Polar Bear Bowhunt

There are few bowhunters that have matched the experiences and success of Jim Ryan. Starting with a longbow at the age of eight, he was quick to become proficient enough to help provide food for his financially struggling family in the coal hills of West Virginia. It did not take long for the thrill of bowhunting to take hold inside of Jim and as it grew so did his desire for trophy animals. He has since become one of only a handful of bowhunters in the world to take all 28 North American game animals, a feat known as the superslam, and is just a couple of animals shy of completing the monumental task a second time. Just as impressively, is the fact that over 100 of the animals that he has taken qualify for the Pope & Young record book. When Jim decided to head to the Northwest Territories last fall to purse his fourth polar bear, Bass Pro Shop's founder Johnny Morris requested to send a cameraman along to capture the adventure. Mike "Tater" Haviland has spent the majority of his life behind the camera filming hunts all over the world and averages 240 days a year looking through the lens. When he received the call from Bass Pro Shops, he quickly jumped at the chance. "I've been called on more than one occasion to tackle a tough, adventurous hunt that others were reluctant to accept. I had never been to the Northwest Territories or even seen a polar bear but had witnessed Jim's archery skills first hand on a Wyoming elk hunt and I wasn't going to let this opportunity get away," he said.Mike Haviland
Unfortunately for Jim and Mike, the first 14 days of their adventure were spent waiting in a hotel room. The guide was on the ice with a rifle hunter and they were having a difficult time filling the hunter's tag. When they finally came off the ice empty-handed, Mike had his doubts about their own chance of success. "A rifle hunter had been out looking for three weeks for an average bear and came home with nothing. We were going to try to find a trophy bear, get within bow range and capture it on film and since the rifle hunt had taken so long we only had a few days to get it done," he said.Mike Haviland
Jim and Mike had originally planned to take dog sleds out to the camp, but the extended rifle hunt caused them to have to charter a plane to get on the ice quickly.Mike Haviland
Their outfitter and guide, Henry Nasogaluak, had their comfortable camp waiting for them eight miles out on the frozen Arctic Ocean. Although it didn't have all the luxuries of the hotel that they had been stuck in for two weeks, the camp was a welcome sight as it meant the hunt was actually going to happen.Mike Haviland
Mike shows a little appreciation to the dogs that made life in camp a lot easier. "I was concerned that we would be living on whale blubber and frozen caribou, but the outfitter brought an entire dogsled full of food. The outfitter's tent was piled with "American" food and we ate everything from pork chops to hamburgers," Mike said.Mike Haviland
Unlike the mobility of rifle hunting, a polar bear archery hunt usually consists of setting up camp on a likely trail and waiting. A dog is usually placed outside the kennel to act as a "bear detector." Although the long days and short nights in the arctic can lull someone into a state of boredom, the bear-induced, low, guttural growl of the watch dog can turns things around in a hurry.Mike Haviland
The dogsleds were used for a variety of activities, including retrieving firewood from distant trees, checking for bear tracks and passing the time with an occasional joy ride.Mike Haviland
Jim's archery equipment stayed close at hand at all times. Not only did he want to be prepared if a bear approached, but he also practiced shooting six times a day, every day. Although he is known as one of the most accurate archers in the hunting industry, especially at incredible distances, his respect for his prey and unwillingness to make a poor shot was evident in his relentless practice sessions.Mike Haviland
Mike's excitement about being in the arctic never diminished, but the area lacked the variety of habitat and wildlife that he was accustomed to in the Midwest where he lives. "On the ice, everything looked exactly the same. White," he said.Mike Haviland
"At night, the temperatures would drop to minus 50F. We had a small, kerosene heater in our tent, but it didn't have a chance. It probably brought it up to minus 30F in the tent, which sure felt better than 50 below," Mike said.Mike Haviland
Keeping a camera running in the arctic was a challenge all its own. "I took 19 camera batteries and a solar charger. I wasn't going to be without power when a bear came in," said Mike. "I also used three cases of handwarmers. I stored my batteries and tapes in a cooler with a fresh supply of handwarmers inside and kept a few tucked inside a polar cover on the camera."Mike Haviland
Glassing helped ensure that a bear didn't sneak by unnoticed. The old "polar bear in a snow storm" saying applied and a keen eye was necessary to pick out a white bear on the vast frozen land.Mike Haviland
Jim and the guide had been correct about a bear being on the ice. At 3:00 AM, during the night after the wind switched, the watchdog warned of an approaching bear. The guide put the dog in the kennel to quiet him down and let the bear approach closer as Jim stood at his tent door with bow in hand waiting in the dim light. Before long, the bear's massive head appeared over the top of a pressure ridge as Jim turned to Mike and said, "you better get ready, cause he is one big son-of-a-buck." The brute continued to stroll into camp looking for a tasty canine meal. At 18 yards, he noticed Jim and Mike standing at the tent door, turned and began coming toward them. With camera rolling, Jim placed a perfect quartering, complete-pass-through shot between the bear's neck and shoulder and watched him retreat over the ridge. "I couldn't believe how calm Jim was," said Mike. "Most people don't have the nerve to face a polar bear at 18 yards, but it didn't seem to shake him up at all." The adrenaline was undoubtedly pumping through Jim's veins, but he has learned to control it until after the shot. "Anytime you hunt dangerous game with a bow, you can't even think about what could happen or you wouldn't do it to begin with," Jim said. "If you are bowhunting and have to get that close and make that commitment, something is going to die. You got to have it in your mind that it is going to be the bear and not you." Although Jim was after a trophy bear, the estimated, 1400-pound, 14-year-old beast exceeded his expectations. Although the skull is still waiting to be panel scored, individual, official measurements put the bear at 26 10/16 inches and qualifies Jim for the Pope & Young books once again, only this time with a new world record polar bear.Mike Haviland

Bowhunter Jim Ryan goes to the Northwest Terrirtories to conquer his fourth polar bear.