FAIRBANKS - An old grizzly bear that chose a closed restaurant off the Dalton Highway to hibernate for the winter was shot and killed.
Fairbanks tour operator and restaurant owner Brett Carlson and his companions found the bear sleeping in a dark hallway.
"It was pretty intense," said Chad Conklin, the 30-year-old tour guide who shot the bear twice at close range with a .300-caliber Winchester magnum rifle and once with a 12-gauge shotgun. "It was pretty nerve-racking."
Carlson got a call last Tuesday from Alaska State Trooper Curt Bedingfield in Coldfoot instructing him that someone had spotted a grizzly bear climbing into one of the restaurant's windows.
The restaurant, which is closed in the winter, is located off the Dalton Highway about 150 miles north of Fairbanks. Carlson bought the camp a year and a half ago as part of his tourism business, Northern Alaska Tour Company.
Bedingfield told Carlson he might want to check the situation out. He advised him not to go alone and to be prepared to encounter a hibernating bear. If they found the bear inside, Bedingfield told them to shoot it rather than risk getting cornered by a mad grizzly.
Early the next morning, Carlson rounded up Conklin, one of his tour guides, and Ed Colvin, a cook, and made the 120-mile drive down to the restaurant. They arrived at 8:30 a.m., strapped on snowshoes and tromped the quarter mile to the restaurant. All three men were armed.
They were 100 yards from the restaurant when they spotted the window where the bear had entered the building. The window was ripped off and the snow in front of the window was covered with urine and feces, he said. The office was trashed but there was no sign of the bear.
"That's when we thought, 'It's going to be dark and he's in here,"' said Conklin. "That's when the heart started pumping."
The three men entered the building together and began a room-to-room search for the bear with Conklin in the lead. All three men wore headlamps and Carlson carried a spotlight.
The first thing they noticed was that all the merchandise in the gift shop had been pulled off the shelves. There was a "nest" of T-shirts, sweat shirts and fleece coats built near a door to a back storage area where the bear had obviously been sleeping and the men were expecting it to be around the corner.
"My thought was he was going to be right around corner," said Conklin, the most experienced outdoorsman of the trio. "I had the safety off."
But the bear wasn't there. As they made their way to the kitchen and passed a hallway leading to rooms in the back of the building, Conklin noticed a large mound in the hallway. He told Carlson to shine the light down the hallway.
"All of a sudden you could see the two eyes and I said, 'Whoa, he's down here,"' said Conklin. "He poked his head up and started looking at us."
The bear started to stand up and, with Carlson shining the light on the bear, Conklin fired the first of two shots with the rifle, hitting the bear in the chest. The bear dropped but was still moving so Conklin fired again. He shot the bear in the heart with the shotgun to ensure it was dead.
"Everybody told us to keep shooting it until you know it's dead," Conklin said.
The bear probably did anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 in damage, depending on what needs to be replaced, Carlson said. The bear ripped out a wall to get into the freezer and tipped over ranges, refrigerators and glass cases.
"He basically demolished the place," said Carlson.
While the bear's hide squared at 7 feet, 3 inches; big but not huge for an Interior grizzly, the skull measured almost 26 inches.
Carlson is planning to have the restaurant open in time for the tourist season. He's hoping clean up much of the mess before things thaw out.
"With all that bear feces and urine in there, it's going to reek if it thaws out first," he said.
Carlson said he probably should have boarded the windows up but the thought of a grizzly bear taking up residence in the restaurant never occurred to him.