Kendra Brush, a junior at Cook Inlet Academy, said she made her first big game kill in 2009.
“It was a hog in Texas,” she said. “A large hog.”
Although Kendra Brush killed her hog using a rifle, she said that gun-hunting was only a step toward her preferred weapon, the bow.
“It’s more of a challenge,” Brush said. “You can kill anything with a gun, really, but with a bow you have to really work for it.”
Kendra’s father, Soldotna fishing guide Greg Brush, said that hunting with Kendra and her older sister was a family activity that he began when each girl was around 4 years old. Although he said the girls began shooting BB guns, then progressed to hunting spruce grouse with a .22 caliber rifle, big game bow-hunting was always the activity he intended to do with them.
“That’s what we do,” said Greg Brush. “We bow-hunt. When she was little I started her out rifle-hunting. Then she had one year where she hunted with a cross-bow, which is more challenging than a rifle but not nearly as challenging as a bow. And she did that one year and liked it, liked the close range — you have to be very close — and graduated up to archery and bow-hunting. And she really liked that.”
Kendra Brush said that most of the pair’s father-daughter hunting trips took them out of state, to Texas, Iowa, Oregon, and Kansas in pursuit of black-tail and white-tail deer, boar, turkey, and other game. However, one of Kendra Brush’s most notable hunts occurred closer to home.
In 2013 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game permitted baiting of brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula. The next spring, Greg Brush saw an opportunity for Kendra to have a new hunting experience. In May, the two began preparing for a brown bear hunt.
“Not only is it something we could do together, but if you can pull this off and take a big bear with your bow, that will be something that’s never been done,” Greg Brush said he told his daughter. He believed that Kendra could potentially earn a place in the archery record book published by the Pope and Young bow-hunting club by killing a record brown bear.
Their hunt began with the two bait stations in the woods near Ninilchik, placed about a third of a mile apart. The bait consisted of barrels filled with dog-food, bacon grease, vanilla, and other scented items. The two sites were also rigged with game cameras and four tree stands each, to allow the two of them to sit side by side and to permit them to change positions based on wind direction.
Greg Brush said that including preparation and observation, the baiting lasted a month. It culminated in eight days of tree-stand watching.
The game cameras showed that several brown bears had been attracted to the bait, but the bears’ caution and strong sense of smell made it difficult for the hunters to come in contact with them.
“We would hear them all around us, but they’d never come in close enough where I could get a good shot, or where I could see them really,” Kendra Brush said.
Until the final day of the hunt, they had only one sighting of a bear, a juvenile that Kendra said was “fun to watch,” but too small to kill. Greg Brush said the bear they intended to take would be “a mature single bear with no cubs.”
Greg Brush said their human scent would discourage the bears from approaching the bait site where the two of them sat. The bears were drawn instead to the site where the hunters were not.
“No matter which one we sat on, they’d go to the other one,” said Greg Brush. “They can smell big doses of human, so they just stay away from that stand and go to the opposite one… We washed our clothes in scent-free detergents, we kept them in garbage bags, we sprayed the base the tree with special scent-free spray. But their sense of smell is so crazy they know you’d be in there.”
Finally, Kendra said, they created a method that “outsmarted the bear.”
The two left scent-saturated street clothing in the treestands of one site, while sitting in the other wearing clean, low-scent clothing.
“So the stand we were in had less human scent than the other one, even though we were there,” Greg Brush said. “So they deferred on the one bait and came to the one that we were in. Which worked out real well for us.”
One day at dusk, the pair saw a bear approach the bait site where they waited in a treestand.
“I’m calm in the moment, and I’ve never gotten super-excited just seeing an animal,” Kendra said. “So in the moment I was like ‘okay, there’s a bear, that’s cool.’ It came in, and I stood up, and I shot. It was cool to see it run away, and I saw it die. But then right after that, that’s when me and dad started freaking out. We were like ‘oh my gosh, that just happened!’”
Before shooting, Kendra waited for the bear to “open up” – to reach a favorable angle with its front facing leg extended, in order to strike the bear just behind its shoulder, piercing both lungs for a clean kill.
“I probably held my draw for at least 50 seconds,” Kendra said. “At 50 pounds [the required minimum draw-weight for brown bear bow-hunting] that’s a long time.”
When Kendra finally released, shooting from approximately 12 yards, she made the kill as she intended.
“It took out both lungs and clipped the heart,” Greg Brush said. “A perfect shot.”
Although Kendra Brush saw the bear run approximately 10 yards and drop after being struck, the two were not immediately certain that it was dead. They decided to approach it cautiously.
“If you wound a bear – ugh, it’s not a good thing,” Kendra Brush said. “Anything could happen with a brown bear. You don’t know what they’re going to do.”
In the event that the bear was wounded and reacted aggressively, Greg Brush carried a handgun and Kendra Brush a can of bear spray. Yet the approaching darkness and the fact that the two were alone in the woods made Greg Brush decide not to approach the bear.
“We waited, we listened, we watched,” Greg Brush said. “Then we climbed down. We poked around a little bit. And I just said, ‘this doesn’t feel right. Let’s back out.’”
Greg and Kendra left the area and returned at 6:00 a.m the next morning with a friend of Greg’s.
“Right where I thought, it was piled up and dead,” said Greg Brush.
The bear made Kendra Brush the youngest woman to kill a Pope and Young record-sized brown bear.
Greg and Kendra Brush have their first international hunt planned in 2016, after Kendra Brush’s high school graduation.
“I really, really want a zebra,” said Kendra Brush. “Like really bad. If that’s the only thing I could kill, I would be fine with that.”
Greg Brush said he will have a less active role in the Africa trip.
“She will be the hunter, and I’ll be the observer,” said Greg Brush. “I don’t get to hunt very much anymore. I just watch her. And that’s okay.”