Man versus attacking bear

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 29/96) - May 6 started out like many other days for Fred Diamond'C.

He rose at 4:30 in the morning. His thoughts drifted to the day of work ahead, on the land, a 48-kilometre helicopter ride from Rae Lakes.

 The Fort Liard native had spent the night before carefully plotting the ground the staking crew would cover this day.

Two hours after waking, Diamond'C (right) and the dozen men who were part of the project gassed up the chain saws and shouldered their axes to begin the job of carving the staking lines out of the bush.

The work was hard, but if a man put his back into it he could make $200 a day. And the project would last 20 days.

The snow was still thick on the ground, so the crew was wearing snowshoes. By 12:30, Diamond'C had staked out eight and a half of the 10 claims he was to do that day.

While working on his ninth, he heard a clamor in the bush about 20 metres behind him. Diamond'C documented the moments that followed in his journal:

"Then I saw this black bear come running out of the bush straight toward me. So I yelled at it. The bear stopped. I looked around but couldn't find any big trees. I bent down to take my snowshoes off but when I looked up the bear was coming straight at me again.

"Leaping up and down on two feet of snow, I gave out another loud yell. Instead of stopping, the bear went faster toward me. It was an older bear, with grey whiskers.

"I knew I couldn't outrun it, so I turned around and faced it with my axe raised high over my head.

"I thought this would be my last day on earth. I knew his front paw would land about three feet in front of me. I knew I had to hit it between the eyes and ears. It leaped at me and I swung down. It landed behind the skull on the neck.

"The bear went down on my snowshoes. It got up and backed away from me, but my axe was stuck in its neck. I knew I'd have to keep it to defend myself. I hung on but my snowshoe got stuck in the snow and I let go of it as I fell.

"As the bear turned away, the axe fell out. I got up and went after the axe, about eight feet away from me. I watched the bear wobble away, into the bush."

At 2 p.m. the choppers returned to pick up the men. Diamond'C guided the pilot over the area where the bear attack had occurred. They saw the wounded animal in the bushes, still alive.

The chopper returned to Rae, where the men got a rifle. The bear was badly wounded and needed to be put out of its misery, but there was a more practical reason for killing it.

The crew would be back the next day, and they couldn't afford the risk of working in the vicinity of a wounded bear.

It took three shots to kill the animal.

The following day, Diamond'C was back to work, near the same spot. Did the work shake his confidence?

"No. I finished the rest of my claim. I had one and a half to go when it happened." He added that there wasn't even a sense of terror during the attack. "When it happened, no. It was just my instinct to survive. It took less than six seconds. Maybe he thought I was a caribou, maybe he was still sleepy."