An Avalanche of Misfortune

A Russian hunter on a Buran snowmobile. Photograph © Wildlife Conservation Society Russia Program

Somewhere around Day Fifteen of the winter 2014 field season a hunter named Strogov happened past our camp in his pickup truck. Strogov, a prematurely-grey, stocky forty-year-old with eyes of cold-blue steel, occasionally provided us with meat and gave us news of the outside world. He was surprised to see us still working in the area. I asked why.

“Because of the bear that killed that guy about ten kilometers from here,” he replied.

Strogov told us that poachers had prodded a bear from its hibernation den a few days prior with the intention of killing it; men who lost their nerve and fled when the hulking creature emerged. The bear, awake now and surly from hunger and the December snows, sniffed its way to a deer carcass and began feeding.

As it turned out, the deer had been shot the previous evening by an elderly, well–respected hunter; a man who returned the next morning to dress the carcass and pack the meat out. The roused bear, now regarding this kill as its own, defended the prize with a roar and a charge. The hunter squeezed off a shot or two before being mauled to death.

Based on limping drags and bloody tracks in the snow, the hunter had shot the bear at least once; but a heavy snowfall a day later obscured the animal’s further movements. The bear could be anywhere: trackers had no idea where it was.

Ten kilometers is a trifle for a bear to cover, and I was chilled by the thought we’d spent the past few days hiking up and down mountain slopes oblivious to the wounded, hungry, and man-killing bear somewhere nearby.

In the end there were two unnecessary deaths: that of the hunter and that of the bear, which was eventually tracked by vengeful villagers and their dogs and killed. This was a wholly avoidable circle of violence; an avalanche of misfortune that compounded one calamity into another.

All because someone decided to hunt a bear out of season.

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