Update for 2011 - At the time of this article some populations of Polar Bears were importable into the United States. However in May of 2008 the USFWS ruled that due to changing conditions in sea ice and the resulting (theoretical) possibility of declining polar bear numbers due to global warming, no polar bear trophies can be imported into the US. This is despite the fact that polar bear numbers are at an all time high in many areas, and the Canada government still allows hunting permits to many northern communities. This issue remains fluid and controversial and many hunting organizations including SCI, USSA, and Conservation Force have been fighting to bring common sense back to the USFWS which appears to be demonstrating increased irrational and overtly political decisions.
Where you hunt them:
Unlike Russia, Greenland, US (Alaska) and Norway, sport hunting for Polar Bear is only allowed in the farthest reaches of the Canadian Arctic - in what is now called Nunuvet (formerly part of the Northwest Territories) and the Northwest Terrirtories.
How tags are allocated:
The Canadian Government works with local Inuit communities to set quotas for northern regions. For example, one community may have 8 tags while another may have only 2. A portion of those tag quotas may be set aside for transfer to sport hunters by the Inuit community. Working in conjunction with a Canada hunting outfit like Adventures Northwest, Canada North or Fred Webb & Sons, these outfits either sell the hunts directly to bowhunters or will work through a variety of North American booking agencies like Bowhunting Safari Consultants.
How the US Fish and Wildlife Service gets involved:
Even though Canadian authorities and local officials have determined Polar Bear quotas and may have officially allocated tags to a community. The USFWS has the ability to recognize or reject those tags for importability. In what can best be described as a combination of politics, science and bureaucracy, the USFWS can deny importation of a legally killed polar bear based solely on the region within Canada that the bear was taken. This importation restriction is the only tool the USFWS has over influencing conservation measures in other countries. It is not flawless. One area within Canada has been deemed a non-importable region for years and that region (The Gulf of Boothia) has had high concentrations of bears according to Canada tag allocations. So while US hunters may still hunt Polar Bears legally in various regions in Canada, only those bears shot in specific regions may be brought home as trophies. All other countries are free from that restriction including Canada, Mexico and European hunters. This is specifically a US restriction and Governed by the Marine Mamal Protection Act (MMPA) along with the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora (CITES). Due to the distinction in importability, Polar Bear hunts are deemed "importable" or "non-importable" due to the region where the tag was issued. For more information on US Importability restrictions please see the following reference material:
2007 Prices for Polar Bear Hunts:
A recent check of Polar Bear Hunt prices for 2007 is around $30,000 for Importable Bear Hunts and $25,000 for Non-Importable hunts. Polar bear hunts are typically booked 2-4 years in advance. You are not guaranteed a price until shortly before you leave on your hunt. Most outfits need a retainer to get you on the list. Some outfits require a deposit at the time of booking. Once you are on the list you can be called at anytime when hunts become available through cancellation. If you are able to conduct your hunt early, you pay the going rate for the hunt and you are on your way. If you don't have the money available early, you stay on the list. It should also be noted that there is a significant amount of incidental costs associated with the hunt. Polar bear hunting is not for people living paycheck to paycheck - only sport hunters with substantial disposable income get to participate. Here is a breakdown:
*represents an average estimated cost, may be higher or lower.
Suggested Clothing Requirements
Hunting in the arctic requires extreme gear. During no other hunt will your clothing and gear choices be as critical to your survival and success. The wrong clothing can jeopardize both your trip and your life!
Northern Outfitters (website) is highly experienced in outfitting Arctic hunters with proper clothing and gear.
The following list is recommended and mandatory:
- Down parka with fur trimmed hood and down wind pants
- Warm mittens, large enough for inner gloves, heavy woolen shooting gloves
- Face mask and tinted snowmobile goggles (to avoid frostbite and snow blindness)
- Fur hat with flaps that tie down around ears and back of neck. I use mine for sleeping also
- The warmest boots made by Cabellas, Timberline or Northern Outfitters. Boots designed for extreme cold with insulated liners. EXTRA LINERS!
- Heavy sweater or ski-jacket for around camp
- Camp boots, easy to put on and pull off, for around camp
- Pure wool or wool/polypropylene long-handle underwear
- 4 or 5 pairs heavy wool socks, 4-5 pairs thinner wool socks
- Pair heavy wool pants and 2 heavy wool shirts
- A down-filled sleeping bag rated for –40F and set of wool, long underwear for sleeping
Before the hunt starts:
Once you arrive at the community you are greeted by your Inuit guides. Some may or may not speak english and depending on the outfit and the community you may not have much choice over who guides you are what experience they may have. You meet with the local conservation office to obtain your tags and typically spend one night with the local family before your hunt. The next day you suit up with your Arctic clothing and you are loaded into a gear sled pulled behind a snowmobile. The other snowmobile is pulling the kennel with the dogsled and the dog team. There are usually two guides per hunter, each driving a snowmobile. From there you may have up to two days of bouncing in the sled behind the snowmobile. Eventually you reach the cabin or the area where your hunt begins.
How you hunt Polar Bears
You and your guides will hit the ice every day in search of polar bears. You look for fresh tracks and begin to follow them. A lot of polar bear hunting is done by glassing long distances over the ice. Very often, a bear will simply wander into camp. Once a bear has been spotted, you will move in for a closer look. If it appears to be a large male, and you wish to take it, the dog team is cut loose and the team will hopefully bay the Polar Bear. You and your guide move in a for a clean shot. The hunt is not without it's risks. Many times the polar bear will be bayed, but as the hunter moves in the dogs may abandon the bear leaving you and your guide alone with the irritated boar. Also, a bear can seriously injure the dogs, or run right through them to get to the bowhunter. In all cases the Inuit guides are backing you up with a rifle.
Hardest Hunt on Earth?
Polar Bear hunting is said to be the hardest hunt left on earth. That description is not because of the way you hunt bears, or how difficult it is to get close to them, but more due to the extreme environmental conditions experienced during the hunt. During a typical March or April spring polar bear hunt, you can expect temperature ranges from -30 to 10 above. This is before wind chill effects which can lower that temperature to -60. Exposed skin will freeze in less than a minute at those temperatures and even in the best arctic clothing it is impossible to shoot your bow without stripping out of some of that gear. It is a painful hunt for other reasons too. You are sleeping in a small tent or cabin with your two inuit guides and eating rationed food and boiled snow for water. We won't go into details on how to use the bathroom but let's just say you'll never perform that function faster than you would during a polar bear hunt! The conditions test the toughest bowhunters but the rewards are well worth it to many of us.
Global Warming: Threat to Polar Bears?
In 2005 more data began to surface that raised doubts about the future of Polar Bears. The polar ice caps have been melting at rates more rapidly than previously thought and media and preservationist groups were quick to conclude that sport hunting for polar bears must be halted. While I am not qualified to confirm or deny the merits of these discussions, there can be no doubt that the majority of these groups would like sport hunting halted with or without this data. Still, the USFWS and other Government agencies have an obligation to review the data and rule on its' merit. For more on this topic please read the USFWS petition regarding whether changing the status of Polar Bears under the Endangered Species Act is warranted.