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Alaska deer hunters fend off attack by five brown bears


A group of Alaska deer hunters is lucky to be alive after a dangerous encounter with five bears.

What do you call a group of bears? The most familiar term may a “pack,” but more interesting terms include a “sleuth,” a “sloth,” and perhaps most ominously, a “maul.” For hunters carrying deer meat, however, “trouble” may suffice. According to a report by the US Coast Guard, a party of deer hunters near Kodiak, Alaska was ambushed and attacked by at least five brown bears. The bears, believed to be a mixture of adults and cubs, severely injured one of the hunters but were eventually driven off or killed by the other hunters in the group.

“Coast Guard 17th District watchstanders received a call from the master of the fishing vessel Mary J who reported that a group of hunters had been attacked by a sloth of bears and one hunter needed immediate medical assistance,” stated the Coast Guard in its release.

The attack occurred last Tuesday on Sally Island where 68-year-old Michael Snowden was hunting with his son-in-law, Jeff Ostrin. According to the Alaska Dispatch, the two men were on their sixth day of annual week-long hunting trip, and had managed to harvest a deer earlier that morning. The animal was gutted and the two hunters began carrying it through the dense brush back to shore, where the rest of their party waited for them on the Mary J. Less than a mile from the coast, the hunters decided to take take a rest before leaving the island. Unbeknownst to Snowden and Ostrin, they had actually been spotted by the hunters on board the Mary J with the help of binoculars, and they had been trying frantically to alert the two hunters of the bears that had been following their trail.

The hunters aboard the fishing vessel recalled seeing at least five bears—including a sow and two large cubs about three years old—in their vicinity and closing in. They tried to radio Snowden and Ostrin, as well as fire shots into the air to grab their attention, but the pair had their radio off and thought the gunshots were from other deer hunters. The well-armed hunting party decided to leave the ship and warn the two men in person, but they were already too late by the time they arrived.

“The bear kind of exploded out of the brush,” Ostrin said. “We couldn’t even see it coming. It went straight for Mike, and it knocked him down and bit onto his leg and started shaking its head and dragging Mike around on the ground quite a bit.”

The large sow knocked Snowden’s rifle away and began mauling the older hunter’s leg. Ostrin was forced to wait for a clear shot before he fired his gun twice, hitting the animal in its rear and chest, killing it instantly. While tending to Snowden’s wounds, another bear emerged from the brush and Ostrin shot that one dead as well. Only minutes later, they were found by the rest of the hunting party, which helped stabilize Snowden. A Coast Guard helicopter was called and airlifted the hunter to a hospital.

“These hunters were extremely prepared for the environment and circumstances they found themselves in,” said Lt. j.g. Joseph Schlosser, operational unit watchstander, Coast Guard 17th District. “The fact that there were five bears was an abnormality and this serves as a reminder that anything can happen and we need to be aware of our surroundings.”

Snowden’s injuries were severe and included the tearing of his hamstring muscle, but thankfully it was not severed completely. After about 100 staples, the hunter is expected to recover. Both men say they owe their lives to their fellow hunters, the Mary J‘s crew, and Coast Guard personnel. Many are also calling Ostrin a hero for his quick thinking and steady aim.

Bear attacks, even near the famed Kodiak area, are highly uncommon. Hunters flock to Kodiak Island every year for the rare privilege of being able to hunt the most powerful land animal in North America, and funds from hunting season go straight back into the local economy and bear conservation.