Alaska Black Bear – Boat Based HuntContributors to this thread:
Jeff Holchin 18-Mar-20
Scar Finga 18-Mar-20
Southern draw 18-Mar-20
Chief 419 18-Mar-20
HUNT MAN 18-Mar-20
Mule Power 18-Mar-20
Wv hillbilly 18-Mar-20
Jeff Holchin 19-Mar-20
Charlie Rehor 19-Mar-20
Adam B 19-Mar-20
Mark Watkins 22-Mar-20
Charlie Rehor 13-Jul-20
Absolutely no offense intended, but black bear have never been very high on my bowhunting bucket list. Prior to this hunt, I had purchased exactly two black bear tags in my life. Both of those tags being “opportunity” tags on elk and caribou hunts respectively. That said, when the invitation to participate a boat based, spot and stalk black bear hunt on salmon streams in Alaska was presented, I quickly became intrigued by the prospect. The fact we would also be charter fishing the Gulf of Alaska sealed the deal.
Our group of six chartered the Outer Limits with Homer Ocean Charters out of Homer, AK for six days beginning August 18th. This is the same boat from which several Bowsiters have hunted sitka blacktail deer on Kodiak Island. Three days before our flight, tragedy struck when the father of one member of our group was killed in 4-wheeler / SUV collision on a county road. A grim reminder that tomorrow is promised to no one. The remaining five (Herb, Allen, Kevin, John and myself) landed in Anchorage via Alaska Air in the wee hours of August 16th....and a few hours later, set down in Homer via Ravn Air Alaska.
We spent the next day and half site seeing...primarily on a 4.5 mile long peninsula called “The Spit”. This is the home of several fishing charters, including Homer Ocean Charters, restaurants and various tourist attractions. The Spit is also home of the Homer Boat Harbor.
The most famous landmark on The Spit is the Salty Dawg Saloon. The building was constructed in 1897 and has served in many capacities…post office, railroad station and grocery store to name a few. Inside the saloon, every inch of wall space, door facings, support columns, etc... is covered with one dollar bills bearing patron names pinned in place. Admittedly, I’m not a big drinker...but did enjoy a couple local brews and pinned a dollar bill to the wall before leaving
Dawn on the 18th found us loading gear on the Outer Limits. It was time to get the prop turning. We met with Captain Roark (left) and First Mate Aaron. We learned that Roark has been living on the Kenai since his college years and our hunt marked his 28th year offering vessel based bear hunts. This was Aaron’s first vessel based hunt after recently joining Homer Ocean Charters. Ironically, Aaron was a previous resident of Indiana and graduated from Butler University….roughly 60 miles from my home town. Small world! Following a safety briefing, we were underway.
It was about a six hour boat ride to our initial hunt destination. About four hours into the trip, Roark mentioned we were traveling through some fantastic salmon fishing waters and it would be a shame to pass on the opportunity. Man was he right! The lines did not stay in the water very long. We were catching mostly Coho (Silver) salmon along with an occasional Chinook (King) salmon…and Allen even managed to land a couple nice halibut. Caught my best fish of the trip the trip that day…a Chinook estimated at 25lbs. The Cohos were a blast to catch, but the Chinooks sure put up a different kind of fight.
Aaron demonstrated how to properly display all three fish species at once. That young man is an absolute blast and a tireless work horse. Learned early in the trip, we were very fortunate to have him along.
I know at least you didn’t go hungry on this hunt, Paul! Looking forward to following along on this thread.
We spotted a couple bears roaming the beaches while en route, but the waters were too rough to safely land the skiff. Late afternoon, Roark pulled into a remote cove and dropped anchor. There were two streams teaming with salmon in this particular cove, so three of us took the larger stream and the remaining two hunted the smaller stream. Both hunters spotted bear on the small stream. Herb passed a point blank shot opportunity at a young bear. Things were a bit slow on the large stream. I did spot a bear right before dark, roughly 80 yards away and headed in the opposite direction. Not a bad first evening hunt.
A bit about the boat itself . The Outer Limits is a 60 foot vessel. There are four sleeping quarters with two beds each, three restrooms and shower room in the hull. The helm, galley and mess (which often doubled as nap quarters) are enclosed on the main deck. There is plenty of room to move around outside on the main deck. There is also an upper deck which we rarely utilized. The engine room, also in the hull, is a great place to dry out wet gear.
The next morning, we followed the same script as the previous evening hunt. Based on advice from Roark, I opted to follow the stream deeper into cover in hopes of finding fresh evidence of bear feeding on salmon. Had not gone far, when I noticed a large wet spot, wet paw prints and fresh salmon blood on the gravel bar. The bear had been there very recently. I quickly looked for a good ambush spot, but a deep pool in the stream was constraining and vertical rock banks behind me offered no cover. I had just begun to cross the stream when I saw the bear coming. I nocked an arrow and watched the bear cross onto the gravel bar some 25 yards below my position. I had never been that up close and personal with a black bear before, but I was convinced this was a younger bear….and decided not to shoot. Once the bear hit the gravel bar, it turned my direction and started closing the distance….completely oblivious to my presence. At a distance of about ten yards, I waived my arms and said “Scat!” The bear wasted no time vacating the stream. Looking back, I probably allowed the bear to get too close…but what a cool first encounter that turned out to be!
That afternoon, while moving to a different cove, Roark dropped anchor in deep water and we jigged for rockfish for a couple hours. Roark mentioned rockfish are his favorite eating fish. They were also a blast to catch. We caught primarily black rockfish and a few yellow eyes. Roark is also a great cook and his baked rockfish dish was the culinary highlight of the week.
We split up for the evening hunt in a new location and immediately located fresh bear sign. I found a good ambush spot near some shallows stacked with salmon. Wasn’t long before a very small bear presented itself. I watched as it disappeared into the brush. Maybe an hour later, I saw the bear coming back…only this time it looked a bit bigger. The bear was following the same path as before, when I noticed movement behind it. A second bear, most likely the same small bear I had seen earlier, was following. Both bear offered 20 yard shot opportunities, but both of these animals were noticeably smaller than the bear from my morning encounter. Allen had a close encounter of his own that evening when a bear climbed into the same deadfall where he was hiding in ambush. Said he could have touched the bear with his longbow at one point.
We spent the night in that cove and three of us hunted the same area the following morning. Herb and John were dropped off in another nearby cove. I saw one bear that morning. It was catching salmon among several fallen trees in the stream. I closed the distance as much as possible, but swirling winds ended the stalk. I was never able to determine if that bear was a shooter, but the stalk was enjoyable nonetheless.
By the time we radioed for the skiff, the tide was out. The cove, which was full of water when we arrived that morning, was now a barren tidal flat. A good pair of hip boots is a must on this type of hunt. Many times, we had to wade to reach the skiff. The hike across the tidal flat was roughly a half mile. While waiting for the skiff, Allen noticed a good bear had emerged on the beach and went after it. A few minutes later, Kevin spotted a second bear on the beach and made a play on it. I stayed behind with the gear and watched the show(s). Good thing I stayed back, because the tide was starting to roll in. While Allen and Kevin were stalking, I was keeping busy moving our gear to keep it dry. Allen came very close to sealing the deal, but at the last minute, the bear disappeared into the timber.
Back at the boat, we learned Herb had punched his tag. Herb and John had been into bear all morning. They decided to skip lunch and continue hunting. That decision paid off for Herb mid-afternoon. One good arrow and the first bear of the trip was down.
The Tuesday evening hunt was slow. I don’t believe anyone saw a bear that evening. The scenery was fantastic as usual though.
We saw several species of wildlife on this trip including: black bear, mountain goat, moose, whales, orcas, sea lions, sea otters and seals. Between the scenery and wildlife, there was never a dull moment.
Roark wanted to get in another good salmon run and suggested we skip the morning hunt on Wednesday in favor of fishing. Consensus was to listen to the Captain and he did not disappoint. Didn’t take long to limit out on Cohos that morning, as well as add a few more Chinooks to the tally.
That afternoon, we hunted a new cove. I located a high root wad overlooking stacked salmon as a good ambush spot. Had not been there long, when a bear emerged from the underbrush, grabbed a salmon and disappeared. Twenty minutes later, the bear returned to the exact same spot and repeated the routine. This was the best bear I had seen to date, but still wasn’t what I was looking for. I retreated downstream to find John and set him up on the bear. We waited until dark, but unfortunately, the bear never returned.
Thursday was our last day to hunt. We had to be back in port on Friday before the DNR office closed to get Herb’s bear sealed. John wasn’t feeling well and decided to stay on the boat. Allen and Kevin hunted together and Herb opted to go to shore with me in a different cove. The hunt was limited to two hours due to incoming weather.
The shot that wasn't meant to be....
The shot that wasn't meant to be....
The bear were out in force that morning. We climbed to a vantage point above the creek and saw three bears right out of the gate. The first got by us without a good look. I passed shot opportunities on the next two. A fourth bear was eating berries above us. It was decent sized animal and Herb urged me to go for it. I stalked within 30 yards of the feeding bear. Before I could shoot, the bear decided it was time to catch a salmon. It dropped into the creek and went under some blow downs. When it emerged, the bear was directly below me…less than ten yards…feeding against a root wad. I drew and released. The bear ran back up the stream bank, stopped and began “woofing” before melting into the forest. I was in a bit of disbelief that I could have missed at that distance? When we retrieved the arrow, it was clean, but stuck in the ground at about a ninety degree angle from the original shot angle. I had clipped a dead limb above the bear and the arrow deflected harmlessly to the right.
It was getting close to time to radio for the skiff. I removed my release in order to wash some pine sap off my hands. Herb suggested we circle our way back to the beach before calling the boat. I crested a rise and had a good bear right in front of me. Nocked an arrow and realized my release was still in my pocket! The bear spotted me fumbling for my release and wasted no time getting out of Dodge. Going in, I was told a good representative bear for this area would be 200-220lbs with a 16” skull. I believe that bear fit the description. Bears 2 – Paul 0.
Spotted two more bear on a ridge above, but it was super thick and there was no time to attempt a stalk. When we reached the beach, there was a small bear fishing at the mouth of the stream. Minutes later, a second larger bear (but still not a shooter) showed up, bringing the morning total to nine bears. Herb radioed for the skiff and mentioned we had bears on the beach. Roark teasingly responded, “I suppose Paul isn’t planning to shoot.” That was an affirmative. I was just enjoying the show.
Back at the boat, we learned Kevin had connected on a boar that morning. He called the shot “self defense”….as the distance was a mere six yards. I wasn’t there to see it, but John took some cool photos of Kevin and Allen carrying the bear to the skiff using a pole. We were all pretty pumped. Kevin hunts as hard as anyone I know, but until that morning, the bears were just not cooperating for him. Bear number two in the boat on the last day!
We all thought the hunt was over at that point, but Roark pulled into another cove an hour later and told the three remaining tag holders to get in the skiff. We had one last two-hour window to get it done. John set up at the mouth of the salmon stream. Allen picked out a deadfall upstream for ambush and I intended to hike back to the last pool of salmon.
Shortly after leaving Allen, seagulls were flushing in my face from above. Generally, that indicated a bear feeding in the stream. I spotted a decent bear grab a salmon and drag it into the underbrush on my left. There was a sheer cliff to my right, so the only option was to go left. I retreated downstream and climbed above the bear’s last known position. It was very thick with Devil’s Club along the stream, so I had no idea where the bear might be. No problem, the bear found me first. It raised up out of the Devil’s Club and began raking the side of a tree aggressively. I could only see from the shoulders up…so I had no idea what size bear I was looking at. The bear finally dropped down on all fours and started my direction. It stopped about 15 yards from me, still obstructed by Devil’s Club, and we had a stare down. The ordeal lasted just a few minutes before the bear disappeared into the underbrush. Never did get a really good look at that bear, but my gut says it was probably a shooter.
I continued upstream and found the last salmon pool I was searching for and plenty of fresh bear sign. I climbed the bank to my right and found a good ambush spot overlooking the pool. A few minutes later, sea gulls flushed from above…and a young bear came rambling down to the pool. With no intention to shoot, I wasn’t being very careful and the bear picked me off while digging for my camera. He tried to hide behind a root wad before melting back into the underbrush.
A quick look at my watch indicated I had about 20 minutes remaining before calling for the skiff. Pulled a Snicker bar from my pack and relaxed for my “end of hunt” ritual. Finished off the candy bar and arranged my pack for the hike out. Watch said there were now ten minutes left before the boat expected a call. Admittedly, I had been catching some grief from the guys. I had never killed a bear and had passed multiple shot opportunities all week. On the skiff ride in, Allen advised I stick to my guns and not to second guess myself. He said when you see a big bear….you will know it. The trip had been fantastic and I had absolutely no regrets at the prospect of eating my tag.
I turned to inspect the salmon pool one last time and swear my jaw just about hit the ground. By far, the largest bear I had ever seen emerged from the understory for a salmon snack. Allen was absolutely right, there was no hesitation. In all honesty, I shot too quickly. I had been told a bear’s vitals are further forward than most big game animals. My shot was back and I knew it immediately. The arrow was a pass through and the big boar didn’t know what had just happened. But before I could release a second arrow, he figured out something was wrong and dove back into the brush. I watched him slowly climb the opposite ridge. Made a mental note of the last sighting and radioed for the skiff.
When the skiff arrived, we had a debate whether to pursue the bear or give him some time….the latter being my preference. The ultimate decision belonged to Roark (due to incoming weather) and he approved we return to the boat for a quick late lunch before pursuing the wounded bear. An hour later, Herb, Allen and I were back on the beach. Roark’s instructions were clear….radio the boat every 20 minutes…on the 20 minutes.
Please don't charge!
Please don't charge!
It took us 20 minutes to reach the salmon pool. We found blood immediately. I radioed the boat and let them know we had begun tracking. The next 20 minutes was all uphill, which made me very nervous about our chances of recovery. Shortly after calling the boat a second time, the blood trail was getting sparse and we split up. Moments later, I heard Herb calling my name in a very excited tone. He had located the bear, which was bedded on a ledge overlooking the stream….watching his back trail. The big boar had seen us coming the entire climb.
Fortunately, the bear did not charge. Once on his feet, the boar climbed about 12 feet up a nearby tree and lodged himself among the branches. After a quick adjustment to get an open look at the vitals, the arrow hit its mark and the boar rolled out of the tree.
As he landed.
As he landed.
Check out those paws!
Check out those paws!
Worth the wait!
Worth the wait!
As mentioned, the bear was on a ledge overlooking the stream. The tree was on the same ledge. When the bear rolled out of the tree, he didn’t drop twelve feet, but a considerable distance instead. He landed on the very trail we had just climbed. What an ordeal. I was both happy to recover the bear and aggravated with myself for not making a better initial shot. There is no question the first arrow was lethal, but better shot placement would have resulted in a quick, clean kill….which is always the goal.
I can’t thank Herb and Allen enough. Once the bear was tagged and after a short photo session, the two of them began skinning. I followed behind deboning the meat. We had the packs loaded in short order and despite a steep downhill grade, ultimately made our way back to the stream. Fortunately, the tide was in and the crew had navigated the skiff well upstream. Congratulations and appreciations were exchanged and we were soon back on open water.
On the way back to the harbor Friday morning, we tried some halibut fishing. Three of us (John, Kevin and myself) had not caught a halibut. I had one good bite but failed to get the hook set. John caught the only halibut that morning, but it was the biggest halibut of the trip. He was one happy camper to say the least.
We made it back to the harbor on time. The fish processor met us at the boat. We unloaded, said our goodbyes to the crew and were off to the DNR office to get the bears sealed. This is where the plan almost fell apart. It was Friday afternoon. The office closed at 4:00pm and we arrived at 3:30pm. We were soon informed the bear biologist stops sealing at 3:00pm. Next opportunity for bear sealing was Monday morning…and we had Saturday evening flights. Fortunately, the bear biologist had not left the facility and took pity on us. Honestly, he was just a great guy that loves his job. Crisis avoided.
It was then we learned of another potential crisis. We had rented a van to get us, gear, fish and bears back to Anchorage on Saturday. Due to multiple wildfires between Homer and Soldatna, Highway 1, the only available route back to Anchorage, had been closed down sporadically all week. We left Homer not knowing for sure if we could get through. We drove through some smoky, low visibility areas, but luck was on our side and we made it Anchorage in plenty of time to catch our flights home.
All in all, we brought home three bear, nearly 400lbs of fish fillets and memories to last a lifetime. Quite an Alaskan adventure for four Hoosiers and a Razorback!
“Last ten minutes” bear stats: The biologist green scored my bear at 18-3/16ths and aged him at somewhere between 10-20 years. It will take nearly a year to get the actual tooth aging results. I sent the skull off to be cleaned with beetles in hopes it would not shrink below P&Y minimums. That turned out to be a good plan and the skull was officially measured and entered in P&Y records last month. I have no way of knowing what the bear weighed? I’ve chosen a unique half body wall mount and intend to update this thread with a photo once it is finished. Thanks for following along!
For not being much of a bear hunter, you sure made a great bear hunt!! Congrats to all on a great trip and thanks for the story too!
Great story! Congratulations and thanks for taking us along!
Good for you guys Paul!!!
Fun read for sure
From: Jeff Holchin
Excellent adventure! Homer Ocean Charters is top notch!
What a great hunt! Congratulations and thanks for sharing! Wonderful story and beautiful bear!
Excellent behind the scenes descriptions of the hunt Paul! Don’t see that very much.
Congrats on a great hunt and trip. And fishing during a hunt? Whoda think it?’!! Haha!
What a great hunt! Congratulations and thanks for sharing! Wonderful story and beautiful bear!
Congrats and great story telling!!! Thank for taking the time to post all of those photo's and story.
What a trip! Thanks for sharing
Very cool. Thanks for taking us along.
Sounds like you got your moneys worth out of that trip! Congrats.
Congratulations, great story and pictures. Can't beat a combination hunting and fishing trip, thanks for sharing! Percy
Nice write up. Thanks for taking the time. Congrats.
Awesome trip! Thanks for sharing that
From: Scar Finga
Congratulations on the bear!
Thank you for sharing!!
A very enjoyable thread....
Dang, that looks like a fantastic hunt and a helluva lot of fun! And congrats on a very nice bear, way to hold out until the end.
From: Southern draw
Congrats on a nice looking trip and thanks for sharing.
Awesome story Pav. Been thinking of doing that same hunt for a few years now since I first went on the boat based deer hunt with them on Kodiak. Great detail and pictures. Congrats on a great bear too.
From: Chief 419
That looks like the bear hunt & fishing trip of a lifetime. Sounds like you might have become a bear hunter??
Congrats Pav! Great hunt well told!
Just love to hear about great bowhunting adventures and the photos make it even better. Well told and well documented. Thank you for sharing.
Awesomely trip! Lots of action on the bears and fish! Definitely rewarding to close the deal at the last minute! Homer Ocean Charters puts on a great hunt for sure!
From: HUNT MAN
Now that’s a bear hunt!!! Congrats .
Way to go! great write up, congrats.
Great pics and story! Roark’s a damn good host!
Awesome! I’m scheduled for a boat based brown bear hunt in May. Who knows if I’ll be going this year ???
From: Mule Power
Excellent story! A nice well rounded trip with fishing good scenery and great friends. Thanks for sharing!
From: Wv hillbilly
Like everyone else said great story! Thanks for taking the time to write it.
Enjoyed the read, thanks for taking us along!
Thanks for sharing. Mind sharing what time of the year you made the adventure?
From: Jeff Holchin
I now recognize the pic of a bear being carried by pole to the boat - it was in the photo contest at the PBS banquet! I saw Herb there but didn’t get to hear this story. Thanks for posting - good job with the pics and story telling. Love those last-minute kills!
says August in the 2nd post.
What a GREAT adventure Paul...Huge congrats. Roark and the crew of the Outer Limits are as good as they come.
Thanks for taking us along on a great adventure, Paul!
That is the kind of bear hunt I would entertain. Well done, Paul!
From: Charlie Rehor
Over the last 10 years Bear hunting has become a favorite for me and your story was a perfect hunt. Alaska is truly a great place. Congrats.
From: Adam B
What a great adventure and story, thanks.
What a great recap! Congrats Pav on a great bear!!
Great hunt and story
Congrats! Thanks for taking us along!!
Awesome post, thanks for letting us go along with you!
Great thread to read thru at just the right time. Thanks for all your work in posting. Really enjoyed it!
I thought I recognized that 1st picture! PAV and the other 3 gents are definitely folks one likes to spend hunting time with. Roark and Aaron ... well, let's just say a better crew could not have been dreamed of.
Treated like king's and success with fish and bears to boot.
What a great hunt pav.....thanks for sharing the story & pics!
Dang, Paul, that sounds like a blast! Thanks for sharing the adventure here!
Now that sounds like a blast! Thanks for taking the time to share it with us and for all the photos!
Very neat adventure. Congrats on some great fish and fur trophies.
From: Mark Watkins
Great hunt, bear and story telling!!
Thank you for taking time to share your hunt. Being a bear hunter myself,made this thread especially enjoyable to me !!
I hunted Deer with HOC many years ago and Roark was the Captain then. My buck is the second to the last on the very bottom of the HOC Website Deer Page. Last day, last second buck. Scores 102 with massive circumference!
We hunted with Homer Ocean Charters back in 2001. On of my favorite trips. 5 of us on the boat and I took the only bear with my longbow. Average bear on the last day shot at 8 yards. I also caught a 100 # halibut. We caught a ton of halibut. We each brought back 92# of halibut filets. Just an awesome trip. Thanks for bringing back those memories.
Great write up! Awesome adventure!! I LOVE having the opportunity to fish on hunting trip.
Promised a follow up once the bear mount was finished. Just put him on the wall this afternoon. Went with a half body mount, panting mouth, spawning salmon underfoot, blueberry bush to your left and ferns to your right. Only thing missing is the Devil's Club... and maybe a seagull flying overhead! Intent was to echo the actual Alaskan experience.
From: Charlie Rehor
Super cool mount, Paul!
Missed this thread on the first go. Glad I caught it. What an awesome hunt and trip. Thanks for the post. This is what bowsite is all about. Enjoyed your hunt.
Man, I missed this first go round, glad you posted the mount.
Great story, hunt and mount! Well done!
I missed this thread in march. Thanks for taking the time to post it. Well told.