Hunting Guide Mauled by Wounded Brown Bear
ATTACK: Scott Newman attributes incident to two cardinal errors
Peter Porco / Anchorage Daily News / April 28, 2004
Scott Newman of Petersburg says he's naturally a calm person. He proved it Monday evening as a wounded brown bear on Admiralty Island crunched the bones of his left foot and moved up to chew on his leg while Newman methodically tried to free a jam in his rifle.
By the time the bear chomped on his inner thigh, Newman let go of the rifle and his hope for another shot and tried pushing the animal away with his hands. The bear then began cracking the bones of his right hand and forearm.
Newman, a 39-year-old hunting and fishing guide, told the story of his mauling Tuesday by telephone from his bed at Sitka Community Hospital. He was bandaged and in splints. Doctors had yet to close his puncture wounds, so as to let them drain. He was in a lot of pain, he said.
Nevertheless, he spoke matter-of-factly, going over details with precision, and blaming himself for two mistakes, neither of them very rare on guided hunts.
Newman has been guiding for 17 years, 12 of them as proprietor of his own business. He is called a "superb guide" on the Web site of Field & Stream magazine.
Monday was the last day of a 10-day bear hunt in the vicinity of Pybus Bay in the southeast corner of Admiralty, about 75 miles south of Juneau. His client was a textile businessman from Mexico City. Others on the trip included the client's wife; Newman's 15-year-old nephew, Levi Newman, who worked as his assistant guide; and a cook.
"We saw only 10 bears for the whole trip," Newman said. That included a decent-sized bear on the fifth day, which they let go. On Monday, from Newman's skiff on Little Pybus Bay, they spotted a boar along the beach of the small peninsula that separates the smaller bay from the bigger one.
"I parked the skiff downwind of the bear and we did our final stalk on foot," Newman said. The bear busied itself behind a bunch of driftwood logs. They'd see a leg, then its head. It seemed to back away.
Newman next made the first of his mistakes, he said: He left the side of his hunter and crawled toward the water for a better look. When the bear started climbing over the logs, the client became excited and fired two or three rounds.
"I wasn't able to whisper, 'Wait 'til he turns his side,'" Newman said. He now fired several rounds of his own, big 400-grain bullets from a .416 Remington Magnum.
"I think I got a frontal shot," he said. "I thought I really hit him hard. I was pretty confident he'd be dead" in the brush where the animal ran.
Now came what Newman considers his second mistake. It was 7 p.m. and would be dark in two hours. He didn't want to wait until morning to skin the bear, not with another hunt coming up in a few days. He decided then to follow it, to ensure it was dead and to skin the carcass while they had light.
Newman found a large pool of blood where the bear had been hit and a spoor leading away from the beach into the brush.
He zig-zagged across the trail, circling quietly. It was clear the bear was bleeding from both sides. Newman guessed it had been hit as many as half-a-dozen times.
"I was fairly concerned because he'd gone quite a ways. There was dark blood. I knew he was hurt, but I didn't think he was mortally wounded, so I probably had a live animal on my hands."
Newman was looking at the ground when he heard a twig break. He slipped the safety off and heard a low roar.
"He was ticked off," he said. "He appeared instantaneously. He looked like a freight train coming at me. I knew I had to make the shot really count. I took an extra split second, leaned into it and torched it off. I was fairly certain I hit him in the chest."
He worked the bolt to chamber a second round but "short-stroked it," jamming the rifle. "Damn," he said as the bear barrelled forward, knocking him down.
"Now I'm on my back kicking this bear in the head, trying to get him off me. He's biting my left foot, giving me a compound fracture, crunching the bones in my left leg. I'm trying to get my gun to work."
Newman feared that a bad tear in his thigh could sever the femoral artery, so when the bear bit him there, he switched tactics.
After the boar chomped his hands, however, it broke off suddenly, turned to the side, turned back as if still interested in Newman, but finally walked away.
"When he dropped down, he appeared very sick," Newman said. He thinks the bear, found dead later just yards from that spot, was then only moments from dying.
"It was that frontal shot at 10 feet," Newman said. "It was a mortal shot, and he had just another 30 seconds to live, and in the meantime he chewed on me very good."
As soon as the bear turned away, Newman grabbed his rifle and ran 25 yards away -- on adrenalin, he said.
"I sat down and started yelling for help, then realized I had my hand-held (radio) and called the Coast Guard. ... 'I need a helicopter now,' " he told them, worried still about the femoral artery.
The artery was intact, although Newman did lose a lot of blood. But he never lost consciousness.
"I had a definite sense of calmness. I was very calm about the whole thing. I don't know where it came from. That's just the way I am. I was never freaked out about it. I just knew what I had to do to get out of that situation."
Levi Newman and a man from a nearby lodge helped stabilize him until he was evacuated by Coast Guard helicopter 90 minutes after the mauling.
Levi also worked to skin the bear and get the hide and the others back to Petersburg on Tuesday evening.
Daily News reporter Peter Porco can be reached at email@example.com or 257-4582
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