A hiking trail in Alaska’s Chugach State Park remains closed after a violent encounter between a man and an estimated 600-pound brown bear. An unidentified hiker was walking along the Turnagain Arm Trail on Sunday morning when he spotted the bear among patches of berries. According to the Anchorage Daily News, the man made some noise and called out to the bear to let it know he was there. Wildlife experts often advise “talking” to the bear in a calm, monotone voice to alert the animal to human presence, as bears are most dangerous when startled.
“Surprising a bear is usually the worst thing you can do,” said area wildlife biologist Jessy Coltrane.
Unfortunately, this tactic did not seem to work for the hiker, who later told authorities that the bear turned and charged. The man reportedly shot the bear several times with the semiautomatic AK-74-type rifle he was carrying. It seemed to only halt the bear momentarily. The bear ran forward again and was met by more gunfire, at which point it began retreating downhill and eventually crashed into a birch tree.
“There it expired,” said park ranger Tom Crockett.
Crockett was the first ranger to respond to the hiker’s 911 call, along with an Alaska State Trooper. They found the man still on the trail with the bear carcass a short distance away. The hiker admitted that he was too afraid to move and had to be escorted out of the park.
“He told me he’s never been so scared in his life,” Crockett said.
Bear shootings in self-defense are uncommon, but still occur occasionally. A large majority of these cases either involve hunters, who are likely to be in bear territory and carrying a firearm, or well-prepared hikers. Some outdoorsmen carry a spare, large caliber revolver just in case a bear sighting goes awry. Crockett commented that it was unusual for the hiker to be carrying an AK-74 clone.
“Most people carry something larger caliber,” he said.
The AK-74 is a rifle developed in the Soviet Union as a replacement for the AKM, itself a derivative of the AK-47. Semiautomatic versions of the AK-74, often referred to as “clones,” are available to and popular amongst AK enthusiasts in the United States. Unlike its predecessors, it uses a smaller 5.45x39mm cartridge similar to the 5.56x45mm/.223 Remington round that is generally considered less effective against large animals like bears. Popular firearm choices for bear protection are generally heavier revolvers that are still lightweight enough to be carried on a hike. Examples include revolvers chambered in .357 Magnum or its bigger brother, the .44. The legendary–and pricey–.500 S&W is also frequently mentioned when it comes to bear defense. Wildlife experts also advise bringing bear spray.
The brown bear’s head and hide have been removed as part of the investigation, although Crockett believes the hiker did indeed act in self-defense. The bear’s body will be left to nature, where it will eventually be “recycled.” As of Monday the trail still remains closed.