The National Park Service has released additional information about a fatal grizzly bear attack in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve Sunday. NPS identified the victim as 22-year-old Austin Pfeiffer of Ohio.
An NPS release says Pfeiffer and a partner were on an unguided moose hunt in the remote Cottonwood Creek drainage within the preserve, where permitted sport hunting is allowed. The attack site is about 50 air miles from the eastern Interior village of Northway. Park spokesperson Janice Maslan says the hunters had killed a moose Saturday and were butchering and packing the meat out to camp Sunday when they split up.
“The partner returned to camp with a load while Pfeiffer prepared the next load, and when Pfeiffer’s partner returned to within about 50 yards of the harvest site, he was charged by a bear. And in self-defense, he did shoot in the direction of the bear several times with his sidearm, and when the bear came within about 20 feet of him, it did flinch as if shot and it then veered and ran off,” said Maslan.
Maslan says the partner went to the moose kill site and found Pfeiffer dead from what appeared to have been a surprise attack.
“There was no evidence that he was carrying a firearm or deterrence with him at the time, so he was unable to defend himself,” she said.
Maslan says it is the first known fatal bear attack in the park and preserve since it was created in 1980. She says the partner called the air service that had flown the men in for the hunt and reported what happened.
The partner was flown out, and the NPS and state wildlife troopers traveled to the site Monday and recovered Pfeiffer’s body, which was taken to the State Medical Examiner in Anchorage for autopsy. NPS says there was no evidence that the bear was still in the area, and that no visitors are known to be in the vicinity.