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Hunting Kodiak Brown Bears
A Question & Answer Guide

Hunting Kodiak bears is a unique privilege. Because of the worldwide importance of these bears and the restrictive regulations governing Kodiak bear hunts, it is important that you learn as much as you can before applying for a hunt or going into the field. This guide answers some of the most commonly asked questions about Kodiak bear hunting.

Photo of a brown bear

  1. What paper work do I need to hunt Kodiak brown bears?
  2. What is the difference between a registration permit and a drawing permit?
  3. Who needs a guide?
  4. Where can I get information on bear hunting guides?
  5. What does a Kodiak bear hunt cost?
  6. When are the hunting seasons and what are the bag limits?
  7. Are there any other special requirements?
  8. How do I get to Kodiak?
  9. Is bear hunting better in the spring or fall?
  10. What are my chances of success, and where are the biggest bears found?
  11. Where can I expect to find bears?
  12. What is the best technique for hunting brown bears?
  13. How can you estimate how big a bear is?
  14. What is the best rifle to use for brown bear hunting?
  15. Where should I shoot a brown bear to get a clean kill?
  16. How can I tell if a bear is rubbed?
  17. How do I skin a bear and preserve the hide?
  18. Are there any cabins available or must I bring a tent?
  19. What other equipment should I bring with me?
  20. What is bear sealing, and what do I need to do before leaving Kodiak Island after my hunt?
  21. What papers have been written on management of brown bear hunting on Kodiak Island?
  22. What else should I know about Kodiak brown bears?

  1. What paperwork do I need to hunt Kodiak Brown bears?

    To hunt Kodiak brown bears you need a valid Alaska hunting license, a Big Game Tag Record, a brown bear locking tag, and a registration and/or drawing permit for the area you plan to hunt. If you are not an Alaska resident, you also need proof that you will be guided by a registered guide (download a guide client agreement (PDF 353 kB), or a relative within the second degree of kindred. We strongly urge non-residents to make arrangements with a qualified big game guide prior to applying for any Kodiak bear hunts.

  2. What is the difference between a registration permit and a drawing permit?

    Registration permits are issued for bear hunting along the Kodiak Road System Registration Hunt area during the fall (RB230) and the spring (RB260) seasons. These permits can be obtained only by hunters who register in person at Kodiak's ADF&G office during normal working hours (8:00 am – 4:30 pm, Monday – Friday, except holidays). We issue an unlimited number of registration permits, and they can be obtained by either residents or nonresidents.

    Drawing permits are permits issued for bear hunting in all other parts of Game Management Unit 8 (Kodiak Archipelago). There are 31 drawing hunt areas, and the hunts are further divided by season and hunter residency (DB101 – 293), with a total of 496 permits issued annually. Most of these permits are issued to hunters selected in a lottery. Non-residents who are not hunting with an Alaskan relative must make arrangements with a qualified big game guide prior to applying for any Kodiak bear hunt. A limited number are also available for nonresident clients of guides with exclusive use areas on the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

    Information and applications are contained in the Drawing Permit Hunt Supplement, which is distributed in late October. These newspapers are available online, as well as at ADF&G offices and at license vendors throughout the state. Applications must be submitted during the draw application period for resident spring and fall hunts and nonresident spring hunts. Results for these hunts are available by the third Friday in February. There is a separate online application deadline for the guided nonresident fall brown bear hunts, which must be postmarked no later than May 31. When guided non-residents hunters apply for a drawing hunt, they must also submit a complete guide client agreement to our Kodiak office prior to the application deadline.

  3. Who needs a guide?

    All hunters that are not a resident of Alaska are required to have a guide. Non-residents who may use either a resident relative (Second degree of kindred) or a registered big game guide to accompany them in the field. "Second degree of kindred" means a father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, spouse, grandparent, grandchild, brother- or sister-in-law, son- or daughter-in-law, father- or mother-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepsister, stepbrother, stepson, or stepdaughter (5 AAC 92.990).

  4. Where can I get information on bear hunting guides?

    Nonresidents should contact one or several of the guides who are registered to hunt in the areas they wish to hunt prior to submitting a drawing hunt application. Individual guides are limited in the number of guide-client agreements they may submit per area and must be registered in the hunt area at the time of signing the agreement. Many of the hunt areas in the Kodiak Archipelago are within exclusive guide areas which may already be booked years in advance. Current information on guides is available from:

    Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development
    Division of Occupational Licensing
    P.O. Box 110806
    Juneau, AK 99811-0806
    Phone (907) 465-2543
    www.commerce.state.ak.us/occ/apps/GuiUseReg.cfm

    The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has also produced a Guide for Kodiak Guides (PDF 1,635 kB) which contains additional information about Kodiak bear hunting.

  5. What does a Kodiak bear hunt cost?

    Costs are dictated by the distance you are from your hunt area, how you plan to get there, what gear you need to purchase, and a variety of other factors unique to your situation. Here are some of the "fixed costs":

    Hunting license
    Alaska resident = $25
    Nonresident = $85
    Nonresident Alien = $300
    Bear tag
    Alaska resident = $25
    Nonresident (Alaska military) = $250
    Nonresident = $500
    Nonresident Alien = $600
    Land use fees
    Public land = no charge
    Private land = $200 – $1,200
    Guide fees
    $10,000 – $22,000
    Taxidermy fees
    $1,000 – $7,000
    Access to hunt area
    Aircraft weight includes passengers and gear. Floatplane (varies by type of aircraft) 800lbs=~$400/hour, 1,200lbs=$500-$600/hour. Boat (daily rate) $500-$1200/person
  6. When are the hunting seasons and what are the bag limits?

    There are 2 bear hunting seasons each year. The spring season is open from April 1 through May 15. The fall season is from October 25 to November 30. The bag limit is one bear (either sex) every four regulatory years. Cubs, and females accompanied by cubs, may not be taken. Once a bear is hit by a bullet or arrow, the hunter may not pursue another bear in Game Management Unit 8 for the remainder of the regulatory year.

  7. Are there any other special requirements?

    Big game hunting regulations are published each year by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and are available for free from ADF&G offices, license vendors, and at http://www.hunt.alaska.gov. Here are a few of the restrictions on Kodiak bear hunters:

    • Obtain permits in person at the ADF&G office in Kodiak prior to entering the field.
    • Hunt times are restricted to one 15-consecutive day hunting period which is declared when a permit is picked up (registration hunts excluded).
    • All hunters must check-in and checkout at the Kodiak ADF&G office during normal working hours.
    • You may NOT hunt or help someone else take brown bear until 3:00 a.m. the day following the day you have flown (excluding regularly scheduled commercial flights).
    • You may NOT hunt brown bear with the aid or use of a dog.
    • You may NOT use bait while hunting brown bears.
    • You may NOT use artificial light, night vision devices, laser sights or radio communication while bear hunting.
    • You may NOT shoot on, from, or across the driveable surface of any constructed road.
    • Once a bear is hit by a bullet or arrow, the hunter may not pursue another bear in Game Management Unit 8 for the remainder of the regulatory year.
    • Hides and skulls of harvested bears must be salvaged, the meat does not.
    • All brown bears killed in Game Management Unit 8 must be sealed by ADF&G staff in Kodiak before leaving the Island.
  8. How do I get to Kodiak?

    Alaska Airlines and Era Aviation has scheduled flights to and from Anchorage. The State Ferries Tustumena and Kennicott comes to the island from Whittier and Homer several times each week.

    Access to your hunt area
    Bear hunters on Kodiak are fortunate to have many transportation options depending on what hunt area they choose to hunt. The majority of bear hunters on Kodiak use air charters (float planes) to fly into lakes or protected bays Boats are also popular with hunters that fly into remote villages on regularly scheduled flights. A few charter boats are licensed big game transporters and can pick up and drop off hunters in areas with good marine access. The Kodiak road system hunt area is easily accessible by truck, foot and/or off-road vehicles.

    It is a hunter's responsibility to research land ownership prior to going afield. Public lands, which include state and Federal land is abundant on the Archipelago, but there is also private land that may have a no trespass status or an access fee attached.

    Kodiak land status = www.dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/planning/easmtatlas/kodiak
    Afognak land status = www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=accessbrochures.afognak

  9. Is bear hunting better in the spring or fall?

    Spring hunting has the advantage of longer days. Bears are easier to locate because vegetation usually hasn't leafed out, and hiking is easier before the heavy growth of grass and brush begins. In some years you may need snowshoes.

    Spring hides have longer hair, but are more likely to be rubbed than fall hides. The chances of taking a large male bear are somewhat better in the spring, whereas during the fall there are more lone females and recently weaned young bears.

    In the fall bears usually have more lustrous, uniform coats. Hunting time is shorter due to reduced daylight in the fall, but open seasons for deer, elk, goat, and small game hunting offers opportunities for combination hunts.

  10. What are my chances of success, and where are the biggest bears found?

    Bear hunter success averages 35% for Alaskan residents and 75% for guided non-resident hunters, with spring hunts having a slight advantage over fall hunts.

    Average bear density on Kodiak Island is about 1 bear/1.5 mi². Much higher seasonal densities occur near salmon streams, tidal flats, and in other preferred feeding areas. Trophy class bears have been taken in nearly every drainage on Kodiak and Afognak Islands. A large male bear may have a range exceeding 100 mi² which might include parts of several adjacent hunting permit areas.

    For example, during the spring 2005 hunt, bears with skull sizes exceeding 28" were killed in the following hunt areas: Sharatin Bay, Aliulik Peninsula, Uganik lake, Deadman Bay, Frazer Lake, Zachar Bay, Three Saints Bay, Karluk Lake, South Spiridon Bay, and Sturgeon River.

  11. Where can I expect to find bears?

    Brown bears begin emerging from dens in early April, and by late May most are active. Generally adult males come out of the den before younger bears and sows with cubs. When bears first emerge they may remain near the dens for several days before beginning to travel and feed. Bears may travel several miles along snow-covered ridges and mountains before descending into valleys and hillsides below snowline. South facing slopes, lower sections of drainages, and tidal flats where green vegetation first appears, are good places to observe bears in the spring. Bears sometimes forage along beaches for dead seals, deer, and other carrion washed in by the tides.

    During the fall brown bears feed on berries, roots, and late-spawning salmon. As the season progresses into winter, more bears begin seeking out denning areas. Brown bears begin entering dens by early November, generally choosing steep slopes at elevations of 1,000 ft. or more. Bears may be found in almost any habitat in the fall, but their activity noticeably declines by mid-late November.

  12. What is the best technique for hunting brown bears?

    Brown bear hunting demands long hours of patient observation. Locate a hillside or prominent knoll where you can see a variety of likely terrain, without being conspicuous yourself. River valleys, open south-facing hillsides, tidal flats, and openings in thick, brushy areas are good bets.

    Always determine the wind direction and move into the wind to prevent a bear from picking up your scent. Choose a couple of alternate viewing spots to use in differing wind directions. If you try to cover too much country on foot, you will telegraph your scent to every bear in the area. Once you have chosen a good vantage point, make yourself comfortable. Some hunters pack a small pop-up shelter or erect a windbreak.

    Use your binoculars to search likely looking cover for bear movement. Don't overlook any type of cover or terrain. Watch any suspicious dark spots or unusually shaped bushes, logs or rocks. Use a spotting scope to check out all those suspiciously bear-shaped objects. A spotting scope will also help you decide whether a bear is rubbed, and how large it might be. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to hunt, but bears may be active at any time.

    If a bear is moving rapidly, don't waste your time following it, but note where you last saw it. The bear may reappear in the same vicinity within a few hours or on the following day. Bears alternate their activities between feeding , resting, and traveling. Try to anticipate where a bear's movements will take it, and estimate where you can intercept it. Take advantage of cover and irregularities in the terrain as you approach the spot where you expect to locate the bear. Try to keep the wind in your favor as well.

  13. How can you estimate how big a bear is?

    There are numerous clues to the size of a bear, but even the most experienced bear hunters sometimes don't judge the size of a bear accurately. If two or more different sized bears are traveling together, they are probably a sow with cubs. Cubs that are two years old or older may be nearly as large as their mother. Some cubs lag behind their mother several hundred yards, so you should watch a bear long enough to be sure it doesn't have cubs. In dense vegetation, small cubs may be hard to see even though they are traveling close to their mother. Some cubs have a lighter-colored ring of fur around their necks or chests. This ring may persist into the cub's third year of life.

    During the spring season if you see two bears, one apparently pursuing the other, the bear in pursuit is probably a male . The male's intention may be very obvious. The female may appear nervous, stop frequently, and be aggressive when the male pursues too closely.

    Young bears generally appear to have a large heads and prominent ears in relation to their bodies. They also have relatively long legs and a gangly gait. Large adult males have blocky features and a rolling gait. Most hunters are looking for a 9'-10' adult male. A good way to estimate the size of a bear is to first look a bear standing broadside. Look between your thumb and index finger and section off the head-neck area of the bear then see how many lengths you can go down the bears body between the shoulders and tail. Since large adult males have longer bodies you should find that you can go three head-neck lengths on a body of a 9' + boar. Most large sows have body lengths equal to 2 head-neck lengths.

    To determine the "square" footage of a bear hides, you first measure across the hide from the longest claw on the left front foot, to the longest claw on the right front foot. Next, measure from the tip of the nose, to the base of the tail. These measurements are then added together, and divided by two to get the square measurement of the hide. Unfortunately, hide measurements are extremely variable depending on whether the hide is fresh, salted or tanned. In many cases a 10' fresh hide will shrink to under 9' after the tanning process.

    Skull sizes are used as the standard when measuring bear size. The maximum length (front tooth to back of skull) is added to the maximum width (between the cheek bones) to get the total skull size. A 28" skull is considered a "record book" bear, and is roughly analogous to a bear with a 10' hide.

    An excellent video entitled "Take a Closer Look" was produced by the Yukon Government to educate hunters and guides on how to judge trophy bears. This video can be found at most of the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game offices, or can be ordered from the Yukon Fish & Game Association, Box 4095, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada YIA 359.

  14. What is the best rifle to use for brown bear hunting?

    Most experienced hunters consider a .30-06 rifle with a 180 grain soft-nosed bullet to be the smallest effective caliber for Kodiak brown bears. The .300 mag, .338 mag., and .375 mag. are popular and well-suited calibers. A waterproof rifle stock is also beneficial during a Kodiak hunt.

    Don't wait until you get to camp to sight in your rifle. Sight in at the range and practice shooting from several positions. Knowing your own capabilities is as important as knowing how your rifle's ballistics.

  15. Where should I shoot a brown bear to get a clean kill?

    If a bear is undisturbed, a shot placed in the chest cavity hitting heart, liver, or lungs, should kill the animal cleanly. Some experienced hunters recommend shooting for the front shoulder to disable the bear. Unless vital internal organs are also hit, the shoulder shot may not provide a clean kill. A spinal shot will almost invariably kill or immobilize a bear, but the spine is a difficult target. Don't be hesitant to follow up your first shot to ensure a clean, quick kill. Bullet holes rarely compromise the quality of the hide. If a bear is running, or is otherwise disturbed when shot, he may be more difficult to kill, as the bear's momentum and adrenaline may carry him a good distance before he dies. Shooting at a moving bear is a poor practice, with a high probability of wounding the animal, and losing it. Head shots are risky at best, as the bear's skull is made of heavy bone, and the actual brain case is a small target. The skull makes a fine trophy, and if it is damaged, it cannot be entered in a Boone and Crockett Club trophy competition.

    Long shots should be avoided. Placing an accurate killing shot at distances exceeding 200 yards is difficult. Experienced hunters prefer to be within 100 yards before shooting. Always use a resting position for shooting, and if you've just topped a ridge, don't shoot until your breathing returns to normal. If you wound a bear as darkness is approaching, do not try to pursue it into thick cover. Mark the spot where it disappeared, and begin the search at dawn the following day. Wounded bears must be approached cautiously, as they are dangerous when cornered. Hunters have an ethical and legal responsibility to follow-up any bear that is wounded. Once a bear is hit by a bullet or arrow, the hunter may not pursue another bear in Game Management Unit 8 for the remainder of the regulatory year. As soon as practical after shooting the bear, you are required to validate your harvest ticket by cutting out the current month and day.

  16. How can I tell if a bear is rubbed?

    Bears that are shedding their winter coats are considered to be rubbed. Longer guard hairs are the first to shed, exposing the lighter colored underfur. Be suspicious if a bear's legs and flanks are darker than its back and rump. Another indicator of a is a dark line that appears to run down the back bone. Use your spotting scope to carefully check hide quality before you decide to shoot.

  17. How do I skin a bear and preserve the hide?

    Before you go hunting, visit a taxidermist and examine some bear skins and mounts. Ask about skinning procedures and hide care. These tips will improve the quality of your trophy.

    Skinning should begin immediately to prevent hide spoilage. If the hide is not removed, heat from the bears body will accelerate bacterial decomposition, causing the hair to "slip." If you must leave a bear overnight before skinning it, open the gut and chest cavities and remove all the innards. Prop the chest cavity open and roll the bear onto some brush so air can circulate around the body. Hide spoilage can occur in a short time, even at freezing temperatures.

    Typically, the dead bear is rolled onto its back and a cut is made from the anus to the chin. Cuts are then made along the inside of the arms and legs and the hide is removed from the carcass. Make sure you leave evidence of sex naturally attached. The feet are usually removed at the first knuckle after the claws. When the hide is removed you are required to attach your metal locking tag to the hide. Most hunters attach it through the evidence of sex (penis sheath or vaginal orifice).

    Once you have the bear hide in camp, trim off as much fat and flesh as possible. Spread the bear out, (preferably under shelter) and keep it as dry as possible. If you are going to be in the field for several days, and cover the flesh side with table salt about ¾" deep. Rock salt won't penetrate. Forty pounds of salt will be adequate to preserve an average sized hide.

    If you are going to be in the field for more than a couple days, you should also split the lips, turn the ears, and remove the pads. This requires patience and prior experience is beneficial. Split the lips beginning at the inner gum line. Don't cut through the outer part of the lips. Cuts in the darkly pigmented skin of the nose, lips, and around the eyes are difficult for the taxidermist to repair. Ears must be turned out and cartilage left attached. A small narrow bladed pocket knife is a must for this work. The feet must be skinned out and cut off at the last toe joint.

    Pack salt into lips, nose, ears, and toes. After a day or so the hide may be drained and re-salted. It can then be rolled and stored in a burlap or canvas bag, or spread in a cool dry place. Don't store hides in airtight bags, containers, or expose to direct sunlight.

  18. Are there any cabins available or must I bring a tent?

    Shelter is the first consideration when hunting on Kodiak. Rain, snow and high winds can be expected at any season. Temperatures can fall as low as 0°F during the fall. Spring temperatures are usually from the mid-30s to 50°F. A limited number of cabins on Kodiak Island are available to the public. Inquires should be made to Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, 1390 Buskin River Road, Kodiak, Alaska 99615. Public use cabins on Shuyak and Afognak Island may be reserved by contacting Alaska Division of Parks, SR 3800, Kodiak, Alaska 99615. Several lodges and Native Corporations also provide hunter accommodation.

    There aren't enough cabins to go around, however. A tent designed to withstand heavy winds with a separate rainfly is a must for a Kodiak hunting camp. Expedition-type tents designed for extreme weather conditions encountered by mountain climbers are best. A smaller tent will come in handy if you decide to make a spike camp.

  19. What other equipment should I bring with me?

    Kodiak is a subarctic maritime environment, and you can expect it to be cold and wet. Hypothermia is a constant threat in this climate. Get the best raingear you can afford. Under your raingear wear wool or synthetic fleece clothing, because these fabrics retain heat even when wet. Fabric-topped hip boots and a pair of rubber bottomed pac boots or waterproof leather/Gore-tex boots are recommended foot gear.

    Waterproof binoculars and variable rifle scopes are standard equipment for bear hunting. A spotting scope with small tripod or clamp for a pack frame is also recommended.

    A high quality pack frame will be useful for transporting your personal gear, and is a must for packing a bear hide. A hide may weigh over 100 lbs., and the skull will add 25 lbs.

    A small pocket compass, waterproof matches, knife, sharpener, first aid kit, signaling devices, and a small flashlight should be carried at all times. A topographic map of the area and a GPS (with spare batteries) can also be beneficial. You can get these maps in Kodiak or by mail from the US Geological Survey. Cell phones are of limited use on Kodiak, with coverage being restricted to the immediate vicinity of Kodiak City. Satellite phones are the most reliable form of communication, although marine and aviation VHF radios can be useful. Remember, it is against state regulations to use any radio communication to assist in stalking or hunting big game animals.

    Gas stoves, oil heaters, or catalytic heaters are recommended for cooking or warmth because wood in this area is often wet and difficult to burn. Smoke may also spook bears out of your hunting area. If you have a fire, never leave it unattended because even on Kodiak wild fires are easily started on dry days.

    A lantern, flashlight, and emergency signal flares should be included in your camp supplies as well as a comprehensive first aid kit. A rubber raft with a small outboard is advantageous in protected coastal areas and larger lakes.

    When planning your camp menu, include enough food for several extra days. Weather conditions may prevent your being picked up on time.

    Do Not store food in your tent! Several bear hunters have come back from a long day of hunting only to find their camp in ruins. Use odor-proof containers, and try to keep your cooking and sleeping facilities separate. Thoroughly burn trash and garbage if you can. Store non-burnable garbage in odor-proof containers and bring it back to town for disposal. Portable electric fences can help keep your camp secure while you are away or sleeping. More information is available in the living with bears seciton of our website.

  20. What is bear sealing, and what do I need to do before leaving Kodiak Island after my hunt?

    If you harvest a brown bear on the Kodiak archipelago, the bear hide and skull must be sealed at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Kodiak before it leaves the island.

    Sealing means having an authorized ADF&G representative place a plastic locking seal on an animal's hide and skull. Resident hunters must personally bring the bear hide and skull to the Kodiak office. Non-resident hunters may bring the hide in person, or fill out a Temporary Sealing Form and have their registered guide bring in their bear hide and skull for sealing. The sealing officer asks questions about when, where, and how the animal was taken, and will measure the skull and take a small premolar tooth for age determination. The seal must remain attached until the hide and skull have been preserved by a taxidermist.

    If you're not successful, you don't need to report back in person, but you must call the ADF&G office (486-1880) to let us know you have finished hunting. Please fill out the hunt report card, which provides us with information about your hunt, and mail it back.

  21. What papers have been written on management of brown bear hunting on Kodiak Island?

    See Van Daele, L.J. and V.G. Barnes Jr. 2010. Management of Brown Bear Hunting on Kodiak Island, Alaska. (PDF 1,330 kB) Scandinavian Bear Conference. Rovdjurscentrum Orsa Grönklitt. Orsa, Sweden. January 2010.

  22. What else should I know about Kodiak brown bears?

    For additional information about Kodiak bears, see the Brown Bear species profile.

If you have any other questions about your hunt, contact us:

Larry Van Daele, Area Wildlife Biologist
John Crye, Wildlife Biologist
Doris Mensch, Field Office Assistant

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