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Grizzly Bear Shot and Killed By Hikers In Denali National Park and Preserve


A grizzly bear that emerged from a thicket and charged two backpackers in the backcountry of Denali National Park and Preserve was shot and killed by one of the two who was carrying a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol, according to park officials.

The killing Friday is believed to be the first instance of a hiker killing a grizzly in the park's wilderness. The killing occurred in the original Mount McKinley National Park portion of the Denali, which was expanded by two-thirds in 1980.

Until February, when Congress changed the rules, it was illegal to carry a loaded firearm in that portion of Denali. While the rule change now allows hikers to carry firearms in all areas of Denali, it still is illegal to discharge them, park officials said.

Park officials did not speculate whether the killing was justified. This is believed to be the first instance of a visitor to a national park killing an animal with a firearm since the gun regulations were changed.

According to a release from the park, the two backpackers, a man and woman, were hiking in dense brush along the edge of Tattler Creek, which is at the west end of Igloo Canyon roughly 35 miles from the park headquarters.

"The man, who was in the lead, drew a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol when they heard a noise coming from the brush. When the bear emerged from the thicket and ran toward the other hiker, he fired approximately nine rounds in its general direction. The bear stopped, turned, and walked back into the brush, where it quickly disappeared from view," said the release.

The two then headed roughly 1.5 miles back to a road, where they encountered a park employee, who called in the incident and took the two backpackers to the Toklat Road Camp. A ranger there did a short preliminary interview with them at approximately 10:00 p.m. Because of the concern that a wounded bear was in the area, four backcountry units were immediately closed, and bus drivers were instructed to not drop off day hikers in the Igloo Canyon on Saturday.

"Early Saturday morning rangers and wildlife technicians flew to Toklat via helicopter to conduct a secondary interview with the two backpackers. Afterwards they flew over Tattler Creek and all of side tributaries, very low at times, to determine if there was an active, wounded bear," the park release said. "No bears were seen during the overflight, and late in the afternoon three rangers hiked into the site. The bear was found dead in a willow thicket approximately 100 feet from the pistol casings at approximately 6:00 p.m.

"The bear’s body was transported via helicopter to a landing site on the park road and brought back to headquarters on Sunday, where park wildlife biologists are assisting with the investigation of the bear carcass. The backcountry units have been reopened."

The case is still under investigation, and the names of the backpackers are not being released at this time. Park wildlife biologists and rangers are trying to determine if there was a justification for shooting the animal.

The estimated grizzly bear population in the park north of the Alaska Range north is 300-350 animals.


I have spent a lot of time backpacking in Black Bear country - unarmed. Never again. Here's why:

1) 911 doesn't exist in the back country. While most folks are fine people, in the back country, you are on your own. My first worry is people, not bears.

2) With regard to animals, when not hunted, they loose fear of man. Never a good thing for the animals or humans. While attacks are rare, this is not a risk I am prepared to ignore.

Black bears have actually killed more humans than any other bear in North America - they are not to be taken lightly. Still, bear spray is more than enough in most circustances. It's too bad that in Yosemite they won't even let you carry a California legal 2 oz can of pepper spray - let alone bear spray. Sadly, with California gun laws, the average person still can't carry a gun in the national parks here. You can only carry in areas where it is legal to discharge, so in California parks we can't carry. As far as I am concerned, going there is just too risky - but again, I am more worried about human preditors than animals.

BTW, I would be willing to bet that's why the folks involved in the incident in Alaska that kicked off this thread were carrying for the same reason. A .45 auto is just too weak for big bears, or even the smaller ones. Very, very few handguns are big enough to take down a Brown Bear - even the fabled .44 magnum is far from a sure thing, even with solid hits. To kill this bear these folks needed to be very close and hit it in just the right spot to get into the vitals. Even then, they were lucky the bear didn't kill them before it died (remember it was found some distance away). There is a huge difference between a fatal wound and a wound that can be counted on to stop a threat - human or animal. More people are killed each year with .22s than any other caliber, but that doesn't mean that the cops or the military should start using them. Anyone who knows the first thing about handguns would not carry anything smaller than a .41 Magnum. Personally, in Alaska bear country, I would carry a lightwieght large caliber rifle or a 12ga shotgun loaded with the best slugs I could buy. Bottom line: No way did these people set out to kill a bear - not with that gun.

Sad sad Phil Briggs! You hope the hikers are charged with a crime, but you do not know the circumstances behind their actions. Itis obvious that you have little respect for public safety. I thank you for retiring from being a back country ranger.

True, the bear might have just been wanting to get to know the hikers just a little better. Maybe have some tea and discuss the weather. They should have waited until it was securely gnawing on one of their skulls to determine if it was just feeling them out or bluffing.

No, any number of scenarios (cubs, sick, hungry, etc.) would have made the bear attack, very few would make that close of an encounter end peacefully. The approach you recommend is simply anti-gun naivete, it has nothing to do with some kind of superior "brains", and it's frankly offensive to hear gun carriers characterized with blanket liberal faux superiority.

If you knew some gun owners you'd find that, more often than not, we are fair about assessing a situation and making a good decision based on the information. It is with a weapon that somewhat levels the playing field against a half-ton killing machine that humans can feel secure enough to consider the options to shoot, to warn, or to walk away. Without a weapon, you have no options. You're just relying on sheer luck of the bear's good intentions and subsequent actions.

The unbelievable naive and dangerous views of the anti-gun lot make me worry for society.

Someone was claiming in the comments that there hasn't been a human fatality caused by griz in Denali. That is wrong:

Although that guy was being incredibly irreverant to nature.

Listen. It is sad that the bear died. I agree and hope his spirit will not be offended. But my ancestors believed killing a bear to be a high honor, and I'll tell you that my ancesstors killed griz with guns, and had they been in this situation, they would have reacted the same way as these hikers.

Nope, he didn't carry a gun. I guess he also did not carry bear spray, which would have helped save his life.

Is it 'fair' that he should die for getting too close to a grizzly? Hell, my dad got his hand too close to a lawn mower years ago and lost part of a finger. It wasn't 'fair', it simply was a fact of nature. By all reports this unfortunate fellow was taking pictures well within the dangerous distance. I say, if you find yourself in such a situation, REMOVE yourself from that situation, don't continue to take more pictures.

Bear spray. Bear spray. Bear spray. Everyone goes home to live another day.

Excellent response. So many people back up for the day and "take a hike in nature" not having a clue as to what they are doing. Even some serious hikers and backpackers have not taken the time to educate themselves on wildlife, wildlife behaviours and how to avoid confrontations if at all possible. For someone to say "it's about time someone valued people over animals" is short-sided and selfish.

Curious, what is the result of this issue now over 2 years later?

It is interesting to read the older coomments in this thread in light of the just announced killing and eating of a hiker in Denali. All the platitudes and "advice" and "training" given by the rangers and other so-called experts didn't save the victim in this case. Did he get too close to the bear? Apparently. But does that mean that he should die in a horrible way, not being able to defend himself against attack? Grizzlies can and will attack (and eat) humans, sometimes without warning from close cover. As long as humans are allowed to hike in areas where they may encounter bears, either black or grizzlies, it is prudent to carry a firearm to protect human life if all else fails. Should a last resort but there should be a last resort allowed.

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