Armed for bear?/Dr. Al Gross for Senate photo

The campaign of Dr. Al Gross is spending tens of thousands of dollars – if not hundreds of thousands – to convince Alaskans that what is important for anyone representing the 49th state in the U.S. Senate is a history as a commercial fisherman, a skier, a four-wheeler drive operator and a bear killer.

Or more specifically in the latter case, someone who killed a bear in self-defense given that killing bears for their hides or so-called “sport” wouldn’t be politically correct in these times. You can pretty well rest assured the campaign wouldn’t be running an entertaining “Bear Doctor” video if Gross was a registered guide overseeing the deaths of a half-dozen or more Alaska grizzlies every year.

Now, unfortunately, the bear doctor’s bear story has run into some problems with fact-checkers, and Gross’s most ardent supporters would like everyone to believe his whole claim to having killed a bear that snuck up on him is irrelevant.

Let’s not be naive.

Money is one of the main ways in which importance gets measured in a capitalist economy, and the Gross campaign has spent a lot of money promoting the idea Gross is a brave, modern-day, Alaska version of the fictional Francis Macomber who stood in there against a charging and dangerous wild animal. 

Only there’s this problem with the story. The version told now isn’t the version told after the bear died in 1995.

In the 1995 version, a hunting partner – Jeffery Jones – swore he shot and killed the bear, and at the very bottom of his six-page sworn statement as to what happened at that time are written the words “Agree with above,” followed by the date and a not clearly legible signature that appears to be that of Alan Gross. 

In the newer, campaign-ad version of this same story, however, it is flatly claimed “he (Gross) killed a bear in self-defense.”

These are inherently contradictory stories. Either Gross got it wrong when he agreed with the Jones statement in 1995, Gross misremembered what went down after he decided to run for public office all these many years later (humans are prone to this weakness), or one of the oh-so-wise campaign strategists he hired from the Lower 48 heard Gross tell the bear story and decided they could make the candidate look even better if they cut out Jones and had Gross kill the bear.

If it’s the latter, you have to feel sorry for Gross, a decent guy.

The campaign isn’t talking. But it is worth noting that Gross campaign manager David Keith, “a seasoned political operative” as his bio puts it,  helped Democrat Randy Bryce – the “Iron Stache” – shape a man-of-the-people campaign that threatened House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin in the last election.

“In Bryce, a lot of people who don’t know the difference between Chinese and American steel, who have never stepped foot in Racine, whose own mustaches are ironic, have found an avatar of a new direction – by the working man, for the working man,” Mother Jones reported in December 2017. “If their problem is that people who look like Randy Bryce stopped voting like him, then this, they believe, is the way to win the state that got away.”

In Alaska, Keith appears to be trying to wag the dog both ways with a “Dr. Al Gross” campaign portraying the good doctor as a salmon-slime-covered, hard-working, bear-killing, glacier-skiing Alaska everyman – good parts of which do describe Gross, the son of the late attorney general Av Gross, a true Alaska character. 

Political operative David Keith/Majesto Investments

Post-truth world

And so now there are these contradictory bear stories – one new and one old, one told by a Gross hunting partner and at one time confirmed by Gross, one told now by Gross – with no real evidence to verify either given that Jones and Gross were the only witnesses to the shooting and disposed of the carcass afterward.

For many – who knows, maybe it’s most these days – this doesn’t really matter. They’re mired in the partisanship of the day and that goo resolves any issues as to the “truth.”

For those on the right and many leaning right, Gross’ new version of an old story makes him a liar. For those on the left and many leaning left, the fact Gross apparently did shoot at the bear is the same as the claim he killed a bear in self-defense.

Who knows what the few true independents in the state think in a world where truths have become personal, as in they are what you believe not necessarily what the evidence supports. And the evidence here for anything is sketchy.

Since the two hunters skinned the bear and delivered the hide and skull to the state in order to comply with the Defense of Life and Property (DLP) law that allows people to shoot bears in self-defense, they surely know who killed it. It’s not hard for even hunters with limited experience to tell lethal wounds from non-lethal wounds, especially if one hunter is shooting with a rifle and the other with a shotgun.

Unfortunately, no one knows what sort of weapon Gross was shooting when the shooting began 25 years ago, and his campaign has so far refused to say. Jones isn’t talking at all.

Still, the incident started when Gross and Jones were duck hunting, an activity that involves shooting waterfowl with shotguns loaded with birdshot. It is hard to hit birds on the wing with a rifle, and in the case of waterfowl hunting, that is also prohibited by federal law.

Jones’ sworn affidavit says that after Gross yelled a warning about a bear, Jones “grabbed a rifle,” and he and Gross “both stepped back into the pond.” There is no mention of Gross grabbing a rifle, though that is entirely possible.

What happened after Jones grabbed the rifle and the men stepped back into the pond is not clear. In the affidavit, Jones says the bear was five to 10 feet from Gross when the rifle was grabbed and afterward “both stepped back into the pond.”

If the bear had been intent on grabbing Gross, it could easily have closed that five to 10 feet in the time it took Jones to grab the rifle no matter how fast the man moved. As someone who has been bluff charged by bears many times, interviewed dozens of victims of bear maulings, and once shot a bear off his leg after a charge that wasn’t a bluff, I can personally testify as to how fast bears move.

If it took that charging bear more than a second to run over me, put a claw cut in my jaw, grab my weapon in its jaw, let go the gun, spin around and grab my leg, I’d be surprised.

Jones’ statement strangely does not mention a charge.

After the retreat into the pond, it adds, “the bear stood up on its hind legs (something curious bears are prone to do to getter a better look), then lowered down to all fours and proceeded toward my partner.

“At that point I shot the bear as did my partner Alan Gross. I was approximately 35 feet, 40 feet from the bear when I shot it. I felt my partner’s life was in immediate danger.”

The statement does not say how far Gross was from the bear, what he shot it with, or whether he thought his life in danger. There are just those three words at the bottom of the statement indicating that someone, apparently Gross, agreed with Jones’ account.

The notes of the trooper who took the affidavit add only that “when the bear was within 10 feet of Gross, Jones fired his weapon hitting the bear. Both men fired their weapons twice. The bear was hit three times.”

The notes don’t say where that 10 feet distance estimate came from. They don’t say what kinds of firearms were used. They don’t say how far Gross and Jones backed into the pond or where the bear was at that time it was shot. And they don’t say how the two men decided it was Jones who killed the bear, though a skinless carcass would make obvious the mortal wounds of a high-power rifle versus the peppering of birdshot.

A photo Jones took after the shooting shows Gross posing with the dead bear atop dry beach grass. The bear’s fur does not appear to be soaked as it would be if it had ventured into the pond and been shot and killed there.

As is the normal case with DLP kills in Alaska, this one was not investigated in any detail. The state has a lot of bears, and there isn’t much concern about someone shooting one in “self-defense” even if the claim sounds extremely thin, and even then some questionable cases are allowed to pass as legitimate.

The trooper involved with this case at the time also isn’t talking, but the sworn statement of Jones and the agreement of Gross would have been way more than enough to get the shooting over the low bar for an acceptable self-defense shooting in Alaska.

Jones’ claim that he felt Gross’s life “was in immediate danger” is, in fact, more than enough because there is no way to prove a close encounter with a grizzly bear isn’t going to end with a human seriously injured and killed.

Most end without death, but as the family of a young Ohio man on a moose hunt in Alaska sadly learned only days ago, bears can prove deadly. And shooting bears in self-defense is something that happens in Alaska with some regularity.

The Gross campaign has tried to portray this shooting as manly, if not heroic. As someone who has been involved in two DLP shootings, I can testify there is nothing heroic about them. Heroism is about risking your life to save someone else.

Shooting a bear in self-dense is about saving your ass or cleaning up someone else’s mess. These things are done because there are really no other options. The Gross campaign has tried to make this shooting into something more and spent a lot of money trying to sell the public that idea.

And it’s that, for better or worse, that makes the truth both relevant and newsworthy if, of course, anyone cares about the truth anymore. So many people have made up there minds that there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming interest in the facts of the cases, and I’m personally tired of listening to Gross supporters who sound like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trying to defend polebrity Sarah Palin’s claim former President Barack Obama wanted to create “death panels”.

The moral equivalency nonsense has spun all out of control in this country. Just because President Donald Trump lies all of the time doesn’t mean it’s fine for other pols or potential pols to bend the truth some of the time, and that’s what we’ve got here.

It’s bad enough if all that happened is that Gross misremembered the role of the hunting partner Gross once appears to have believed saved his life, but it appears to be more than that. It appears either Gross or someone in the Gross campaign decided the candidate should declare he killed a bear in self-defense because that sort of thing would sell well with Alaskans.

It’s a shame Gross didn’t have a trusted adviser to tell him that was a bad idea. If he’d even left Jones somewhere in the picture when talking about a 25-year-old shooting, the dead bear would never have come back to life.

And now the animal could well haunt his campaign because in politics, for better or worse, the little things sometimes matter a lot more than the big things.




18 replies »

  1. This bear story is so important…how? You’re right, it does get up the interest of Alaskans. That’s all it’s supposed to do. Meanwhile, the real story that has never been written is “what about this Dan Sullivan”? How did he get parachuted into Juneau to fill the AG spot, timed so he would be free to run for US senate a few years later. Who spotted him, who brought him in? Who is behind Ohio Dan?

    • i think you can blame or credit the Fates of Fairbanks, and Sullivan has certainly been good for Fairbanks. the economy there would be in truly tough shape without the military spending Sullivan has funneled into the Interior.

  2. Democrats in Washington want to flip the Senate to a majority of Democrats. They can then steamroll over freedom loving Americans. That’s why I think so much money is being funneled into Gross’ advertising.

  3. It is absolutely true that Gross’ campaign is full of pablum and light on substance. I cant say that Sullivan’s campaign is much better, but his record is substantive (for better or worse).

    However, this attempt to parse the difference between shooting a bear that dies and killing a bear is simple nonsense. It is hard to defend Gross, because it is so darn silly to make a campaign issue out of a duck hunt, but in ordinary life no-one would accuse their neighbor of lying if they said the killed a bear in self defense even if its more likely that the other shooter delivered the fatal blow.

    How the heck is healthcare, access to public lands and defense contracting not the more relevant issues? I despair.

    • Hey, I wasn’t the one who made the bear a big issue. The Gross campaign made it a big issue. They told Alaska it’s why people should vote for him.

      Now, as someone who HAS killed a bear in self-defense, and finished off another wounded by someone trying to kill it in self-defense, I’ve never told my neighbors about either.

      Why would one?

      On top of that, I, personally, can’t imagine being involved in a situation like that of Gross, having someone save me from possible harm, and NOT telling people “I was charged by a bear. Thank God so-and-so was there with me.”

      But then I admit my ethics are not those of Donald Trump.

  4. if i were to go dip netting
    and we work as a team
    If I catch all the fish and set up the ropes
    and my partner bonks
    and strings them
    and carries them up the rope and then
    back miles to the truck
    and if someone asks if he got
    his limit is the answer no or how many fish he got
    is the answer zero?
    if he says he got his limit is he is liar because he caught no fish?
    or over every salmon dinner he has to explain I climbed over and found the good fishing spot?

    or if two people bear sprayed a bear and the bear ran away, only the person who got more beat spray in the bears face after some csi work, can say they bear sprayed a bear and it ran away?


    am not saying Al is not a liar or not unethical-we all are to varying degrees. Anyone remember Lisa and her low interest loan from her sister and the Kenai property at a good price? nah

    look a bear

    but there are more interesting ethical concerns in a doctors life that could be documented than who got more bear spray on a bear when everyone agrees both sprayed at the bear. Or what firearms he owns which in alaska is still a personal matter. Or do we think all hunters should register their guns?

    aside-I did wonder why they had more than one long gun
    but that’s just a side dish.
    Why would they try to discern what was the fatal shot?
    Clearly the bear was dead.

    1/2 a tag? show me one submitted-cause seems to me that would confuse game management likely and be frowned upon. a phone call might resolve that question. as -can two people say they killed a bear or would the state prefer one person be listed as the killer?

    • the state has no preference on who all claims a bear kill.

      your dipnet harvest could clearly get you in trouble if observed by AWT trooper. “party fishing” is technically illegal in this state. i don’t know of any dipnetters busted for it, but there have been halibut anglers busted for it.

      have you killed any big game? once the skin comes off, it’s pretty clear where the fatal shots hit. it would only be more so if one man was using a shotgun and the other a rifle.

      i am confident Gross was being honest when he added his signature to the state form. there’s no motive to lie.

  5. con·jec·ture

    an opinion or conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information.
    “conjectures about the newcomer were many and varied”

    rough calculation
    rough idea
    shot in the dark
    ballpark figure

    form an opinion or supposition about (something) on the basis of incomplete information.
    “many conjectured that the jury could not agree”

    take as a hypothesis
    form/formulate a theory


    Definitions from Oxford Languages

    • Hot damn, Ted. You know how to use a dictionary and thesaurus. Should we all be impressed?

      But I agree with you on conjecture. That’s why the commentary is clearly labeled “commentary.” We have a candidate who has told contradictory stories but refuses to provide the complete information to sort out which story is the true story.

      The two men who skinned that bear know which wounds were mortal. They reported those wounds as inflicted by Jeffrey Jones at the time they turned the bear over to the state of Alaska in 1995.

      Why do you think that story changed? Were they for some reason lying then?

  6. Hmm…Runs as an Independent but assures Democrats he will organize and support Democrats, gets his money – lots of money – from Outside Democrats but spends lots of money trying to convince Alaskan voters he is an Independent.
    Campaign ads say he killed a bear in self- defense, but the legal documentation, which he attested to in writing, says otherwise…says someone else kilt da bar.
    Perfectly consistent.

  7. Maybe instead of dwelling on who had the fatal shot, Alaskans should look at the voting record of Sullivan and compare where each candidate stands on the real “issues” important to our state?
    Unfortunately, most political bloggers in AK are not really interested in how each candidate will represent our state…just that “their guy” remains in office. Paid political ads influence this cycle.
    I am waiting for the debate between Dan Sullivan and Al Gross…maybe Craig Medred can be the moderator and bring up something more important questions than this bear story…like what is their plan to get control of the state run hatchery junk show and restore our natural salmon runs? Now that is a topic worth exploring with each politician!

    • It seems to me like the Gross campaign should have made his campaign about “the real “issues” important to our state” instead of about how big his cojones are or about a bear that his buddy killed and he took credit for. The blame for this rests solely on Al Gross and his campaign, nowhere else…certainly not those who report his lies, that’s commonly referred to as shooting the messenger.

  8. I don’t think you can equate hunting or fishing with a dlp, but there are some similarities. When I hunt or fish with friends I will say we caught or we killed this many or this size and then explain who caught or killed what, when telling others how the trip went directly after the trip. As time goes on I have never said I caught or killed anything that my friends caught or killed.

    For example, on a recent hunt my buddy and I got a moose…we got a moose. I did not shoot the moose, my buddy did. As the years go along I will no longer say we got a moose and I sure as hell won’t say I got a moose, I will say my buddy shot a moose. When I tell stories about deer hunts I will say we got this many and then I will say I got this many, I don’t say I got the total of everyone on the trip. Everyone I know that hunts and fishes talks the same way about their hunting/fishing trips, they never take credit for what someone else did.

    Thankfully I’ve never been a part of a dlp, but I don’t see how it’s something to brag about or how it makes a person qualified for the US Senate, or any public office for that matter. Lying about it and taking credit for a dlp is even weirder. It’s almost as weird as Alyse Galvin talking about how her dad broke her mother’s arm in one of her campaign commercials.

  9. In over 50 years of hunting, I only shot one duck with a rifle. I was deer hunting in December and the duck had an injured wing and had been unable to head south. Regardless, when things happen fast, one uses what is readily available: in this case(duck hunting), a shotgun………..

  10. when two people both shor a sleeping kid are they both charged with murder?

    can two hunters who shot at a bear multiple times and it died both put the kill on their harvest ticket?

    or neither of them?

    or one does and he is a liar and so is the other

    or they do a whole CSI thing to figure out which was the most “likely” lethal shot right after what they thought was a near death experience?
    perhaps, but would they be correct?

    so both are liars?

    ie not relevant

    Given the claim that no one is truly independent or undeclared, it would seem logical to claim no one is going to vote for Al because he did or did not fire the lethal-est shot 30 yrs ago at a bear,

    so not relevant or there are actual independent and undeclared voters and anyone who says different is a liar?

    • Jeff, what this all says is some people cannot be trusted and will lie to achieve. We have seen it come naturally, especially among Democrats. Biden has lied about everything. So, forgive the assumption. Take these photos in this article. I could look at one in particular and not trust the guy right away. Yes, I know, “assume”, yadda. Most likely I’d be right. So, an assumption I can live with.
      Also, when deer hunting, you shoot a deer in the hind quarter and it runs off only to be shot dead by another hunter in the heart. Who killed the deer?

      This is all typical Democrat spin.
      “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.”

    • There’s no law against two hunters cutting out their harvest ticket for the same animal. I don’t know why anyone would do that, but they could.

      But it’s largely irrelevant here. The hunters who skinned the bear know who killed it. It doesn’t take a forensic pathologist to figure this shit out once the animal is skinned.

      Especially if one guy was using a shotgun and the other a rifle. It is interesting they took a rifle duck hunting. I wonder if they were expecting bear problems. I duck hunt in bear country all the time and have had various bear run-ins, all with grizzlies.

      I never carry anything but a shotgun even though I hunt very close to where those two duck hunters had a nasty time with a grizzly in their blind in 2011. They did demonstrate you can kill a grizzly with a shotgun, as did Loyal Johnson’s kid in Sitka long, long ago.

      But it takes some luck and, in both of those cases, multiple shots with the shotgun.

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