Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Maybe It's Better to be Lucky than Good.
While most of us would agree that the AK-74 is a less than optimum weapon for bear defense, it worked in this case. I wrote some time ago about the armament among the subsistence hunters in Siberia as well as my experiences in Alaska's bush communities and among the Inupiat of the Canadian Arctic who all seem to favor small caliber, compact rifles- ballistically much like the AK-74 in this instance- and all three groups of people kill large bears (among other things) with regularity. Maybe you could factor in something else there- tremendous skill or particular savvy since these folks live their lives in the wild and are as accustomed to dealing with a polar bear as we are to heavy traffic.
But there are other outliers you find as well. When I first moved to Alaska, three young men were attacked on the Kenai Pennisula while fishing for salmon. The best armed of the group was carrying a twelve gauge shotgun and promptly jumped in the river, lost his weapon and swam for it. His buddy fired his sidearm several times- killing the bear. The weapon of choice? A Glock 9mm. Hardly confidence inspiring when you consider the 9mms abysmal reputation as a man stopper, much less effective against a coastal bear that weighed 800 pounds.
Another case last summer had a lady hiker in Denali National Park face off with a bear and kill it. She used a weapon seemingly much more powerful than a 9mm, but in the face of a bear hardly any more appropriate- a .45 Automatic. And not alone- Alaskans engage and kill bears with handguns of all types and manage to not get eaten pretty frequently. In reality though, most common pistol cartridges are hardly appropriate for killing bears at all.
On the opposite end of the spectrum you have folks who though apparently well prepared and well experienced- still get mauled. The couple a few years back on the Hula Hula River, well armed, very experienced and doing everything they could right to stay safe on their wilderness trip- were apparently mauled in their tent and killed.
Last year a moose hunter was mauled on the McLaren River- he carried and (reportedly) shot a grizzly several times with the much vaunted and highly effective .30-06. The hunter lived despite serious injuries and the bear was never recovered. Even among highly experienced bear guides, one will draw the short straw and get mauled occasionally and all of them without fail have stories of bears that soak up lead in unbelievable quantity- absorbing multiple well placed hits from .338, .375,.416 and .458 rounds without even slowing down. Some of the stories make the term "epic" an understatement.
So despite our best preparations- maybe it really is better to be lucky than good.
***Author's note- you can read about Sunday's events at Alaska Dispatch- HERE