THIS HAPPENED TO ME
"Had it been a wider door, both of us would have been dead. The bear had to work his way through the door, that's what slowed him down."
Just like "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" in the children's fairy tale, a grizzly bear in the Fortymile Mining District northeast of Tok, Alaska tried out a number of beds in mining camp trailers before settling into one that was juust right. He even took a can of un-popped popcorn into bed with him.
But when we found him we weren't as forgiving as the children in the fairy tale. The grizzle is now dead.
On Sept 19, I fired two 12-guage slugs straight into the bear's head. Minutes later, the bear lay dead 6 feet from us on the trailer floor.
Before he was shot, the bear rampaged for five days through more than a dozen trailers in five mining camps in Canyon Creek. The bear sometimes entered through doors or windows. But in a few cases, he busted straight through walls. Everywhere he went, he raided cabinets and cupboards, looking for food, leaving piles of bear hair and scat, and messing up beds, looking for a den for the winter.
"Who's been sleeping in my bed?" I asked.
Actually, the bed the bear was sleeping in belonged to Forest, also of Anchorage. Forest and I, who both mine gold in the 40 Mile area, arrived in camp that night I shot the bear. We were there to close Forest's camp for the winter and relax for a few days. Instead, we found four ransacked trailers. The bear had been in Forest's camp a few days earlier and ripped the door off the trailer. Other miners in the area had patched it with some plywood, but the bear had returned and ripped it off again.
When we stepped into the trailer, Forest first had to fix a light fuse. Once the kitchen was lit, we found a mess: flour, syrup, oatmeal, honey, and other foodstuffs all over the floor, refrigerator, overturned with ever drawer pulled out an doors torn off. What a mess — hardly any place to stand!
Forest bent down to pick up a kitchen drawer. That's when I first saw the bear's head coming out of the dark bedroom at the end of the 8' x 25' trailer. My first thought was that it was a black bear. By the time I collected my thoughts I realized it was a large grizzly. He was coming through the door, squeezing one shoulder at a time through the 2-foot wide door frame. His head was looking straight at me and he was ready to charge. I did not want to say anything to scare Forest into standing up and blocking my shot. I took aim with my shotgun over my friend's back and squeezed the trigger, hitting the bear in the head.
Forest had no ideas what was going on. Forest said, "The first thing I heard was the first shot." Forest sprung up after the first shot, I stepped to the side and shot the bear a second time in the head. Forest was standing there looking straight at me in awe. I asked him, "Do you know how bad this could have been?"
We were probably saved by the width of the trailer door. Had it been a wider door, both of us would have been dead. He had to work his way through the door, that is what slowed him down.
My concern was that another bear could be in the bedroom as other miners had said two different-sized prints and different-colored hairs had been found at some of the trailers. But no other bear appeared, and we calmed down. We rolled the dead grizzly out of the trailer that night.
From my past experience as a formed outfitter-guide in Wyoming, the grizzly squared at 7 ft., which means the hide measured about 6 ft. long from head to tail and 8 ft. from claw to claw, with an estimated weight of 700 pounds.
Forest says he was lucky to have his friend with him when the grizzly came out of the bedroom. "If I wanted anyone in the world to be behind me, it'd be John. Of course, now I owe him and he's nt letting me forget."