Photo/IllutrationA fallen tree may have made it impossible for a bear to retreat from Koichi Sakamoto, a hunter, in the forest in Shari, a town in eastern Hokkaido, on April 16. (Provided by the Shari town hall)

  • Photo/Illustraion

SHARI, Hokkaido--In a real-life scene out of "The Revenant," an elderly hunter here found himself in a face-to-face struggle with an angry brown bear.

The bear slit Koichi Sakamoto's face with its sharp fangs and large claws, but the hunter fought back by biting the animal's nose and throttling its neck with his hands.

He finally got the better of the young bear, which backed off, allowing him to reload his gun and finish the wounded animal off.

The hand-to-hand battle between the bear and Sakamoto took place in the forest of this town near the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido.

Sakamoto, 74, was conducting a preliminary inspection of the venue on April 16 where a program to train hunters to catch bears will be given. The program was aimed at dealing with animals who stray into a residential area of the town.

Sakamoto, who is known as "legendary hunter" among locals, was an instructor of the program. He was alone that day when the scuffle with the bear ensued shortly before 1 p.m.

According to Sakamoto and town officials, he began to track on skis when he discovered the footprints of a bear in snow-covered ground.

Soon after he entered the forest, he spotted a young brown bear about 20 meters away.

He did not initially plan to kill it, but he shot it as he felt in danger when the bear raced toward him.

With the shot, the animal collapsed, but he knew it was not dead yet.

Sakamoto, who has killed more than 160 brown bears in the Shiretoko area in his hunting career over nearly half a century, decided that the injured animal posed no threat to him.

So, he did not load a second cartridge in his weapon.

But the bear reached a point only about 10 meters from him after falling and rising repeatedly when he realized its close proximity.

As soon as Sakamoto knelt down to take off his skis to prepare for its approach, the bear attacked him.

He reached for his gun to reload it, but the animal struck the weapon down.

When he fell over backward, the bear pounced on him, exposing its fangs.

Sakamoto managed to rise and fight back by fastening his hands around its neck.

But it was not enough to stop the outraged bear, which snapped at Sakamoto’s jaw.

It was then when he felt the tip of its nose in his mouth. Sakamoto gathered all his strength to bite down hard on it.

The bear flinched and pulled away from him. It stepped back a little when he kicked it.

Sakamoto quickly picked up his gun and reloaded it before shooting the animal again and ending the encounter.

After the incident, he required treatment for injuries to his face, arm and other parts of his body and was hospitalized.

The bear was still young, presumably a 2-year-old male that weighed about 25 kilograms.

But a town official conceded that it could have resulted in more serious consequences if something had gone wrong.

“If somebody other than Sakamoto had been attacked, the result could have been irreparable,” the official said.

Sakamoto, who has rescued a fellow hunter under attack by a bear, said he was careless by not loading a second cartridge in his gun.

“The bear’s teeth marks were left on my snowsuit, but I was never scared of the animal,” he said.