Oh boohoo, cry me a river!
Sounds like a just hunt to me.
Troopers, onlookers witness roadside bear kill | Homer Tribune
As Saturday dawned crisp, dry and with a respectable smattering of fall leaves still clinging to trees, Pamela Locke, her husband and 13-year-old-son decided it would be a great day to go wildlife viewing.
They got a far more disturbing show than they ever wanted.
The family headed out from Sterling toward Cooper Landing, and came upon a group of cars and people alongside the road before the Russian River Ferry.
Parking with the other vehicles in a nearby pullout, they walked to the guardrail to see a sub-adult, male brown bear in the river below the embankment. He didn’t seem too concerned with the people – maybe 10 or 12 ranging in age 4 years old to adult, Locke estimated.
“The bear was kind of complacent,” she said. “He was lying down over a big stump. He didn’t mind people.”
The family continued on to Cooper Landing for lunch, and were headed home around 2:30 p.m. when they passed the same spot and saw cars and people still there.
“We were like, ‘Oh, he’s still there,’” Locke said. “So we stopped. He was swimming and fishing.”
An Alaska State Trooper patrol car was on the scene, and troopers cautioned people not to park or stand on the road.
After 15 or 20 minutes, the bear started heading up the embankment toward the guardrail, so onlookers started heading back to their vehicles.
Locke said she was surprised to see the troopers staying up by the guardrail.
“They were mostly concerned about people not stopping on the highway,” she said. “They didn’t seem concerned about people stopping to watch the bear.”
Locke said she could hear the bear sniffing and grunting at the troopers, and wondered if they were trying to keep the bear from getting up on the road.
Around that time, another vehicle parked in the pullout and two men in camouflage and with hunting rifles got out and started heading toward the bear.
“At first I thought, ‘Well, they’re being cautious.’ Then I realized they’re wearing full camo,” Locke said. “The lady walking with me stopped them and said, ‘You’re not going to shoot that bear, are you?’ They were kind of smiling and laughing and said, ‘Yeah we are, if it crosses the highway.’”
Locke said the troopers didn’t stop the men for questioning.
“They didn’t question them. They didn’t ask for a license. They didn’t say, ‘Hey, it probably isn’t the best situation to shoot this bear on a busy corner of the highway with all these people still there.’ They just let them go,” Locke said.
Trooper Garrett Willis, stationed in Cooper Landing, had responded to a report of traffic hazards in the area Saturday afternoon.
“We were just traffic control,” Willis said. “Our initial complaint was people parked in a no-parking area and parking over the white line, causing vehicles to take evasive action, because it was on a blind corner.”
Willis said the hunters did say they had a permit, and as far as he knew, the area across the highway was open to hunting.
“Once that bear crossed the road, that was a legitimate hunting area over there. I could not restrict them. If I was to stop them for shooting, then I’d be interfering in a lawful hunt. That’s why I could not stop them,” Willis said.
As the bear started running up the embankment on the other side of the highway, the men ran after it.
“They got to the edge of the highway,” Locke said. “The bear had run partway up the hill and they opened fire on his backside.”
Locke said she would concede that the initial shooter was technically off the highway – albeit about an inch – when he started firing.
She doesn’t concede the shooters were off the road when they finished firing.
The men hit the bear twice in the backside, and it rolled down the hill to the side of the highway.
“He wasn’t dead at that point, with all of us standing there with a wounded brown bear on the highway,” Locke said.
She said it did look like the men fired the last two shots to finish the bear off from the road.
“My husband said they were clearly standing on the highway when they fired those last two shots,” she said. “They had to be, since it rolled up toward them and they had to step back.”
The troopers got into their patrol car to leave after the bear was dead, Locke said. She flagged them down.
“I said, ‘You’re just going to let them shoot from the damn highway?’ They said, ‘Ma’am, they’re not on the highway,’ and he took off. He didn’t want to discuss it any further,” Locke said,
She and her family had seen more than enough at that point and left, too.
“I just left. I didn’t want to see any more. I don’t have any idea how they got that bear in their vehicle. They either had to park their vehicle up on the road right where the troopers didn’t want anybody to park, or they had to drag it up the highway. The whole thing was so weird to me. I was kind of in shock. I just wanted to get out of there. There’s a whole spectrum of levels on which it was just not right.”
Locke questions the safety of shooting from that area, especially with people standing nearby to witness it and who could have been in danger from a wounded bear if the hunters didn’t finish it off. She also questions whether what the men did even qualifies as hunting.
“It was like you could have been wearing a clown suit and shot this bear. It was not a hunt,” she said. “I equate it to shoving my way through a zoo and shooting a bear in a cage.
“I’m just disgusted at the whole situation. My family supports ethical hunting, but this is anything but sportsmanlike. And any decent hunter knows if you don’t have a clean shot you don’t shoot. It took at least five shots to put it down, aiming up the hill while it was running away. And the response of the officers. I would have expected more out of the patrolmen. The whole situation was just extremely distasteful, to say the least,” Locke said.
Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna, said he got a call about the incident Monday morning, and said it is under investigation. Because of that, he couldn’t comment on the situation.
He did say that Fish and Game regulations prohibit shooting from on or across a roadway. He said there also is a state statute that prohibits discharging a firearm from within a state highway right of way. There’s also a federal regulation stating you can’t discharge a firearm within a quarter mile of the highway on either side of the road in effect from the east end of Skilak Lake Road and the Russian River parking lot.
“Alaska is a great state because we have lots of choices for outdoor activities,” Locke said. “But those of us who had to witness this, our choice was taken away. We didn’t want to be involved in this.”