So did you hear the one about the guy who fought off a Grizzly Bear with his spotting scope?!?… Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, I know, but this is a true and amazing story.

In spring 2013 the Leica Birding Facebook page was tagged in the rather random post above. Naturally, when you read a subject line like that you are curious, so I followed the link  to the newspaper story and read with amazement. The man in the story was actually an old friend I’d worked with when I used to do field research in Alaska, Toby Burke. So I contacted him immediately to get more details on the event.

Toby explained that he and has family (wife & 3 kids youngest at 7 months) had gone out to look for shorebirds (waders) and other early spring migrants, when they encountered the bear. He said they first noted the bear „wandering aimlessly“ ~300 meters to their south, „With our binoculars, spotting scopes, and excellent lighting we could easily identify it as a thin brown bear probably not long out of its winter den.“

They lost site of the bear behind the dunes still far to the south, but moments later as they were leaving the area,  Toby’s daughter (11) spotted the bear cresting a dune only 20 meters away and closing fast. Toby as a career biologist in the wilds of Alaska is trained in bear awareness and safety, but sometimes you can do everything right and still have an encounter. Attempts to haze or intimidate the bear by bunching together, waving, clapping, and yelling all failed, and the bear charged.

Toby, instructed his family to get behind him and to not run, no matter how scared they got. He braced himself for the bear’s attack, using the only thing he could to hold off the charge, his Leica APO Televid 77 spotting scope on an aluminum Bogen/Monfrotto tripod. He had hoped this was a bluff charge but no such luck. He continued, „I remember lodging the spotting scope in the bear’s mouth crosswise and feeling the weight of the bear against it. The bear quickly swatted the shaft that supported the scope severing it. The scope fell to the ground…“ As it turns out the bear sheared the tripod head in half at this point, but Toby continued to use the tripod in attempts to thwart the bear’s attack. Said Burke, „The bear eventually broke the shaft again and soon after swatted the tripod completely from my hands.“

„Left without a weapon, I raised my left arm in front of me again to keep the bear off my body. It then bit down and held my forearm. I could feel a crushing sensation as it clamped down on it and I thought it would ultimately break my arm, though I felt no pain. At this time I believe I struck the bear in the face and head with my free right arm. The bear let go of my arm. I do remember being hit in my ribs by its right fore paw but it didn’t seem to rake me with its claws. I also remember hitting its body and also the bear’s head being right in my chest and face during the struggle as I tried to remain on my feet. My wife says the bear and I were actually “wrestling” but for me some details of the actual attack are fuzzy now in retrospect. My family stayed behind me as I tried to stay between them and the bear. I told them again not to run as I sensed the children were looking for an opportunity to flee.“

I’m sure this last paragraph seems improbable for those who have never met Toby so let me offer another key element to understanding this tale. I’m 6′ tall and Toby stands half a head taller or more and his shoulders are likely half again as wide as mine. He has the frame of a modern-day NFL linebacker and is undoubtedly more powerful than most men, and the bear never even knocked him down. Happily for Toby and his family, his physical presence and adrenaline-fueled energy were too much for this poor old, worn and tired bear who broke off the attack. It is a certainty though, had this been a well-nourished bear, I’d not be sharing this tale at all as it would have had a much different ending. After ambling away, the bear feigned one more charge but this time a bluff. Said Burke, „These were tense moments as we had just weathered one attack and we were filled with dread at the thought of enduring another.“

Toby and his family stood their ground until the bear was out of sight and at great distance before heading back for their van some 150 meters away. They dialed 911 and told the dispatcher the bear was heading toward two other couples they’d seen earlier, so Alaska State Troopers were dispatched to the scene in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Apparently, the bear had attacked a vehicle as it sped out earlier, and as the troopers reached the first couple on the beach the bear raced out of the dunes once again. This time charging three well-armed state troopers. As you might imagine, this encounter was a bad decision for the unfortunate, starving bear. Troopers said it was a very thin female bear with worn teeth. A sad ending for the bear, but happily Toby and his family (and the others hiking the area) were unharmed save Toby’s serious bruising.

Following his incredible tail, I told Toby, „Send the scope back and we’ll see if we can get it fixed.“ but to my amazement he replied, „Why?… It still works fine except the focus is a bit stiffer and the sunshade is a somewhat oval-shaped from the bear’s bite… Maybe after migration season is over..“!!!!

So there you have it folks. Our engineers design these to be amazingly durable and our skilled manufacturers assemble them with great care to be lifetime product, but I don’t think anyone expects people will be fighting off a bear with our spotting scopes and have it work as good as ever afterwards…

Leica, more than just fluff:

* style and elegance

* superior light delivery & optical performance

* rugged mechanics strong enough to fend off a bear attack (although we hope you never have to put this to the test)!

One Comment

  1. googletest

    Spot on with this write-up, I really think this amazing site needs much more attention. I'll probably be returning to read more, thanks for the advice!

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