I’m well aware that given the very nature of social media whatever I write here about my grizzly hunt will elicit a variety of responses. Some will revel in my misgivings, others will use this as a opportunity to judge and pile on and a few of you might appreciate my attempt at honesty and bowhunting candor. Should be interesting.
I am a bit conflicted about my hunt and I really wish I wasn’t because in so many ways it was truly amazing and an important milestone.
Pursing incredible animals in truly magnificent and wild country with the best of men is something every bowhunter dreams of. And no matter what, I’ll never take it for granted.
Milestone-wise this was my first hunt in Alaska since Roy Roth, my best friend and bowhunting mentor died in 2015. I didn’t know if I’d ever go back after he fell in the sheep mountains and passed away nearly six years ago now. Previously, I’d been to Alaska bowhunting 20, maybe 30 times actually as I’ve never counted the adventures, in the 20 years Roy called the Last Frontier home but without him everything was different. Even my hunts in other places of the world have been less-than, muted in their meaning without being able to share bowhunting tales with Roy, the man responsible for introducing me to archery. I’ve forged on of course because that’s what we always did.
When my good friend Kip Fulks, actually more than friend, bowhunting blood brother, invited me to join him on a grizzly hunt this spring I thought long and hard before deciding I was ready to chase my bowhunting dreams in Alaska once again. My only goal was to perform in the mountains in a manner that would make Roy proud. That’s where I believe that despite my best efforts, I was less than the standard I expect of myself.
Part of me thinks Roy likely enjoyed watching down on me working hard, helping others with a common goal, failing, owning it, wanting to clean up the mess myself and then ultimately owning my mistakes. He no doubt watched me make what I thought was a nearly perfect shot at 50 yards on a big grizzly after a long stalk. The arrow hit hard, my razor sharp 3-blade-fixed broadhead lead arrow passing thru the grizzly like a hot knife thru butter then burying in the tundra on the far side. It was awesome as the wind held, and the bears cooperated. After my shot I bet he watched us follow the heavy, steady blood trail into the thick brush after a couple hundred yards of what I thought was a death sprint. It was a longer trail than I’d have liked but I felt my arrow was only a couple inches left of perfect. These animals are tough and hearty but no doubt the bear was dead after such massive blood loss, I reasoned.
I lead the way on the blood trail as the bear, after sidehilling, took a hard pitch straight down the hill thru the alders. I thought, “last gasp death sprint”. John Rydeen followed me with his .300 ultra mag and not far back was Koby Fulks, Kip’s brother, with a heavy duty bear gun, then Kip and Branlin Shockey trailed the group capturing it all on camera (the film of this hunt is coming soon and you can judge for yourself where I screwed up. Perhaps we can all learn from it? That’d be my hope.)
I’d said much earlier in the day, a number of times, that I didn’t want guns involved in my hunt. Yes, using guns were absolutely legal as this hunt gives the sportsman an “any weapon” option. But, as always, I wanted my destiny fulfilled by my arrow only. Either I killed the bear or there’d be some other less desirable outcome, whatever it might be. Either way, I wanted to control the hunt’s fate. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, a grizzly hunt by a non-resident of Alaska requires a guide and a hunting guides job is to keep their hunter safe if possible. So, with John being the consummate professional he is, I’d be silly to expect him to do any less than his best at his job. After all, he’s been in the business for 21 years and guided 94 successful grizzly/brown bear hunts. He’s a credit to his craft.
Experience helps but nothing is guaranteed in the mountains and surely not when the animal pursued by the bowhunter is a grizzly. I’ve killed 3 Alaskan brown bear with 3 arrows in years past and while reading this blood trail across the snow and tundra I’d felt I had just killed a grizzly with a single arrow to follow suit.
Pushing through the brush while following blood I heard John from behind me say, “Dead bear.” I had an arrow nocked while following blood just in case a follow up shot was needed. John’s keen eyes saw the grizzly lying in the brush with its head down, motionless. I moved closer, to within about 5-10 yards and the bear lifted its head weakly. John said something like, “Hold up, bear isn’t dead”. It laid it’s head back down and I eased to my right trying to find a shooting lane saying, “don’t shoot” to the guys, as I moved a little closer trying to find a path for my arrow to travel to the bear. I’m a bowhunter only and as a romantic of the tradition having rifles involved in my hunt isn’t something I’ll ever agree to if asked. I don’t want it to sound egotistical because it’s not, it’s just a measure of how much bowhunting means to me. There’s a line I won’t cross. I don’t judge others for the weapons they chose to hunt with and don’t care about anyone else. I know what’s important to me and my purpose...death by arrow or nothing.
The bear raised its head once again and this time its haze had cleared some as we locked eyes. This is always a key moment when hunting true predators. I came to full draw but all I had for a shot was the grizzly’s head, which is notoriously made of thick bone which has caused even bullets to ricochet off the skull. In other words, not a high percentage bow shot. Holding at full draw I dropped down to one knee and at that moment I was 4-yards from the bear. The difference between a grizzly and a deer or elk is a prey animal would burst from it’s last bed and run away from its pursuer, likely dying after a short burst. A grizzly is not a prey animal. They are predators and they survive in this country by being aggressive and keeping their spot at the top of the food chain, unchallenged. This foreshadowing is included to say this...my bear exploded from its bed and charged me. But it was weakened and had to try to fight thick alders to get to me. As it did, still at full draw, I released my arrow striking the grizzly in the chest as it lunged toward me. John fired his rifle from the left of me and Koby fired his from a little behind John, also to my left. A bullet hit my bear in the hip diverting it off it’s path to me and taking its feet out from under it. John shot once more thru the top of its back into the chest to neutralize the threat.
I cussed, “Fuck.
I wasn’t rattled at all but I was certainly frustrated that I couldn’t get an arrow off before the bear charged, that I even needed to shoot another arrow at all, and finally, that others had to weigh in on my destiny, especially with a gun. All those feelings crescendoed and had me pissed.
I gathered myself, approached the fallen bear and silently offered my respect. I then told John and Koby thank you for being so unflappable in a stressful circumstance. Kip, Branlin, Koby, John and I succeeded on this hunt together. I consider this a team effort, and really to say anything other than that would be lying.
It makes me sick when an animal suffers more than I think it should in dying from my arrow and for whatever reason this bear wasn’t dead yet from what I felt was a mortal wound. My other brown bears died in seconds and that was of course my goal on this, and all my hunts. I dedicate my life to being a merciful bowhunter, which is why this experience leaves a pit in my stomach.
I’ll second guess myself forever. Should I have given the arrow more time to do its job? The bear would have bleed out in just a few more minutes I’d guess if I had to but who really knows? It was late and maybe wanting to recover my first ever grizzly pushed me when I should have suggested we be more patient and let the bear die without one last adrenaline surge. I needed to be more disciplined. I wasn’t and that’s disappointing.
I am not upset with my partners in fact, just the opposite. I am bonded to them thru this hunt and this experience, for life. So while I caused this bear’s death, I can’t ever consider it a true bow kill beings a rifle was involved. I also can’t say it won’t mean just as much as a bow kill to me because of the memories this bear’s life and death has etched in our collective minds.
As I’ve said many times the hunt is more than the kill. The kill is but a part of the journey.
Yes, I let myself down by not making a perfect shot and causing this bear to suffer longer than it should but in my heart I hope that Roy knows I tried my best and while not a infallible bowhunter, I’ll own my errors, work harder and sacrifice more to improve upon them.
Thanks for still guiding me from above Big Roy. I miss you and man, you would have loved this adventure. It was the wild, bowhunting roller coaster we dreamt of incessantly.
Legends Never Die.
Hunt was booked with Freelance Outdoor Adventures