October 3, 2013 | XLIII 39

No time to get gun, hunter charges bear

Don Nash didn’t have time to get off a shot against a bear that charged him while he was moose hunting last week. So he charged it back.

“I ran at it and waved my arms and shrieked like a woman,” said Nash, 61. It worked. The bear stopped about 15 feet away and retreated, much to the relief of the local fisherman.

“It was like the biggest rush you can imagine,” Nash said in an interview Sept. 24 before heading back out Haines Highway to continue hunting.

Nash was alone at twilight and about 200 yards from his moose camp above the Kelsall landing Sept. 20 when he encountered the bear after he crossed a narrow river channel. The bruin – that looked to be about 300 pounds – came down a log and toward him at a diagonal, chuffing and making a sound “like air being let out of a tire.”

Nash, who was bow-hunting, said he didn’t have time to draw a .44 Magnum handgun he carries on hunt, which was stowed in a backpack.

“My first instinct was to bluff it away, and it worked, fortunately. But I’m not saying this is a good thing for anybody to do. If a gun or a tree was handy, I would have done something different,” Nash said.

Nash, who has 50 years of hunting experience, said he was unsure if the one that charged him was a brown or black bear, but he’d seen a similarly-sized bear the day before that appeared to be a juvenile, looking around in a timid manner.

“As soon as I saw it, I thought ‘small bear.’” Afterwards, he said he recalled terrible maulings and fatal attacks in Alaska by black bears a little more than 100 pounds. “Have you ever tried to fight with a five-pound house cat? They’ve got claws and teeth and they can hurt you, too.”

Nash said he has shooed away bears before, for instance, when he has “called them in” while using a deer call. On those occasions, though, he’s never been closer than about 100 feet from the bear.

In the right situation, a hunter who makes himself big and loud can bluff away just about any bear, he said, excepting situations like when people get between a sow and cubs. “Some of it’s demeanor, and some of it’s the mood of the bear and some of it’s just plain luck… I’m one of these guys who runs into vegetarian bears.”

Ryan Scott, area management biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game, said Nash’s response wasn’t “outside the realm of a normal response, if you don’t have a lot of options.” The state advises people lie still after an aggressive bear makes contact, he said.

“Don’s pretty savvy. I expect he had a sense that (charging the bear) was going to work out for him. I’m glad it worked out for him,” Scott said. “Different situations require different responses. Had the bear been a sow with cubs or a large adult bear, things might have been different.”