Brown bear in Wrangell-St. Elias

A young brown bear visits a camp in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in July 2009.

The hunter who was killed by a grizzly Sunday in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park has been identified as a 22-year-old Ohio man.

Austin Pfeiffer was killed during a 10-day moose hunting trip near the Cottonwood Creek drainage, a remote area approximately 50 air miles from the closest community, Northway, and 130 air miles from the park headquarters.

A National Park Service investigation determined that Pfeiffer was killed in a surprise attack while the hunting party was salvaging meat from a moose killed the day before, according to a news release. The area is made up of mixed tundra and forest, with dense vegetation. Pfeiffer did not have a defensive weapon or other deterrent such as bear spray nearby.

The Park Service was notified of the attack about 7:30 p.m. Sunday. NPS worked with a local air taxi to ensure the site was secure and that Pfeiffer’s hunting partner was safely evacuated. The following day, NPS and Alaska Wildlife Troopers recovered the body, which was transported to the Alaska State Medical Examiner’s office in Anchorage.

Park rangers found no evidence that the bear remained in the area and no other park visitors are in the immediate vicinity. It is a remote site, but rangers will continue to monitor the area for bear activity. All meat from the moose was salvaged as required by state hunting regulations.

It is the first recorded fatal bear attack in the 13-million-acre park, which was established in 1980.

It is the second fatal bear attack this year in Alaska. In July, a 46-year-old resident of Hope on the Kenai Peninsula was killed by a bear. Officials found DNA from both black and brown bears at the site, and tracked and killed four bears, but are uncertain if they killed the bear responsible for the man’s death. 

In May, a Wasilla man who works at a trans-Alaska oil pipeline pump station about 180 miles north of Fairbanks was mauled by a black bear. He sustained broken bones and some muscle and nerve damage, but survived.

The Park Service reminds backcountry travelers to carry bear spray and use bear-resistant food containers. A publication titled “Bear Safety for Hunters” is available from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at bit.ly/3ctWMQ5.

Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.