ANCHORAGE - A rabbit hunter fired his pistol at a charging grizzly bear on Kodiak Island, badly wounding the old sow that was later killed and her resulted in three cubs being euthanized.
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The hunter, whose name is not being released, was hunting rabbits near the American River on Friday about 15 miles outside Kodiak when the sow charged him, said John Crye, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, on Monday.
The hunter, who was carrying two weapons, shot the bear when it was about 10 yards away. It was the second time in a week that hunters had encountered the family of bears. The last time it was one of the cubs that charged a father and son out duck hunting as the mother and the other cubs slept nearby.
This time, the rabbit hunter was charged after he rounded a corner and surprised the sow, who was 25 years old or more.
"A rabbit hunter was in the brush and kind of woke them up out of their beds," Crye said. "He felt threatened by the sow, so he shot the sow."
The hunter immediately notified Alaska State Troopers and the Department of Fish and Game. Crye went with troopers to the site where the 8-foot, 400-pound sow lay barely alive.
It was determined that she was too badly injured and would have to be killed, so she was shot again.
The cubs, two males and a female weighing about 140 pounds each, were shot as well because they were too young to survive on their own and too old at nearly 2 years to be good candidates for zoo placement.
"The cubs wouldn't have made it through the winter so we euthanized the cubs," Crye said.
If left without their mother, the cubs likely would have either starved to death or been eaten by the numerous adult male grizzlies roaming the island in winter. About 25 percent of the boars on Kodiak Island do not den and can frequently be seen ambling along the island's beaches looking for kelp.
There are about 3,500 bears on Kodiak Island and surrounding islands, said Larry Van Daele, a wildlife biologist for Fish and Game.
The bear hides were sent to Anchorage, where they will likely be auctioned off during the annual Fur Rondy Festival in Anchorage in late winter.
Crye said the shooting was justifiable because the hunter felt threatened.
The bear family on the American River was probably hunting, too.
"These bears were on a salmon stream probably cleaning up the few cohos," he said.
Van Daele said it is unusual to have a sow not in her den by the end of November.
"There usually is a reason why these things happen. In this case the condition of the female was the underlying cause of all of it," he said. "She was an old bear. She was very skinny and had young cubs for a bear that age."
Van Daele said the island's berry crop had been poor and the sow was not able to put on a nice layer of fat going into winter. She was still hungry.
"That explains why she was out," he said.