Hunting Hibernating Bears in Alaska: Everything You Need to Know

Hunting Hibernating Bears in Alaska: Everything You Need to Know

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Hibernation is when an animal sleeps for up to seven months without eating or drinking. That’s done in winter, and these animals rarely leave their dens, with little or no urination or defecation. So, is it allowed to go hunting hibernating bears in Alaska?

Alaska has black, brown, and grizzly bears hibernating during the cold weather months. In this state, you can hunt and kill these animals when they’re hibernating in their dens. You can also engage in bear hunting within Alaska’s national parks and preserves, baiting them with greasy treats.

There are an estimated 30,000 brown or grizzly and black bears statewide in Alaska. You can hunt these animals with the appropriate license, even while they’re hibernating. In this article, I’ll explore what’s allowed and what’s not when you’re hunting bears during their hibernation season.

When Do Bears Hibernate in Alaska?

Bears hibernate throughout winter when there’s little or no food available. It’s due to evolutionary pressure that forces the animal to stay in its den, sleeping. In the cold northern parts of Alaska, a bear can hibernate for as long as seven months. Those in the warmer regions along the Alaskan southern coast typically sleep for two to five months.

For a bear sow raising newborn cubs, hibernation time can be longer. It simply means that the mother won’t eat or drink and will rarely get to come out of the den. Bears employ adaptive strategies to survive for long without food or water. They uniquely lower their body temperature and metabolism by around eight or twelve degrees instead of breaking down fat reserves for energy.

While they may wake up and shift position around their den, bears are primarily immobile for weeks on end. They’ll make posture changes to reduce sores’ emergence and conserve heat better. Their metabolism will consume less protein to maintain muscle mass not to become appreciably weak. For pregnant sows, cubs are born two months into hibernation but can’t walk until they’re six months old.

If there’s plenty of food, like in a zoo, bears won’t hibernate. However, they’ll be slower, sleep more, and gain considerable weight. That isn’t deemed healthy for these animals. All bears hibernate in Alaska, including males, during severe winter conditions. Cubs are classified as altricial instead of precocial young, meaning they require extensive parental care before leaving the safe den.

Are Brown, Grizzly, and Black Alaskan Bears the Same?

Alaskan brown or grizzly bears are classified under the species Ursus arctos. The ones that live on Kodiak Island are known as Kodiak bears. But these are genetically and physically isolated from those that live on the mainland. Grizzlies occur more inland than what’s termed as a brown bear, and these can vary in color from a dark tan to a light blond.

Brown Alaskan bears are more significant than their black counterparts. They have prominent shoulders, more extended straighter claws, and less protruding ears. These are adaptations for feeding, excavating small mammal burrows, and digging for roots. Despite the bone structure of their hump and musculature, they’re surprisingly fast when sprinting to capture food.

Black and brown bears are omnivorous, their diet consisting of meat and vegetation. They also love insects, regularly digging up nests or tearing logs apart for ants. Occasionally a bear will scavenge for carrion left by other predators or garbage from dumps.

They’re capable predators, especially of young caribou and moose, and by fall will be well-fattened in readiness for hibernation. They’ll make a den by digging or crawling into tree root structures and rock caves. They love the hollow centers of cottonwood trees, and whether denning in a cave or dirt hole will use snow for insulation.

When to Hunt Hibernating Bears in Alaska

By the time they’re hibernating, an adult male bear will weigh between 500 and 900 pounds. Enormous individuals can tip the scale at 1,400 lbs. A female will weigh half to 3¼ of that weight, except when breeding and females with offspring, bears are typically solitary animals. But you’ll find exceptions in places with a high concentration of food, like streams when the salmon are swimming upstream to spawn.

Hunting bears has been an activity carried out in Alaska since prehistoric times. You can hunt bears in the spring and fall seasons throughout this state, primarily via spot and stalk hunting. In winter, you can climb the elevated areas that these animals prefer to hibernate. Boat-based spotting is also effective when coastal bears gather along river banks and shorelines.

Traditionally, hunters have primarily employed large caliber magnum rifles to hunt big bears in Alaska. Hunt outfitters offer more amped-up excitement with muzzleloader firearms or archery bear hunting. It would be best if you chose a weapon that you’re proficient and familiar with as your safety might rely on it.

To reduce the chances of wounding the bear, shoot at close quarters even while it’s hibernating. Many guides restrict shots of more than 100 yards, and bow hunters take them at 25 yards. That means the prime value is placed on your stalking skills, including keeping upwind, staying hidden, and moving silently. You may also lamp the denned animal to blind it or rouse it from its sleep with hounds.

What Do You Need to Hunt Hibernating Bears in Alaska?

Hunting hibernating bears in Alaska is based on a tag drawing system alongside a basic big game license. If you successfully draw a tag, you’ll be prevented from reapplying for several years. Nonresidents must have a licensed guide who’s experienced and knowledgeable. While regulations change each year, Alaskan residents can hunt black bears with registration permits, depending on their area of choice.

You’ll also be subject to bag limits for brown and black bears in Alaska. Some Game Management Units or GMUs in the state allow for one or two bears every regulatory year, and the hunting season date will vary. The Alaska Fish and Game department mandate that you seal your carcass and salvage the meat, skull, and hide. Until you’ve met sealing requirements, you’ll attach evidence of the bear’s sex to the kill.


It’s allowed to go hunting hibernating bears in Alaska by drawing them from their dens. In some games, you can also bait the animals or use dogs at the discretion of the Alaska fish and game department. For this, you’ll need a license, harvest ticket permits, locking tags, and an authorized guide if you’re a nonresident. 

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