In the Jaws of a Polar Bear

As two Arctic kayakers were sound asleep, the polar bear that had picked up their scent began lumbering toward the camp.

By Robert Kiener from Reader's Digest | March 2011

Fjeld woke up when he heard Nilssen scream and turned to see the bear inside the tent, with Nilssen’s head in its jaws. While shaking him, the bear had stomped on their gear, much of which was now crushed or buried in the soft sand.

Fjeld jumped up and reached for his grandfather’s World War II rifle. It was missing. He frantically clawed at the debris in front of the tent. “Where is it?” he yelled, then felt the stock of the rifle and pulled it out of the sand. “Sebastian!” he yelled. Sebastian didn’t answer.

The bear was now by turns dragging and carrying Nilssen by his wounded shoulder. I must act now to save my friend, thought Fjeld. Time was running out.

The bear dropped Nilssen some 100 feet beyond the camp. Then it roared and raked its razor-sharp claws over Nilssen’s torso. Blood covered the kayaker. The bear put its two front paws on Nilssen’s chest, pinning him to the ground and pushing him deep into the sand. Nilssen felt his ribs cracking. The bear’s hot breath was on his face. He looked directly into its deep black eyes. They were cold and empty.

Then the bear turned and saw Fjeld standing with rifle raised outside the tent. Fjeld held his breath to still his shaking trigger finger and aimed at the bear. “Steady,” he repeated to himself. He was afraid he would hit his friend. Nilssen yelled, “Shoot! Shoot!” But before Fjeld could fire, the bear climbed off Nilssen, sunk its jaws into the back of his skull again, and stood straight up, lifting Nilssen several feet off the ground.

Fjeld ran closer to them. Nilssen shouted again, “Shoot! Shoot or I die!”

The polar bear stood sideways to Fjeld; he aimed at its back and squeezed off a shot. The bullet ripped into the bear, and the animal dropped Nilssen to the sand. One last time the bear managed to sink its teeth into Nilssen’s shoulder. Then Fjeld pumped four more rounds into the beast’s chest. The bear fell over, dead at last.

Fearful that other polar bears might be attracted by the smell of blood, Fjeld slammed another five-shell clip into the gun. Nilssen lay crumpled on the beach. The back of his scalp hung loose and his shoulder was shredded open. His body was covered with bleeding wounds, but he was alive.

Fjeld carried him back to the tent; he covered his bleeding scalp and shoulder with compression bandages and wrapped him in a sleeping bag. “You’ll make it,” he told Nilssen as he gently wiped blood from Nilssen’s face. “We’ll get you out of here.”

Nilssen groaned. His body throbbed with pain, and the smell of his blood filled the tent. He whispered to Fjeld, “My neck. I think the bear might have broken it.”

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