This is a hunting report for a two bear hunt per hunter with five hunters in Russia in early June 2017. The USA booking agent was Journey Hunts, Matt Guedes and Russia was Sergey Outfitter. Sergey and Matt were both outstanding guides and representatives for the entire hunt. I am 75 years old, in good shape and have had extensive experiences hunting all over the world. I didn't get a bear but if you want to try for a Siberian Brown bear and have an incredible experience in Russia consider this hunt.
Getting There: We were originally going to fly to Khabarovsk via Moscow but Putin determined no firearms in Moscow during his summer games. Matt did outstanding last minute work rearranging our flights now going the opposite directions from JFK to South Korea to Khabarovsk at the very last minute but with an increase plane fare of $800 each. Sergey refunded each of us from his outfitting fee $800 cash which he certainly didn't need to do as the rerouting was not his fault. The flight from JFK to S. Korea was an adventure in itself being an A380 double decker airplane that dwarfs a 747 and with outstanding service over 13 hours of flight time.
From S. Korea we flew in an Aeroflot jet to Khabarovsk. Sergey met us at the airport and never left us from then until we departed ten or so days later. He speaks reasonable English and shepherded us through customs. The two immigration officials were very helpful but the paperwork was tedious and had to be hand duplicated taking over three hours.
We spent the first night at the Lime Hotel being inexpensive and on the outskirts of town mainly for ease of getting to the airport. The flying weather at Okhotsk was bad and we lost a hunting day but moved to the InTourist Hotel right in town and on the Amur River and an east walk to the center of town. I believe the Amur River is as big as the Mississippi. Sergey negotiated a good room rate and free breakfast for us. Doing the tourist thing was worth the lost day as the town is beautiful and has always been an open city without war or revolution damage. If you go, give yourself a couple extra days to view the town. Most American and European tourists stop at Moscow and most of Russia is still way further on east. We never heard of a word of English in walking miles in the town and the tourists all seem to be South Koreans who apparently go there to buy the luxury goods offered as the retail stores on the main street were like Rodeo Drive in California.
The following day we flew in a two prop ancient plane to Okhotsk and spent the night on cots and in our sleeping bags in what was once the Russian American Whaling Company headquarters. It was very run down and ancient building with an outhouse with a hole in the floor and a walk in safe for our guns but also warm and dry. Okhotsk is a relic of a town that saw its best days about 1959 based on that number on a crumbling building. In country plane flights have a surcharge of total baggage over 40 kilos (88 pounds) so be sure to have rubles to pay for the overage as Okhotsk doesn't take credit cards being a very, very small and ancient airport with a bathroom you have to believe or want to to use.
Next morning we met all of our guides and all of our gear and we were transported to the docking area and loaded on a boat about 30 feet long headed north in the Okhotsk Sea for the next seven hours. We eventually came into a very large bay perhaps eight miles across and had to offload from a rolling ship onto rolling Zodiacs the hunters and our gear about a half mile out from the beach. The guides did a great job, nothing was lost and those Russians don't need no stinking life jackets (for us either!!).
A major issue then occurred in that apparently from the storm that cost us a day of hunting the sea had torn loose kelp covered with fish eggs and rolled this mess of kelp, sand, and trillions of fish eggs into a huge blanket about 40 yards wide and two feet deep on the shore between high and low tide. Landing at low tide, all of the gear had to hauled through this soup to the high water mark and then up the embankment to what had been a whaling outpost consisting mainly of bunkhouse and a cook shack. The soup also now had millions of maggots growing in it from flies laying eggs on the fish eggs. It would seem this should be a plus for bear hunting, but considering only two bears were taken, maybe not with food too available elsewhere.
There: the rectangular bunkhouse consisted of a couple of spring beds on one wall and a very long wooden platform about eight feet wide and up about two feet (so the mice could scamper under it) along the other wall. We threw our air mattress on the boards and sleeping bags on top we were home for the hunt and don't leave your boots on the floor as mice will be in them.
The cook shack was large; had two long trestle tables and a wooden cook stove. The cook was both a very happy fellow and and outstanding cook that provided us with plenty of good food throughout the entire hunt. He always had boiled hot water for coffee and tea and lots of cookies and other goodies in addition to fish and other food. He was so much fun and so good at cooking up food on the wood stove we each gave him $100 (total of $500) separate and apart from the other guides.
Hunting: Hunting was evening only. We could sit outside and spot bears on the shore at least three miles in either direction. A couple of beats were spotted but not taken. I saw two bears too far away to shoot at. Every evening the hunters and guides would post somewhere on the shore of the bay and await bears to come down from the mountains. One hunter shot a bear up on the plateau above the shore and the other shot a bear across a major stream that required some work to get the dead bear back across. Both were at most about six feet. A third hunter passed on three small bears and one hunter wounded a bear the last evening and it could not be located the next morning although it appeared to be a fatal shot. The return boat was anchored out at sea causing a rush to get the gear to it. A longer and more exhaustive search might have located that bear. I personally don't like to hunt the last night of any hunt as wounded and lost critters are a twice told tale due to end of hunt issues. The guides did all they could to get us bears so I found no fault in their work. The temperature was about 35 at night and 70 in the day and our weather was blue sky good the entire hunt.
Return: The return boat trip back to Okhotsk was much faster due to calm seas. We spent the night in the living room of one of the guides and watched Russian television. Sergey took us to a mice lunch room for food. Back at Khabarovsk we stayed at the InTourist Hotel again. In Khabarovsk we had an excellent meal at a very nice restaurant and Sergey never left us until we went to boarding our outbound airplane. The one difficulty was the Aeroflot representative refused to book our gear (guns in particular) clear through from Aeroflot to South Korean Air to JFK as had been done going and out gear and guns came off in South Korea and caused quite a stir. Fortunately we had plenty of time before the return to JFK flight and it seemed every airport bureaucrat had to come and see the guns, count the bullets, and other wise try and figure out what to do with the guns. Thanks to Matt's insistence and leadership, the guns and gear were put on the return to A380 to JFK and we eventually got home after spending a night in the JFK airport to catch the Denver flight.
In summary, both Journey Hunts, Matt Guedes, and Sergey get straight A's for being outstanding guides and facilitators on a great adventure. If you want to hunt Russia, at least from our experience, do not go past off the plane until you have your Russian outfitter at the door and never leaving you until you are once again on the plane. The Russian language and print have no basis in any of the Romance languages we know and communication is almost impossible without an interpreter like Sergey. And if you want to have English with you all the way, make sure Journey Hunts and Matt Guedes are with you from the booking to the return home. In any Hunting Report reader wants more info on this hunt, please call me at home 303-697-4144 or my office at 303-329-9222. - George Straw