Bear Attack: The Story of Seven Boys and One Grizzly

Seven high school students were near the end of their month-long survival course in the Alaskan wilderness, but the real schooling began when they came face to snout with the wildest thing of all.

By Derek Burnett from Reader's Digest Magazine | June 2012

Bear Attack: The Story of Seven Boys and One GrizzlyIllustration by Yuko Shimizu
He hits the ground and rolls and comes up on his knees screaming, and the bear snarls and grabs his head in its teeth and there is another loud crunch. Gottsegen somehow pulls himself clear and runs a few steps, but the bear flattens him again, biting his hand, gnashing at his neck, chest, arm, and back, and slamming its claws into his rib cage with enough force to puncture his lung.

If Hollywood were to film a bear attack, there would be close-ups of the animal’s fierce eyes, its breath would fog the lens, we would see the awful fangs closing in. The reality is more like what you would see if the camera were slapped violently to the ground from behind and then kicked around in the bushes for 30 seconds—maybe a glimpse of fur, but mostly a blind confusion. You are being overwhelmed by an animal that has been clocked at 30 miles an hour and is capable of taking down smaller moose or caribou. There is remarkably little pain—endorphins kick in, and you hear your own skull crunching and think, Where is the pain? Your whole life may not pass before your eyes, but one part of you is busy trying to convince the other that you’re about to die.

There is a quiet moment. The bear has disappeared, and Berg’s screaming has changed to moaning. Allaire is still hiding on the shore. He peers up the hillside. Garlock and Boas are hunkered down, refusing to look, but Melman is standing and surveying the scene, wide-eyed. Allaire makes eye contact with Garlock. Where’s the bear? Allaire mouths silently. Garlock gives an exaggerated shrug. Allaire slips out of his backpack and runs forward to help Berg. The bear bursts out of nowhere to blindside him, razoring Allaire’s scalp nearly off with the first swipe of its paw. It bites into Allaire’s torso—bottom teeth in the back, top teeth under the armpit—lifts him in its mouth three feet off the ground and shakes him, roaring and growling, then drops him. Now it rises again onto its hind legs, astonishingly tall, as if ready to slam its front paws down and finish Allaire, but it hesitates when it notices Boas, Melman, and Garlock up on the hill. It hops over the bleeding Allaire and flees.

But it blunders into Martin, who is standing near Gottsegen, and seizes his left calf in its teeth. Martin somehow kicks his way clear, and the grizzly darts off over a hillock.

“It’s gone!” Melman shouts.

A cold rain begins to fall.

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