Bear hunters it Katmai National Preserve

After feeding on salmon near the shores of Narrow Cove in Kukaklek Lake for several hours the small female brown bear walked up the bank past the hunters and was shot, first by the hunter/client’s arrow, then by the guide’s high power rifle.

This was not the first brown bear I’ve seen killed by a trophy hunter, but certainly the strangest ‘hunt’ I’ve experienced. It was late in the fall of 2007 and I was standing with several friends near our tent camp, we had been dropped off in Narrow Cove by floatplane the day before. The goal of our trip was to document a legally permitted bear hunt that takes place in the Katmai National Preserve in Alaska.

This particular bear hunt has become controversial primarily because the bears being killed are often the very same bears that for many summers have been enjoyed by hundreds, if not thousands, of bear viewers that flock to Katmai. The bears grow comfortable with the presence of both bear viewers and sports fishermen and treat visiting humans with a surprising level of respect. It’s not uncommon to have a brown bear in this area wander within 50ft of a non-disruptive group of visitors. With opening day of the hunting season in Katmai Preserve things are different. Bear viewers with guns. As I personally witnessed, the bears don’t know the difference between bear viewers and bear hunters. This bear walked out of the lake and proceeded to climb up the bank well within 100 yards of the hunters who were moving towards the bear to intersect its path.

Do the bear hunters in Katmai Preserve practice fair chase? That is a question that our documentation efforts were to answer. For some, the issue of fair chase in this hunt is good reason to discontinue it. There is also an argument that the bear population in the surrounding areas are being compromised by the hunt. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game claims the latter is untrue and state that they believe the number of bears killed is sustainable. Some don’t agree with the ADF&G’s claim and point out that the bears migrate long distances to this spot because it is one of (if not the) last places for bears to fatten up on salmon before their winter hibernation

Katmai National Preserve bear hunt appears in National Geographic Magazine July 2008 Issue.
The above photo appeared on the cover of the Anchorage Daily News, and the July issue of National Geographic Magazine contained a short article with the photograph as well. The hunt was was covered by video on KTUU in Alaska as well as a popular YouTube video.

Speaking for myself only, I would like to make it clear that I do not have contempt for the hunters I photographed. The photographs were not taken to demean anyone involved. The discussions and consideration that the video and photos have prompted is good, and will hopefully foster wise decision making.

Below are a few photos from the two days I spent on the shores of Narrow Cove on Kukaklek Lake, Katmai National Preserve, Alaska.

Brown bear sow and cub in Narrow Cove on Kukaklek Lake in Katmai National Preserve

brown bear cub eats a dead sockeye salmon from the shores of Narrow Cove on Kukaklek Lake in Katmai National Preserve.

View looking East from Narrow Cove, Kukaklek Lake, Katmai National Preserve.

Aerial photo of a weather system moving over Kukaklek Lake, Katmai National Preserve, Alaska.

The slideshow / gallery below features more images from the hunt. Click on the images to visit my online image archive.

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