A three-mile section of the popular Turnagain Arm Trail is closed after a hiker shot and killed a male brown bear Sunday morning, Chugach State Park officials reported Monday.
The bear was shot about a mile from the Rainbow trailhead, located at Mile 108 of the Seward Highway. The section of trail between Rainbow and McHugh Creek -- about 4 miles of the 9.5-mile trail -- will be closed because officials worry the dead bear will attract other bruins to the area.
According to Chugach State Park Superintendent Tom Harrison, the bear was shot by a male hiker, who reported to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that the bear charged him.
"There was a DLP, or a 'defense of life and property' shooting," Harrison said. "So to prevent animals from going and feeding on it, we’re going to leave it closed for a few days."
According to Dave Battle, Fish and Game's assistant area biologist for Anchorage, the hiker indicated to the bear was charging when he opened fire, shooting at least 13 rounds from an AK-74 rifle.
"He did say that it charged," Battle said. "Basically, he stopped about a mile from the Rainbow trailhead, stopped to sit on a rock to drink some water, heard a growl and saw a brown bear about 50 feet away. Then it came toward him -- he described it as a charge." Battle was not on scene Sunday, and said that area biologist Jessy Coltrane was the one who accepted the head and the hide of the animal from the hiker on Monday. He had gone back to collect the pieces of the bruin, as required in DLP shootings, removing the animal's trophy value.
"The person who actually shot the bear is responsible to turn in the head and the hide to us," Battle said.
The AK-74 is an assault-style rifle, with relatively small-caliber bullets not particularly suited to bringing down large animals such as brown bears, which can weigh from 300 to about 850 pounds. Battle said that the hiker also reported that he typically carries an AK-47 -- another, similar type of weapon.
"I don’t know why he hiked with those particular weapons," Battle said. "I’m not a gun expert, but to my knowledge those are fairly small rounds compared to the things that we would normally recommend for bear protection." He added that if a person insisted on using a rifle for defense from bears, a bullet caliber of .30 or higher would be recommended due to the additional stopping power of the larger-caliber rounds. Battle said that ideally, a .338 magnum cartridge would be more effective in stopping a charging bear.
Battle said he wasn't sure how many of the 13 shots fired actually hit the bear.
"It sounded like he was trying to put a lot of bullets into it as opposed to having two or three very effective bullets," he said.
Harrison said that officials will check on the carcass in a few days to determine whether the closed section of trail is safe to reopen. He said that the trail south of Rainbow, which heads to Windy Point, remains open.
Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com