An Alaska man and his family are counting their blessings after walking away with minor injuries from a hands-on scuffle with a bear.
“When the bear was headed towards us, we were like, ‘OK, it’s do or die now,’” Toby Burke, a wildlife biologist for Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, told ABC News.
On Sunday afternoon, Burke, 48, along with his wife, Laura, and three children decided to go bird watching along the Alaskan Kasilof River Beach. The sun was out and the skies were clear, but the chilly 30-degree Alaskan air had the family bundled up in layers.
While the two environmentalists were observing through telescopes, they noticed something a bit larger than the typical bird.
“We saw the bear in the distance and we said, ‘Hey let’s not go down there. Let’s stay up here,’” Burke told ABC News.
Burke wasn’t too worried. After all, he does live in bear country.
The bear disappeared into the undulating dunes and Burke said he assumed it might have fed on a washed-up marine mammal. Burke and his family turned around and continued their hike through the dunes.
Moments later, they found they were very wrong about the bear’s intentions.
“The bear is coming, it’s coming towards us!” yelled 11-year-old Grace Burke to her father.
“We were raising our arms and made loud noises,” Laura Burke said. “That’s supposed to scare the bear away. Instead of running away, it came right towards us.”
That’s when the bear bounded towards them and Toby Burke yelled to his wife, “Get behind me!”
Laura Burke, with her 7-month old baby on her back, grabbed her two other children to get behind her husband.
“When the bear came at my husband, my 8-year-old, Damien, wanted to run,” Laura Burke said. “I remember his dad said, ‘Don’t run. Stick together!’”
Toby Burke grabbed the first thing in sight: his scope attached to a 6-foot-long tripod.
“I put the scope sideways into the bear’s mouth, keeping it away, and it swatted at the scope and severed it,” he said.
The severed metal tripod left a sharp shaft, which Burke used to hit the bear in the face to scare it away. Yet it still didn’t seem to budge and smacked the tripod out of Burke’s hands.
“It was just me between my family and the bear,” he said. “At that point, I made physical contact. All I could do was put my left arm up. Then its mouth clamped down on my forearm. So I remember hitting it in the face with my right arm.”
After several minutes of scuffling, the bear gave up and ran away, and Burke managed to walk away with minor bruises and scratches.
“I definitely felt a crushing sensation when it clamped down on my arm,” he said. “Fortunately, because I had heavy layers of clothing on, I’m basically just really bruised up.”
Once the bear had left, Laura Burke called Alaska State Troopers and Alaska Wildlife Troopers to notify them of the bear and warn others on the beach.
“Upon arrival, an investigation revealed a female brown bear was acting erratically by attacking a vehicle, a telephone pole and then, eventually, attack a male walking on the beach,” said a news release by the Department of Public Safety.
Two troopers were walking along the tree line when the bear came running out of the woods towards them and it was shot. The deceased bear was released to a local charity.
“I mean, he’s very lucky,” Megan Peters, a public information officer with the Department of Public Safety, told ABC News. “I’m sure it was terrifying compared to other bear maulings. He’s really lucky.”
While Burke and his family are still shocked from the encounter, they believe their calm, collected reaction was what saved them.
“We weren’t terrified only because we always knew it’s a reality when you live up here,” Burke said. “We knew this day may come one day. Mentally, we were prepared for that.”