Hosted Kamchatka Brown Bear Hunt: April 2019
Stretching across 11 different time zones, Russia is an absolutely massive country. Russia’s Far East contains the country’s greatest wealth in big game species, such as Brown Bear, Moose, multiple species of Snow Sheep, Caribou, Wolf, Wolverine and Walrus. The Kamchatka Peninsula, specifically, is home to many of these species including the Kamchatka Brown Bear. In fact, the Kamchatka Peninsula holds the world’s largest and densest population of Brown Bears, which is estimated at 10,000 – 14,000. 100,000 square miles in size (about the size of California), and just across the Bering Sea, the Kamchatka Peninsula is referred to by many as “the untouched Alaska,” and one of the last untouched places on Earth. The Peninsula’s isolation, extremely low human population density, beauty, and abundance of wildlife make the destination incredibly desirable for outdoors-men.
There are four varieties of Brown Bear found in the enormous country of Russia. Of those four, the Kamchatka Brown Bear that inhabits the Kamchatka Peninsula is by far the most popular among hunters, as these Bears compare in size to their North American cousins – The Brown Bear in Alaska. In fact, the Kamchatka Brown Bear is considered to be an ancestor of the Kodiak Brown Bear. When comparing the base hunting price of the Kamchatka Brown Bear to their cousins in Alaska today, there is a significant difference and a tremendous value. In addition, hunters can legally harvest more than one Brown Bear on the Kamchatka Peninsula.
After flying from Denver, CO to New York City I met up with our clients Ryan (Texas), Jason (Georgia) and Jason’s fiancé, Natasha. We had a few hours ahead of us before boarding our flight for Moscow but before we knew it we were boarded and wheels up for the 9.5-hour flight to Russia’s capital city of Moscow.
Upon arrival to Moscow, we quickly expedited through customs and grabbed our checked bags. We were greeted by our outfitter’s wife, Elena, who assisted with transporting us to downtown Moscow’s historical hotel, Metropol. While en route to the hotel, Elena educated us on the city of Moscow and all of the interesting things to know about the city. After checking into our rooms and dropping off our bags, Elena provided us with a one-hour tour around Moscow where we learned about the history of Moscow and were able to take pictures of the stunning buildings and picturesque landscapes. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Moscow’s famous Red Square and taking pictures of all the incredible architecture such as Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Kremlin, the Alexander Garden, and the Moskva River, just to name a few.
All of Moscow’s cathedrals, palaces, towers, museums, theaters, malls and immense brick walls are incredible to see. In addition, observing the people of Moscow was as interesting as any of the city’s famous attractions. Both men and women dress very stylish, are very well put together, and fashionable. A vast majority of the people drive high-end cars, wear designer clothing, and dress to the nine’s for any social setting it seems. In summary, everything in the city itself including the people was extremely clean and put-together.
While fighting the lack of sleep from the previous flight, Ryan and I made our way around downtown Moscow by visiting a couple of restaurants and bars for the evening. The next morning after breakfast, Elena took us around some of the stores and shops near our hotel, and had a nice coffee break on a patio overlooking the famous Red Square. We then loaded our bags up and headed back to the airport for our next flight across the immense country to Kamchatka. This flight was another overnight itinerary due to multiple time zone changes, and after 8 hours we landed in Kamchatka’s capital city, Petropavlovsk.
Upon our arrival to Petropavlovsk, we exited the plane, grabbed our checked baggage, and were quickly greeted by our outfitter. We loaded our bags in two vehicles and drove about 30 minutes north of the city to a rural location where the massive Mil Mi-8 helicopter was picking us up. We didn’t wait 10 minutes before hearing the helicopter in the distance approaching. We loaded our baggage, took a couple of photos, and were off to Bear camp.
The 50-minute ride to Bear camp was an incredible experience. The Kamchatka spring snowy landscape was breathtaking and endless, and we even spotted a few Bears while en route.
Before we knew it, we were landing right next to camp and heading in to unpack our things before eating lunch. For Kamchatka standards, the camp was incredibly accommodating and spacious with three bedrooms, one bathroom with a hot shower, satellite TV, WiFi, and a dinning room with massive windows to overlook a huge valley. Ryan and Jason set out for the afternoon hunt on their snowmobile-pulled sleds.
Jason and Ryan returned from the afternoon after seeing two Brown Bear, with one of them being a questionable shooter. With it being so early in the hunt and an added bonus of being able to go out on the afternoon of arrival day, they decided to pass. Expectations were high and excitement continued to build that evening. We had a nice dinner and hit the beds fairly early to catch up on sleep.
The next morning, our natural alarms woke us pretty early. We had a nice casual breakfast, and toasted to the first full day of hunting ahead. Before Ryan and Jason left for the day, our outfitter spotted a lone Brown Bear walking across the big open valley, maybe half a mile or so from camp. He hopped in the snowmobile and drove over to the Bear to get a closer look at its size. After chasing it around for a bit, he returned back to camp and stated that it was too small of a Bear. Jason and Ryan soon headed out on their snowmobile-pulled sleds with the expectation of staying out all day to hunt.
I stayed back with our outfitter in the nice, warm, cozy camp all day and discussed his extensive experience in Kamchatka, incredible knowledge of all the Peninsula’s fauna and flora, and the future for our clients. It was nearly impossible for me to stay inside the camp all day without going crazy, so I would throw on my boots and gaiters to walk outside around camp and take some photos. Before I knew it, the sound of Jason and Ryan’s snowmobiles pulling up to the front door of the camp awoke me from my nap. Both our outfitter and I quickly opened the door to find a very large white sack filled with Jason’s Brown Bear cape on the back of his snowmobile. Excited, yes, but he was more bitter cold than anything. Both he and Ryan came inside the camp, took off their cold wet clothes, and we celebrated the successful first day of the hunt for the rest of the evening. Jason had harvested a beautiful 9’3” Kamchatka Brown Bear on the very first day of the hunt. The boar had an exceptionally dark, lush coat, and a huge head. While watching the guides finish capping out the Bear’s head and paws, I was amazed by the enormity of the animal. The size of the snout was like a coffee can, the length of the claws on the Bear’s front paws were at least 3 inches, the teeth were intensely dense and yellow, and the coat was the most beautiful dark chocolate brown you could ever imagine on a Bear. Ryan also ended up shooting a Capercaillie, which made for a really neat supplemental trophy. They’re in season during the spring, and they’re a highly sought-after game bird across Russia. The comical part of the whole situation was that Ryan had to shoot the bird twice with a .300. The joke was that the bird was possessed.
The next day, the second full day of the hunt, Jason chose to stay back in camp for the day to spend time with Natasha, which meant that I was able to accompany Ryan for the day. After eating a full breakfast and a few cups of coffee, Ryan and I headed out on two snowmobile-pulled sleds, with the main guide taking lead on his snowmobile.
It wasn’t long before we would come across fresh Bear tracks in the snow, but the main guide would conclude that the prints were too small to pursue.
After hours passed, we actually came to a Brown Bear’s den. It was incredible to see. The den was a massive dug out hole underneath the base of an old birch tree. You could see where the Bear’s tracks covered everywhere outside of the den entrance area, and the snow had been pushed around every which direction, indicating that there was either a Bear inside the den or had just left. The main guide grabbed his Russian rifle and proceeded to stick his head in the hole while throwing snow inside to see any sign of a Bear residing within. Ryan and I couldn’t believe what we were watching. Luckily there was no Bear home and we proceeded on with amazement.
Just shortly after, we drove down into a snow-covered creek bottom where we crossed a steaming hot big Bear track. Looking up, the main guide started yelling intensely in Russian language and pointing ahead to where he saw the Bear running away. He yelled at the two guides and pointed for them to drive up the hill ahead (from what I could understand). He took off full speed towards the Bear while Ryan and I were pulled up the hill. The main guide would push the Bear towards our general direction. As we made our way up the hill at full speed, thrashing through the birch tree limbs, we came to meet the main guide at the peak of the hill. As we approached him, he was pointed at the Bear on the other side of the hill below as it was trudging away through the deep snow. I will never forget the sight of seeing that massive animal sinking chest deep in the snow with his bus of a rear end swaying back and forth. Ryan jumped on the back of the main guide’s snowmobile with the rifle and they quickly drove to within probably 40 yards of the Bear. Trying to get away, Ryan put a bullet into the Bear’s back to slow him down, and quickly followed-up with another through the shoulder to put the beast to the ground. All the guides were yelling and celebrating, as Ryan had just downed his big Kamchatka Brown Bear he always dreamed about. I met with Ryan as we approached the Bear and he put another bullet to him for good measure. Sinking to our waist in snow, we finally got up to the Bear and Ryan was able to put his hands on the impressive animal.
Just like that, the day went from seeing no Bears to harvesting a giant. We enjoyed taking about an hour’s worth of photos, lit up a cigar and took some swigs of Russian vodka from Ryan’s flask. The guides field dressed the Bear in perfect order. The boar had about 3” of fat on his hindquarters.
Ryan’s Bear was absolutely perfect. 9’4” square in size and old. The Bear had a beautiful coat, and had good years to him. His head was absolutely massive, and seeing the animal on the ground and not already capped was an experience in itself. You can only truly grasp how big these predators are until you’re on the ground next to them. Massive nose, huge paws, big claws, and teeth that are simply frightening. We celebrated a successful Bear hunt in camp that night. It was so much fun to enjoy the success of the first two days of Bear hunting in one of the most special places on Earth.
After getting flights arranged to leave camp early and head home, Jason decided to go back out the next day to possibly shoot another Bear on license. Ryan stayed back in camp and spent time with our outfitter picking his brain about Kamchatka. I decided to ride along with Jason in another sled for the day. It was a long day of riding, but a beautiful day. We did not get on any big Bears, and we passed on tracking multiple smaller Bears. The snowmobiles would get stuck, our feet would get wet, we’d get slapped in the face by a limb, but all in good fun. You can still have an incredible day without shooting a Bear in Kamchatka. Lots of laughs and lifelong memories that day.
On departure day from camp, we loaded all of our baggage into the helicopter that arrived mid-morning right outside of camp. The camp Red Fox finally gave Ryan and I some good photo opportunities as he came by to snatch some Bear scraps. It was as if the Fox’s timing was perfect and he was sending us a farewell as we were regretfully leaving such an amazing place in the world. We loaded up and took the 50-minute flight back to Petropavlovsk to catch our 1pm flight back to Moscow. It was an incredible helicopter flight, as we had clear weather to see all the beauty Kamchatka has to offer. Volcanoes, snow-covered mountains, massive valleys, creeks, rivers, and Bear tracks that went every which direction. A big part of the overall hunt is being able to see Kamchatka from the air. The land of fire and ice! Once landing in Petropavlovsk, we were picked up by a transport van and taken to the airport. We were directed into a VIP hall to check in for our flights. We had coffee with our outfitter while waiting to board our flight and reflecting on the memorable hunt. Our generous and accommodating outfitter saw us off as we cleared the VIP area, and flew back to Moscow.
We landed once again back in Moscow and Elena picked us up to transport us back to the Metropol hotel. After dropping our bags in our rooms, Elena took Ryan and I on a tour of the famous Kremlin museum where we got to see incredible cathedrals, architecture, and valuables from Russia’s most wealthy families in history. It was a really neat experience and well worth fighting the lack of sleep. We hit the beds early in the evening to rest up before heading back to the airport to fly back home to the United States. We naturally woke up really early the next morning, had a nice buffet breakfast at the hotel, and were transported to the airport. We said our goodbyes and gave extensive thanks to Elena for hosting us in Moscow, and boarded the plane to head home.
It’s not the easiest to find words to explain the Kamchatka experience and how special the destination is. I think the biggest differentiation is how incredibly remote and untouched it is. It’s like an isolated dream spot for all outdoors-man. It’s remarkably beautiful, but also severely unforgiving. The untold secret that Alaska has always overshadowed. I never dreamed that I would ever step foot on the Kamchatka Peninsula, but I have now and I’m more proud of it than anywhere else I’ve ever been to on earth. I will be back to this untouched place on earth to make more memories with friends and clients.
“I do not hunt for the joy of killing but for the
joy of living, and the inexpressible pleasure of mingling
my life, however briefly, with that of a wild creature
that I respect, admire and value.”
~ John Madson