Nikiski man survives bear mauling

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Nikiski fisherman brought a punctured hand, nipped ear and 10-inch scalp wound back from a fishing trip Tuesday night.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Bill Pfendler sits in a hospital bed Wednesday afternoon with stitches in both arms, both legs, his back, buttocks and head. He was attacked by a brown bear near the Swanson River on Tuesday night.

Troopers received a call around 9 p.m. that Nikiski resident William Pfendler had been attacked by a bear near the Swanson River in Captain Cook State Park. Pfendler, 37, was returning to his car after a late fishing trip when the brown bear attacked him.

That night he had parked by the river and fly fished for about an hour. Pfendler said that he tossed back two silver salmon before he found one for dinner. Then he began walking back to the parking lot, rod in one hand and 12-gauge in the other.

Two thirds of the way back, the hunter spotted a brown bear less than 100 yards away from him. He stopped as the animal trudged toward him.

He said that the bear rose up to get its bearings, then headed into the brush. Pfendler took a few steps back in an attempt to see what the bear was doing, but the animal wasn't visible through the foliage.

Heavy breathing emanated from the birch trees, the fisher said.

"Oh god this is really happening," he thought.

Pfendler yelled a few times to scare the bear. The huffing sounds grew louder as the bear came toward him. He said he listened closely to track the bear. Pfendler sent buckshot into the foliage, but without success.

"I could see evil-looking eyes piercing through the brush," he said.

Before he could get another shell in the shotgun, the bear was upon him. It charged out of the brush and took Pfendler down.

The fisherman said the two tangled like aggressive dogs on the trail. He lost his gun as the bear clawed and bit him.

"I could feel him crunching on my skull," he said.

The animal bit and clawed at Pfendler as he yelled and prayed. Then the bear bit him on the arm and began dragging him off.

"Oh great. He's taking me out of the kill zone to eat me," he said.

The bear gave him a 10-inch laceration from the right side of his head to the front, just below the hairline. It also bit him on the buttocks, hip, thigh and punctured his hand. He received wounds to his arm, as well.

He rolled into the fetal position. The bear stood over him. Pfendler remembered the bear's hard breaths as he waited. He kept still for fear of provoking another attack.

The bear began to move on. The fisherman said that he tracked its movements by its heavy breathing and other sounds.

"He made funny noises, kind of like moaning," he said.

After awhile, Pfendler stood up and collected his things. As he reloaded his gun, the hunter realized that the bear had gone in the direction he wanted to go.

No one was in sight and couldn't get a signal on his cell phone. Pfendler picked up his rod and returned to his car. He left his silver behind.

Pfendler loaded his gear, turned on the high beams and drove to the Nikiski Fire Station. The fisherman said that he could see all right, despite the blood dripping down his face. He asked a fellow traveler to follow his car in case he passed out, though. The fire department transported him to Central Peninsula Hospital. Troopers were unable to find the bear during a search of the area.

Doctors finished putting stitches across his scalp Wednesday morning. The fisherman is unsure if he'll return to his fishing spot anytime soon though. The tall grass along the trails can conceal a sleeping mammal, according to the hunter.

"It's a pretty bad place to hang out now that I think about it," he said.

Tony Cella can be reached at

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