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Alaska Brown Bear Hunting: the ABC Islands

from Sitka Hunting Guide,
a 1996 publication of the
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Sitka, Alaska


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Determining Sex and Size
Spring Bear Hunting
Fall Bear Hunting
Transport through Canada or other countries
Guide Requirements for Brown Bear and Mountain Goat

Admiralty Island is popularly believed to be the brown bear hunting Mecca in Southeastern Alaska, but the other islands of GMU 4 also have excellent bear populations. In recent years the sport harvest has been divided with 40% coming from Admiralty, 40% from Chichagof, and the remainder from Baranof and Kruzof islands. Populations are currently excellent, and harvests since 1988 have averaged over 120 bears a year. Most of the sport harvest occurs in the spring, which typically produced two-thirds of the total kill. In the spring, 70% of the bears taken are males while the fall kill is generally equally divided between males and females. For hunters seeking record trophies, these brownies rarely have the minimum skull measurements necessary to get in the book. The average skull measurement for males is 21.4 inches (length plus width) and 19.3 for females. The last Boone and Crockett trophy was killed in 1973. The bears are generally darker than brown bears elsewhere in Alaska, and GMU 4 has a unique prize in the near black or ''Shiras" color phase.

Brown bear hunting is popular with nearly one thousand registration permits being issued each year for GMU 4. All permittees do not go afield, but still the more popular bays and inlets may have several parties present at the same time. In these situations, hunting courtesy is essential between groups or competition and conflict may adversely impact the hunting experience. Every hunter needs to be aware that thoughtless actions can result in an older, wiser, larger bear modifying its behavior to successfully avoid hunters. Alaskan residents comprise the bulk of the hunters, but nonresidents kill just over half of the bears taken in any given year. Nonresidents must be accompanied by a registered Alaskan guide or a relative within the 2nd degree of kindred. All hunters must have the appropriate hunting license, registration permit, and brown bear tag before going afield. When the hunt is over, all permit reports must be completed and, if successful, the hide and skull must be presented to the Department for sealing.

Most any good high powered rifle is a suitable bear gun. Bears are large bodied animals with heavy bone structure so bullets that hold together and penetrate are best. Bullet placement is more important than raw power; it's better to make efficient use of a lesser gun that you are comfortable with than risk a poorly placed bullet from a "Magnum." As with any hunt, the hunter needs to prepare before the hunt to be both efficient and humane in the field. As cold, wet rain is the normal weather in Southeast Alaska , hunters should be prepared to take care of their trophy after the kill - use salt liberally and the hide should be protected from the rain. Do not seal it in plastic so it can't breath.

Determining Sex and Size

Brown bears reproduce slowly so it is wise management to reduce the take of sows. You can help by selecting a male, which is usually a larger bear and a more impressive trophy.

Look bears over carefully before you shoot. First, make sure it is not a sow which has cubs. Don't be anxious to shoot, and make sure the bear is alone. Cubs quite often lag behind the sow. If a bear looks back often, or gazes at one spot repeatedly, wait for awhile to be sure there are no cubs.

Always take time to carefully observe groups of two or more bears. Bears are usually quite solitary unless they are siblings or are breeding. The odds are good that two or three bears together may be a group of young bears or a sow with older cubs.

Check the bear for size. Large bears appear blocky, have short stout legs, and their ears look small in relation to their heads. Small bears look rangy and long-legged, and the ears appear relatively large in relation to their heads. Younger bears are curious and less wary than older ones, so look closely before shooting a bear that doesn't seem too worried about your presence.

Secondly, check for rubbed areas where the hair is missing or thin. Try to get a look at both sides of the bear before shooting. This may require some patience, but you probably don't want a bear hide with a bald spot.

Spring Bear Hunting

The first bears are generally taken in early April, but most hunters wait until the end of the month or May. Since the males normally leave their dens first, early bears are more apt to be large males. As the season moves into May, females and younger males make their appearance. Late in the season there are more bears available but many have started to shed their winter hair and rubbed hides are common. Be sure to look a bear over from every possible angle to determine if there are rubbed areas that would damage its trophy value to you. Springs with early green-up are strongly influenced by the type of winter that preceded them. Bear hunting during early green-up can be less successful because bears can find suitable forage away from the beach areas. During ''late" springs, hunting success is enhanced because green-up focuses the bears feeding activities to the intertidal grass flats areas where they are more easily seen. Bears are most likely to come to the grass flats to feed in the early morning or the late evening. The most successful hunting technique is spotting the bear from some distance and then initiating a stalk.

Fall Bear Hunting

Fall bear hunting is best around salmon streams. Years with good salmon escapements tend to produce the highest bear harvests. Best hunting opportunities are found near streams with late salmon runs. Larger streams with more salmon tend to have more bears. Large boars are generally found upstream away from salt water while younger bears and family groups occur on the lower areas. By mid-October, few streams have spawning salmon, and it becomes more difficult to locate a bear. Bears taken early in the fall are more apt to have rubbed hides that haven't grown in from their summer shedding. By late fall, new hair growth occurs and most bears are well furred. Many deer hunters now hunt prepared for the opportunity to also take a brown bear. We are receiving reports of bears attempting to take deer carcasses from hunters. If you find a deer carcass or a gut pile that has been partially covered with dirt or vegetation, it has probably been cached by a bear and caution is advised.

Transport through Canada or Other Countries

Under the terms of an international agreement, you are required to have a CITES permit when you take any part of a brown bear, including prepared trophies, through or to a foreign country, including Canada. Contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage at 907-786-3311 well in advance if you are planning to travel outside the U.S. with your trophy. Canada has very strict firearms regulations. Handguns are absolutely prohibited, and you may not bring handguns through Canada even though you are on your way to Alaska or the lower 48 states. Many handguns are confiscated by Canadian Customs each year. Canada still allows sporting long guns to be transported through the country to Alaska or the lower 48, but it would be wise to contact Canadian customs or the Canadian embassy for the most recent policy. Canadian customs at the point of entry in Haines can be reached at 907-767-5540 and in Skagway at 907-983-2325.


Guide Requirements for Brown Bear and Mountain Goat

Alaska residents are not required to have a guide. "Alaska resident" means a person who for the preceding 12 consecutive months has maintained a permanent place of abode in the state and who has continually maintained a voting residence in the state. Nonresident bear or goat hunters must be accompanied by a licensed guide or by an Alaska resident who is a relative within the second degree of kindred. "Second degree of kindred" means a mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, spouse, grandparent, grandchild, brother- or sister-in-law, son- or daughter-in- law, and father- or mother-in-law, step-father, step-mother, step-sister, step-brother, step-son, or step-daughter. A member of the military service who has been stationed in the state for the preceding 12 consecutive months is a resident, and any dependents of the same are residents. A person who is a legal alien but who for one year has maintained a permanent place of abode in the state is a resident for hunting purposes.

All GMU 4 brown bear hunters must obtain a registration permit before going afield. These are available from any Fish and Game office in Southeast Alaska. All hunters must purchase a big game tag for brown/grizzly bear before hunting. These tags are available from any hunting and fishing license vendor. Unless a nonresident is being guided by a relative who qualifies under the definition of "2nd degree of kindred," they must hire the services of a registered Alaskan guide/outfitter to hunt brown bear. No hunter may hunt bears until after 3 a.m. on any day they were airborne.

When a bear is killed, the day and month must be marked on the registration permit before leaving the kill site. All hunters obtaining a registration permit for bear must fill out and return the permit report whether they hunted or not. The hide and skull of any bear killed must be presented to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game within 30 days of the date of kill. Bear hides must retain evidence of sex until they are sealed.


Webmaster's note: The information on regulations, populations, and hunting conditions contained here are subject to change. Please consult the current Alaska Hunting Regulations for details on regulations. Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff and private sources can provide information on current populations, hunting conditions and other aspects of hunting in this area.


Links to related information

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Southeast Alaska regional hunting information

Deer hunting near Sitka
Mountain goat hunting near Ketchikan

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