Bear spray

Law enforcement officials investigate the bear attack on Pillar Mountain on Sunday.

A Kodiak man who was attacked by a bear on Sunday has been identified as Sutliff Ace Hardware owner Don Zimmerman, who was known to frequently run on Pillar Mountain’s network of trails.

David Zimmerman, the victim's son, said his father is recovering at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center from serious but non-life-threatening injuries. 

“He sustained some bites on his legs and on his forearm. He’s got a fracture on his arm,” David said. 

His father was attacked on a trail on the south side of Pillar Mountain Road, across from the gravel pit area, on Sunday morning. Although injured, he called 911 around 11:35 a.m. and guided law enforcement officers to his location. 

With the help of two community members and their drones, authorities launched a search for the bear, which was ultimately unsuccessful. 

“Basically, the terrain and the foliage that was in the area made it virtually impossible to find the bear,” said hobbyist photographer Carl Royall, who was contacted by law enforcement officers for the use of his drone.  

For 45 minutes, Royall flew his drone as high as 300 feet in an effort to find the bear, but with no success. He was aided by Father Frank Reitter, who also brought his own drone to help in the search. 

David said the attack happened so fast, his father did not have time to be scared, but added that he thought bear spray and his cell phone saved his life. 

“He doesn't know why and didn't see it coming,” David said. “It was a quick encounter, probably like 20 seconds. The bear attacked him, left and then came back, and that's when he used the bear spray at that point.” 

David said his father, who is in his early 70s, has been running on Pillar Mountain for 40 years and had never encountered a bear in that area until the day of the attack. 

Nate Svoboda, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said Kodiak brown bears will often return to attack if they are trying to neutralize what they perceive to be a threat, particularly if the victim continues to move on the ground or make noise. 

“If you are attacked by a brown bear, that’s one of the reasons we tell people to play dead,” he said. “Until they (brown bears) believe that threat is neutralized, they will continue to maul.” 

Svoboda said the search for the bear was suspended because of how little information is known about the attack or the animal. 

“We don't necessarily know the reason for the attack. A lot of those details are kind of blurry right now,” he said, adding that they do not know which bear attacked Zimmerman and would not be able to identify it. 

He said brown bear attacks occur primarily in defense of a kill site or cubs, or because the bears are startled. For this reason, he urges people to take proper bear-country precautions like hiking in groups, carrying bear spray and making noise. 

He cautioned hikers against going out alone or wearing headphones.

“As anywhere on Kodiak, whether you're hiking on Pillar Mountain or in the backcountry in Karluk Lake, you should always practice the same safety measures,” he said. 

Sunday’s attack was the first reported bear mauling near Kodiak since Jan. 23, when a 31-year-old hiker sustained multiple lacerations to his leg from a bear attack on Afognak Island, just north of Kodiak Island. 

On that occasion, watchstanders in the Coast Guard District 17 command center in Juneau received a call via satellite phone from a member of the hiking party requesting a medevac. The Coast Guard deployed a helicopter crew to transport the injured man to Kodiak for care.

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