Quick action from a Hoonah boy saved a fishing party from a charging brown bear on June 18, the Empire has learned through Alaska State Troopers and family members.
It was the first Defense of Life or Property (DLP) killing in the Hoonah area this year, according to trooper spokesperson Megan Peters.
When the attack occurred, Elliot Clark, then 11 years old, was walking through the woods near Game Creek in Port Frederick several miles south of Hoonah. The young outdoorsman was heading to a nearby fishing hole with his uncle, Craig Stoltzfus, Stoltzfus’ father, a cousin and three dogs.
Stoltzfus and Elliot Clark were armed when a brown bear came out of the woods, charging the group head on. The other members of the party were not armed.
Lucas Clark, Elliot’s father and himself a bear hunting guide, told the story in a Tuesday phone interview with the Empire. Elliot Clark declined to be interviewed at this time.
Lucas Clark was in Washington state at the time of the attack, but his account squares with that from Alaska State Troopers, who investigate DLP killings in Alaska. Stoltzfus couldn’t be reached for this story.
“There was four of them in a line … my son was third,” Clark said. “The bear came down the trail at them, fella in the front, who was his uncle, the bear was on him so quickly that he didn’t have time to take his rifle off his shoulder.”
The bear ran through the first two men, who were pushed to the side of the trail, leaving Elliot Clark in front of his unarmed cousin. The boy raised his pump action shotgun and shot the sow, hitting it with birdshot, which is often used just to scare bears off, Lucas Clark said.
“His first shot was a light load of birdshot. That first shot hit him in the shoulder and did absolutely nothing. The next shot hit him in the nose and traveled down through the neck,” Lucas Clark said.
The third shot went into the bear’s shoulder and his back, dropping it to the ground. The bear was so close when Elliot hit it with his third shot, there were powder burns on the bear’s mouth. Still alive, the bear then slid by Elliot’s feet.
“As the bear slid past him and came to a stop, he put a kill shot it him,” Lucas Clark said.
Stoltzfus finished it off with another round.
The moment could have turned out differently. Lucas Clark hadn’t gotten around to putting a sling on his son’s shotgun, leaving the 11-year-old to carry it in his hands. He credits this and a lot of shooting practice with preparing Elliot for the moment.
“He was carrying it in his hands rather than on his shoulder. That was the problem with the other ones, when the bear came at his uncle, he had his rifle on his shoulder and the bear was very close, so he couldn’t get it off in time,” Lucas Clark said.
Just the day before, Elliot still had a plug in his shotgun, meaning his gun only carried three rounds: the “topround” of birdshot and two slugs. He had taken the plug out the day before, Lucas Clark said, after calling his father to ask permission to do so.
The family had seen bear in the area for a few days, and had been carrying guns for protection.
Between Alaska Wildlife Troopers and Hoonah Police Department, three brown bears were killed in DLP in the Hoonah area last summer and fall. In one of those killings, Hoonah man Josh Dybdahl was bitten in the leg and almost killed before his hunting partner was able to shoot the bear.
Lucas Clark said the family practices caution and safety when it comes to living in bear country. But nobody can control mother nature, and no amount of preparedness can guarantee safety.
“It’s not just a matter of skill or preparedness. It can happen to anybody and it can go wrongly, especially a kid,” Lucas Clark said. “We pray for our kids every day and in my mind that’s the biggest factor right there.”
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org