Bear doctoring

The Southeast Alaska grizzly bear Al Gross claims to have killed in self-defense/Gross campaign photo

What killing a bruin has to do with getting things done for your state in the U.S. Senate is hard to say, but candidate Dr. Al Gross is campaigning as “Bear Doctor” in one campaign spot, and in another the claim is made “he killed a grizzly bear in self-defense after it snuck up on him.”

The problem is that there is no record Gross ever killed a bear, although he reportedly shot at one.

And that’s where this story gets interesting. But first for non-Alaskans, a little background.

There is nothing much more Alaska-manly than shooting a bear in self-defense. Gross’s ads, which have been swamping television in the 49th state, were a sizable one-up on the old tradition of Alaska candidates swinging a maul to mightily split wood.

Still, Gross’s claim to have killed a bear was little more than your standard election-season goofiness before Newsweek reported that “Republicans 4,200 miles away in Washington, D.C. really want to know” if the bear story is true.

“So badly (do they want to know), in fact, that the GOP opposition research and communications firm America Rising, based in the DC-area, has sought to dig up dirt on Dr. Al Gross by making a public records request about the Independent Senate candidate’s campaign ad claim…,” reporter Ramsey Touchberry wrote.

Opposition research

How exactly this information arrived in Touchberry’s hands is not made clear. The story says Newsweek made a public records request to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game which revealed the America Rising inquiry, but later says a photo of Gross with a dead bear and “a copy of the decades-old incident report from the Alaska Department of Public Safety” was provided Newsweek “by the Gross campaign.”

The story doesn’t say which came first, but it does conclude from the information provided by the Gross campaign that the candidate “did indeed once kill a grizzly in self-defense.”

Only that’s not what the information shows. An incident report from Public Safety at the time says “Jeffrey Jones and Dr. Alan Gross contacted FWP (Fish and Wildlife Protection) ref. they shot a sow bear (DLP)….Incident location: Sweetheart Flats.”

DLP is an abbreviation for “defense of life and property.” Anyone in Alaska is legally entitled to kill a bear in self-defense. 

After a DLP killing, the shooter is required to salvage the hide and skull and deliver them to the state. A “Brown Bear Sealing Certificate” also needs to be filed identifying who killed the bear, and a DLP report completed to detail what happened to justify the shooting.

The brown bear sealing report in this case contains only one name, and it’s not Gross. It’s Jeffrey C. Jones who claims to be the one who killed the bear on the tidal flats at the head of Gilbert Bay near Sweetheart Creek south of Juneau.

This is a locally popular area for hunting waterfowl not far from the Snettisham Power Plant that supplies electricity for the capital city. Jones’ DLP report states that duck hunting was what he and Gross were doing when he heard “a blood-curdling scream from my partner followed by ‘Bear!'”

According to the account, Jones turned to see the bear only 5 or 10 feet from Gross, which is dangerously close. It is also the distance at which anyone hunting waterfowl with a shotgun filled with birdshot would need to make the decision to shoot a bear.

At such close range, the shot doesn’t have a chance to spread. It comes out of the barrel of the shotgun much like a slug, and will punch a hole in a bear as Anchorage hunters Steve Thompson and  Tim Baker discovered after a grizzly charged into their duck blind at the head of Turnagain Arm east of Anchorage in 2011.

To kill a bear

Baker’s shotgun was stuffed with shells filled with #4 steel shot. He started shooting at the bear at 15 feet and believes that was too soon. The first shot had no effect. The pellets had probably spread to the diameter of a dinner plate.

The bear surely felt them, but they did no serious damage.  Baker kept shooting. His final two shots – with the shot string down to the size of a fist – did more damage, but they didn’t stop the bear either.

That’s when Thompson started shooting. The bear was then only feet away. The tight pattern of his steel shot punched three mortal wounds in the bear’s side and knocked the animal into a spin which gave Thompson time to reload and fire several more shots that finally put the bear down.

Jones’ hand-written account of what happened at Gilbert Bay provides few details on Gross’s involvement in the shooting there. It jumps from the bear five to 10 feet away from the doctor to “I then grabbed my rifle and we both stepped back into the pond – the bear then stood up on its hind legs, then lowered down to all fours and proceeded toward my partner – at that time I shot the bear as did my partner Alan Gross.

“I was approximately 35 or 40 feet from the bear when I shot it. I felt my partner’s life was in immediate danger.”

The report does not say how far Gross was from the bear when the shot was fired, or what Gross shot the bear with. But unless he, too, had grabbed a rifle, or was still within only a few feet of the animal and armed with a shotgun, he would not have been able to deliver a killing shot, which would explain the bear sealing certificate in which Jones claims to be the sole killer.

Jones could not be reached for comment.

The bear sealing certificate he filled out also contains an interesting note from then Fish and Wildlife Protection Trooper Ike Lorentz.

“Claws were not salvaged by hunter,” it says.

State laws clearly says that “you must give both the hide, with claws attached, and the skull to ADF&G. You must also notify your local ADF&G Wildlife Conservation office or Alaska Wildlife Troopers immediately.”

Lorentz has left state service and is living in Haines. He did not return phone calls.

It is normal practice when bears are skinned to leave the claws attached to the feet. The DLP hides are sold by the state at auction, and there is not much of a market for bear-skin rugs of clawless bears. The only reason to remove the claws would be for someone to keep them as souvenirs of the incident.

When Gross spokeswoman Julia Savel was this morning asked what happened to the claws, she said, “I don’t know. I’ll have to ask Al.”

She promised to call back, but did not. A resident of New Jersey up until the Gross campaign began, it is possible she was unaware of state law regarding the claws of DLP bears. As more questions about this story arose during the day, subsequent calls were made to Savel.

They went to her voicemail, which was full and would not take messages. She did, however, issue a statement later in the day to the Alaska Landmine.

“Instead of doing anything to extend COVID relief, lower the costs of prescription drugs, or make healthcare affordable for Alaskans, Dan Sullivan instead is focusing on a 25-year-old hunting trip. Dan Sullivan is just admitting to Alaskans that he has no plan to deliver results for Alaskan families at a critical time for the state and country,” it said. “What a shame.

“Al killed the bear in self-defense, reported the incident, and the case was closed. Believe me, if Dan Sullivan came across that bear in 1995 he would have been back at his parents’ mansion in Ohio quicker than he could say ‘Department of Public Safety.'”

The missing claws remained unaddressed as do other questions, including what kind of gun Gross was shooting and how far he was from the bear when he shot – questions which could go a long way to explaining whether he had any role in the animal’s death or not.

Anything Sullivan would or would not have done in the same situation is pure speculation, which does require some objective context. Sullivan is a U.S. Marine Corps officer trained in the use of weapons for self-defense. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t flee to his parents’ mansion, but it would indicate that he has been trained not to do so.

That makes it impossible for anyone to know what he would have done.


36 replies »

  1. Craig, I realize this comment is late but I wanted you to know that you did a great job on this research and investigation to uncover what really happened. Please let me know when you are ready for a career change offering some interesting challenges. I’ll let you figure out what challenges I am referring to. Great job!

  2. I have not read this piece but I have to comment that his ads are so bad that I cringe. However, I will vote for him because I will NEVER vote for a so-called republican again. This from a human that voted for Don Young (when he first ran), Jay Hammond, R. Regan, Bush 1 and 2 and too many other repugs, even Tillion. The party and brand is sooo far behind the demographics it breathtaking. I enjoy watching the death of my cohort – boomers – geezers be gone! Youth, youth and youth must take over, now.

      • Well, when you’re only six years away from the age your pappy died….I will most certainly say “never”.

    • Sure Monk, haven’t we already seen “your” youth take over every Democrat city the last 5 month and do what with them? Oh, that is right, DESTROY them, burn them, loot them, and take chits on the streets, all the while burning our flags..Sorry Monk, but “your” youth can go to hell.

  3. When a person climbs mt mckinley they might say
    I climbed the big mac. A lie though because they failed to mention their partners, their pilot, the folks who
    put up fixed lines if they used them, etc.

    Or of two people fire at a charging bear multiple times in self defense both of them can say they killed a bear?

    aside-remember when Schaffer Cox ran for public office and mentioned climbing denali as sign of cred? ha

  4. if two people shoot at a sleeping kid and the kid then dies they are both charged with murder

    if two people shot at an out of season bear and kill it
    they are both charged with poaching

    just saying

    or are we really going to try to discern what % of the death of the bear can be contributed to one person shooting vs another 20-30 yrs ago?

    really seems an odd thing to focus on given during a human life we all have stretched the truth, lied and done things we are embarrassed about. especially given I always was taught hunting and fishing stories are valued more if the tale gets stretched? The halibut was so big the boat almost was swamped when it ran for the depths…

    dig deep into Al’s, Dan’s, or anyone’s life and you’ll find a more interesting ethical silhouette.

  5. Marine Officers are trained to kill with their weapons not “trained in the use of weapons for self-defense”.

    • Agreed. Not the best choice of words on my part. But to quote Gen. George S. Patton, “the object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other poor bastard die for his.”

      And killing the other bastard before he kills you is a defacto act of self-defense.

  6. this column is an example of how repulsive and divisive politics in America have become. Al Gross comes up with an add to bring attention to himself. Other than the bear it is not an attack on his opponent. Maybe this bear killing has really scared his opponents as the effort to discredit him has occupied the time and effort of the conservative bloggers.
    Landfield posted a link to the Department of Public Safety report.
    Al Gross’s name is clearly on it as persons #2.
    The statement clearly states Jones fired when the bear was within 10 ft of Gross.
    It also states at this time Jones fired his weapon as did Gross.
    Jones was issued a warning for not salvaging the claws.
    Jones say’s had thy seen the bear from a distance possibly the incident could of been avoided.
    Really is there anything here that makes a Gross a liar?

    • Well nothing other than Jones’ statement that he killed the bear and the words “Agree with the above” at the bottom of his sworn statement with another signature after them.

      Is that Al Gross’s signature?

      If so, did when did the story change from Jeff Jones killed the bear to Al Gross killed the bear?

      Yes, Al Gross was there. No doubt about that. Photos don’t lie. And it would appear he told a trooper he shot at the bear. He might even have hit it. But that isn’t what those TV ads claim, and you know that as well as I do.

      They claim Gross killed a bear in self-defense.

      The claims appears a purely Trump-style assertion that steals credit from a hunting partner who might have saved Gross’s butt, though some familiar with bears might even question that.

      • Jones shot first and Gross shot, both men shot a second time killing the bear. I guess you were there to see which shot killed the bear. Was Gross legally supposed to be there to file the report? It seems he would of been sited seems the partners report was adequate.

      • Leo: Where in the evidence do we find “both men shot a second time killing the bear?” I can’t find it.

        I, of course, wasn’t there. But I can read, and I can differentiate between two different accounts. In the first, Jeff Jones swears he killed the bear, and someone – apparently Al Gross – signs “Agree with the above” at the bottom of Jones’ statement.

        Since Jones and Gross skinned the bear, they’d know who killed it. Lethal wounds are pretty easily distinguishable from non-lethal wounds.

        Thus we have Jeff Jones saying in 1995 that he killed the bear and someone with an unreadable signature (most probably Dr. Gross) agreeing that’s what happened. And now we have Dr. Gross saying he killed a bear – this same bear because there is no other – in self-defense.

        These two versions of events are in direct conflict.

        You can believe what you want to believe. It’s not my job to tell you what to believe. But only one of these two stories can be true.

        So do you think Dr. Gross was trying to escape responsibility for killing the bear in 1995, and the true story is only now coming out? I have to admit that is possible. But then the question is why?

      • my information comes from reading form APSIN 102995 in additional information where it is written both men shot a second time killing the bear.
        As usual I am a little slow on the take. Was wondering why you would even broach this ridiculous topic. Than I realized Begich Sullivan spending was around 50 million with around 39 million outside money. You were probably not in a position to cash in at the time. God on you for trying not to miss out on this cash cow.

    • I think it was the part where he took credit for killing a bear that he didn’t kill, he also didn’t mention that his buddy was the one who killed the bear he takes credit for having killed, hell he didn’t even mention his buddy at all now did he? Seems like his adverisment about himself should have been how he screamed like his cojones got stepped on which prompted his buddy to shoot a bear that got close to him.

      Sorry your boy lied about something so stupid and got caught. Doesn’t make a very good impression as an Alaskan or as a hopeful Senator.

    • Leo. Why do you resort to insulting Medred? Do you think that it adds to solving the question of what really happened? Generally when reasonable people start losing a debate they simply acknowledge it and move on Others start calling their opponent names.
      Tell us Leo just how Medred will be cashing in on this “cash cow” as you suggest. My initial thought is that you are another leftist who hates. But I will give you an opportunity to explain before final

      • I was not insulting him at all. I was simply stating my opinion. There is and will be a lot of money dumped into political advertising in this state. Simply look at the increased political adds on MRAK. Is she displaying those adds for free? I think during the last Sullivan election Medred may have been working for someone and not of directly profited from the spending. If I were in the media business I would find a way to get some is that not how media survives?

      • Leo: It sounds pretty insulting, but I’ve been called worse.

        I was at the ADN during the Sullivan-Begich campaign. It made almost nothing. Nearly all of the big spend by both sides went to TV and radio.

        I’ll happily take advertising dollars here from any legal entity. It has not been forthcoming, probably because I refuse to view the world through an R or D lense. In that regard, the managers of MRAK, Midnight Sun and others are clearly better business people than I am.

        I’m interested in the Gross story for one reason and one reason only. The campaign has spent more money than this website will earn all year in convincing you and the rest of Alaska that what defines a good senator from the 49th state is being a skier, a commercial fisherman, a four-wheeler driver, and someone who killed a bear in self-defense.

        Given that they have defined these as the important issues, they ought to least be required to tell the truth about them.

  7. Craig does his usual analytical best!
    I recall being in an airline line in Los Anchorage hearing a guy talk about a griz that approached his camp slowly. He shot it! Jeez, attach, eh. D’oh.
    I had 35 years of grizzly contact, much of it in Katmai.
    Barrie K Gilbert, author of “One of Us” A Biologist’s Walk Among Bears”

    PS Craig needs our support. Who else knows the science and digs into salmon, bear, and publishing like wildlife scientist, Craig Medred does.

  8. CM, perhaps instead of just reaching out to Dr. Gross’s spokesperson and his companion, you could have reached out to other associates, dug a little deeper. Instead, you didn’t get any answers from two sources, called it a day, and wrote your story. That is at least the impression I got from your piece. I’m not sure if this shows your skill as a journalist (without an editor or stated commitment to journalistic principals – I couldn’t find these listed on your web site), or your bias against Dr. Gross?

    • Since there were only two people there – Gross and Jeff Jones, who made the sworn claim to have shot the bear – who else would you suggest talking to who knows what happened?

      The invisible man? The Kushtaka that was back in the bullrushes?

      I have no more bias against Al Gross than I do Donald Trump. I simply like for people to tell the truth.

      • I’d recommend Al Gross himself. He spoke about this event at a meeting I attended recently, and actually referenced gun/caliber he used. I suspect a good gum shoe journalist can get access to him as a source.

        In terms of bias, you imply perhaps he isn’t telling the truth? Not sure. Since you like people to tell the truth, do you have any plans on producing commentary on how well Donald Trump tells the truth, especially as they apply to Alaskan concerns?

  9. The bear in the photo is nothing more than a mere 3 year old sow. It was most likely more curious, than a threat to either of them.

    • Al, I cant argue with you on the “3yo sow which was most likely curious”. I am inclined to agree with you as well in that it most likely wasn’t a threat either. I wasn’t there. But, when Al purposely misrepresents President Trump words then I have to question his integrity in general.

  10. Tells me all I need to know about the phony character of Al Gross:
    “Unlike @realdonaldtrump tonight, I condem white supremacy. I call on @SenDanSullivan to do the same”.
    Wonder if ole Al condems terrorist, Marxist “supremacy” groups such BLM and fascist ANTIFA? Well Al??

    • Antifa is not a fascist group. It’s “anti-fascist “. Get it? It’s not even a “group”. BLM is not Marxist, let alone a terrorist group. Unlike the various “militia” and supremist groups that support Republicans, and are supported by them. But then, Republicans are living in Fantasy Land today. Rational thought that does not matter does it?

  11. I was on the fence about Al Gross, until I saw the ad showing him bravely riding a four-wheeler on the beach. Truly a man of the people. Never seen Silver-Spoon Sullivan ride a four-wheel.

  12. If as the ads seem to claim there is nothing more Alaskan than killing a bear in self defense, what does it mean if you lie about killing a bear in self defense?

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