CHECKING IT OUT – Fia Turczynewycz, a visitor from Ohio, walks her dog,  Mani, past the Sitka National Historical Park Visitor Center this morning. Tlingit master carver Tommy Joseph’s newly completed yellow cedar Waas’go pole, pictured in the background, was moved out of the park’s carving shed Thursday to make room for Joseph’s latest project – carving a Tlingit canoe with the aid of an apprentice. Joseph’s Waas’go pole is the third version of the Haida pole in the past century – a reproduction of a reproduction made in the 1930s by George Benson, which is placed inside the visitor center. Rangers are working on approval for a location along the park’s trail system for the new pole. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

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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Alaska COVID-19 
At a Glance

(updated 9-17-21)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 10:47 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 875

Total statewide – 96,002

Total (cumulative) deaths – 454

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 2,207

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The COVID alert rate for Sitka is “high,” based on 14 new COVID cases in the past 7 days, a rate of 187.73 per 100,000 population. Alert status will be high until the rate per thousand is below 100. Case statistics are as of Thursday.

New cases in Sitka – 5

Cases in last 7 days – 16

Cumulative Sitka cases – 946

Positive cumulative test results in Sitka, as of 9/10/21 – 1,090

Deceased (cumulative) – 3

The local case data are from the City of Sitka website.

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Sitka Vax Stats 

The State of Alaska DHSS reported Friday the following statistics on vaccinations for Sitka.

Partially vaccinated – 6,132 (83.03%)

Fully vaccinated – 5,991 (81.12%)

Total population (12+) – 7,385

Sitka has vaccinated fully vaccinated 89.85 percent of its senior population (1,478 total), age 65 and older. 

Vaccination data for the City and Borough of Sitka can be found online at: https://cityofsitka.org

 

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20 YEARS AGO
September 2001

Alaska Pacific Bank has opened an account for donations to be directed to the families of the World Trade Center attack of Sept. 11. The account has been opened with a $2,000 contribution from the bank and an anonymous donor.

50 YEARS AGO
September 1971

At the Sitka Historical Society’s meeting Sunday, Mrs. Esther Billman of Sheldon Jackson College presented a “surprise package” of recent donations to the Sheldon Jackson Museum by Mr. Hugh Brady, youngest son of former Territorial Gov. John Brady.

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