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Sterling man kills 9-foot grizzly trying to break into his home

Dan Balmer, Peninsula Clarion
Jim Landess with the brown bear he shot and killed after it twice tried to enter his home on the edge of Sterling. Courtesy of Jim Landess

A Sterling man killed a 9-foot brown bear with a pistol after the bear attempted to break into his home multiple times in the early morning of July 7.

Jim Landess and his 17-year-old son, Montana, awoke at about 3:30 a.m. to the sound of a brown bear knocking on his house on Bunno Road on the east edge of Sterling.

“There was some loud banging on one of my windows in the first level and pounding on my walls which shook the whole house,” Landess wrote in an email. “My son was sleeping downstairs and stood up to be eye-level with a 9-foot brown bear looking at him through the dining room window.”

Landess said he looked outside his upstairs window and saw the bear peeking over the bed of his pickup. He yelled at the bear and his dog barked, which caused the bear to run into the woods.

Landess told his son to keep an eye on the bear so he could grab a gun from his truck. While he went outside to get a gun, the bear circled around to the end of his driveway and started to walk back toward him.

Both Landess and his son shot a couple rounds and the bear scattered back into the woods.

“We went back inside assuming this was just a routine of scaring off another bear, as we do almost every summer,” he said.

After going back to bed, Landess received an early morning wake-up call from the bear. At about 6 a.m. he heard more banging in front of the house as the bear attempted to get inside.

“I couldn’t believe that it came back,” he said.

Landess grabbed his .45 pistol, stepped out onto his upper deck, took aim and fired seven rounds toward the bear’s vitals. He said the bear “got crazy” and ran about 50 feet before it collapsed and died.

Landess said while he has seen bears around his property, living in close proximity to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, he had never experienced one this aggressive. He said he didn’t have any food around his house that could have attracted the bear but did have an empty cooler on his porch that the bear tossed around along with some chairs. He said this was the first big game he’d ever killed.

“I’m not a hunter; I’m a fisherman,” he said. “It wasn’t something I wanted to do. I wanted to scare him off.”

After his adrenaline slowed down, Landess called the Alaska State Wildlife Troopers. They advised him to skin the bear and bring the hide, head and feet into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office. The bear was a male, estimated to be 5 years old.

Fish and Game area biologist Jeff Selinger said the law requires people to bring in the hide and skull and fill out a defense of life and property report. While the bear didn’t get into any food left out, if it has learned from other residences about a food source, a bear can become more persistent, he said.

“It sounds like he tried to scare it off,” Selinger said. “You can do everything right at a residence but if the bear has learned from other places where to obtain food sources it puts those animals in close proximity around residential areas.”

While bear sightings and reports of bears getting into Dumpsters and chicken coops are common, the number of bear issues on the Kenai Peninsula this year appears to be down. 

Selinger said no bear maulings have been reported this year.

“Bears are tolerant of people in a lot of situations,” he said. “They are either raising their young, eating or sleeping.”

Bears need to put on a third or more of their body weight over the summer to survive hibernation, Selinger said.

Wildlife Trooper Lt. Paul McConnell said the trooper who responded to the incident at Landess’ property found nothing suspicious, and the property owner fulfilled his legal requirements. McConnell said he has seen fewer reports of bears causing problems since the brown bear harvest hunts started a couple years ago from September to the end of May.

Landess said interactions with wildlife are just another aspect of living in Alaska.

“(My encounter) is a reminder of where we live and that everyone should be aware of their surroundings this time of year,” Landess said.