HUNTING

Grizzly Bear Hunting Tips: Grabbing The Grizz

Grizzly bear hunting tips
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

The grizzly bear’s status in the outdoor community is nothing short of legendary. These monstrous animals are built to be the biggest beasts in the forest, and over the years have given humankind plenty of stories with which to scare their young children.

Given the nightmare-inducing danger and the difficulty involved when hunting grizzlies, this article will give hunters some grizzly bear hunting tips to keep hunters safe and successful.

The lore surrounding the grizzly bear undoubtedly makes the bear a natural goal of hunters who are constantly searching for the greater foe. Hunters must be cautious, as the smallest of mistakes when trying to take on the grizzly bear can cost the hunter his or her life.

Glorious stories, beautiful trophies, and a truly rare adventure are all awarded to the hunter who is successful in grabbing the grizzly bear.

What The Hunter Will Need

  • An understanding of the grizzly bear. How it moves, how and where it lives, and all its vulnerabilities.
  • An understanding of the laws protecting the grizzly bear. No one wants to wind up on the wrong side of law enforcement.
  • A weapon of choice. If a hunter chooses to use anything less than a high-powered rifle, they are asking for a fist-fight with the bear. Along with this, a good pair of binoculars or a good scope are necessary in order to spot the bear.
  • Hunting grizzlies isn’t going to be easy. Hunters will find themselves in uneasy terrain, often in the cold, far from civilization. Hunters must prepare to work hard and tough it out if they want to bring home a prize grizzly bear skin.

Understanding The Grizzly

In spite of the horrendous stories in which bear and humans collide, these animals play an important role in the environment. Every species of beasties has a role on this planet, as the hunter or the hunted, and much more.

Grizzly bears are part of the carnivora order, which generally includes animals that eat meat. In that order, their infraorder is arctoidea. Despite the slight resemblance, bears don’t share this infraorder with canines. Instead, other animals found in this infraorder are seals and weasels.

Understanding The Grizzly

Grizzlies are most easily identified by their brown color, but this color can be any shade of a wide range of browns. Grizzlies can be anywhere from dark brown to almost cream-colored. The other identifying feature that is most commonly associated with grizzlies is the large hump on their back, made of muscles that give them a greater digging ability.

Other attributes a hunter might notice are shorter, more rounded ears, long front claws, and the sheer size of the grizzly bear. Standing on their back legs, they can be almost seven feet tall.

These long claws (much longer than say, a black bear’s) and the hump on their back are perfectly adapted for digging, which comes in handy for grizzly bears when it’s time to build a den for the winter. Grizzlies will hibernate for anywhere between five and seven months, depending on the variances in winter seasons.

The bears will slow down their heart rate, lower their metabolic activity and lower their temperature, but won’t fall into the deep slumber that is often associated with hibernation. Grizzlies are easily woken, and quick to react to danger. Grizzlies will spend all summer and fall eating anything from carrion to nuts and fruits to build up the fat reserves they live on throughout their hibernation.

Grizzlies live remotely by human standards. The farther away from humans, the better the grizzly seems to survive. Inland grizzlies will roam meadows and forests high in the mountains and even plains looking for grubs and roots to eat.

Others will stay close to the coast, feeding on washed-up carcasses. Either way, grizzlies often will remain near a water source, as these can provide important fish for their diets.

It is also important to know that grizzlies go by two names: the grizzly bear and the brown bear. Often large bears related to the grizzlies that are found in other parts of the world are referred to as brown bears. For example, in Russia, a hunter can find the Amur brown bear, the Siberian brown bear, or the Eurasian brown bear.

Grizzly bear with cub

All are closely related to the grizzly, and similar in size and shape. Brown bear is an umbrella term for all these types of bears, but in North America, grizzlies are thought to be the smaller brown bear found further inland, whereas brown bears are thought to be the larger bears that are found near the coast.

In North America, both brown bears and grizzlies are legally hunted in the right locations, without distinction between the two species.

Females will give birth during hibernation, producing between one and four cubs, unless a process called delayed implantation triggers a reabsorbing of the embryo. Due to the fact that grizzlies have to survive the winter on the fat stores, they build up in the summer, female grizzlies must also store up enough food for the cubs yet to be born.

Once fertilized, the embryo may still be reabsorbed by the female and no birth will occur if she does not build large enough fat reserves. Delayed implantation and a later maturing age than many mammals (between four and five years), grizzly bears are slow to reproduce.

These animals are extremely susceptible to over-hunting, and thus every hunter must abide by the complex series of rules that have been enacted to protect grizzly bear populations across the globe.

Avoiding Johnny Law

The best way to avoid the long claw of the law (and the method advocated for by this blog) is to not break the law. The grizzly bear was hunted to almost extinction in North America with the rise of human population, and their habitat has been constantly pushed back. These bears used to run the land as far East as the Great Plains, from Canada to Mexico.

Avoiding Johnny Law

Now, their numbers dwell in the 1000-1500 range, spread across three main populations in the Lower 48, and these numbers are heavily protected to ensure their health and survival. They are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in the U.S. and hunting grizzly bears is illegal in the all of the United States south of Canada.

  • Alaskan Hunting Regulations. In Alaska, however, with more room to roam and a much smaller human population, grizzly bears still flourish. It is illegal to hunt grizzly bears in the Lower 48, but hunters can legally hunt these beasts in Alaska, where a population of roughly 31,000 bears still lives.
    There are still rules, however, to ensure the longevity of the grizzlies. There are draw hunts (usually in the areas that offer the best chances for hunters), and general season hunts that give the hunter the time frame and location in which it is legal to hunt the grizzly bear.
    Hunting grizzlies generally takes place in the spring and fall. Because these animals reproduce so slowly, a hunter may take a grizzly only once every four years in Alaska. No hunter may shoot any cubs younger than three years old. Hunter may also never shoot a bruin (female bear) who is with her cubs.
    It is also illegal to harvest any bears within one-half mile of a landfill or garbage dump. Hunters may not sell or purchase any part of the harvested grizzly. Hunters will need a valid hunting license and big game tags. Nonresident hunters (anyone who does not live in Alaska) must be accompanied by either a guide or a relative who is a resident of Alaska.
    Hunters are encouraged to visit Alaska’s Fish and Game website to find the complete list of rules and regulations they must follow in order to keep their hunt completely legal.
    Luckily, if the hunter hires a guide, they will help you follow all the rules. This is highly recommended, not only to avoid legal prosecution but to give yourself the best chance possible at bagging a grizzly. More on guides can be found in the Tips section below.
  • Canadian Hunting Regulations. In Canada, hunters may stalk grizzlies according to lottery permits or quota permits. The lottery permits apply to residents, and quota permits apply to nonresidents. All hunters need the proper licenses and tags, and nonresidents need gun permits, guides, and will need to register their guns at Canadian customs.
  • Russian Hunting Regulations. It is quite difficult to find extensive literature on the hunting regulations in Russia, so suffice it to say it’s best to go with a licensed hunting guide.
    Four species of brown bear are legal to harvest in Russia, and many outfitters offer to take hunters for the right price. Aside from actual hunting regulations, gun laws are strict in Russia as far as foreigners are concerned.
    Hunters will need an invitation from a guide company, and a visa from the Russian consulate. Hunters should be ready to provide extensive documentation on the type and ownership of their weapon that must be declared. They can only have the gun(s) in Russia for the duration of the hunt, as specified by the invitation from the guide company.
  • European Union Hunting Regulations. The EU has banned all hunting of large carnivores unless they pose a direct threat to human life. This loophole is still exploited in Croatia, where a hunter can still purchase a guided brown bear hunt.
    This was also the case in Romania, but according to The Guardian, the Romanian government banned all hunting of brown bears in 2017. Alaska, Canada, or Russia are the only places to hunt grizzly bears safely within the confines of the law.
  • CITES Rules. Brown bears are listed under Appendix I of the CITES, which means they are internationally considered a species that is threatened with extinction.

As such, strict trade regulations are in place, and moving trophies between countries requires proper CITES documents.

These documents are required export and import permits and are handed out by the government of the country in which the hunter is hunting or trying to take his or her trophy into.

Steps for Taking Home the Trophy Grizzly Bear

Now that the hunter knows all they need in order to hunt legally, and knows exactly what to expect from a grizzly bear, the hunter needs to know how to kill the animal.

Step #1: Spotting the bear

Bear baiting is generally not legal, so most hunters are going to rely on the spot-and-stalk method. Hunters will want to sit high above grizzly-heavy areas, generally focused on food-rich environments.

Spotting the bear

Riparian areas where grizzlies can find fish, or sub-alpine meadows or fruit or nut fields are going to provide sources of food for the grizzlies and give hunters a better chance at finding the prize bear. Here, the hunter’s binoculars or scope comes into play. Take that glass and survey all the land you can see, and wait for your trophy to walk into view.

Step #2: Stalking the bear

Here’s where things get spicy. The hunter has to get close enough to have a clean shot at the bear. This means two different things for two different weapons. Some hunters will want to use a bow, and in such a situation the hunter will have to situate themselves within forty yards of the bear. This is no small task given the grizzly bear’s unbelievable sense of smell.

With a high powered rifle, a hunter can take a shot as far as 250 yards away. Between 100 and 200 yards is best, but closer is always better. Safety is important here as well. A wounded bear can angrily turn on a hunter in a heartbeat.

Step #3: Take the shot

The ideal shot would be one where the bear is quartering away from the hunter or broadside. Grizzlies are renowned for their toughness, so shot placement is extremely important. The aim is to damage the organs just behind the front legs, as well as break the shoulder.

Take the shot

The goal is a broken shoulder and a pierced lung or heart. Aim at the bottom half of the bear’s torso just behind its front leg.

Step #4: Track the bear

You might be the world’s best shot, but every hunter should be prepared to follow the bear as it runs away until the wound catches up to it. Hunter’s should be particularly careful during this stage, as grizzly bears have been known to circle around to the hunter’s rear, and take charge from there.

Tips for Success

After the hunter finds his or her trophy, all that’s left to do is skin it and go home. However, here are some shorthand tips that will help optimize the hunter’s chances of bagging the big bruin.

Tip #1: Know your weapon, and choose wisely

It is important to have a high powered rifle and, if choosing to shoot a bow, a high-powered bow. Some hunters will tell stories of taking a grizzly with a .270, but hunters should err on the side of caution and shoot a 30.06 or above. The bow should have a draw weight of 70 pounds, and hunters should use heavily grained broadheads.

Hunters also must have an impeccable aim when hunting grizzlies. These beasts can travel fast and far and can do so in the direction of the hunter.

A wounded grizzly is nothing to tussle with, so the hunter needs to take the best shot possible in order to kill the grizzly quickly. Knowing your weapon, and having practiced with the weapon extensively is of the utmost importance when planning a grizzly bear hunt.

Hunting rifle

Afterthought: Hunters should keep a high caliber pistol with them at all times, even in their tent. It is also recommended that a second high powered rifle, or a slugged shotgun, should be kept nearby while on the hunt, in the case of close encounters.

Tip #2: Don’t attract a bear to you when you are unsuspecting.

No camping near game trails, where bears might be tracking food, and no sleeping with food in the tent. Hunters shouldn’t even be sleeping in the same clothes they cooked or ate in. Anything that will bring a bear into the hunters sleeping area is a bad idea.

Hunters need to hang their food appropriately or store it in containers designed to keep bears out. Hunters want to find the bear; they don’t want the bear to find them.

Tip #3: Book a guide

Because hunting grizzlies is so regulated, hunters often don’t get many chances to go chasing after them. Hiring a guide is the absolute best way to completely optimize the chances of harvesting a trophy grizzly.

Guides or outfitters are going to know the area, know where the hunter will have the best chances of finding a grizzly, and they will bring to the table years of hunting experience. As much as a hunter who’s after a grizzly knows about hunting and being in the backcountry, he or she should still seriously consider hiring a guide, at the very least to help with abiding by the laws.

Tip #4: Get in shape

Grizzly bears thrive where there are no humans. Hunters will have to travel to remote locations in order to find the grizzly of their dreams. Miles of hills, mountains, valleys, brush, rivers, and marshes will all be in the hunters’ way. Be in shape, and be prepared with a gritty attitude.

Get in shape

The grizzly bear is one of the strongest animals on Earth, and live in places where only the strongest will survive. Hunters will have to be at their strongest if they want a chance at taking down a grizzly.

Final Thoughts

No hunt should be taken lightly, but the grizzly bear is special. Their claws and their teeth can kill or maim a human in seconds, and these animals have been doing so for thousands of years.

Hunters need to treat these bears with respect. Follow the rules and regulations to keep hunting populations around for generations to come, and, whatever the hunter does, he or she cannot underestimate this animal.

Grizzly bears are fierce and powerful creatures. Difficult to find, difficult to stalk, and difficult to kill, the hunter should be well-researched in the ways of the grizzly before attempting this hunt.

Once adequately educated and mentally prepared, an adventure filled with excitement and glory is sure to be found by the hunter who goes into the wilderness in pursuit of a grizzly trophy. Good luck, have fun, and hunt safely.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

  • Greg Hart

    For me, one of the key things you should know is how to identify between black and grizzly bears, as it might just save your life.

    As Dennis rightly pointed out, color is no indication and can be misleading as some black bears are actually brown, and grizzlies can vary in color as well. The key things to look out for are the ears and the hump, black bears have tall, pointed ears and don’t have the prominent shoulder hump, whereas grizzly bears have short, rounded ears, and a prominent shoulder hump.

    Distinguishing between the two, should you encounter a bear unprepared, could mean the difference between life or death.

    Experts suggest that if you encounter a black bear the best thing to do is stand your ground, make a great deal of noise and avoid eye contact. If, however, you happen to come across a grizzly bear when unprepared, it is recommended that you get on your stomach in a fetal position and cover the back of your neck with your hands, i.e. play dead.

    This is assuming you don’t have bear spray or firearm, or if either of these don’t work, I’d personally suggest reaching for either first and foremost if you have them!

    • Liam Henderson

      Sound advice Greg, thanks. I would like to add my two cents and a few extra little tips that might just save your life.

      Though it’s obviously important to know what to do in the event of a bear attack, prevention is equally important. The easiest way to avoid bear attacks is to ensure they’re aware of you, most bears will have encountered humans (particularly hunters) in the past and are intelligent enough to know, they’re probably safest keeping their distance. Take note of wind direction when moving around blind corners or cresting a hill, your scent will be the first thing they pick up on, and if they don’t have time to flee, they may turn defensive/aggressive, also be sure to make noise, the sooner they know you’re coming, the more time they have to get away.

      Should you find yourself in a position similar to those described in the comment above, you should absolutely do as suggested. Though I would add, if your ‘scare tactics’ don’t work and you find yourself up close and personal with a black bear, be sure to fight back. With any luck, after a few bumps and bruises, the bear will realize you’re not worth the effort and leave you alone.

      The same applies to grizzly attacks, as suggested, initially, you should not fight back, however, if your efforts to play dead have not worked you should absolutely put up a fight, don’t just lay there and let the bear kill you, you should go down fighting.

      Finally, one more thing to note if your bear encounter does turn nasty, black bears generally zigzag when approaching to attack, whereas grizzlies will run right at you.

      • Dennis Owens

        Regardless of which bear you’ll encounter in the field, safety and prevention of attacks can really save your life and stress. Before this happens, always come in prepared with both offensive and defensive arms just in case hostile bears appear.

    • Dennis Owens

      Thanks for reiterating the importance of black bear and grizzly bear differences, Greg. This is a really important consideration because they are completely different bears in terms of behaviour, and not to mention strength. Always bring a self-defense item like a spray as a deterrent, because they tend to run fast and are very keen hunters.

  • George Miller

    If you’re thinking about hunting grizzlies in Alaska for the first time, I strongly advise you to get a guide. Later, if you feel confident enough, you can hunt on your own. In my experience, it’s best to hunt them in the early spring because then their fur is the best. On the other hand, if you don’t want the fur you can hunt in the fall when they’re feeding on salmon.

    • Dennis Owens

      It is important to get a guide regardless of the destination you’re hunting, especially if you are unfamiliar with the terrain or the environmental considerations. Spring is indeed the best time to hunt for fur, though you can also hunt them while they are feeding on salmon if fur is not a priority.

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