Denali National Park and Preserve officials have concluded that a man who shot and killed a grizzly bear in the park's backcountry back in May did so in self-defense and will not be charged with any crime.
The man and his female companion, both of North Pole, Alaska, told investigators that they were talking to each other while hiking up the Tattler Creek drainage when the bear charged them. The two were about 20-25 feet apart when the man heard a noise in the brush to his right, park officials said Wednesday
"He turned and drew a .45 caliber semi-automatic weapon from a holster on his waist belt. Within seconds, a large grizzly bear emerged from the brush about 25 feet away and charged the woman," the officials said. "The man rapidly fired seven to nine rounds at the right side of the bear. The bear stopped several feet from the woman and then moved back into the brush. Both hikers retreated and hiked to the park road, after noting the location on a GPS."
According to park officials, "neither hiker had much backcountry or Alaska experience, and neither carried non-lethal bear spray. Both had watched the park's backcountry and
bear safety orientation video and had proper backcountry permits."
The grizzly's body was found the following day a short distance from the GPS coordinates provided by the hikers. It was a 434-pound older male with several injuries existing prior to the shooting. None of these injuries is believed to be a factor in the incident, park officials said.
"The man stated that he shot the bear in order to defend the life of the woman. The investigation found no evidence to contradict this assertion, and physical evidence collected by park rangers was consistent with the description of the incident provided by the hikers," park officials said. "The man was lawfully in possession of and carrying a firearm per Public Law 111-24, 123 Stat. 1764-65. The discharge of the gun and killing of the bear were violations of 36 CFR 2.4(a)(1)(iii) (using a weapon) and 36 CFR 2.2
(a)(1) (taking of wildlife)."
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.
However, park officials noted Wednesday that, "There is no federal law in national parks which allows the use of a firearm in defense of life; in Alaska, a state statute does allow the taking of wildlife in defense of life under certain circumstances. The actions in this incident likely would have been a legitimate defense of life under state law. Considering this and other evidence in the case, the park will not pursue criminal prosecution."
The couple's names were not released because no charges were filed against them.
The killing of the grizzly was 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.