of sight during most of the hike. Fortunately, the wind direction was in our favor, so the bears couldn’t smell us. As I reached the top of the bench, we could see the bears calmly feeding on the grass- about 60 yards away. Adrenaline raced through my body. I stared waiting for my opportunity. I’m not even sure I blinked in those few minutes. Every moment, emotion, and lesson from the last two weeks came down to this. When I cocked a bullet into the chamber, time seemed to stand still as I waited for the perfect shot.
A few seconds later, I had a quartered, broadside view. BOOM! Unaware of what was happening, the bear propelled into a quick spin. We knew it was going down. As it slowed to a steady seating, I took 2 more “insurance shots” to ensure a quick, humane kill. The bear rolled backwards and down into the small creek that separated us.
I have experienced countless hunts in my lifetime, but never have I felt the same rush as I did in this moment. “Disbelief” seems to be the best word to describe how I felt. And not long after disbelief set in, I realized the hard work that was ahead of us. After the bear rolled down the bank, he landed directly in a small, but steady stream of water. Given their size and weight, a Kodiak Brown Bear is already challenging to maneuver, but being soaked with water would make the hide much heavier.
As we walked up to the bear, I quickly observed the platinum yet golden blonde hide. He was easily one of the prettiest of bears we had seen the entire trip. With long locks of hair, dark brown paws, and a head ten times the size of mine, I was in disbelief, once again. Teeth and claws showed years of wear. The ADF&G eventually estimated him to be around 18 years old.
After snapping quick photos, it took all four of us to flip the bear on his back and start dressing him. While skinning, we found a perfectly mushroomed .300 Weatherby bullet. After quickly butchering the bear meat and pulling the hide, we were on our way back down the mountain. I will never forget that brief moment when my boot touched the ramp of our boat and I took one last look up on the mountain. I could almost see the day’s events unfold before my eyes. The feeling was unexplainable.
From start to finish, the entire trip was an adventure, full of memories. But, the moment I proudly showed my dad my bear, would definitely take the cake. He taught me everything I know about hunting and the outdoors. Thanks to him, I was fully equipped and prepared for this hunt. He has always taken pride in my skillsets and accomplishments, so I couldn’t wait to make him proud once again. I knew he would be so excited to watch me follow in his and my grandfather’s footsteps with my brown bear hunt. We later hung my bear from the rigging of my Dad’s commercial boat to reenact the 1940’s photo of my grandfather and his Kodiak Brown Bear. We couldn’t wait to look at the photos side-by-side once we reached home. It was such a special moment.
That night, the sunset was a little sweeter, as we lounged on the back deck of the F/V Stephanie Lynn. We were all filled with such content as we reflected back on the day. We had one more night on the boat and a 12-hour journey back to Kodiak. Once back home, our first stop was to the ADF&G to check my bear report “successful.”
Krimson’s Product Recommendations (Used During Hunt/Video)