Eliot Clark and his family had seen the brown bear a few days earlier, so they decided to carry firearms for protection when they went fishing several miles south of Hoonah, Alaska.
That decision—combined with Clark’s bravery and quick shooting—likely saved their lives.
The Juneau Empire reported last week that Clark had joined his uncle, his uncle’s father, and a cousin on a June 18 fishing trip when the incident occurred.
The party was walking single-file through the woods, led by Clark’s uncle who had a rifle slung over his shoulder. Clark, who was third in line, was also armed with a pump-action shotgun, though he had yet to install a sling and was carrying it in his hands.
When the bear charged, Clark’s uncle was unable to shoulder his rifle in time to fire a shot. The bear knocked the two adults to the ground and continued charging at 11-year-old Clark and his unarmed cousin.
“There was four of them in a line … my son was third,” Lucas Clark, Eliot Clark’s father, told the Empire. “The bear came down the trail at them, fella in the front, who was his uncle, the bear was on him so quickly that he didn’t have time to take his rifle off his shoulder.”
Clark’s father was not present at the incident, but his story coincides with the report from the Alaska State Troopers, according to the Empire.
Eliot Clark shouldered his shotgun and fired a round of birdshot into the bear’s shoulder.
“That first shot hit him in the shoulder and did absolutely nothing,” Lucas Clark said.
But the gun was loaded with slugs after the first round of birdshot, and the next two shots had a greater effect.
“The next shot hit him in the nose and traveled down through the neck,” Lucas Clark said.
The third shot went into the bear’s shoulder and down its back, dropping it to the ground at Eliot Clark’s feet. The fourth shot finally killed it.
Eliot Clark’s father attributed his son’s heroic actions to lots of shooting practice and the lack of a sling.
“He was carrying [the shotgun] in his hands rather than on his shoulder. That was the problem with the other ones, when the bear came at his uncle, he had his rifle on his shoulder and the bear was very close, so he couldn’t get it off in time,” Lucas Clark said.
But the boy’s father also told the Empire that no amount of gun handling and preparedness can guarantee a good outcome.
“It’s not just a matter of skill or preparedness. It can happen to anybody and it can go wrongly, especially a kid,” Lucas Clark said. “We pray for our kids every day and in my mind that’s the biggest factor right there.”