Officers Looking For Bear After Death Of HunterThe Globe, Bear Hunting Magazine
UPDATED 10/4/2008 FROM ORIGINAL STORY BELOW
Every morning at 10, employees at the Didsbury AG Foods could look forward to a fresh, home-made breakfast. It was Robert Wagner's thing.
One day, the avid hunter might bring in something he'd shot with his rifle or bow -- maybe deer or elk. Other days, it could be a fresh stew. But even more than being a good cook, Wagner was known for his love of the outdoors.
"He lived and breathed for hunting and fishing," co-worker Patty Beach said. That passion ended in tragedy when Wagner, 48, was killed by a bear this week. He went bow hunting for elk on Monday, but didn't return. Wagner loved hunting by himself, but usually returned the same day. A search and rescue effort was launched Tuesday -- which included his only son Lucas helping in the search 15 kilometres south of Sundre. The search ended in disappointment when Wagner's body was found Wednesday afternoon. An autopsy has confirmed he was killed by a grizzly bear.
"It's pretty tough. Everyone's still in shock more than anything. It doesn't seem real," said Beach, who works in the deli. Wagner, a meat cutter who worked at the grocery store for at least the past decade, lived his entire life in Didsbury and was well liked in the community, store manager Greg Poirier said.
What many people didn't know, said Poirier, was that Wagner used to share much of what he shot with the needy. "He had a big heart. He gave a lot, he helped a lot. He never wanted to be in the spotlight, but he did a lot for everybody," Poirier said.
"Say someone needed a fence built or needed a tree cut down or working in the fields. He'd be the first one to step up to give them a hand," he said. Wagner's son Lucas, 18, works in the grocery store and recently graduated from high school. "He took it very hard. He was very close to his dad," Poirier said.
Wagner's wife, Brenda, works with the elderly at the local hospital.
Alberta Fish and Wildlife officials are searching for the grizzly that killed Wagner and have set traps to capture it. Sustainable Resource Development spokesman Dave Ealey said after the bear is trapped, its behaviour will be assessed to see if the human attack was predatory. That is one of the important factors in deciding whether the bear is killed or relocated.
"We are not going to put a bear that killed somebody back in that particular community," Ealey said.
In the last five years, four people in Alberta have been killed by bears, including Wagner.
Last November, Calgary hunter Don Allen Peters was killed by a grizzly bear 60 kilometres west of Sundre. That bear was destroyed. The other two attacks were in the Crowsnest Pass and Canmore, Ealey said.
He said hunting, by its very nature, is about trying to lure game -- but that may also draw the attention of bears. He advises that hunters keep bear spray handy. "People think the rifle is the ultimate solution, but in a lot of cases people aren't able to use those effectively in close quarters." When butchering their catch, Ealey said hunters should either work quickly or hoist the meat out of reach of bears on the scent of fresh meat.
ORIGINAL STORY FROM 10/3/08
Wildlife officers were searching Alberta's foothills Thursday for what was believed to be a grizzly bear after human remains were found less than a kilometre from the truck of a missing hunter.
A hunter in his late 40's from Didsbury, Alberta did not return from a trip to the Sundre area on Monday and was reported missing on Tuesday. The search was called off after human remains were discovered. The body had suffered injuries that appeared to be inflicted by a bear, but RCMP said it is not known if the animal actually killed the man.
"The issue is we don't know - there's bear injury on the remains, but we can't tell if it's pre-or post-death and so that will be up to the medical examiner," said RCMP Sgt. Patrick Webb.
"Conceivably he could have been attacked by a bear and the bear wins or he could have had a heart attack and the bear found him."
Although the man has not been positively identified, Webb said there is little doubt that it is the missing hunter. "We've got one missing hunter and one found hunter dressed the same. Bottom line is it is him," Webb said.
The victim was an experienced hunter, said Webb, and was outfitted properly. But he said it is a bad time of year to run into a bear, just before hibernation. "Ever seen a skinny bear? They're very good at what they do," explained Webb. "They're out there in the area where there's a lot of game and they don't differentiate between people and a deer."
A bear expert confirmed it's been a rough year for Alberta's bear population and described the situation near Sundre as a "deadly scenario."
"It is a horrible time of year. Bears are trying to fatten up for the winter hibernation. They are obsessed with eating and maybe paying a little less attention to what else is going on around them," said Jim Pissot, director of Defenders of Wildlife Canada from Canmore, Alberta.
"Depending on the location, we did not have a good year for buffalo berry, which is the main food that bears fatten up on before hibernation so that makes them a little bit more desperate."
Pissot said hikers are normally told to make a lot of noise while travelling in the backcountry and to travel in groups. Hunters do the opposite.
"If you are an elk hunter, you walk quietly, you walk alone and you're trying to sneak up on things," he said. "That combination of the style of hunting where we're trying to be quiet and alone and stealthy and the fall foraging behaviour of bears creates a really deadly scenario."
The area were the remains were found is now closed to the general public and signs have been posted warning people, said Dave Ealey, a spokesman for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.
He said officers are considering trapping bears in the area to try to determine what happened. The bear will not necessarily be destroyed and could be relocated, said Ealey.
This is the second death involving a hunter and a bear in the area in less than a year. Environmentalists were unhappy with Alberta wildlife officials for tracking down and destroying a grizzly sow with two cubs - several months after it killed a hunter.
It may be that the bear involved in this case will never be found, admitted Ealey. "There's no guarantees. We have done numerous types of capture efforts in different areas and it's a bit of a guess to see if animals respond. Sometimes they leave the area and we never see the bear again."