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Monday, April 26, 2004

Now, THIS Is a Bear Story!

Young man fights off brown bear

By MARY PEMBERTON, Associated Press Writer

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (April 26, 6:20 pm ADT) - A 15-year-old boy on a wilderness expedition for emotionally troubled youths woke up to find a 400-pound brown bear with a bad attitude sitting at his feet.

The Barrow boy thought at first it was a camp counselor rustling around at the foot of his tent Saturday morning on Deer Island in Southeast Alaska. But when he figured out it was a bear, the young man - keeping his wits about him - tried to quietly slip away.

The bear would have none of it.

"It seems that pretty calmly he wriggled his way backward out of the back of the tent as the bear was going over the top of the tent," Alaska State Trooper Adam Benson said Monday. "They kind of met up at the back of the tent. The bear came down, mouth open, toward him."

Benson said the boy put up his right arm to fend off the sow, and she bit his forearm, leaving two puncture wounds.

The boy decided to fight back, a risky approach to take particularly with a brown bear, the trooper said.

"He told me he punched the bear half a dozen times with his left hand," and the bear let him go, Benson said.

When the teenager got up and tried to run, the bear bit him again on the right side of his torso, right below his ribs, this time leaving a half-dozen puncture wounds on his back, Benson said.

The boy punched the bear again a couple of times, and again she let him go.

"He jumped behind a little cluster of trees and kind of played keep away with the bear," Benson said.

During one of the turns around the trees, the young man remembered that he had an air horn in his gear and grabbed it on the run. He blew the horn in the bear's face. The sound woke up the other counselors and boys in the camp, said Steve Prysunka, director of the six-week "Crossing Wilderness Expeditions for Youth" program.

Prysunka asked that the boy not be identified in news reports.

Prysunka said counselor Willy Hollett stepped between the boy and the bear and hit her with some pepper spray. The bear reared up and he sprayed the bear again, and the bear reared up again. In the meantime, another counselor fired a flare at the bear's feet, causing her to finally turn and run.

The boy was taken to the program's floating camp - a barge with a lodge anchored about one-eighth of a mile away. An emergency medical crew arrived by float plane about 30 minutes later to take him to Ketchikan General Hospital where he was treated and released a few hours later, Prysunka said.

Benson said he was at the hospital when the teen was brought in on a stretcher. He was sitting up and looked relaxed.

"He told me it didn't hurt. I would attribute that to a pretty good shot of adrenaline," Benson said.

Late Saturday afternoon, another trooper and a couple of U.S. Forest Service employees returned to the campsite area, found the sow and killed her. There were no signs she had any cubs with her.

Benson said the counselors the evening before had checked on the campers to make sure there was no food left out to attract bears.

The boy had some Rice-A-Roni he wanted to keep.

"He said, 'No, don't take this. I'm going to eat this in a little while.' Apparently he fell asleep before he got it done. There was some food left at the foot of his tent," Benson said.

The boy was being sent home to give his wounds time to heal, Prysunka said.

"I think he is the biggest, baddest thing in the woods. He punched the bear," Prysunka said.

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