Kodiak man recovering after bear attack on Pillar Mountain

A Kodiak brown bear. In the attack, Don Zimmerman suffered a broken forearm and bites to his thigh and calf. (Steve Hillebrand/USFWS)

Don Zimmerman is a legend in Kodiak. At 71, with a Willie Nelson-like mane of hair, he races up and down Pillar Mountain with the energy of someone decades younger. And now the legend continues. He survived a bear attack Sunday near a gravel pit on Pillar Mountain, on the outskirts of Kodiak.

Zimmerman, the owner of Sutliff’s Ace Hardware in downtown Kodiak, managed to use his cell phone to call for help. Kodiak police say his call came in at 11:35 a.m., and officers were on scene in about 15 minutes. More help continued to arrive — a state trooper, wildlife officials and medics. They had their work cut out for them.

The rescue team hiked about a half mile from the road, working their way down a steep incline to reach Zimmerman and carry him out on a gurney, which was eventually hoisted with a rope to the ambulance.

At first, police thought his injuries could be life-threatening.

Zimmerman’s son, Dave, said it might have looked that way because his father was covered in blood. But, he said, while his father remains hospitalized, his condition is improving. He expects him to make a full recovery.

Zimmerman suffered a bite to his thigh, a puncture wound in his calf and a fractured forearm.

Zimmerman said his father told him he didn’t have time to be afraid. The bear came out of nowhere, attacked in a matter of seconds, retreated and then returned. He said his father was able to keep the animal away with bear spray.

“He’s been running that same trail for 40 years,” Zimmerman said about his father. “And he’s never seen a bear. He’s probably run that trail 5,000 times.”

Wildlife officials searched for the bear without success. Volunteers flew the area with drones. Shots were fired to flush it out.

Investigators called the attack a mystery. They don’t know whether the bear lashed out because it was surprised or whether it was protecting a deer carcass or some other food. But the search did not turn up any evidence of that.

In the meantime, warning signs have been placed in the area, and Kodiak Police Lt. Francis de la Fuente urged people to take precautions in the backcountry.

KMXT - Kodiak

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