You are here

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.


Shoot the bear! Big difference between a hiker with a 45ACP and a poacher with a long rifle.
Know the difference boys.

If you're scared of hiking in griz country to the point that you feel the need to carry a loaded firearm, then stay the HELL out of griz country.

[Ed: This comment was edited.]

First mistake: the backcountry safety video in Denali is only required viewing for those who are camping overnight in the backcountry.
Day hikers in the backcountry are not required to go through any awareness or safety training.

Perhaps every single visitor going into the park should now be required to go through backcountry awareness training.

Perhaps these hikers had plenty of awareness training, but chose to hide behind the safety of a gun.

A recent trial in Wyoming concerning similar circumstances found the hiker/shooter GUILTY, the conviction from a jury of his peers (fellow hunters and hikers). The trial stemmed from an incident last September, well before the new gun law went into effect. I do not think the shooting took place within the national park boundary:

Sure there is a lot of armchair quarterbacking going on here. Gun owners and wilderness hikers are very passionate people, and their circles of influence are not mutually exclusive. The tree huggers see this as another case of shoot first, ask questions later. The gun owners see this as a case of kill or be killed.

It's interesting to note that the new legal carry law for national parks allows carry of a loaded weapon, but does not allow discharge of a loaded weapon.
The only good thing about this law (a law that had to be hidden inside financial legislation to skate its' way through congress without serious legal examination) is that it is written so vaguely. Perhaps the openness of the legislation will support the safety of the wild creatures that will continue to die at the end of a firearm.

Wilderness and wildlife protection ethics should rule the judgment of this situation for the simple fact that the ones with the gun were invading on another creatures territory. Just because they are human does not give them the right to do whatever they want to in a wilderness area.

IMHO, what I would like to see is temporary closure of all wilderness areas within the national park system (at the very least within Denali) until the organization can come up with a comprehensive plan to better avoid situations just like this.

The only relevant fact is how far the bear was from the backpackers at the time and how fast he was approaching them. Whether or not the bear was making a bluff charge is something the backpackers could not know unless they can read the mind of a bear.

Grizzly attacks in Alaska are very common. When we were there in the summer of '08, there was an attack on a woman picking berries in the Kenai, an attack on a woman who worked at the Kenai Princess Lodge on lodge grounds and an attack on a woman in a mountain bike race near Anchorage. The article doesn't say whether these people were Alaskans but reading about frequent incidents like that must have an effect on how they react.

If the backpackers were just looking for a chance to shoot a bear, they wouldn't have hiked immediately to the nearest road and reported the shooting to a ranger. If they thought they'd done something wrong, they could have just hiked out and no one would have known anything until the bear's carcass was found, if ever. They may have thought that other hikers in the area should be warned. Without facts to the contrary, I am not going to condemn the backpackers for what they did.

It makes me sick that several posters seem to feel it would be better for hikers to die than to kill a bear. Bears do kill and seriously injure people each year. It is our right as humans to defend our lives from deadly threats. Given the choice between dead hikers and dead bears, I'll always pick the dead bears.

Yep - lets just close everything to everybody. This will be a brilliant solution to man v. beast. Lets spend more resources and more worry and energy over this non-event than the death of people. In 30 years or less personal liberties will be vaporized, everyone will be confined to urban / suburban areas (oh, except for those special people - you know who you are..) in large part because of mentalities that are displayed in these comments. The sad thing is, they can't even fathom it....

A quote by Richard 'Dick' Proeneke fits this situation perfectly.

"Is it proper that the wilderness and its' creatures should suffer because we came?"

It would be interesting to see the IP's of all the posters here and show how many really live in cities and suburbia and only have a political motive for posting.. Its a shame so many ideologues will attempt to make this a statement on Civil Rights issues they want revoked rather than what it is, a man saving his wife's life and being forced to kill a bear in the process.. think for a minute, all this took place probably in less than 60 seconds, closer to 15 or 20 in reality where he had to make a decision about threat, options, and his wife's saftey and then ask yourself what would you have done if it was your wife or child.. then tell me you'd be pissin' about it like many are..

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments