Grisly death

serious bear attack

Alaska State Troopers say a hiker killed by a bear on the Kenai Peninsula earlier this week was so badly mauled that they are waiting on autopsy results to officially confirm his identity.

“The remains of the victim have been sent to the state medical examiner for autopsy and to make a positive ID,” troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain emailed. “That is likely to happen Monday or early next week.”

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists who are assisting troopers and Chugach National Forest officials in investigating the attack have, meanwhile, been able to provide some more details of what they believe happened.

Agency spokesman Rick Green on Friday said the victim of the deadly attack was clearing a primitive trail through thick brush up a mountain to the west of the old and now largely abandoned mining community of Sunrise along the Hope Highway when he encountered the bear.

Sunrise is about 25 miles southeast of Alaska’s largest city on the opposite side of Turnagain Arm – a shallow, muddy, 45-mile-long fiord that divides the Chugach Mountains to the north from the Kenai Mountains to the south.

Because of that barrier, Sunrise is a  long way by road from the Anchorage Metropolitan area home to more than half the Alaska population and would be considered a remote community by most modern standards.

It is, however, unlikely the area is home to any more bruins than Anchorage, which boasts healthy populations of both black and grizzly bears around and regularly in parts of the city.

Bad luck

Bears can be encountered almost anywhere in the 49th state, according to Fish and Game, which warns that “even if you don’t see a bear, you will never be far from one; Alaska is bear country.”

Alaskans generally learn to accept the risk of living with the bears and go about their lives, or retreat to the metro area and avoid the wildlands.

Bear attacks in the state now average about 7.6 per year, according to a study by biologists Stephen Herrero and Tom Smith, but fatalities remain uncommon even among those attacked.

Fewer than 10 percent of those that the study reported attacked from 2000 to 2015 died from their injuries.

The Sunrise attack came without warning. There were no reports of a problem bear in the area before the fatal encounter.

Friends who went looking for the trail maker after his dog came home alone stumbled upon a horrific scene that made it obvious there was no hope the man had survived, Green said.

They immediately returned to the Hope Highway and called to notify authorities just after 11 p.m. on Wednesday.

Wildlife biologists on the scene Thursday put out snares in hopes of capturing the bear and game cameras to try to get a picture if the animal returned to the scene, but there has been no sign of the bear.

Cyndi Wardlow, the regional supervisor for the Division of Wildlife Conservation, said evidence believed to have been left at the site by the bear was collected, and efforts are underway to determine if the samples contain viable DNA.

DNA testing could confirm whether the bear was a black or a grizzly and identify its sex. DNA testing for the sex of animals has become almost commonplace in the past decade.

The evidence found at the scene of the killing strongly indicated the bear was a grizzly, Green said, but that has yet to be confirmed. Alaska grizzlies are considered significantly more dangerous than the state’s black bears, though both species sometimes kill people.

Over the course of the past 20 years, grizzlies have killed nine people in Alaska –  three times as many as black bears. But all of the black bear fatalities have come in the last decade.

The risks of being killed by either species of bear are actually tiny. The National Park Service put them at 1 in 2.7 million for Yellowstone National Park, which boasts the largest concentration of grizzly bears in the Lower 48 states.

The odds are likely slightly higher for Alaska given more bears and thus a greater likelihood of encounters, but even at one in a million, they would pale against other risks.

The risk from death in a bear attack are so low they fail to make the list compiled by the National Safety Council which rates “exposure to excessive natural heat” as the nation’s greatest outdoor danger. The lifetime odds it will kill you are 1 in 16,584.

Greater dangers

“Hornets, wasps and bees,” cataclysmic storms, dogs and lightning strikes also make the list but are decidedly less risky than heat. The insects come in second at a rate of 1 in 63,225.

None of the nature causes begin to compare to the death rates for motor vehicle crashes, 1 in 114, or suicide, 1 in 96, or especially disease. The odds of dying of heart disease or cancer are put at 1 in 7, and the odds of death from the latter have only grown worse in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic hitting heavily at people suffering such comorbidities.

A July study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded cancer patients have a 16-times greater chance of dying from COVID-19 than healthy Americans. 

Risks for those with heart disease have not been quantified, but a study team from the Centers for Disease Control this week noted heart disease as another comorbidity that shows “strong and consistent evidence” of increasing risks for COVID-19.

That study also warned that many diseases linked to what has been called the “sedentary lifestyle” put 47.2 percent of Americans at increased risk from the pandemic disease. 

Fat was the leading risk. The study reported 30.9 percent of U.S. residents are at risk because of a body mass index score “greater than or equal to 30 kilograms per meter squared.”

To reach that score, a 5-foot, 5-inch tall woman would need to weigh about 180 pounds, and a 5-foot, 11-inch man would need to weigh about 216 pounds.

Much of the country’s obesity problem has been linked to lack of exercise and diet. One could almost take it to mean that sitting around in the safety of one’s home could now be more dangerous than venturing into the outdoors to engage in exercise even if there are bears out there.

But the bears are without a doubt scarier than the couch.











8 replies »

  1. Any argument about personal protection against bear mauling/attack should start with accuracy. If you can accurately discharge a firearm then the caliber does not matter. If you can’t accurately discharge your bear spray it does not matter. Personally I would rather get off as many rounds of whatever caliber I am comfortable with shooting accurately than getting 1 round off of a caliber I couldn’t shoot accurately. A couple years ago a guy in the MOA killed a bear with a AR-15 chambered in .223, sure it took 13 rounds but that’s better than getting eaten in my book. There’s also the moose that was shot and killed with a .177 pellet gun on the Kenai years ago.

  2. If a bear is stalking, and you see it, chances of a firearm or bear spray defense improve. If the attack is a surprise, and the bear is close, angry and charging chances of a successful defense are slim. Not many of us can mount a firearm and aim accurately in those conditions. And I’ll not bet my life on bear spray against full charging brown bear. For stationary and inquisitive bears I have had success discouraging them with boat compressed air horns.

  3. Bryan,
    The 460 Rowland is a pretty good cartridge but imo is simply not enough. Consider that at only around 850 pounds of muzzle energy it a little less than 1/2 the muzzle energy of a Winchester 30 / 30. Do you think that cartridge would stop a charging Brown Bear? I don’t.
    But you are on the right track. The S&W 460 is a very capable hand gun that has real stopping power; nearly 3,000 pounds of energy with a 350 grain bullet. In the 4” barrel version, it will be about a pound more that a Glock converted to the 460 Rowland. That seems worth it to me. But, there are times that it makes no difference what you have for defense. It happens too quickly.

    • AF, you will not get an argument out of me. No question the S&W .460 is a stout load not to be argued with. I also agree completely that there are times when even that will not carry the day, plus, weighing in, minus ammo, at 5lbs. I have converted my G21 to both 10mm and .460 Rowland. The problem with the Rowland was it shattered my ejector after the 3rd shot. Did that twice and said to hell with it. Maybe my spring was off. Some have no issues at all. Never had an issue with the 10mm conversion. But, where people think the 10mm is some savior is beyond me. I mentioned the Rowland .460 because it basically brings .44 Magnum to your semi. 255gr, Hard Cast, Muzzle Velocity: 1300 fps
      Muzzle Energy: 957 ft. lbs. A unique and impressive upgrade to any .45 ACP, 10mm. .40mm, or .357.
      I am undecided though which I would want on the trail or in a tent – one round (maybe 2) of S&W .460 or 13rds of Rowland .460. When is reality I like Brenneke 3″ mag Black Magic. I personally do not care for them much past 60yds. but up close they leave pie plate holes.

  4. My deepest condolences go out to the family of the deceased.
    I am very interested to find out if the victim was armed or if they had bear spray with them in the back country?
    Working on a trail clearing during the summer months is quite dangerous in remote areas of Alaska. I have always preferred to carry a few packs of firecrackers with me to make noise while advancing through the thick brush.
    I just stumbled upon a company from Idaho that is making a nice molded chest holster for many pistols including the popular Glock models like the G20.
    There is no coincidence that their most popular model is named after the Kenai and I can say first hand that their product is top notch and well made.
    Stay Frosty out there!

    • Thanks for the link Steve. Some nice rigs. I have a G21 that I convert. I want to put confidence in the 10mm rd because I really like a semi, but after being very close to a few coastal browns, “hope” (excuse the pun) comes to mind. At such close distance a 12ga seemed underpowered, let alone a 10mm. Yes, if I remember correctly a guy killed a sow with a 10mm in Katchmak SP with a damn good shot in the eye or close. But……
      My guess is in such dense foliage this time of year that man didn’t have a chance with bear spray or a 10mm.

      • Bryan,
        No experience with the .460 Rowland, but that conversion on the G21 looks like a nice option. I personally carried around a Ruger Redhawk .45 for a decade or so but it mostly felt like carrying a brick on my hip. These days I rely on the 10mm with 220 grain buffalo bore hard cast. I know it is a little on the light side for larger bears, but when mountain biking and hiking the compact frame is hard to beat. When going out to the cabin or working on an extended project in the woods, I always pack the 12 gauge to have around camp….I also like the 45-70 caliber for bear protection.

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