KODIAK, Alaska — It's not easy to hunt bear in Kodiak.
After you beat the odds in the drawing for a permit, you have to fight the conditions and roadless distances of Kodiak Island to get in position for your shot. Miss, and you won't get another chance for at least four years.
If that sounds like a pressure-packed picture, add another challenge — do it without a rifle.
Each year, two or three of the 200 or so bears killed by Kodiak hunters are taken with bow and arrow.
As fall hunting season begins in Kodiak, as many as 300 resident hunters may venture into the bush armed only with a weapon more familiar to the soldiers of Ur than a camo-clad Connecticut tourist.
Bear aren't the only targets of choice. Bow hunters pursue all of Kodiak's big game: deer, elk, bear and mountain goat. Regardless of their target, most hunters start in the same place, with the state's bowhunter education course.
On Saturday, four hunters met at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Kodiak headquarters for a few hours of instruction and a field test.
"The way I look at it," hunter Craig O'Brien said, "It just opens up more opportunities for hunting. If I'm out in October or November, I can go hunting."
Passing the bowhunter course isn't required to go bow hunting in Alaska, but the state dangles the incentive of reserved seasons to encourage bowhunters to become certified.
In Kodiak, bowhunters can take deer as late as Nov. 14 on the road system. Hunters with modern rifles must stop Oct. 31. A special mountain goat season is also reserved for bowhunters on the road system.
Biologist John Crye, who ran Saturday's class and is a bowhunter himself, said the special seasons benefit hunters and Kodiak's herds. If a herd is close to its hunting quota, managers can open it to bowhunters with much less fear that they'll go over the quota.
Because bowhunting is so much more difficult and there are fewer hunters, it's a more precise management tool, he said.
On the flip side, because there are fewer hunters, any mistake becomes very visible.
In late July, someone with a bow fired an arrow into the side of a deer in Spruce Cape. The wounded animal lingered for hours before dying in a densely populated residential neighborhood.
Crye said mistakes are magnified in the tight bowhunting community. "We're a small group of people that if you screw up, a hunt's going to be closed," he said.
As Crye explained, in the Lower 48, 10 percent or less of the population hunts. Another 10 percent is strongly anti-hunting. The middle 80 percent doesn't care either way, but it can be swayed to either side by hunters' actions. "That's why we definitely have to act responsibly in the field," he said.
The first steps before entering the field were in Crye's Bell's Flats back yard, where he set up foam animal targets. The state's bowhunting certification requires hunters to meet accuracy standards in order to ensure a humane and clean kill.
It's not always easy. One hunter who already took the classroom portion of the course came to Crye's house for another shot at the field portion but went away unfulfilled.
Others had better luck. Robin Leatherman, who said he has a moose hunt near Wasilla planned, cleanly speared the arrow of classmate Craig O'Brien in Robin Hood-like fashion.
Both men passed the course, but O'Brien had to go shopping for another $8 carbon-fiber arrow.
Normally, arrows last for several hunts unless they go missing in the woods. Screw-on points can be replaced and although equipment has become more expensive in recent years, bowhunting is still cheaper than finding a high-powered hunting rifle.
Like rifle hunting, however, a bowhunter is only as good as the time he or she puts into the sport. "You've got to do three things: practice, practice, practice," Crye said. "That's the pride of a bowhunter: Taking a good shot and recovering the animal."
Information from: Kodiak (Alaska) Daily Mirror, http://www.kodiakdailymirror.com