SITKA, Alaska — For a few memorable moments, Ryan Wilson was both the hunter and the hunted.
“I was hunting deer; (the bear) was hunting me,” he said, telling about his confrontation with a full-grown brown bear in the woods north of Sitka last month.
Wilson had time for only one shot, but it was enough to stop the charging bear in its tracks.
“It’s something I wouldn’t want to do again, or wouldn’t want to deal with again,” said Wilson, 44, an experienced outdoorsman who has lived most of his life in Sitka.
The bear was only 20 yards away and closing fast when Wilson shot it in the head with his .300 Winchester Magnum rifle.
“A little heavy for deer, a little light for a bear,” Wilson said of his rifle.
Wilson was by himself Nov. 25 when he took his skiff to Marine Cove, halfway between St. John Baptist Bay and Kakul Narrows, to hunt deer. He anchored his skiff, hiked into the woods until he got into the bigger timber, then sounded his deer call for about 40 minutes.
“I didn’t have any luck,” he said.
He started moving away around the estuary to head to a valley, still in hunting mode, trying not to make much noise as he crunched through the snow. About 30 minutes later, out of the corner of his left eye, he saw some movement. When he turned to look, he saw a bear about 40 yards away.
“It was a little shocking, I would have thought they would be in hibernation, with all the snow,” he said.
Wilson had the higher ground by about 10 feet, and was surprised to see the bear making its way toward him, walking stealthily and silently in cat-like fashion.
“It wasn’t making any vocalizations or noise,” he said.
Wilson figured the bear just didn’t know he was there. He had a round in the chamber of his rifle and flipped the safety off, just in case. He whistled to get the bear’s attention, and expected that once the bear was aware of his presence it would be on its way.
“It kept silently coming toward me; I yelled, loud,” Wilson said.
At a distance of about 30 yards, the bear went from walking stealthily to a full-speed charge.
Wilson said he was surprised how calm he was as he raised the rifle, aimed for the head and pulled the trigger at the fast-moving target. He remembers being fearful, but not having time to think about anything other than taking the shot. He knew he wouldn’t have time for another before the bear was on him.
His time at the rifle range practicing for such a situation paid off.
“It immediately dropped, it looked like it was dead,” Wilson said. He chambered another round, and moved around to the side. He saw a paw moving, and shot the bear two more times. He was still a little shaken, and waited five or 10 minutes before approaching the carcass. He poked it with his rifle near its eyeball before being satisfied the bear was indeed dead.
An experienced hunter, Wilson knew you’re not allowed to keep any part of bear killed in defense of life or property, but that there would be a lot of work ahead. After hiking a ways to find a spot where he had cell phone contact, he called Wildlife Troopers to report the kill and check on the steps he would have to take. Regulations call for the claws, hide and skull to be salvaged and turned in to Fish and Game.
He called a couple of friends for help. Wilson had about 60 or 70 percent of the work done before his friends arrived three hours later.
Fish and Game later confirmed Wilson’s assessment that “it was a good size bear.” They measured it at 8 feet 6 inches square (claw to claw, and nose to tail). The skull measured 25 and one-sixteenth of an inch. He was told bears in this area have heads as large as 27 inches; and Kodiak bears are around 30. The hide, head and claws alone of the bear Wilson shot weighed 250 pounds.
He said it was the first bear he has ever shot, and he hopes it’s his last.
As for whether, as a result of the experience, he would hesitate to go back out in the woods, Wilson said he is just thinking about taking a bigger rifle, or carrying a backup pistol.
But in general, Wilson believes “probability” is on his side.
“I mean, what’s the chance of it happening again?”
Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel, http://www.sitkasentinel.com/