The 11-Year-Old Grizzly Slayer: Elliot Clark and his Remington 870

Superman is my personal favorite superhero. However, 11-year-old Alaskan Elliot Clark could beat down the Man of Steel without breaking a sweat.

In a world awash to its gunwales in make-believe spandex-clad superheroes, sometimes it is cool to hear about the real thing. Alaskan brown bears are some of the most formidable predators on the planet, the apex hunters in their natural world. When an Alaskan youth named Elliot Clark faced one of these enormous beasts intent on eating him and his family, this young stud stood his ground, lifted his Remington 870 20-gauge, and put the monster down.

How Scary are Bears Really?

Richard White met his end while trekking alone through bear country in Alaska.

In August of 2012 Richard White, a 49-year-old pharmacologist from San Diego, California, was hiking alone through the vast expanse of Denali National Park. Denali is one of the most pristine tracts of unspoiled wilderness on the planet. It is also home to some legendarily huge Alaskan brown bears.

Bear spray is a particularly intense version of pepper spray formulated to dissuade an angry bear. I’d personally sooner pack a decent gun.

Richard was an experienced hiker who had hiked Denali solo before. However, he carried neither firearm nor bear spray. On his application for a backcountry permit, he listed his primary bear deterrent as a whistle.

A mature grizzly bear in a foul mood is a sight to behold.

Fellow hikers happened upon a bloody backpack near the Toklat River and notified park rangers. The rangers found a large boar grizzly standing guard over White’s remains. The big bear had partially eaten and buried the man. As they lost the light the rangers fired on the bear twice but missed.

Alaskan brown bears get really big.

The following day rangers found the bear still guarding White’s body and dispatched the animal from a helicopter. A necropsy of the 600-pound mature male proved that they had gotten the right bear. They found White’s undamaged digital camera nearby.

A grizzly can hit 35 mph in a sprint. By contrast, Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest living human, can only make 27.

White had photographed the bear that killed him twenty-six times in less than eight minutes. He began shooting pictures at a range of approximately forty yards, but the bear was on him quickly. Richard White left behind a wife and young daughter. Brown bears are remarkably efficient killers.

A Most Extraordinary Young Man…

Rural Alaska is a place of spectacular beauty and wondrous natural grandeur. The fishing and hunting are unsurpassed.

Five years later, 11-year-old Elliot Clark was walking along a trail headed to a familiar fishing spot on Game Creek just south of Hoonah, Alaska, on Chichagof Island. Elliot’s uncle and grandfather were in the lead. His cousin pulled up the rear. Three family dogs screened the flanks.

Elliott kept his 20-gauge Remington 870 close at hand.

Young Elliot was already an experienced Alaskan and fully acclimated to firearms. His uncle slung a serious rifle on his back. Elliot carried his slide-action Remington 20-gauge at port arms. Elliot’s dad was away at the time but had planned on installing a sling on the shotgun when he returned. This becomes pertinent in a moment.

A 20-gauge shotgun has a bore diameter of .615 inches, substantially wider than the bullet in a 50BMG round. A typical 20-gauge slug throws a ¾-ounce lead projectile at a modest velocity.

Elliot carried his shotgun with a round of birdshot in the chamber followed by slugs. The young man had asked his dad the week before for permission to remove the plug from his gun that limited the weapon to two rounds in the magazine. Elliot’s father agreed that he was ready for the upgrade, so his gun packed a full four slug rounds in the tube.

A charging brown bear is a chemical formula for horrifying.

An enormous brown bear appeared without warning and charged the small party. The gigantic animal tossed the two adults clear with ease before focusing on Elliot and his young cousin. Any normal kid might have run or simply frozen in place. Elliot, by contrast, stood his ground between the charging grizzly and his unarmed relative, raised his shotgun, drew a bead, and fired.

Here we see Elliott with the bear he killed. Note the perfectly placed entrance wound on the animal’s snout.

That first charge of 20-gauge birdshot had no discernible effect on the enraged bruin, but young Elliot cycled the gun in an instant. His first slug struck the bear squarely in the nose and tracked down into its neck. Cycling the action again Elliot put his second slug into the animal’s shoulder at bad breath range. The muzzle blast from this third round was close enough to leave powder burns in the giant bear’s mouth. This third shot knocked the animal down, its momentum causing the creature to slide past the two kids. Elliot stepped over to the panting beast and killed it outright with a third slug delivered at contact range.

Elliott Clark, shown on the right, saved his family with a youth model Remington 20-gauge and an unnatural excess of manliness.

I lived for three years in the Alaskan interior. It is a beautiful though unforgiving place of frightening weather and simply breathtaking predators. Firearms are background clutter. Most everybody outside the immediate environs of Fairbanks was typically armed. At an age when most young men are trying to survive sixth-grade social studies, Elliot Clark used his pump-action 20-gauge to singlehandedly save his family from the jaws of Alaska’s apex predator. What a freaking stud.

The Assailant

Grizzlies vary widely in size based primarily upon their habitat and food sources.

The Alaskan brown bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) comes in a variety of flavors. The largest of the lot live in the coastal areas and can attain veritable prehistoric proportions. While I am sure to offend the purist, we shall heretofore refer to all brown bears as grizzlies. A fully-grown peninsular grizzly feeding on clams, salmon, and sedge grass can top out between 800 and 1,200 pounds. This makes the Alaskan brown bear one of the largest land predators on the planet.

It is tough to visualize just how big these animals can become. I have personally seen them in Alaska that taxidermied out to more than nine feet.

Coastal grizzlies can become truly epic specimens. The world record example was killed in 1948 near Cold Bay. This monster was freshly out of hibernation and was therefore devoid of any extraneous fat. It nonetheless weighed in excess of 1,700 pounds and stood nearly ten feet tall. Biologists estimated that this particular bruin would have weighed 1,850 pounds by the end of the following summer.

While grizzlies will eat almost anything they can catch, they are remarkably efficient against man-sized prey. As this unfortunate drunken soul found out the hard way, jumping into the bear paddock at the local zoo on a dare is reliably stupid.

Grizzlies are omnivores, meaning they will eat almost anything. These tremendous animals do actually consume a fair amount of grass. Additionally, it seems the entire state of Alaska is covered with a thin patina of berries. Bears devour these delectable morsels by the basketful. What really makes the animals enormous, however, is fish.

Grizzly bears really like fish. They are remarkably efficient at catching spawning salmon.

Fish-fed grizzlies have raised angling to an art form. They catch spawning salmon in mid-air or pin the slippery fish with their claws. When I worked and wandered deep in the Alaskan bush it was always unsettling to encounter the copious remains of bear-slaughtered salmon littering remote riverbanks.

The Gun

The Remington 870 is truly America’s shotgun. In service for nearly seventy years, there are millions in circulation.

The Remington 870 slide-action shotgun is the most popular shotgun ever made. Since its introduction in 1950 more than 11 million copies have been produced. Offered in 12, 16, 20, 28, and .410 gauges, the 870 has been sold around the world.

The 870’s simple and rugged design has ensured worldwide distribution. This classic slide-action Remington is a popular military and police weapon.

L. Ray Crittendon, Phillip Haskell, Ellis Hailston, and G.E. Pinckney designed the weapon. The gun features right-sided ejection, twin action bars, and a tubular magazine underneath the barrel. Depending upon the configuration this magazine can carry 4, 5, 6, or 7 rounds. Extended magazine tubes can make that number even larger.

The Remington 870 is readily accessorized to meet a variety of missions.

Given the 870’s widespread distribution it is no surprise that the gun has been extensively accessorized. Sundry barrels, stocks, forearms, sights, widgets, and ditzels litter the landscape. Most any version you might want is readily available right here on GunsAmerica.

12-gauge on the right, and 20 on the left. An inexpensive adaptor lets you mix and match stocks between the two platforms.

Early 20-gauge receivers accepted the same stocks as the larger 12-gauge versions. However, since the late 1970’s the 20-gauge guns have used a proprietary stock mounting architecture.

This 20-gauge stock adaptor runs about $30 online.

Adaptors that allow 12-gauge stocks to fit 20-gauge receivers are readily available and cheap.

The Norinco HP9 is a Chinese copy of the Remington 870 shotgun.

The basic 870 design has been widely copied. The Chinese Norinco Company produces an unlicensed version titled the HP9. These foreign knockoff guns are typically quite inexpensive.

Personal Connection

This modified short-barreled 870 12-gauge formed the basis of my first gun article some 25 years ago. I never shot a bear with it, but it has claimed more than its share of Mississippi water moccasins.

I packed a short-barreled 870 12-gauge for bear defense when I lived in Alaska. In fact, this gun formed the basis for my first gun magazine article back a quarter-century ago. This particular weapon began life as a standard 870 Express that was a birthday present from my precious wife.

A legal BATF Form 1 conversion on a Remington 870 makes for a fun and economical DIY gun project. I cut this barrel down with nothing more than a hacksaw and a Dremel tool.

I did a BATF Form 1 on the gun to legally shorten the barrel. Back then a Form 1 turned around in a couple of months as opposed to the better part of a year they require today. Once the paper came back approved I shortened the tube with a hacksaw and dressed the muzzle with a Dremel tool. Installing a new front sight bead was a simple chore with a drill press.

The top-folding Law Enforcement Only Remington stock is lyrically inefficient, but it looks just cool as heck.

I tracked down an original Law Enforcement Only top-folding stock and mounted up a sling. That original stock is insanely uncomfortable, but it looks undeniably cool. Thusly configured I packed the gun with sabot slugs and kept it handy when I fished, flew, and explored out where the Wild Things roamed.

Ruminations

These craptastic unwashed reprobates wouldn’t last a week with Elliot Clark in theater.

Elliot Clark is clearly one serious young American. One can only hope that he aspires to become a Navy SEAL or Army Ranger. Once he hits puberty we could just put him in a loincloth, give him a knife, and let him HALO into central Afghanistan. He would have the Taliban defeated within the week.

A long-time native Alaskan veteran of countless moose and bear hunts advised against the use of Dragon’s Breath 12-gauge rounds for bear defense.

I once asked a lifelong Alaskan buddy his opinion of those 12-gauge Dragon’s Breath flamethrower rounds that launch copious flaming magnesium as a possible bear deterrent. He pondered my question and said, “Nope, son, I wouldn’t do that,” stroking his ample whiskers before proceeding. “The only thing I can think of worse than being charged by an angry grizzly bear would have to be being charged by an angry grizzly bear on fire.”

That seemed like sage advice to me.

Here’s my son’s short-barreled Remington 870 20-gauge. We built it up legally together as a Form 1 project when he was about Elliot Clark’s age.
A properly customized Remington 870 makes a splendid general-purpose survival arm.

Buy and Sell on GunsAmerica! All Local Sales are FREE!

About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains. Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • L ray August 6, 2021, 6:47 pm

    Brave kid. It should have stated somewhere in the article that this happened in 2017.

  • Big Al 45 August 6, 2021, 11:00 am

    If I’m not mistaken, an International Body of Biologists has recently decided that the ‘Horribilis’ part of the Griz’s description is NOT scientific, and therefore should be dropped from the official name.
    They felt it gave the bear a poor reputation, and was discriminatory.
    Perhaps they never really met one?!?!?!

    • kc (sire/your majesty) August 6, 2021, 3:07 pm

      Have they considered that the acronym for their organization is I-BOB?

  • Anthony J Meerpohl August 5, 2021, 11:03 am

    My son’s Mossberg 500 20 gauge is our home defense long gun firearm of choice. The 18″ aftermarket Hastings barrel is short enough for maneuvering, and allows a longer magazine for more ammo and a bright light bracket. We prefer 3 inch Magnums for more shot capacity and the shot size is #3 BB, about 32 to a cartridge. If carried outside 3″ hollow point slugs would be used. Not a lot of recoil, and a sturdy action.

  • James August 5, 2021, 10:07 am

    Always be aware of your surroundings. Constantly scan the brush. Grizzly bears and even large creatures like elephants can “disappear” in tall brush.
    These.”animal rights groups” (cults) try to give the impression that dangerous animals such as grizzly bears, black bears and wolves are either scared of humans or are harmless. They show videos of “staged animals”, where the animals are either tame or drugged, where they pet them and feed them and claim they are “harmless”. Don’t believe them. Grizzlies and lions are at the top of the predator chain- they kill and eat other animals!
    Some city slickers will tell you all you need is a whistle or bear spray, well maybe sometimes that will work, the whistle will tell the bear “dinner is here” and pepper flavored!
    Like the old saying goes “carry enough gun”. And practice too! Because you’ll never know what creature is lurking in the forest waiting for it’s next meal.
    There are black bears, grizzly bear, brown bears, wolves, wild hogs, pythons, mountain lions roaming about.
    These animal worshipping cults want to place grizzly bears in all the western states. They also want wolves in all the 48 states. They want to bring jaguars in and release them in the Rocky Mountains.
    There are two “wild cat” rescue sanctuary, one in Florida and the other in southern Colorado. They have 100’s of tigers and lions roaming around and just a fence to hold them in. Many ranchers and homeowners are worried about them escaping.
    Support and protect your right to hunt, fish and trap. Don’t allow the animal worshipping cults to ban hunting.
    Support and protect your right to keep and own all types of firearms and accessories.
    Don’t let Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, the Chinese government, the U.N. and Russia to restrict and ban firearms in America.

  • Treestand III August 3, 2021, 4:52 pm

    The Remington 870 is a fine shotgun, I prefer the Ithaca 37 Feather-lite 12ga with Brenneka Silver Magnum slugs 3″ for Alaskan bears. see the extractor on the 870s are weak and need a gun smith to replace them, with an Ithaca all is needed is a spear extractor and a screw driver and your back in action. back in the day Vietnam their were more Ithaca 37 Pumps and Mosseburg 500 pumps then Rem/junk 870. No lie GI. Happy Trails Y’all

  • Mike in a Truck August 3, 2021, 11:48 am

    Elliot is the type of lad I want with me in a two man fighting position.

  • Frank August 3, 2021, 9:50 am

    I too, lived in the interior for almost 3 years. I flew wheels first in the YK Delta, then in/around the Iliamna/Bristol Bay region. Saw a heap of grizzlies from the cockpit, and a few on the ground… but never one “face to face”… thankfully!!

    BTW, you never really understand what VFR is until you fly for a Part 135 Air Taxi in Alaska. I miss it every day.

  • Nanook August 3, 2021, 9:44 am

    Hard to beat an 870, although an 1100 comes close. The Coastal ‘Brownies’ get bigger but the Interior Grizzlies have a bad attitude…

  • Woody Dabbs August 2, 2021, 2:24 pm

    My family has visited Alaska several times. One of the highlights is touring the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center at the junction of turnaround arm and Kenai peninsula. They have a bear compound where you can stand with in a few feet costal grizzlies. One is stated to weigh 950 lb. I am 6 ft 2 in tall. When the big one walks by on all four feet his head is as high as my shoulders.

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend