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Grizzly! A Life or Death Encounter In the Yukon

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One of the rules in the Yukon Territory is that hunting guides must always be within hearing distance of their hunters. This is a good rule, as we soon shall see. 

It was the first day of an early September expedition when hunting guide David O’Farrell brought an archery hunter into the Yukon Territory. They flew into a small remote lake along the Yukon NWT border. They made their way to a high ridge about a mile above camp. David stood on the ridge scanning while Richard, the client, asked if he could walk up the little ridge to get a look on the other side.

“I told him it was okay if he didn’t get out of sight of me,” David writes in an essay for Aimpoint. Here’s what happened next, in his words. 

Bear On the Mountain

Richard was gone for about ten minutes when I heard him call my name. There was something in his voice that sent shivers down my spine. I knew he was in trouble. I jumped up from where I was sitting behind the spotting scope, and looked up the ridge. Although I could see 60 yards up the hill, Richard was nowhere in sight.

Then I heard him call again. This time, he yelled three words: “Bring a gun!” 

I grabbed my rifle and started up the hill as fast as possible. At first, I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t see him; we were well above the timberline, so there were no trees or brush to obscure anything. As I got higher on the ridge, I saw that it dropped gradually into the valley below.

The first thing I spotted as the rest of the esker came into view was Richard standing about 70 yards before me. It looked like he was looking down into the valley below, and I couldn’t see anything dangerous near him.  

I stopped for a second, trying to figure out the problem, when, seemingly out of the ground at Richard’s feet, a big grizzly bear reared up on his hind feet.

It was hard to comprehend what I saw. So many questions flooded through my mind in that tiny window of time. How had a bear that big gotten so close? Was it a sow or a boar? If it was a sow, did it have cubs nearby? Yearlings or two-year-old bears can be as dangerous as adults, so were there more bears around? If so, that was information I needed.

The worst part of the situation was that Richard was between me and the bear. That complication made the situation much more dangerous. I had, at best, maybe six inches to Richard’s right to slide a bullet into the bear. If Richard moved just as I pulled the trigger, things would go from bad to worse instantly. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t already moving. The bear was towering over him at a distance of three feet.

Another thought that raced through my mind was what might happen if I did shoot the bear. Anyone who has ever hunted grizzly bears knows what usually happens at even a good hit. Instantly enraged, they seek anything to take their anger out on. Richard would be the obvious choice in this situation. 

Although it might seem like this thought process went on for minutes, the reality is that it all raced through my mind at warp speed and didn’t last more than a second. With 35-plus years of experience with grizzly bears, I knew in the next instant that the bear would come down on Richard. He had nowhere to go. His only chance to avoid serious injury was for me to stop the bear.  

With that thought in mind, I centered the red dot of my Aimpoint Micro H-1 dead center on his chest and squeezed the trigger. The big bear dropped like a rug was pulled out from under him. Incredulously, Richard never moved. He just stood there looking at the bear. I chambered another round just in case, and walked up and asked him if he was okay.

Never taking his eyes off the bear, he quietly said, “You just saved my life.”

After we both got our nerves under control, Richard told me the story, and it became clear that he had narrowly escaped a mauling or worse. 

Photo courtesy of Aimpoint.

Upon leaving our position where I was watching the sheep, Richard walked up the ridge to a spot where he could see down into the valley behind us. Although he could see down into the valley below, the little esker dropped away sharply at that point. The abrupt drop in elevation made it impossible to see further down the ridge. 

Intent on glassing the valley below, he stood there looking through his binoculars when movement in his peripheral vision caught his attention. He lowered his binoculars and saw the big bear come into view right where the little esker dropped away. The bear was traveling along the ridge and just walked right into him. 

By the time the bear popped into view, it was only 30 yards away. That’s when Richard yelled my name. He said he hoped his voice would scare the bear away, but it didn’t. The big grizzly started popping his teeth and moved closer in that aggressive, stiff-legged walk they are famous for. With absolutely nothing to defend himself with, Richard said he considered running but instinctively, he knew that was a bad idea. 

By the second time he yelled, the bear was almost to him. He was so focused on the bear he didn’t see me coming. By the time I arrived, the bear had closed the distance to just three feet. 

I’ve been guiding big game hunters in northern Canada for almost 40 years now, so I have a lot of experience with grizzly bears. I’ve had to shoot three other bears in self-defense over the years, but I’ve never been in a situation where a bear was so close to someone. The bear was predatory, and the fact that Richard was standing between us complicated the situation for me. 

I practice shooting frequently and know my rifle well, but without my Aimpoint, I wouldn’t have attempted that shot. Dark crosshairs on a dark hide would have made a quick, accurate offhand shot quite tricky in that situation. The red dot is so intuitive that I didn’t even have to think. 

Aimpoint is a Soldier of Fortune trusted partner.

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