Live Hunt: Alaska Black Bear Season Highlights

For quite a few years now, spring black bear hunting in interior Alaska has been a Freel family affair. This season proved to be one of the best yet, as the woods seemed to be loaded with bears. Right off the bat, my dad and I both took Pope & Young record book black bears, both with traditional bows. I was also able to help my younger sister and my cousin's son take their first black bears. Things started off quickly, but soon turned frustrating as grizzlies moved down from the mountains and overran our bait stations. We did get some pretty cool trail cam pictures though, and one of the grizzlies is quite a brute, pushing 9 feet. With the season coming to a close, and the grocery bill running out of control, we pulled our baits yesterday. But overall this has been one of the most exciting bear seasons I've had in a long time. The following photos highlight my 2011 spring bear hunt.
Before the season started I spent quite a bit of time shooting out of tree stands in the back yard to make sure I was dialed in with both my long bow and compound. I was able to try the Millenium M100 stands and was really impressed with how simple, comfortable, and easy they are to set up. It didn't take long to see that these bears were going to be in trouble. I think one of the things that best prepared me, especially with the traditional bow, was practicing on this 3D target from Rinehart.
The black bear season finally opened and it was time to head to the stand. After walking by a pile of grizzly scat 40 yards from the bait, I heard a bear huffing in the brush. Thinking it was a grizzly, I was expecting to get charged, but fortunately it was just this agitated sow. The pair was onto the bait just six days after we put it out.
After checking another bait, we returned and sat for 2 hours before this big guy came in. He walked right under my tree stand and I was able to make a good double lung shot on him. He went down quick. Click here to see video.
He had some great big paws! He was the second biggest black bear I've ever killed, with the hide squaring 6'8". A handy and surprisingly accurate way of sizing a bear is to take the width of the paw in inches, add one, and that will be the "length" of the bear in feet. This bear's paw was just about 5 ½" across.
This guy had a huge melon on him. His skull green scored 18 ¾" which will qualify for the Pope & Young record book. I am really excited, especially because it is the first big game animal I've ever shot at with a bow, much less a traditional bow.
This bear weighed about 400 pounds, and was too heavy for the two of us to move. Despite swarms of mosquitos, we had to skin and quarter him on the spot. A good, curved-blade knife that is easy to re-sharpen makes skinning these critters much easier. With a sturdy blade, you can cut through neck, leg and hip joints pretty easily.
This is my good buddy Josh with our 2 bears from the first night of hunting. As we were waited to go recover my bear, another one came in just 15 minutes later. Josh made a great shot on him and in a matter of minutes we had two nice bruins on the ground.
A few days later, it was my Dad's turn. He was able to take this beautiful cinnamon phase black bear with his Hoyt recurve. For this bear we sat in a ground blind, and at one point the bear walked up to 4 yards away from us. But we didn't get a shot and the bear spooked. Later that night, he came back and Dad hit him a little far back and high, so we left him to bed down and returned in the morning. We were able to find him within 20 minutes and less than 150 yards from the bait. Click here for video.
This is one of the prettiest black bears I have ever seen. Cinnamon bears are very rare in interior Alaska, and to go with the chocolate-colored hide, he had a menacing set of white claws, which are also rare.
Not only did my dad's bear have a unique hide, but he was nearly identical to the size of my bear, squaring 6'7" with an 18 ¼" skull. The bear should make Pope & Young as well. We also had to skin him in the field, as our attempts to man-handle him out failed miserably. We estimated that he weighed at least 400 pounds.
That same night my uncle's grandson Alex was able to take his first black bear with a .243 Win. He was extremely excited and proud. He was ready to bring his trophy into the cabin that night to keep it safe from the wolves. This bear squared out at just over 6 feet, which is a nice bear for interior Alaska and his skull measured 17".
Two days after that, I was able to take my younger sister Courtney out, who desperately wanted a chance at her first bear. She did great, putting the hammer down on this nice 6-foot boar with my .25-06 Rem. He didn't go more than 40 yards. Click here for video.
This was another mature bear, with a 16 ¾" skull. As fun as it is to be behind the gun (or bow), it was more exciting to help her finally get her bear!
After having to do some real work for a couple weeks, my return to the bear blind was greeted sourly with fresh grizzly tracks on the bank of the river in front of my bait station. This is an area we have hunted for years, and the grizzlies consistently show up in force after the first week of June. I wanted to get another black bear (we are allowed 3 per year in this area), but things weren't looking too good, as often grizzlies will severely limit the amount of black bears feeding at a bait site.
I almost couldn't believe my eyes as I started checking the trail cam photos. I counted at least 10 different grizzlies feeding at the site in the same night. Years ago, we had a sow with cubs like this charge us at this very spot. Fortunately she stopped short and we didn't have to shoot her.
We saw these two young bears the first night on the stand. They are 2- or 3-year-old grizzly cubs that were probably just kicked out on their own, and they look pretty rough!
It just wouldn't end! Three full-grown grizzly bears can make a bait pile disappear pretty fast.
Contrary to what some will tell you, black bears will use baits that grizzlies are feeding at, but they are usually much more spooky and inconsistent, since big grizzlies will kill a black bear if they catch it on the bait.
Trail cams tend to be somewhat sacrificial when put on bear baits. This bear could have been the one that gave the camera a good chewing.
I almost couldn't believe how big this bad boy was. Judging from his tracks and what I've seen, I think he's pushing 9 feet, which is huge for an interior grizzly. His head is almost as wide as that 55-gallon drum!
He has huge claws, and when he's laying down he stands almost as tall as an adult black bear. I am hoping that I might be able to find him on a nearby salmon stream this fall during the grizzly season.
A bear this big will crush a steel 55-gallon drum like this nearly flat as a pancake. It just seems to be a grizzly's nature to crush, tear up, and claw up everything. After spending a couple of unsuccessful nights trying to get one of the few black bears that the grizzlies haven't run off, I have resigned to try again next year. With more than 13 bears on the bait, they are going to put me in the poor house if I keep it up. Right now they are eating 100 pounds of bait per night, and it is nearly impossible to keep it filled. I won't complain though. With two record book bruins to kick off Live Hunt 2011 and a freezer full of bear meat, this was the best bear season I've ever had.

We took a ton of great bears in interior Alaska this spring including to that will make the Pope and Young record book. See the highlights of my season here.