Long considered the country’s last frontier, Alaska has been the stuff of legends ever since the days of Jack London. In this state rests the last great stronghold of the black and grizzly bear, and it is the hunt for these kings of the forest that draws those searching for a challenge.
Alaska is home to a huge population of brown bears, also commonly called grizzly, that numbers over 30,000 according to statistics from the state Department of Game and Fish. These bears, which can get to as large as 1500-pounds along the salmon-rich feeding grounds of the coast, are very capable predators. Eating anything they can get their paws on from berries to small moose, these animals grow heaviest just before winter. So if you can get in on the short but sweet fall brown bear season, your odds of getting a giant animal increases. If not, the spring season’s leaner animals, which many consider better sport due to the more aggressive nature of hungry bruins, may be for you.
Three times more numerous is the Last Frontier’s population of black bears, which or course means that chances at harvesting one of these critters are much better. These smaller scavengers are still a good bit bigger than their counterparts in the Lower-48 and can often go as large as 300-pounds.
Bring Enough Guns
If you typically hunt with a medium-caliber rifle, such as a 6mm or .243 Winchester, for deer and other game, you will need to upgrade for Alaskan bears. While many guides and professional hunters in the state gravitate to light magnums such as the .300 Win and .338 Win, a good rule of thumb is that anything .308 or larger is sufficient provided proper rounds are used. Alternatively, such old-school rimmed loadings such as .45-70 and .444 Marlin with their huge flat-nosed bullets have found success, especially with black bear in brush areas. Remember to brush up on your marksmanship and acquaint yourself with the proper kill zones for these animals, as with any hunting, shot placement is key.
Should you be a non-resident who plans to bring your hardware with you to Alaska, this will likely involve crossing the Canadian line at some point with your rifle. While this is not illegal, you have to clear your gun with the their customs people, preferably ahead of time, to ensure that everything stays above board. Be advised that the Canadians do not allow certain types of rifles and handguns to cross their border, even in transit, and it is better to check ahead of time than have an international incident. For more information on carrying firearms through Canada, contact the Canada Firearms Center at 1-800-731-4000.
Gotta Get a Guide
If you are an Alaska resident, there are a number of opportunities to harvest bear during the general season and in special community and subsistence hunts. If you are a non-resident, many of these options disappear. In fact, unless you have a close relative that is an Alaska resident who agrees to take you hunting, state law requires that you hire a licensed wildlife guide if you want to go after bear. The good news is that there are hundreds of them. The bad news is that they charge anywhere from $5,000-$20,000 depending on how inclusive the hunt is where they pull their draw from, and the length of the trip. Still, it could be the trip of a lifetime and the ultimate stamp on the man card.