Think it was 5.56/.223?
Polar bear killed near village in Interior Alaska
By Mary Beth Smetzer
Published Friday, March 28, 2008
A polar bear wandering around the outskirts of the Interior village of Fort Yukon, 250 miles inland from its normal coastal habitat, was spotted eating lynx carcasses Thursday morning and was killed later in the day because of safety concerns.
The bear was first spotted outside a cabin on the edge of town by Peter John, said Tony Carroll, who had recently been skinning lynx at the cabin.
Most people didn’t believe him, Carroll said, but as word spread around town, more than a half dozen hunters began tracking the bear.
Zeb Cadzow, maintenance director at the Council of Athabascan Tribal Government, took off work after lunch to join in the hunt.
“There’s usually grizzly around this time of year,” he said. “You want to get rid of it because it’s hungry.”
The men tracked the bear three miles out of town to the Porcupine River, where it moved onto a river island.
At that point, most of the hunters returned to Fort Yukon for a sled dog race, leaving Cadzow, 30, and Paul Herbert, 60, to continue the hunt.
“We assumed we were chasing a grizzly bear,” Herbert said.
Cadzow concurred, thinking the white description meant it was an albino bear or a grizzly covered in frost.
While Herbert waited at one end of the island, Cadzow, on foot, went into the brush tracking the bear.
Suddenly, the bear came out from under a brush pile about 10 yards away. It charged straight at Cadzow, who was carrying an AR-15, a rifle similar to the U.S. Army’s M-16.
The encounter was so close, Cadzow said, he didn’t have time to lift and sight the rifle.
“I shot from the hip, seven or eight times,” he said. “If I had gotten it to my shoulder, it (bear) would have been on top of me. It happened so quick, by the time it was down, it was about 10 feet from my feet.”
According to the hunters, the young female bear appeared to be in good health and wasn’t starving.
The hunters contacted the Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks on Thursday and are delivering the hide and head today so biologists can have a closer look at the bear. It will be sent to the Marine Mammal division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for further study.
After perusing some photographs Thursday evening, Dick Shideler, a Fish and Game wildlife biologist who studies North Slope grizzly bears, is in cautious agreement.
“I’m not 100 percent sure, but it sure looks like a polar bear. The ear set looks right, so does the head profile, and the feet look pretty big which is pretty typical (of polar bears),” Shideler said.
“It’s definitely not a grizzly. The only other possibility is a hybrid. I’m leaning pretty far towards polar bear,” he said. “It’s a super interesting bear no matter what it turns out to be.”
The Fort Yukon hunters and the village of more than 900 people are still in a state of disbelief that a polar bear wandered so far south.
“I think all 900 people have been by my house today,” said Cadzow, who spent the rest of Thursday skinning the bear hide.
Townspeople in the Yukon River village have been fielding calls from friends and relatives around the state since word about the polar bear has spread.
“It’s quite a shock to our town,” wrote Bonnie Thomas in an e-mail. “Our oldest elder, Rosalie Joseph, 102, passed away. She must have some powerful medicine to bring a polar bear to us.”