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Sig Casiano relied on gut instinct as a brown mass buzz-sawed toward him through the dense spruce thicket, tossing branches and trees into the air.
He lowered his .300-caliber Winchester Magnum rifle to his hip, pointed and pulled the trigger as the animal closed to within eight feet.
The last-second shot may have been blind, but Casiano's 220-grain bullet pierced the hide of what turned out to be a mammoth brown bear. It was charging nose-down. The shot penetrated behind the bear's shoulder, and the silver-tipped slug mushroomed, smashing into its spine. The paralyzed, half-ton animal dropped instantly, bulldozing the soft, wet snow with its head.
"When it fell at my feet I knew it was a bear, and I thought, Oh geez, I need to keep shooting this thing.' There was no time to be scared," Casiano said.
He unloaded his rifle's three remaining shells into the bear's shoulder to ensure it wouldn't get up and to hit vital organs. He shot it once more in the side with a round from his .454-caliber Casul handgun. Only then did the bear stop breathing.
Troopers from the state Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection, and Casiano himself, describe the first shot as lucky.
"If he had waited two seconds, he probably wouldn't be here talking to us," said trooper Ralf Lysdahl, who helped investigate the scene.
Brown bears rarely charge humans, except when people get between sows and cubs or if someone stumbles across dead prey that the bear is jealously guarding. That was the case Sunday. This bear was feeding on a moose carcass north of Sterling.
Casiano, 28, a commercial banker and an avid hunter, was tramping through the forest along Swanson River Road about 9:30 a.m. Sunday to set up a black bear baiting station when he startled the grizzly.
The former Army paratrooper understood bush-whacking through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in early spring put him at risk of disturbing bears. That's why he was packing such high-power weaponry.
Casiano killed an older boar, a notorious one-eared rogue that had been fattening up for years at black bear bait stations in the area. It had lost its fear of people, and its rear end was peppered with bird shot from an earlier run-in with humans, Lysdahl said.
It was probably 8 to 10 years old and probably measures 9 feet, he said. But the state Department of Fish and Game is still calculating the weight, size and age of the bear. Biologists were unavailable for comment Tuesday.
But Casiano said this bear was bigger than a Kodiak bruin he'd hunted last fall. "They don't get much bigger than this," he said.
There are an estimated 250 to 300 brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula, and in 1998, the population was added to the state's list of species meriting special concern. Hunting of them is severely restricted.
But the region also supports some 3,000 black bears. The state has a year-round season on them, allowing hunters a bag limit of one every six months.
The use of bait stations -- 55-gallon drums filled with things like dog food, doughnuts and syrup -- is a legal form of hunting black bears on parts of the Kenai Peninsula. The stations are placed within view of a stand so hunters can get a clean shot.
The federal refuge issues permits allowing one bait station per square mile west of Swanson River Road between May 1 and June 15.
Casiano said he had waited overnight a week ago at Kenai Refuge headquarters in Soldotna so he could get one of those highly prized permits. He had scoped out the location, about 8 miles up Swanson River Road near Mosquito Lake. It is within walking distance of the road and well-known black bear habitat, he said.
On Sunday, he began hiking out to his site, toting an empty barrel on a plastic children's sled behind him. The going was increasingly brushy with thick clumps of small spruce, their trunks about two to four inches around, he said.
Just a quarter mile into his walk, he heard tree limbs cracking and assumed he startled a moose. He bent down to look beneath the tree limbs and he saw the brown fur.
"The next thing I know, the brown mass is in front of me in the bushes, coming through. I still couldn't tell what it was," Casiano said. "This all happened within literally two or three seconds."
The bear was a scant six to eight feet away when he fired.
He helped wildlife officials skin the boar. The meat was left behind, but Fish and Game officials took the skull and hide, a standard practice to dissuade hunters from killing a bear and claiming it was an accident. The pelt will be cured and sold at auction to benefit the agency.
This is the Peninsula's first brown bear of 2002 killed in defense of life and property, said Gino Del Frate, a state wildlife biologist. The bears are just now waking up and beginning to feed on winter kills, he said.
Troopers warned anyone planning a backcountry hike to be aware.
Casiano said he was looking forward to getting back out there to set up his black bear baiting station, somewhere well away from the fresh bear carcass and rotting remains of the moose it had been eating. He said his wife was less enthusiastic.
"She said, You got a bear, now stay home.' I said, Sweetheart, I didn't get a bear, the state got a bear.' "