The Longest Minute-Terrifying Bear Attack
Thanks to Glade for forwarding the story of your father-in-law. Doug, we’re glad you’re still with us. Doug’s story started with the harvesting of a trophy bull moose in Alaska. I’ll let Doug tell the rest.
Turning around, we saw standing before us, on his hind legs a large, chocolate brown grizzly bear…The bear was standing next to the tree where the pistol was hanging
…I looked in the direction of Reed only to once again see the bear charging at me. He was about ten feet away coming up and over the initial log that I had tripped over. That was when I pointed the revolver and fired at center mass…
…We analyzed and re-analyzed everything we did and everything the bear did…We finally concluded that the manner in which the attack occurred was extremely fortunate for us….The bear measured 9 feet 2 inches from left front paw to right front paw, and 8 feet from nose to rump. He was not a starving bear for he was stuffed full of blueberries…
Amazing Story Doug. Glad your grandkids and patients still have you around to tell the tale.
Here is Doug’s Story in it’s entirety. It’s worth the Read:
THE LONGEST MINUTE
January 29, 2007
We all have read about or seen movies entitled, ‘The Longest Day’, ‘The Longest Yard’, or ‘The Longest Mile’. Well, I am going to tell you about “The Longest Minute” of my life.
Reed Thompson and I had been hunting hard for five days. The day was Thursday, September 7, 2006. The weather had turned from beautiful sunny skies to gale force winds and the blasting rain that comes with fall storms. Never has the weather dictated hunting time to us, so out we ventured into the Alaska bush. Not seeing a single bull for several days, we decided to hunt an area downstream that had always produced one.
Late in the evening, we were walking down a raised half mile long finger of ground that was full of grass and alders. This turf was slightly higher than the swampy tundra on either side of it. We had slogged across the swamp as quickly as possible, during a sudden deluge, to get to the downwind point. Our hope was that our passage would not be observed with the sudden increased wind and rain. About halfway down the finger, Reed turned to me and said, “I think there is a moose up ahead. It looks like two white sticks in the grass. It would surprise me if it was not a moose.” I glassed the area about one hundred yards ahead and to the left. With Reed’s help, I zeroed in on the two white sticks and watched them for several minutes. With the slightest movement, the two sticks transformed into a white paddle and then back to the two sticks. The bull had moved his head ever so slightly.
I moved my scope out to ten-power and focused in on the two white sticks as Reed moved about ten yards further down the high ground. Then as Reed focused on the white points, I moved to his location for a better shot. Reed began moving toward our quarry as I watched for movement though the scope. With nothing solid or high enough to rest my rifle on, I was forced to aim free-hand. When Reed had taken a few steps, I saw the horns rock to the right and then back to the left. The big boy then stood up and was looking directly our way. Even with the forty mile an hour winds blowing directly at us, he sensed our presence. I squeezed off a round from my Browning .338 and felt good about the shot, but the bull took two or three steps to my right and disappeared out of sight behind some alders. Reed could still see him and shouted, “Do you want me to shoot him?” I yelled back at him to go ahead because I did not want the bull running too far. I heard his shot as I was scrambling forward to get a better look. After a thirty yard hustle, I was able to see the huge fellow still standing. I put another shot into him and watched him drop. We both hesitantly, but with great excitement, approached this giant and realized that he was dead. This was a mature bull with a beautiful rack and the biggest body mass I had ever seen. The fun was definitely over; now, the real work was ready to begin. After consulting the GPS, we noted that we were a half mile from the slough and boat. It was decided that both of us should return to the boat to discard unnecessary items and return with the gear needed to prepare and pack out the meat. We placed red and blue handkerchiefs high in an alder bush so that the sight could be located from the adjacent high ground. This was the easiest half mile hike of the day. I was pumped up and excited beyond explanation.
At the boat, we left our heavy rifles. We gathered our pack frames, game bags, ropes, and knives. After Reed repositioned the boat, to compensate for the upcoming low tide, I asked him, with hand signals, if he remembered to get the handguns. He did not understand my award winning charade performance, but I let it pass after observing his revolver strapped to his chest.
Upon returning to the moose, we were hot, sweaty, and wet. The rain had abated for awhile, so we removed our rain gear and hung them in a small tree about five yards perpendicular to the moose’s belly. Reed removed his revolver, hung it on a branch opposite his jacket, and brought to my attention that it was hanging there.
With darkness approaching, we decided on removing the top front and rear quarters, tie them to our pack frames, gut him out, and then roll the behemoth over to cool through the night. We would return in the morning to finish up. Two non-spoken traditions when hunting are: whoever pulls the trigger 1) does the gutting and 2) hauls the horns out of the woods. After removing the two quarters, it was time to remove the internal organs. After cutting, tearing, and ripping, I had removed all but the heart and part of the esophagus. Darkness was settling in pretty fast and I could barely move my arms. At this point, Reed said that he would trade places with me. Instead of moving up behind the moose, I just scooted to the rear leg area and watched Reed crawl up inside the gut cavity. After a couple of cuts the ordeal was over. As Reed pulled the heart out and tossed it behind us, a loud “HUFF” snapped us to our feet. Turning around, we saw standing before us, on his hind legs a large, chocolate brown grizzly bear. The next minute seemed to last an eternity. The term surreal is so over used, but the next minute was dreamlike, bizarre, fantastic, and unreal.
The bear was standing next to the tree where the pistol was hanging. We both started shouting and waving our arms back and forth, as we moved somewhat to our right, toward the tail end of the moose. The bear came down off his back legs, onto all fours, and started circling to his right — toward the head of the bull. My only thought was to get to the gun so that we could scare him off. I sensed that he charged us from the head of the moose as I broke for the gun. Reed commented later that the bear vaulted over the moose and went straight for him. Halfway to the tree, I tripped on a fallen log and went down on all fours. From my peripheral vision on my right, I saw the bear going after Reed, who had moved into the tall (5 foot) grass. It appeared that the bear had knocked Reed down and was standing over him. My worst fear was that my friend was being mauled. I did not know how I would get him back to the boat and then home.
I grabbed the holster but was unable to remove the revolver, regardless of how hard I tugged. As I looked up, I saw the bear charging toward me. I started backing up as I continued screaming and hollering at the bear. I was frustrated that the pistol would not break free from the holster. With the bear almost on top of me, I fell over another log. I did a back drop and felt him grab my left leg. His huge head was above my lap, just out of reach of my holstered club. I tried to hit him with the pistol but a crazy thought entered my mind that I could scare him into thinking I was going to shoot by waving it back and forth. Unable to remove the pistol from the holster, I tried to shoot through it, but the strap held the hammer down on the single action revolver. Just when I thought all was lost, the bear rose up, pivoted 90 degrees to his left, and was gone. The grizzly had charged back in the direction of Reed as he had jumped up and yelled once again. Later, Reed stated that he had seen the bear knock me down and thought he was mauling me. The thought entered his mind that he was toast. He was alone in the grass with no weapon. I was down and I had the gun. When the bear started moving toward him, Reed dropped back down into the low wallow area where he had fallen during the initial charge. Reed saw the bear’s face about a foot from his own. He could hear the bear trying to sniff him out. At that point, the bear stood up, pivoted to his right, and charged back to me.
When Reed distracted the bear from its attack on me, I had time to concentrate on the holster. I saw a buckle with a strap running through it. I could not figure out how it held the gun in place, so I grabbed the buckle and attempted to rip it off. To my surprise, the buckle was actually a snap and the strap peeled away. As I pulled the revolver out, a sudden calm came over me, and I knew everything would be fine. I looked in the direction of Reed only to once again see the bear charging at me. He was about ten feet away coming up and over the initial log that I had tripped over. That was when I pointed the revolver and fired at center mass. The .44 magnum boomed in the night and the boar fell straight down, his head three feet away from where I stood. As he fell, he bit at the ground and ended up with a mouthful of sod. I stood in a dumbfounded stupor. I had no expectation that the pistol would kill the bear. My hope was that the shot would sting the bear and help scare him away along with the flame and loud report. As his head sagged to the ground, I shot him three more times in quick succession, out of fear and anger.
My next sensation was hearing Reed’s voice ask if the bear was dead. I answered, “Yes”. He then yelled at me to save the rest of the rounds because we still had to walk out, and he did not have any more bullets with him. The minute was over. We hugged each other for a long time, before packing out the two quarters.
The half-mile trek through the darkness was filled with trepidation and deep thought. The tiny LED lamps, strapped around our heads, did not light up nearly enough area as we marched out of the island’s interior. The sensation emulated snorkeling in the ocean at night, unable to see anywhere except right in front of your eyes. It was one of the longest hikes I have ever taken. Upon reaching the boat, we quickly realized that the bear encounter had delayed us long enough to prohibit our departure. The motor was out of the water and hard as we pushed, the boat would not budge. The two of us had the joy of spending the night on the bank, next to the slough, in the worst storm of the year. Fortunately, we were prepared for such a possibility.
After multiple attempts and two gallons of gas, we sat down next to a roaring fire. With the adrenaline rush exhausted, the fire offered little heat through the rain. We mustered the energy to assemble the two-man tent, spread out our sleeping bags, and lay down out of the rain. There was no sleep that night. The tent-talk centered on the evening’s events. We analyzed and re-analyzed everything we did and everything the bear did. We talked about what we did wrong and what the bear did wrong. We chatted about the bear’s actions, and our own actions. We discussed the outcomes of every scenario thinkable. We finally concluded that the manner in which the attack occurred was extremely fortunate for us. It could not have played out better had all the actions been choreographed months in advance. The placement of the revolver in the tree, the way we spread out when the bear attacked, the timing of our falls, the screaming and yelling by the contrary person when the bear was involved with the other, the way the bear came over the log just as I shot, and the distance between each of us, all worked out for our survival, or at least the freedom from terrible pain.
This incident occurred three days before bear season opened. Thus, we had to skin the bear, remove its head, pack it all out to the boat, and turn everything over to the Alaska Fish and Game Department. It was then we learned that a bear of the same size and coloring had raided two camps on the far side of the island the week before. He had taken at least a quarter of meat from one of the camps.
Many questions come to mind. It, however, is impossible to know the answers. I am convinced that bear experts will maul over this incident looking for blame, as well as answers to many of the questions. Did the bear hear the dinner bell when the shooting took place? With the severe wind, did the bear smell the dead moose and start zeroing in on it? Was the bear startled into action when the last entrails were tossed in its’ direction? Why was the bear not fearful of us? Why did he attack? Why did he charge Reed first when I was the one moving toward the gun? Why was he distracted between the two of us? Why didn’t he put the hurt on each of us when he had us down? Would he have left us alone if we had pretended death? How did one shot kill such a beast? I do not have the answers and will not pretend to understand the encounter completely. I do know that we learned important lessons that will benefit us personally in the future. Some victims of bear attacks do not survive to remember from their experiences.
The following are some of the lessons learned:
1) Yes, a bear can attack you. Many of us who live, hunt, and subsist in Alaska have observed bears. Usually, they are seen running away as fast as their powerful legs can carry them. I have read information claiming that a grizzly bear can move forty-four feet a second. With that kind of speed, it does not take many seconds for a bear to move great distances away from or toward a hunter or hiker.
2) While field dressing an animal, always have a weapon within arms reach. Fifteen feet away, in a tree, is much too far. An encounter can occur within seconds. Each hunter should have his or her own weapon, depending on personal preference, such as a rifle, a handgun, or pepper spray.
3) Be familiar with all the weapons (and holsters) present in the party. There may arise a situation where a companion’s weapon must be used. Practice with the weapons that will be available.
4) Do not get so involved with the task at hand that vigilance and alertness are forgotten. Keep all your senses on high alert: anticipate trouble.
5) Bears are just like people. They grow up in different environments, they have diverse growing experiences, they have dissimilar personalities, they get moody in various situations, and they have a huge desire to gorge themselves at various times of the year. Treat them with respect and give them a wide berth when possible. Bears are truly an awesome component of the miracle and beauty of nature. Beware; they have resided at the top of the food chain for a very long time.
I wrote the first part of this adventure because my grown children requested it. I had also grown tired of re-telling the story at the hospital where I work. Almost every person, who walked by the dental clinic, stopped and asked about the bear incident. I placed the story on the hospital intra-net, along with four pictures, so the staff could see and somewhat feel the experience. I was shocked at how fast the story spread out of Dillingham and into cyber space. There were reports that the story had spread throughout the country and beyond. Most people were amazed that we survived, while others scoffed at the truthfulness of the story. Some said that the pictures were altered, and yet others said we just killed the bear and made up the story. What I have written is true. It was not an experience that we went looking for, nor would it be an experience either one of us would like to relive. I do thank my Father in Heaven every night for both of us walking away that night. I have not had nightmares nor do I jump at noises in the night, but I do think about the attack every day. I find myself trying to analyze why it happened and what we could have done differently. In trying to survive, did my mind shut down various sensations? I did not smell the awful stench others talk about. I do not remember any jaw or teeth popping. I do not remember hearing any growling or snarling. The first time the bear charged me, he was there in an instant. His head was down and angled to the right. When I toppled over onto my back, I remember him trying to bite the holster as I swung it back and forth in his face, but I remember no sound.
I believe the reason bear tales are so captivating is that people share a primordial fear of the carnivore itself. It is a natural dread that resides deep in our human gene pool.
Many readers have inquired about the size of both animals. The moose had a rack that measured 63 inches across. But best of all, a large portion of a freezer was filled with wonderful tasting meat. The bear measured 9 feet 2 inches from left front paw to right front paw, and 8 feet from nose to rump. He was not a starving bear for he was stuffed full of blueberries.
For some reason, I have developed a keen interest in reading about documented bear attacks. The more I read, the more I realize how extremely fortunate we were. After reading about our experience, glean from it tidbits that will make your outdoor experiences fun, long lasting, and safe. Enjoy the awesome beauty of the outdoor world, however, stay alert and be prepared. There is no greater joy than returning home to loved ones and vocalizing adventures of the wild country.
The Great White Hunter