Dillon versus Goliath — Huge brown bear shot in Soldotna

By Joseph Robertia

Photos courtesy of Keain Dillon, via the Soldotna Police Department. A large brown bear was killed by Soldotna Police Officer Victor Dillon on Thursday in a residential neighborhood. The bear had been reportedly causing problems in the area for days.

Redoubt Reporter

In a modern-day version of David versus Goliath, played out in Soldotna on Thursday night, David was a Soldotna Police officer with incredible aim and even better luck, while Goliath was a 1,000-pound behemoth of a brown bear that had strode into a residential neighborhood midday like he owned the place.

Officer Victor Dillon was patrolling along Banner Street around 1:30 p.m. Thursday when he spotted the bear crossing into a residential yard, said Soldotna Police Chief John Lucking.

The bear was no stranger to police officers, Alaska State Troopers or the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, as they had all received numerous calls during the week about a huge brown bear that walked with an unusual swagger and was becoming a nuisance.

“The bear had first been noticed in Soldotna on Sunday evening when it tore the lid off a chest freezer at a residence on South Fireweed,” Lucking said.

It was later seen scavenging in Dumpsters in the area around South Fireweed and Kobuk streets. The bear had been reported as acting aggressive, and a police officer and sergeant attempted to locate it.

“At one point it made a short charge in their direction, but they were not able to safely fire their weapons because of low visibility and nearby residences,” Lucking said.

The bear was sighted in various locations around Soldotna several more times last week, and was also reported to have peered into a home off of Mackey Lake Road. On Thursday, the bear made his final appearance in town.

“Aware that the bear was likely an injured one that had been causing problems in the community for several days, Officer Dillon exited his vehicle with a shotgun in hand,” Lucking said.

The shotgun, a Remington Model 870, was loaded with 12-gauge slugs. As the officer

Photo courtesy of Keain Dillon, via the Soldotna Police Department. This huge brown bear weighed in around 1,000 pounds and probably was 12 to 15 years old.

approached, the animal temporarily disappeared from sight near an outbuilding, but showed itself again roughly 25 yards away.

“When the bear saw him, it charged straight on for a distance of about 14 yards, at which time it quartered slightly away,” Lucking said. “Officer Dillon took that opportunity to step away from the parked vehicle and fire a single shot, dropping the animal. It was fortunate it was out in the open the whole time, so he could get a clear shot, rather than being in the bushes or trees.”

The time of day also minimized the risk of taking a shot at a wild animal in a residential area, since most people were at work and children in school. Still, Dillon had called for backup, but the incident unfolded so quickly he had already dispatched the bear by the time they arrived.

Outside of work, Dillon is an avid hunter, Lucking said, so in addition to his safety and tactical training as a police officer, he has a good understanding of the vital areas of wildlife.

After dispatching the bear, an investigation of the scene revealed the bear had been guarding a caribou skull that had recently been fleshed out for a European mount. While it is unlikely this skull alone drew the bear into the center of town, Lucking said it was clear the bear was defending it.

“I suspect that is what prompted the bear to charge Officer Dillon,” he said.

Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with Fish and Game, said it was the largest bear

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kenny Jones, of Skulls and Bones Taxidermy, where the bear was skinned for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, holds up the paw of the big bear, which is nearly as wide as his torso.

he’s seen dispatched on the Kenai Peninsula since he took over his position slightly more than a decade ago.

“Standing on its hind legs, it was probably 10-plus feet,” he said. “Even after skinning, its hide was a legitimate 9 ½-square feet, and that’s nose to tail and paw to paw.”

From evaluation of the bear’s teeth, which were in good condition including intact canines, it appeared the bear was around 12 to 15 years old, but a tooth will be pulled for analysis to determine its exact age. It is not uncommon for bears to live into their mid-20s to early 30s.

“We weighed its carcass, hide and head separately, but totaled the bear’s weight was close to 1,000 pounds,” Selinger said. “He had a good layer of fat and good musculature. He was in good condition, not emaciated at all, so it’s unclear why he was in town in the middle of the day, other than it’s fall and bears are in their final push to put on weight and looking for food wherever they can find it.”

The bear did have an old scar from what at one time would have been a large wound on its elbow, which may have been what caused the reports of the bear being injured. However, Selinger said that the muscles in both the bear’s front legs were the same, and the pads and claws were also worn evenly, so it is unlikely that the old injury still plagued him much, if at all.

Kenny Jones, of Skulls and Bones taxidermy shop, also said the bear was the largest he remembers working on from the Kenai Peninsula.

“It took three of us to roll him just while skinning, and that was on a flat trailer,” Jones said. “This guy could have killed you just by lying on you. And its skull was huge. I don’t think I’ve seen a skull that big in four or five years, and the last time I did it was from the Alaska Peninsula.”

Such a large bear showing up in the middle of Soldotna raises the continuing question of the brown bear population on the Kenai Peninsula. The standing population estimate is 250 to 300 brown bears, an amount cited for wildlife management purposes since 1999.

But hunters, outdoorsmen and other peninsula residents say they’re convinced the population has grown, based on the increase in brown bear sightings in recent years.

John Morton, supervisory biologist at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, said the results of an ongoing study utilizing DNA from more than 1,000 hair samples taken from brown bears on the refuge and Chugach National Forest should yield new, empirically based information.

“We’re in the final throes of the study on the estimate, so it would be premature to share a number right now, but we can say we do already have a number higher than the 250- to 300-bear guesstimate,” he said.

Morton said it is difficult to say for certain why this particular bear showed up where and when it did. Whatever the reason, Lucking and Selinger said that this bear’s appearance speaks to two Alaska precepts.

“This incident is a reminder that it is very important to keep yards free of attractants, especially at this time of year when bears are putting on fat for the winter. Residents are reminded to be careful about leaving out garbage, or, as in this case, animal parts, which might draw bears into town,” Lucking said.

“It’s also a good reminder that we do live in bear country,” Selinger said. “So people should always be aware of their surroundings and remember that bears can be anywhere.”

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7 Comments

Filed under bears, public safety, Soldotna

7 responses to “Dillon versus Goliath — Huge brown bear shot in Soldotna

  1. Beth

    I don’t think there could have been a more degrading picture of that bear on the front page. It makes me sick. Show some respect.

  2. Quinn Blue

    ” Goliath was a 1,000-pound behemoth of a brown bear that had strode into a residential neighborhood midday like he owned the place.” He does own the place, that bear and his lineage have been on that land much longer than we humans have. We forget this is not our land and that we need to show respect and share it.

    • Ryan Widener

      we do show respect and show it im from florida and do u know how many reserves and national parks there r… a lot and were not aloud to touch any animals on them. that bear also caused a threat to human lives so they had to shoot him and if he didnt come there then this wouldnt have happened he could have stayed on a resever or somthing and not get shot

  3. The brown bear can reach a maximum weight of 440kg(the male); he is heavier during autumn, before entering the lair, while during spring, right before the vegetation starts to appear, he reaches his lowest.
    The hair color varies on a large scale, from brown-grey to dark-brown, while sometimes it can be almost black; some of the brown bears, especially the younger ones have white spots on the neck, called collar or bead, which in reality isn’t an enclosed circle. For some of them the collar disappears in time while for others it stays the same. Their most frequent color of a brown bear is, of course, brown. During winter the fur reaches a size of 8-9 cm, while in the summer period it varies between 4 and 6. The fur is most valuable in the months of March and April, while during autumn it becomes less valuable because of it’s reduced size and low density. This specie sheds in the months of June and July.
    Out in the field, you can’t tell the male apart from the female. The maximum age they can get to is of 30-35 years.

  4. Ryan

    Yeah it was sad that the bear had to be put down and they were here first, but people/children in residential neighborhoods are far more important. Not only that, the picture serves as a reminder as to why humans need to be more responsible. This bear wandered neighborhoods for several weeks getting into USNECURED garbage and trash that people left out. Not only that, this bear was tearing down wood and chainlink fences getting to them. This bear had become a danger to society and this was the only option left. I’ve heard several people disgusted with Soldotna PD for shooting this bear but I guarantee they would have been the first to file a lawsuit if the bear had attacked a family member because they “did nothing” and “just let a dangerous bear wander free”. Maybe the people you all should be critiziing are the irresponsible people in the area that “created” this problem in the first place.

  5. Ryan Widener

    ok that bear was freaking huge and we do show resepect to bears but the people couldnt move it ok so y dont u just stop whining and complaining about how we should show the bears more respect and stop to think for just a minute about wat would have happened if the bear wasnt shot and u were in its way… u wouldnt be complaining and trying to give it respect u would be ether running away screaming and cring or u would shot it and the bear would still kill u if u tried to run away so u can just stop with all this “oh we should give the bears more respect…” and wat would u do to move it hu u would have to use a freaking crane to move it or u would have to let it sit there and rot so shut up about how it is degrading resepect for the bears when we all ready respect them a whole lot.

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