Teen Camper Fights Off Brown Bear

SOUTHEAST: Rice-A-Roni in tent may have sparked attack

Mary Pemberton / AP / Anchorage daily News / April 27, 2004

A 15-year-old boy on a wilderness expedition for emotionally troubled youths woke up to find a 400-pound brown bear sow with a bad attitude sitting at his feet.

The Barrow boy thought at first that a camp counselor was rustling around at the foot of his tent Saturday morning on Deer Island in Southeast Alaska. But when he figured out it was a bear, the teen, keeping his wits about him, tried to slip away quietly.

The bear would have none of it.

"It seems that pretty calmly (the boy) wriggled his way backward out of the back of the tent as the bear was going over the top of the tent," state trooper Adam Benson said Monday. "They kind of met up at the back of the tent. The bear came down, mouth open, toward him."

Benson said the boy put up his right arm to fend off the sow. She bit his forearm, leaving two puncture wounds.

The boy decided to fight back -- a risky approach to take, particularly with a brown bear, the trooper said.

"He told me he punched the bear half a dozen times with his left hand" and the bear let him go, Benson said.

When the teenager got up and tried to run, the bear bit him again on the right side of his torso, just below his ribs, this time leaving half a dozen puncture wounds on his back, Benson said.

The boy punched the bear again a couple of times, and again she let him go.

"He jumped behind a little cluster of trees and kind of played keep-away with the bear," Benson said.

During one of the turns around the trees, the boy remembered that he had an air horn in his gear and grabbed it on the run. He blew the horn in the bear's face. The sound woke up the other counselors and boys in the camp, said Steve Prysunka, director of the six-week Crossing Wilderness Expeditions for Youth program.

Prysunka said counselor Willy Hollett stepped between the boy and the bear and hit her with pepper spray. The bear reared up, and he sprayed her again; then the bear reared up once more.

In the meantime, another counselor fired a flare at the bear's feet, finally causing her to turn and run.

The boy was taken to the program's floating camp, a barge with a lodge anchored about one-eighth of a mile away. An emergency medical crew arrived by float plane about 30 minutes later to take him to Ketchikan General Hospital, where he was treated and released a few hours later, Prysunka said.

Benson said he was at the hospital when the teen was brought in on a stretcher. He was sitting up and looked relaxed.

"He told me it didn't hurt," Benson said. "I would attribute that to a pretty good shot of adrenaline."

Prysunka asked that the boy not be identified in news reports.

Late Saturday afternoon, another trooper and a couple of U.S. Forest Service employees returned to the campsite area, found the sow and killed her. There were no signs she had any cubs with her.

Benson said the counselors the evening before had checked on the campers to make sure no food had been left out to attract bears.

The boy had some Rice-A-Roni he wanted to keep.

"He said: 'No, don't take this. I'm going to eat this in a little while,' " Benson said. "Apparently he fell asleep before he got it done. There was some food left at the foot of his tent."

The boy was being sent home to give his wounds time to heal, Prysunka said.

"I think he is the biggest, baddest thing in the woods. He punched the bear," Prysunka said.


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