Big Pistol Drops Bear Too Close for Comfort

By BRIELLE SCHAEFFER

Sentinel Staff Writer

It was like any other hike when Don Kluting and Denise Turley set out to trek up into the alpine by Lisa Creek on Nakwasina Sound on Aug. 7.

They talked loudly, peppering their conversation with the obligatory “Hey Bear” shouts. Kluting had a gun – a .44 magnum revolver – but he wasn’t expecting to use it on that sunny Sunday. 

 

A brown bear sow lies dead after charging hikers. (Photo by Don Kluting)

About a mile in, when they stepped out of the thick brush and down a bank to cross the creek, they startled a bear sow that was about 20 yards away. Her two cubs, which were farther upstream, scattered.

“We immediately found ourselves in a confrontation,” Kluting said. “She ended up turning around and for a split second we thought she would leave – but then she turned back and came at us full charge.”

Kluting fired off a warning shot into the creek. At that point the sow was 15 yards away.

“She ran through that without even flinching,” he said.

So Kluting aimed in the middle of the brown blur, now about 3 yards away.

“I barely had time to get the hammer back for another shot before she reached me,” he said.

She collapsed in the river about 5 feet – two steps – away from them.

The bear was twitching, and Kluting shot her two more times in the shoulder to make sure she was down. He wasn’t exactly sure where his first shot had landed.

“I got lucky and ended up hitting her in the head,” he said. “The whole situation unfolded and happened so fast we didn’t have time to think.”

When he did get the chance to process it, shortly after he and Turley determined the bear was dead, he said he shook for 45 minutes. 

“It was scary,” he said. “If she hadn’t gone down at that next shot she would have landed on me.”

But, they’re alive, he said. And they didn’t get any injuries. 

“It could have so easily been the other way,” he said. 

On Thursday afternoon, two guides from the Wilderness Explorer cruise ship encountered a sow and her cub while leading a group of passengers on a hike on Chichagof Island and were attacked. Both the guides, a man and a woman, sustained injuries and severe lacerations from the mauling. (See story, this page.)

Alaska Wildlife Trooper Kyle Ferguson said Kluting acted legally and appropriately.

“This is a good example of what can happen here and what does happen here and people need to be prepared for that reality,” he said.

This wasn’t the first time Kluting, an outdoorsman, was charged by a bear, but in the past he’s avoided confrontations with a warning shot, he said.

“That was the thing that was so unbelievable about this,” he said. “The bear charged right on through.”

And he’s not certain bear spray would have worked in the situation, as the wind was blowing toward him and Turley.

“We felt really bad about the whole situation with the cubs but what do you do?” Kluting said.

Once they calmed down, they worked on skinning the bear – all they had were a Swiss Army knife and a Leatherman tool – before packing it out and calling troopers. State law requires people who shoot bears or other animals in defense of life or property to report it and surrender the skull and hide to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The bear was really skinny, Kluting  said, which also surprised them.

Ferguson said the bear’s behavior could have been due to its malnourished state.

“It’s possible a bear could be more aggressive if it’s nutritionally stressed, especially as the season advances,” he said.

As for the cubs, Ferguson said they should be OK. Kluting said they appeared to be two-year-olds, so it’s possible they can make it without their mom.

 

“They’re weaned and have learned some feeding strategies by now,” Ferguson said. “The biggest danger for them is being eaten by another bear.”

The incident made Kluting think again about bear preparedness.

“We do a lot of hiking around here and people get complacent,” he said.

Turley was unarmed, he said, which won’t happen again.

 

 

“If I hadn’t had the gun who knows where I’d be right now?” he said. “It could have got both of us. Growing up here, hiking around here, you hear stories like this but you get pretty secure in the environment. It’s a good reminder to always be ready.”

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