A 65-year-old deer hunter was injured and needed a medevac after he was attacked by a sow bear on Sally Island Tuesday afternoon. 68-year-old Sitka resident Michael Snowden suffered injuries to his legs. His hunting partner, Jeff Ostrin age 38, of Camas, Washington, was not injured.
Initial reports indicated it may have been a group, or a “sloth,” of bears, but according to Kodiak Fish and Game biologist Nate Svoboda it was a sow bear with two older cubs involved in the attack.
“They were carrying the deer out, actually dragging the deer out down to the beach to be picked up. And the stopped to take a quick break for lunch and at that point they heard a bear rustling in the brush. They reached over, grabbed their rifles and moments later a bear charged through the brush and jumped on the survivor and continued to thrash around with him," Svoboda said. "The witness, obviously startled, backed up a few feet, took aim at the bear and waited until he had a clear shot.”
At that point one of the cubs came out of the brush and was also shot by Ostrin. The second cub is expected to survive the death of its mother.
Larry Van Daele, the regional Fish and Game supervisor and noted bear expert, said the bears smelled the dead deer from afar and came looking for a meal.
“The bears winded the deer from several hundred yards away. The skipper of the boat actually watched that from a distance," Van Dael said. "And, like I say, these guys were in a real brushy area. They're dragging a deer right behind them, a when the bears winded the deer, they started coming, in that direction, following that scent."
The initial report said the attack was by five bears, which Van Daele says is highly unusual for the normally solitary animals.
“Yeah, that'd pretty much have to be a sow with four cubs. Big cubs," he said. "Which we've only seen once or twice in my career to keep that many cubs that long.”
The men had 30.06 rifles on their deer hunt, which Van Daele says is a suitable caliber for bear protection. He added that they did a lot of things right to avoid tragedy.
“They were hunting as partners; that's something we always recommend. Because they were hunting as partners, this turned into a mauling instead of someone being killed probably – either from the bears attacking him or loss of blood. So they did the right things there," Van Daele said. "There's always arm-chair quarterbacking; we would prefer people not drag deer out of the field, that they put it in pack and carry it out as soon as possible. And we also prefer people to tend to stay in open areas. Which, of course, isn't always possible in Kodiak.”
Van Daele said Ostrin is a hero in the situation, having tended to his hunting partner's wounds, killing the bears and getting help.
Sally Island is about 30 miles east of Kodiak City in Uganik Bay.