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Keith Rogan
December 2, 2002, 09:25 PM
You haven't experienced real deer hunting till you've tried Alaska!

http://adn.com/epicks/story/2239887p-2302298c.html

Attacking bear was a blur of fur
HUNTING: Anchorage man fends off both mom and cub on Hinchinbrook Island.


By Craig Medred
Anchorage Daily News

(Published: November 29, 2002)
The bear came from nowhere to grab Mike Harmening by the leg as he slipped along the edge of a Hinchinbrook Island muskeg Monday looking for Sitka blacktail deer.

One minute he was the hunter. The next he found himself in the position of prey.

"I swear to God, I just saw a flash, and I was on the ground," the 36-year-old Anchorage surveyor said Wednesday from home, where he is recovering from bite wounds to his calf and knee.

Harmening doesn't know -- and no one ever will -- whether he stumbled into a pair of grizzly bears in a thicket, woke a couple of bears settling in for hibernation, or worse.

"I startled them as much as they startled me," Harmening said. "Either that, or they were stalking me."

Harmening, whose job often takes him into the wilds of Alaska, prefers not to think the latter. The recorded instances of brown bears stalking humans are rare. Far more common are chance encounters between people and bears that end badly.

This one had all the main ingredients for that to happen, Harmening said.

"I was deer hunting. I was being quiet in the woods," he said. "It was a windy day. I was going through some thickets. There was some yellow cedar just on the fringe of this muskeg."

Everything was prime for Harmening to unknowingly sneak up on a pair of grizzly bears even if that was the last thing he was trying to do.

"The day before," Harmening said, "we'd seen a big buck up there."

He and hunting partner Marshal Wade of Anchorage were hoping they could find that buck again as they worked into the wind through dense forest and thickets a mile or two from the U.S. Forest Service's Double Bay cabin on Hinchinbrook.

The hunters had plenty of natural noise to cover their movements.

"It was blowing about 40 mph," Harmening said. "It was really, really noisy."

The wind noise covered any warning sound the bear might have made before the attack -- a woof, the popping of teeth, at least the sound of heavy footfalls on the forest floor.

Harmening heard nothing and didn't see much.

"I really didn't see her," he said. "I saw her a split second before, and I threw my leg up."

The sow grizzly grabbed him by the right leg and pulled him to the ground. It let go for only a fraction of a second to grab a better grip on Harmening's leg just above the knee.

By then, the hunter was finally getting the .338-caliber Magnum rifle he'd been carrying pointed in the direction of the bear.

"I had a bullet chambered," he said. "My hand was on the safety when the whole thing happened."

Despite being that close to ready to fire, he wasn't able to get a shot off until the bear had him by the leg. Everything happened that fast.

And Harmening doesn't know where his first shot went.

"I was being spun around," he said. "Where I shot, I can't say. It did make her let go of me."

The bear turned and fled. Harmening saw that there was another bear, a cub almost as big as the sow. Although the attack left him confused about the position of the cub, he thought the two animals would flee. That is the norm, and Harmening had seen the norm underlined time and again in his years working in the woods.

"I honestly thought she was leaving the scene," he said. "She went about 30 feet away."

Then, the bear stopped, turned and charged back. Harmening, still shooting from the hip, pointed the .338 in the bear's direction and pulled the trigger. There wasn't time, he said, to shoulder the gun and take aim.

The second bullet, he knows, hit the bear, because it crumpled. A final shot in its skull ensured it wouldn't attack again.

Harmening started screaming for Wade, who was about 40 yards away and downhill. Then the cub charged.

"I was in that high adrenaline stage," Harmening said, "and I fired at her."

He has no idea whether that bear was hit. He does know that it turned, fled and never came back. Alaska Fish and Wildlife Protection troopers are still trying to determine if the bear was injured. Unless it is gravely wounded, they will leave it alone. Bears in the wild commonly survive what people would consider massive injuries.

By the time Wade, who was still on Hinchinbrook Island Wednesday, got to Harmening, one bear was dead, the second bear was gone, and Harmening was in rough shape.

"If he hadn't been there," Harmening said, "I don't know what. . . . I was disoriented for about 15 minutes."

Wade started helping his hunting buddy back toward the cabin about a mile and a half away. They had a marine radio there.

Fortunately, Harmening said, "it was a lot of downhill, and I could slide on my butt. I was bleeding constant, but it was a real slow bleed. There was a lot of muscle damage, but no arteries" had been hit.

By 1 p.m., the two men were back at the public-use cabin, and Wade was stoking the fire. Harmening was in pain, but found a warm, secure cabin comforting.

He knew then that he would be fine.

"I knew I wasn't bleeding out," he said. "If I was bleeding out, I was dead, and I wasn't bleeding out. I just wanted to get it clean."

The two men decided the best thing to do was see if they could find help to get Harmening to a hospital. Wade got on channel 16 -- the VHF radio emergency channel -- and put out a plea for help. It was answered by Michael Glasen aboard the fishing vessel Morning Thunder off the north tip of the island about 25 miles west of Cordova.

Glasen relayed the report to the Coast Guard in Valdez. The Coast Guard summoned a rescue helicopter from the Kulis Air National Guard base in Anchorage.

The rescue, Harmening said, seemed like overkill, but he will be eternally grateful.

"I was a little surprised," he said. "I felt bad they had to come in there. I would have rather (someone sent) a boat from Cordova."

The hunter doesn't feel good about exposing rescuers to flying in dense fog to come and get him.

"It was zero (visibility)," Harmening said. "I wouldn't have willingly got in the helicopter. (But) they did a marvelous job, an excellent job."

The Kulis Pave Hawk lifted Harmening to Cordova in minutes. A C-130 fixed-wing airplane, also from Kulis, was there waiting with its engines warmed up. By 9 p.m. Monday evening, Harmening was being rolled into surgery in an Anchorage hospital.

He considers himself a lucky man.

"Just my right leg is the only damage I incurred," he said, "and my neck is stiff. The biggest shock to me was when she first grabbed me, and I fired off that first shot. I thought she was gone. ... When she turned and came back, I remember thinking, 'It's over.' "

It was for the bear, but not for him.

Doctors say Harmening will walk again, though it will be a while. Still, he is hoping to be on skis for the Tour of Anchorage ski marathon in March. His wife, Marcia, gave him new skate skis for his birthday in the fall. He's hoping that maybe he can be making the first tentative steps on them by the time Anchorage finally gets snow.

As for the deer hunting, Harmening's not sure when he's going back to that.

"I'm almost exclusively a deer hunter," he said, "but right now, I've lost a lot my enthusiasm for it. ... I go hunting late in the year because these things are supposed to be hibernating.

"I'm still processing it all. A lot of people assume you did something wrong. I went deer hunting."

The only way to avoid this would have been to stay home. Harmening has been thinking about that a lot.

"That's the only thing I might have done differently," he said.

Art Eatman
December 2, 2002, 09:52 PM
Deith, when do your bears go into hibernation, normally? Isn't late November a bit late for them to be out and around?

Never did like hunting in high wind. Never saw deer liking it much, either. :)

Art

kdubya
December 2, 2002, 11:04 PM
That's been my experience, too.

When the wind gets much above a breeze, the deer hole up in the dense stuff because it deprives them on 2 of 3 senses - smell and hearing.

Maybe this guy and his buddy were trying to jump the deer out of their beds, which sounds logical with a wind that strong. You'd almost have to step on them to make them move, I'd imagine.

Keith Rogan
December 3, 2002, 01:29 PM
Art,

Coastal bears from Kodiak and right around the coast down through SE Alaska sometimes don't hibernate at all because of the relatively mild winters. This is especially true of big males who will work the beaches all winter looking for sea lions or whales or whatever the storms toss up. Those that do hibernate are doing so right about now and they're damned grumpy and irritable, looking for any last scrap of protein before going to bed - and there's very little available because the berries and salmon are gone. This is the time when bears are most likely to maul people. The hunters are out in strength leaving gut piles, the bears are in a bad mood and associate the hunters with food.
I heard about another deer hunter getting mauled in SE, but I didn't see a story on that one.

By the way, here in Kodiak we haven't had any snow yet and only one or two very light frosts. Even the mountains are free of snow except on the highest peaks. I'm still collecting late peas in my garden and last saturday was hunting rabbits in my shirt sleeves. I don't think any bears have gone to bed yet because there's fresh sign everywhere you look. They'll hang on like that until some cold weather drives them to bed. If no cold weather comes (and sometimes it never does here), we'll have bears all winter and they'll begin raiding dumpsters and smoke houses in town.

BBall550
December 6, 2002, 12:58 AM
This 1 in a million encounter is why I dont listen to people who say "Oh If you even see a bear it will be running away". Sure attacks are extremely rare but they gotta happen to someone and that someone could be anyone. Its like the lottery, going into wilderness is like buying the ticket. Your chances are slim, BUT someones gotta win (or lose).

Dan Morris
December 6, 2002, 07:14 AM
Son and myself have encountered blacks in our hunting area as late as December. True, they should be dened up....but this is not always the case.TRue, there is always the one n a million.
This is also where DOW drops it's problem children.
Dan

TallPine
December 6, 2002, 09:33 AM
One in a million?


At those odds, and judging from the number of bear attacks I've read about lately, there must be about fifty billion bear encounters per year. :eek:


I'd guess that odds of attack are more like 1 - 5 % ...

bronco61
December 10, 2002, 01:28 PM
This guy was hunting right near my home. A trooper in town was going to help with our high school trap/skeet shoot but had to help find this bear instead. We haven't gotten any snow yet and the temperature has been around 40 degrees all winter which would explain why the bear was still out. I can't wait until we start getting snow so the deer will come down lower. (Oh, and the bears can go to sleep too)

Hinchinbrook is pretty populated with brownies. When I hunt there, I make sure to keep an eye out for bears as much as I do for deer. Hawkins Island is much nicer as far as bears go.

Keith Rogan
December 10, 2002, 02:58 PM
Yeah, same weather here. Yesterdays Kodiak paper had a story about a browny coming into town and eating a womans flock of ducks and geese. It had to force itself under an 8 foot "bear proof" fence to get them. Same bear (or others) have been raiding smokehouses around town. We may have a "gang" problem.