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Hunter killed by bear in Wrangell-St. Elias died in ‘surprise attack’ while field-dressing moose, officials say

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: September 24
  • Published September 24

The hunter killed by a grizzly bear in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve on Sunday was a 22-year-old man from Ohio who was field-dressing a moose when he died in an attack so sudden that he couldn’t defend himself, National Park Service officials say.

Austin Pfeiffer is the park’s first recorded victim of a fatal bear mauling since Wrangell-St. Elias was established in 1980. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park covers more than 13 million acres.

The attack took place in the Cottonwood Creek drainage, a remote area of mixed tundra and forest with dense vegetation about 50 miles from Northway and 130 miles from park headquarters.

Pfeiffer and his hunting partner, also from out of state, killed the moose Saturday night, according to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve spokeswoman Jan Maslen. The next morning, the pair returned to field dress the moose and bring the meat back to camp.

Pfeiffer stayed behind to butcher the moose while his partner ferried loads to their campsite, Maslen said Thursday.

The partner, who has not been identified, was on his way back from camp when the bear charged him, Maslen said. He shot at the animal several times. At one point, it got within 20 feet. Then it flinched as if shot, then veered and ran away.

The partner found Pfeiffer dead when he got back to the moose carcass, Maslen said.

“We assume it was a surprise attack, that he was preparing the next load and didn’t have a weapon or deterrent on hand to defend himself,” she said.

The partner contacted their Tok-based air service using an InReach device, according to Maslen. The air service contacted authorities. By then, it was dark. The company picked up the partner the next morning.

Reports by local media described Pfeiffer’s hometown as Mansfield, and said he worked at a tree service and a taxidermy company. He had been married for less than two years.

Park rangers and Alaska Wildlife Troopers recovered his body on Monday. It was taken to the State Medical Examiner Office in Anchorage.

Rangers found no evidence the bear remains in the area, the Park Service said. No other visitors are known to be in the area of the mauling, which is extremely remote, but they are monitoring it for bear activity. All of the moose meat was salvaged, as required by state hunting regulations.

An Alaska Department of Fish and Game bear safety guide for hunters encourages the removal of game meat immediately, because bears may be drawn to the kill site.

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