A 68-year-old Sitka man was airlifted to safety Tuesday after being mauled by a brown bear sow during a hunting trip on a small island near Kodiak, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Michael Snowden and 38-year-old Jeff Ostrin, of Camas, Washington, set out to hunt deer Tuesday on Sally Island, a small island in Uganik Bay. Shortly before encountering the first bear, the two men walked through dense vegetation on the east side of the island, roughly 30 miles from Kodiak. Behind them, they dragged the carcass of a deer, said Nathan Svoboda, an area wildlife biologist with Fish and Game.
Svoboda -- relaying information from an interview he conducted with Ostrin -- said the men began traversing down a hill. About a quarter of the way down, they dropped their packs, walked about 20 feet farther and prepared to eat lunch.
"They pulled out sandwiches, took a couple of bites and heard rustling in the brush," Svoboda said. "They chambered a bullet and almost immediately a sow charged out of the brush and attacked."
According to the skipper of a nearby fishing vessel, who said he could see the men from shore, the sow was traveling with two large cubs. The bears "basically winded the deer and the sow bolted, as the skipper put it, 'like a Tasmanian devil' -- running and charging through the brush headed for the deer and obviously the hunters," Svoboda said.
The sow attacked Snowden, biting and scratching at his body. Ostrin stepped back a few feet and fired a bullet from his rifle into the bear's hindquarters and then again into its chest. Ostrin told Svoboda that Snowden and the sow rolled down the hill where they briefly separated and Ostrin shot the bear a third time, killing the animal.
Ostrin checked on Snowden and then walked back up the hill to grab their packs. He used their radio to call the fishing vessel that had originally taken the pair to the island to hunt. Ostrin asked the skipper to contact the U.S. Coast Guard, Svoboda said.
Then, a second bear appeared out of the brush. Svoboda said it is believed to be one of the cubs, which he estimated was about 2-3 years old. Ostrin shot and killed it with a pistol.
Svoboda said the fishing vessel arrived with at least five hunters on board who helped Snowden and assisted with gathering the men's gear.
A Coast Guard helicopter arrived and flew Snowden to the Kodiak Municipal Airport, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. He was then taken to the Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center with serious injuries to his leg, according to Alaska State Troopers.
Svoboda called the Tuesday attack "a very rare occasion" and lauded Ostrin's response.
"(Ostrin) was truly a hero. He did everything he needed to do," Svoboda said. "He was able to dispatch the bears. He was able to contact the skipper and get rescue on the way and then he did a fantastic job of treating the wounds and making sure the scene was safe."
Svoboda said Fish and Game discourages hunters from carrying their game out and, instead, recommended they cut the meat and put it in their packs.
But, Svoboda noted, "it's easy to sit back and critique this from sitting at your desk. They did everything right. They did the best they could and sometimes these things happen."