Written by Fred Eichler:
I was standing over a Brown bear I shot with my recurve in Alaska. I was investigating what organs my broadhead hit and was also discussing with my guide about a rib that was sheared in two by my broadhead.
What’s funny to me is that before this trip I had met a fellow bowhunter in an archery shop that asked me if I had any cool hunts planned for this year. I explained they were all awesome to me but that I was super excited about a brown bear hunt I was about to embark on. He asked me what poundage my bow was. When I told him fifty-four, he said, “That’s way too light”. I asked if he had ever shot a traditional bow or a brown bear before and the answer was a flustered no to both.
This has been a common response I have grown used to over the years. And if I was extremely honest I would have to say that my bow is right between 53 and 54 pounds. But like a bass fisherman that rounds a bass that’s 4.6 lbs up to 5 lbs, I kinda do the same thing with my bow weight.
When I managed an archery shop in Northern Colorado I would often discuss poundage and my lack thereof with fellow traditionalists. What I commonly saw if I was competing or just watching other people shoot is that more often than not guys that scoffed at my light poundage and bragged about their hunting bows that were 60-65 pounds at their draw rarely actually came to full draw. Most of them also didn’t shoot very accurately. In case you are reading this and getting red faced or just plain angry, I should say that there are exceptions. I have seen guys accurately shoot some really heavy longbows and recurves. Howard Hill is a prime example of a guy that could shoot a heavy traditional bow accurately.
When it comes to dangerous game like bears, I am not saying heavy bows are a bad thing. Actually it is just the opposite. The faster your bow shoots the flatter your trajectory and that equates to more kinetic energy. What is interesting is that a heavier bow does not always equate to a faster bow. Let me explain. I have always loved old recurves and longbows. They are part of our history and are a joy to shoot. The downside to a poorly made bow or an older bow is that they just don’t have the cast that a lot of the newer custom or manufactured bows have. In other words, my bow at 54 pounds shoots through a chronograph faster than a lot of older or poorly made bows at 65 lbs. So if you’re planning a bear hunt with a traditional bow, I wouldn’t worry about a light bow. I would shoot whatever you shoot most accurately.
My bear set up is the same set up I use for everything. A 54 lb (or close to it) recurve at my draw length with a 480 grain Easton Axis carbon arrow with a sharp cut on impact Muzzy Phantom. This set-up is travelling at 200 feet per second which gives me 42.6 lbs of kinetic energy. My arrow has passed through the majority of the bears I have killed with the exception of arrows that hit the opposite shoulder or my Polar bear which was huge and my shots on him were 35 yards plus.
Thoughts on Bears:
Bears in my opinion are relatively easy to put down. They have large leg and shoulder bones but the ribs are usually equivalent to a mule deer. The long hair is the biggest issue, not because of penetration issues but it is just deceiving as it makes the chest look larger than it. I always advise trying to shoot any bear again if possible after you have hit it once. Multiple shots speed up the kill and make bloodtrailing easier. As with any dangerous game I advise waiting a little longer to follow up the blood trail than you would on a similar hit on a deer.
I have included a few pictures as well as descriptions of shots I have taken on a few bears. As a guide in Colorado that often takes traditional bowhunters I always advise guys to shoot for the middle of the chest on a bear as the long hair is misleading and it is easy to shoot too low. If you hit a bear in the lungs, a light bow will perform just fine. Good luck and have fun!
Grizzly- Standing facing me, the shot was approximately 23 yards, two arrows in the chest taking out a lung and the aorta above the heart, both complete pass throughs. The bear travelled less than 30 yards.
Brown Bear- Slightly quartered too me (walking). The shot was approximately 20 yards; arrow #1 went through the back of the chest and struck liver and intestines. Arrow #2 shot seconds after while the bear was leaving at approximately 30 yards went through the left hind leg near the joint. Both arrows were complete pass throughs. Bear travel approximately 300 yards.
Blonde Black Bear- Quarterly slightly away walking. The shot was approximately 8 yards. One arrow in the chest, struck both lungs, the arrow hit the opposite shoulder and lodged in the scapula. The bear traveled approximately 40 yards.
Polar Bear- Slightly quartering away running. The first shot was approximately 35 yards and struck between the neck and shoulders. Shot #2 at approximately 40 yards struck liver and intestine and the 3rd shot at approximately 40-45 yards hit both lungs.