When Something’s Bruin In Wild Alaska: A Bear Hunter’s Passion

The following appears in the May issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

Despite what many people may think, brown bears aren’t around every corner in remote Alaska. Hunts can take days, even seasons to find success. Haugen has endured plenty of such adventures. (SCOTT HAUGEN)


As the smell of fresh bacon wafted through the tent, I crawled from the sleeping bag, poked my head out the door and began glassing.

Gazing across the marshy flats below, I spotted a black bear on the move. In the hills above, another bear frolicked, munching on the bountiful crop of wild blueberries. On a distant ridge – impossible to reach from our position – a third bear was feeding on berries. Things were off to a promising start.

Over the course of the day, my hunting partner Tom Munson and I would see three more black bears and two nice grizzlies. It was August and we were hunting in Southwest Alaska’s Game Management Unit 19, near the village of Sleetmute, with outfitter Curly Warren of Stoney River Lodge. Joe, our veteran guide of more than 25 years, encouraged us to wait in hopes of finding a bigger black bear (both Tom and I held a black bear tag).

With so much daylight this time of year, accumulating hunting hours was the least of our concerns. Up the hills we’d climb, glassing as we went and searching for bears. When bears were located, we’d break out the spotting scopes and size them up.

No matter where you hunt bears in Alaska, long grueling hours of glassing play a major part in the hunt. Here, outfitter Bruce Hallingstad and author Scott Haugen search for coastal brown bears. (SCOTT HAUGEN)


“Ya know, this is my first bear hunt and I really don’t care how big of one I get,” noted Tom as we glassed a lone bear high atop a ridge. The bruin was tucked into a small bowl on a south-facing slope, feeding on berries.

“This one won’t go 6 feet, but if you’d like, we can give it a try,” offered Joe. That was all Tom needed to hear. Soon we were off on another hike, admiring the beauty of the rolling tundra along the way. The day was clear, calm and breathtaking – more good reasons that today would be a good day to get a bear.

After more than an hour of climbing, Tom was finally within 300 yards of the bear. Then suddenly, the wind shifted and carried our scent straight up the draw. Just like that, the jig was up as the bear sprinted over the next ridge.

“Let’s go see if we can find it,” Joe encouraged. Two hours later, we were at the top of the steep, shale-covered ridge where we’d last seen the bear. Peering on the opposite side of the peak, it was rock for as far as the eye could see. But just over a mile away we saw a bear. It was walking our direction, so we sat, waited and watched to see what it would do.

Thirty minutes later, the first bear we were after joined the bear we’d been watching. For more than two hours the duo chased and played, but they continued slowly moving in our direction. “They’re coming back to the berry patch,” Joe said with a smile. “Let’s just sit right here and see what happens.”

Following his black bear hunt, Haugen enjoyed some of the best sheefish and pike fishing of his life in remote Alaska. (SCOTT HAUGEN)


I’d taken many bears, so I wasn’t too picky about what size bruin I pulled the trigger on. I also love eating bear meat, especially from animals taken this time of year. In addition, I was chomping at the bit to get off the mountain and experience the world-class northern pike and sheefish action Stoney River Lodge is noted for.

“If both bears get close enough, you shoot the first one and I’ll take the second,” I offered Tom.

Tom, the director of marketing for Trijicon at the time of this hunt, was using their new 5-20×50 scope mounted atop his .300 Winchester Magnum. I was hoping to be the first to take an animal with their new green triangle reticle from their AccuPoint line. Of all the animals I’ve been fortunate to hunt using Trijicon scopes around the world, black bears are among the most fitting for the glowing reticle. Oftentimes, properly placing a thin black crosshair on a black bear hide can be challenging, which is where the illuminated fiber optic really shines.

At just over 400 yards away we waited, wanting the bears to get closer. When they disappeared into a deep draw below us, we lost sight of them for nearly 20 minutes. “They should be close,” Joe whispered. We could see the top and bottom of the valley in which the bears had descended, so knew they’d hadn’t left.

“Don’t move,” Joe whispered, head down, pointing with the bill of his cap. “They’re right there!”

I carefully looked up and saw the backs of both bears, 40 yards away. Slowly, quietly, Tom and I raised up and shouldered the guns. As soon as Tom pulled the trigger, his bear dropped. A split second later, my .30 T/C sent a 165-grain bullet into the shoulder of the second bear. Both bears were down, 10 yards from one another.

After having watched these bears for more than three hours, the final moments had happened fast. Perched atop the rocky slopes, we couldn’t have asked for a more breathtaking view of Alaska’s wild lands as we skinned and quartered the bears.

I stayed in camp for another five days and flew to different rivers to fish for pike, sheefish and coho with Curly, our outfitter. To this day it was the best pike and open-water sheefishing I’ve experienced anywhere in Alaska. Having a Super Cub to take us to remote waters each day was the ticket to memorable fishing adventures in beautiful places.

Tom Munson and the author with their black bear double taken near Sleetmute, Alaska. (SCOTT HAUGEN)


Two months later, I was on another bruin hunt, this one for coastal browns. I was a nonresident at the time and chose to hunt with longtime brown bear guide Bruce Hallingstad of Becharof Outfitters (becharof.com), near the village of Egegik. I’d fished with Bruce in the past, but this was our first bear hunt together.

With all our gear packed into a skiff, we headed across Egegik Bay. Crossing the bar, massive flocks of sea ducks and stunning emperor geese filled the sky as they took wing in front of our boat. It was a sight to behold, a captivating introduction to this special hunt.

We worked our way into the ocean and down the coast. Reaching camp, we unloaded the boat and got to glassing. One thing I’ve learned with bears is that no matter where you are or what kind of bear you’re after, patience and lots of glassing are the two most important ingredients for success.

Right at dark, we found a giant bear, but it was too far off to catch up with. The following morning, stepping out of the cabin door, it was clear we’d had a visitor in the night. Fresh tracks in the sand revealed the brute had walked all the way around our thin-walled cabin, yet we hadn’t heard it.

“This bear will go 91/2 feet,” Bruce confirmed after studying the tracks.

We followed those tracks all day, glassing as we went. It had crossed over to the beach, then back into the rolling tundra, then to the beach again. Then it headed up a creek at low tide and into some dense willows.

Given all the open ground the bear spent time in, it was frustrating not to catch a glimpse of it. But then, minutes before dark, we spotted the bear. Again, it was too far to reach before darkness set in, but at least we had a starting point for the following morning.

That night a storm kicked up, which kept us captive inside the cabin. Given the sustained winds of 40 miles per hour with gusts up to 70, we knew we’d made the right choice. High winds in muddy tidal flats so close to the ocean are not a good mix, as navigating on foot and in a little raft can be dangerous.

The following day – with broken clouds passing overhead – was more promising. We didn’t even get out of the cabin before seeing a bear. Closer inspection through the spotting scope confirmed it wasn’t a giant bear, but one worth going after.

Using the tall marsh grass for cover, we snuck to the edge of a river. There we hopped into the two-man rubber raft we’d been pulling behind us with a rope and paddled our way across. Slogging through the thigh-deep mud was enough to test anyone’s patience and stamina. It was tough and slow going, but we made it.

When we popped up near where we’d last seen the bear, it was nowhere in sight. We glassed and glassed. Twenty minutes later, Bruce caught a glimpse of brown.

No more than 150 yards away, the bear foraged through the tall grass. Given our position and the height of the thick grass, I had no shot. Raising the Bog Pod tripod a bit higher, I steadied the .375 H&H Magnum, hoping for a break.

The bear walked to a small rise, but all I could see through the scope was the top of its back. Then it stood on its hind legs and looked right at us. Instantly, I hit it in the chest with a 300-grain Swift A-Frame bullet. The resounding thud was encouraging.

In short order, the bear reached racehorse speed and I wasted no time hitting it with another round. The shot hit the mark, but still the bear was on an all-out sprint. I put the post of the Trijicon scope a foot past the bear’s nose and pulled the trigger a third time. That shot dropped the bruin with a hit in the neck.

Haugen with a fall brown taken near the little village of Egegik. “When it comes to bear hunting in Alaska, the uncertainty of the hunt is what creates the excitement,” he writes. (SCOTT HAUGEN)


When it comes to bear hunting in Alaska, the uncertainty of the hunt is what creates the excitement. Not knowing how bears will behave – either before or after the shot – keeps a hunter’s nerves on end. Laying eyes on the vast land stretching from horizon to horizon and taking in all its beauty is worth the price of admission alone. ASJ

Editor’s note: For signed copies of Scott Haugen’s best-selling books, visit scotthaugen.com. Follow Scott’s adventures on Instagram and Facebook.