Pennsylvania hunter stands up as guide John Jedlicki shoots at wounded bear
Joel Gay / Anchorage Daily News / August 16, 2005
A Soldotna hunting guide shot and killed a Pennsylvania hunter Sunday afternoon during a guided brown bear hunt across Cook Inlet from Anchorage, in what Alaska State Troopers are calling an accident.
Gary Kern, 50, of Gettysburg, Pa., and two guides were in a thick grove of alder on the Chichantna River, about three miles south of Beluga Lake, when they spotted a bear. Kern fired two shots from about 175 yards away, wounding it, troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson said.
As the bear fled into the brush, Soldotna-based guide David Haeg told his assistant, John Jedlicki, to shoot the animal again.
But just as Jedlicki pulled the trigger on his .338-caliber rifle, Kern stood up and into the line of fire, troopers said. Kern died at the scene of a single gunshot wound to the head.
The guides were "devastated," Wilkinson said.
Troopers flew to the site Sunday afternoon to investigate the shooting. The two guides and troopers investigators flew back to Soldotna. Because of the helicopter's weight limit and the late hour, Kern's body was left overnight on a sandbar and was flown out Monday, Wilkinson said.
While nonresidents can hunt moose, caribou and most other species on their own, they must hire a guide to hunt brown bears, or else hunt with an Alaska resident who is a parent, grandparent, sibling, child or other "first kin."
Kern contracted with Haeg, a master guide and owner of Dave Haeg's Alaskan Hunts. Haeg did not return a phone call, but his Web site lists the 15-day coastal brown bear hunt in Game Unit 16B at $12,000, using his wilderness lodge near Chinitna Bay as its base of operations.
It could be Haeg's last hunt, perhaps forever. The longtime pilot and guide is expected to lose his guiding license when he is sentenced Sept. 1 for his part in illegal hunting and trapping activity around McGrath in 2004.
One of several pilots approved for a state-sponsored aerial wolf-kill program near McGrath, Haeg was accused by state troopers of shooting nine wolves outside the program boundaries with his gunner, Tony Zellers of Eagle River, and lying about it to state officials.
Zellers later pleaded no contest. Last month, after a four-day trial and 90 minutes of deliberation, a McGrath jury found Haeg guilty on nine counts, including shooting wolves from an airplane, unlawful possession of illegally taken game, unsworn falsification, and trapping wolverines during a closed season.
Assistant district attorney Scot Leaders, who prosecuted the case, said state law requires Haeg to lose his guiding license for at least three years when he is sentenced next month in McGrath. The judge has the authority to revoke Haeg's guiding privileges for life, Leaders said.
Haeg also stands to forfeit his airplane, which troopers seized during the investigation.
Details of the weekend shooting were sketchy Monday, but longtime brown bear guide Rod Arno said things can get hectic quickly on a hunt. A guide or assistant guide is prohibited from shooting an animal on behalf of a client, but if the animal is wounded, "the guide has to do everything he can to stop it" from escaping, Arno said.
Though things can unfold quickly once an animal is wounded, "it's the responsibility of the guide to be in control of the situation," Arno said. "You've got two things to deal with: You've got to keep track of the client, and you've got to keep track of the bear."
Troopers said Kern was squatting about 10 feet in front of Jedlicki as the assistant guide took aim, then stood up as Jedlicki fired. No criminal charges have been filed.
"It was just a tragedy," Wilkinson said.
Kern leaves a wife, Judith; daughters Jessica and Justine; and son Jason, all of Gettysburg.
He was a building trades teacher at Fairfield High School in Gettysburg and ran a small construction company part-time, his son said Monday.
Kern was a regular visitor to Alaska and an enthusiastic hunter and fisherman, Jason Kern said. The family bought a cabin in Soldotna and often came up together to spend portions of the summer, he said, though for this trip Kern was alone.
Said his son, "He loved the outdoors."
Daily News reporter Joel Gay can be reached at email@example.com or at 257-4310.
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