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Bowhunting with Paul D. Atkins

The bugs were awful, and even though my makeshift head net was pulled down tight over my collar, they were still finding their way in. After spending all night in a tree with nothing but a sleeping bag and a couple of pee bottles I was ready to get out. Contemplating all this, I looked up at my buddy wondering if he was ready to do the same, and then it happened. A bear appeared where only moments before there wasn’t one. A nice six-footer with what looked to be an awesome hide just materialized in front of us.

Black bear hunting is like that. You sit on a stand over bait for hours or what eventually ends up being days, waiting for that one moment when a cautious bruin will hopefully approach and then like magic he’s there.

Prime time is now for Alaskan Black bears. Bait stations are set and the anticipation grows each and every day. The magical month of May has arrived and the unusual warm weather we’ve been having this spring has the bruins coming out of their dens, stretching their legs and looking for something to eat.

As I write this most Alaskan bowhunters are foaming at the mouth to climb a stand hoping to see the bear of their dreams walk in and offer a shot. It’s also a time to take the necessary steps to make sure your archery equipment is in shape and ready for the challenge.

Today’s bows are exceptional; they’re fast, quiet and in the right hands more deadly than ever. Arrow and broadhead combinations are endless and most set-ups will get the job done. However, practice makes perfect and checking and rechecking your gear is the key to success. Here are a few ideas and essentials for bagging your bruin.

Bows
Whether you’re shooting the latest and the greatest or your old reliable favorite, you want to make sure everything is working in a functional manner. Most die-hard bowhunters who shoot continuously throughout the year have a real knowledge of what their bow can and cannot do. But if you’re just pulling it out of the case you need to take stock and make sure everything is in working order. First and foremost, check your string. The bow string is one of the most important parts of your bow and believe me when you’re in bear camp you don’t want a problem with your string. Check to make sure it isn’t frayed or worn and all the strands are where they’re supposed to be. It would probably be a good idea to give it a good waxing and if it is in bad shape replace the entire string. Also check your cables, they need to be as good as your string.

Broadheads
There are a lot of great broadheads available for hunting black bears. It has been my experience that most will effectively kill a bear with minimal poundage. Broadheads need to be sharp and cut on command creating a quick, efficient kill. Solid fixed blades have worked best for me, with G5 Montecs, Steel Force Premium and those made by the Grizzly Stik being some of my favorites.  No matter what you decide to screw into the end of your arrow, shot placement is the key. This comes with practice and knowledge of the kill zone. Long before you hit your release you need to make sure you’re familiar with where to place your shot. Poundage is overrated in my opinion and having to pull “80” pounds to kill a bear is overkill, no pun intended. Being able to achieve enough kinetic energy and place the arrow in the right spot is the key.

Arrows
There are so many arrow companies now, they remind me of car brands. All say they’re the best, and quality is dictated in the price. But in truth just about all will be effective if your bow is tuned and practice takes place with your chosen head. I’ve killed bears with both aluminum and carbon and both were effective. Arrows with the proper spine that make their way to your target is the key. If you’re not quite sure your arrows are up to the task drop by your local pro-shop and ask questions. Take a look at the charts and maybe even shoot a few until you find the right combination.

Sights
Choosing a bow sight is a personal choice. Whether you like multiple pins or the one pin model, being able to see it effectively through your peep and place it is the key. I have become real fond of the one-pin models when shooting from a stand. When bear hunting I use a one-pin model made by HHA. It’s adjustable by using a dial. The great advantage is that I can range the bait site, and then set my sight by dialing up the yardage. Using one pin eliminates any confusion and gives the bowhunter a clearer vision and sight picture. Whichever you decide to shoot make sure it is secured to your riser and the pins are tightened along with the setscrews.

Release vs. Fingers
Some of the best archers I know are finger shooters. I, on the other hand, am not. I’ve tried it and can’t quite accomplish the consistency it takes to be effective. Shooting with your fingers or a tab of some kind is an art form and can take years to master. If fingers aren’t for you then your only choice is to shoot a release. Like broadheads, arrows and everything else mentioned there are number of trigger releases available. The key is to find one you are comfortable shooting. Not all triggers are created equal, but with the advancement in design most can be micro-adjusted in terms of tension. If you do shoot a release and it’s been awhile since you’ve strapped one on please take the time to check the trigger and make sure the pull feels comfortable.

Practice
We all need to practice. It is not only essential to making quick clean kills, but it creates that feeling of self-assurance and it’s fun. The key is to make sure your practice sessions are effective. Here in Alaska most bear hunts take place over bait with a tree stand close by.  Your practice should reflect that. In addition, most shots are relatively close with most 20 yards or closer. Knowing your effective range is a big plus, but most bowhunters have no problem with 20 yards. It has been my personal experience that when bow hunting black bear from a stand you should take your time and make your shot count. Black bears aren’t dumb and in most cases they know you’re in the tree. With a bear’s poor eyesight he might not be able to make you out, but believe me knows something is up. Be patient, move slowly and get set for the shot. Drawing your bow should be deliberate, taking your time and placing your sight pin.

At 16 yards the bear stood up and offered me a perfect quartering away shot. I slowly drew my bow, dumped the string and could just see the nock disappear into the black hide making a complete pass through. The bear went less than 20 yards and like all fatally shot bears made the sound that all bear hunters want to hear.

Planning a black bear hunt and then actually going is, in my opinion, as much fun as a hunter can have. The anticipation of hunting something dangerous, in country that is usually breathtakingly beautiful and then the great odds of taking a decent bear make it one of the best hunts for the money. Black bear hunts are also great for a father/son or father/daughter adventure or as far as that goes the entire family.

If you do plan to hunt spring bears here in Alaska check with your guide on what you will need to bring as far as gear. Or if you plan to “DIY” check online for the basic needs on a hunt. The Alaska Fish and Game website has several pages dedicated to bear hunting. As for me I will never leave for bear camp unless I have a proper head net andbug dope. Man, I hate those bugs!

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Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author from Kotzebue, Alaska. He’s had hundreds of articles published on big game hunting throughout North America and Africa. You can find him at www.pauldatkins.com

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