After a day of moose hunting and no moose, Marcel Bijak was ready to call it a day. As he followed the Upper Russian Lake Trail through the brush and spruce trees, however, he unexpectedly met with a four-legged beast, but it was not the antlered beast he had been seeking.
From approximately 30 to 45 feet down the trail a brown bear with two cubs walked straight toward Bijak, oblivious to the moose hunter in the waning light of the setting sun.
Bijak had encountered bears in the woods before and as he had done in the past, waved and hollered to get its attention while slowly backing away.
“Usually they take off and I thought that’s what this one would do and it didn’t,” he said.
At first, the sow turned to shoo her cubs away, but then turned her attention back to Bijak.
“After it did that, it started coming back at me and I kept waving my arms and the thing stood up and started woofing at me,” he said. “And the cubs were woofing and squealing too, they were all excited and they were trying to get on the heals of the mother.”
The sow began snapping its jaws and dropped back down to all fours, and then Bijak knew he was in trouble.
“I was saying ‘No! Get away!’ something like that just to try and scare it away,” he said.
The bear charged, continuing to snap its jaws until Bijak fired his rifle and the bear lay dead on the ground.
The bear, which was shot Tuesday near Cooper Landing, marked the 17th human-caused mortality among brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula this year.
The next day the sow’s two cubs had to be put down, as well, drawing the number of brown bears killed by humans up to 19, including seven females older than one year.
There was no place to take the cubs where they could be cared for and the cubs were too young to fend for themselves, said Jeff Selinger, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist.
“Two cubs of the year, at this time of year don’t know where to go to den,” he said. “Another bear will eat them, wolves will eat them, their chances of survival are next to none in the wild. (And) we’re all out of places to put bears.”
Selinger estimated the sow was about 6 to 7 years old and weighed approximately 450 pounds.
Hunting poses some special challenges when it comes to avoiding bears, he said. While hikers, for example, may occasionally call out while walking through the woods to alert bears, hunters are not likely to be enthused about employing this method of bear-avoidance.
“When you’re hunting you don’t want to make a bunch of noise because you’re trying to find moose,” Selinger said.
But hunters can help deter a potential attack should they cross paths with a bear by hunting in groups.
When gutting and cleaning an animal carcass, Selinger recommended hunters move the gutted animal a safe distance away from the gut pile as soon as possible.
The guts tend to carry smell more than the rest of the carcass and are more likely to attract bears, he said.
Selinger recommended hikers and hunters alike carry a bear deterrent, such as a firearm or bear spray, and to have that deterrent ready before you alert a bear of your presence, should it not already know you are there.
“Whatever you have for a bear deterrent make sure it’s ready to use,” he said. “Bear spray in the backpack isn’t going to do you much good.”
Alert the bear of your presence using a normal tone of voice rather than yelling, which could startle the bear and trigger a defensive attack, and slowly back away.
“I would just kind of, in a normal tone of voice, say ‘hey bear,’ or whatever,” he said. “Say something to get the bear’s attention. You want them to stop approaching and then be inquisitive about what you are.”
If these methods fail and the bear charges, defend yourself using your bear deterrent, if you have one, and if you don’t, stand your ground, Selinger said.
If attacked by a brown bear, it is generally best to play dead. Brown bear attacks are usually defensive, rather than predatory.
Should you be attacked by a black bear, however, Selinger recommended fighting the animal off, targeting the nose and eyes using a stick with or whatever other tool you can get your hands on. Unlike brown bear attacks, black bear attacks are more likely to be predatory.
In order for there to be a registered brown bear hunt this fall the number of brown bears killed by humans cannot exceed a three-year average of 20 brown bears and not more than eight females older than one year.
Selinger said he intends to determine whether there will be a registered brown bear hunt this fall by mid-September. There was no hunt in 2005 and a two-day hunt in 2004.
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