Around 7 p.m. on Oct. 3, Casey Bradford, 21, and his father Scott Bradford, 55, were moose hunting near Wells Bridge at 25 Mile when a brown bear mauled the young hunter from behind.

The bear tore muscle in the back of Casey Bradford’s thigh, where it initially latched on, and damaged nerves when it bit his forearm. Bradford said he’s sore, “but other than that I feel pretty good.”

“It happened really quick,” he said at his family’s store, Mile’s Furniture, on Wednesday. He was discharged Tuesday from Bartlett Regional Hospital, where doctors flushed his wounds to prevent bacterial infection. “All I know was this bear was trying to eat me.”

Scott Bradford said the two had been hunting in the same area nearly every day of the moose season. “We go in different directions so we can cover more area,” he said. “This time we split up and I went upriver and Casey went downriver.”

They heard the a grunting bull and both headed in the same direction. “I could see (Casey) through this moose trail and it was just seconds after that that he yelled out, ‘Oh shit’ and he started running,” Scott Bradford said, adding that his first thought was that a bull moose was charging. “As he was running towards me, this brown thing just tackled him from behind.”

“It grabbed me from my leg and as it tossed me over,” Casey Bradford said. “I pulled by gun up and that’s when it grabbed my arm– he didn’t like that.”

Scott Bradford shot above the bear to scare it off his son. “It scared the bear and it got up and let go of Casey and started running towards the left,” he said. “As it was running, I shot at it again. Whether I hit it or not, I don’t know. I was going to Casey’s side.”

After the attack, the two boated back to their car, where they met with hunting buddies that helped tie their boat and get Casey into the car. At the Haines clinic, the Coast Guard was already on its way to medevac another patient to Juneau, a flight which Casey joined.

On Friday, Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists Carl Koch, Anthony Crupi and Stephanie Sell, with wildlife trooper Wallace Kirksey, went to the area Bradford pointed to on a map to look for evidence of the attack.

“If we had found a wounded bear or a bear acting aggressively, we would have euthanized it for sure,” Koch said. The team found no blood, bear carcass, or signs of a wounded animal, though Koch said it’s still possible the bear could have been injured and still travelled far.

He said it’s impossible to determine the reason for the attack, but it could be that the bear was responding to Bradford’s moose call, that it was spooked by the hunter, or that it was defending cubs.

“I consider it a random event,” Koch said. “They’re very rare, but it can happen to anybody who’s moose hunting in bear country.”

The Bradfords say this attack won’t scare them from continuing to hunt in the Chilkat Valley. Their word of advice for fellow hunters? “Stay together,” Scott Bradford said. “Don’t separate and hunt alone. If he or I was the only one out there and that happened, (we) might not have ever found him.”

Casey Bradford will continue his recovery at home with his family, and with regular checkups at the clinic. He’ll take time off work as a truck driver for Alaska Marine Lines until he gains full motion in his hand, and can walk without limping. Doctors anticipate he will make a full recovery with physical therapy, the Bradfords say.

“When I’m healed up, I’m getting a bear tag and I’m getting a bear,” Casey Bradford said.

Biologists caution bear awareness

Alaska Department of Fish and Game area wildlife biologist Carl Koch noted the distinction between the bear mauling and the recent uptick of bear activity downtown.

“By far the biggest difference was that Casey (Bradford) was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Other than blowing a moose call, he didn’t have any other attractants out there. Whereas over the last couple of weeks, I have had numerous calls from various people with bears getting into outdoor freezers, garbage, recycling, chickens” and more, Koch said.

In September, the numbers of reports of bears getting into freezers, trash, chicken coops have increased significantly, Koch said.

The Haines Borough Police has received a total of 33 bear-related sighting and reports since the beginning of September, according to police blotter data.

Based on accounts from locals, Koch said he believes there have been at least six to eight bears (including black bears, brown bears, and sows with cubs) ranging downtown in the last few weeks. “It’s not like it’s a single problem bear, where we could go and address the bear,” he said. “What we need is help from the public to help secure things.”

Koch said residents should secure all bear attractants, including outdoor freezers, dog food, trash and recycling. He added that Fish and Game has a limited number of loaner electric fences and motion-activated noise-maker devices.

“They’ll hibernate when food sources become scare, which is one of the main reasons I’m strongly encouraging the public to help us out by securing all our attractants,” he said. “If they have problems, we’re happy to help them.”

Negligently or intentionally feeding or attracting bears is illegal and may be subject to a fine, according to state statute. It is illegal to kill game in response to harassment from improper storage of garbage or similar attractive nuisance.