Big bear a bad fit for hunter's home

Posted: Friday, March 04, 2005


  Patrick Doss, of Fredericksburg, VA, examines a stuffed bear March 1, 2005, in Gander Mountain outdoors store. AP Photo/The Free Lance-Star, Mi

Patrick Doss, of Fredericksburg, VA, examines a stuffed bear March 1, 2005, in Gander Mountain outdoors store.

AP Photo/The Free Lance-Star, Mi

SPOTSYLVANIA, Va. — There he was, bigger than Osama bin Laden, almost as scary, and moving fast.

But even if a terrorist is as big and menacing as a bear, the Homeland Security Department's Mike Riter is up to the task of stopping him.

Riter, who works for U.S. Customs & Border Protection and lives in Alexandria, killed a 9-foot, 1,000-pound Kodiak brown bear during a November 2003 hunting trip to Alaska.

He paid $9,500 to have what might be called Osama bear Laden stuffed and transported by truck all the way from Alaska to his suburban Virginia home.

But when the bear arrived recently, the 47-year-old Riter realized it would not fit through the door.

''It's way too big for my house,'' he said with a chuckle. The embarrassed but good-natured Riter, who moved to the D.C. area recently from Cleveland, said his Ohio home was ''designed around my heads,'' meaning mounted hunting trophies.

The former Alaska resident said he has 10 heads in his Alexandria house and six stuffed animals, including some killed on safari in Africa, stashed in a storage unit.

But the biggest, the bear, is on display at the Gander Mountain outdoor store in Spotsylvania County until Riter builds a bigger house.

The bruin stands just inside the State Route 3 store, protecting a nearby display of Dale Earnhardt Jr. gun safes.

The bear, posed by a taxidermist as if it were fishing for salmon in a stream, can be a startling sight for the unprepared.

According to the store's general manager, Jason Edwards, the chain routinely displays taxidermy on loan. But the Spotsylvania bruin is the largest bear on display at any Gander Mountain store, he said.

Steve Dominick, the store's merchandising manager, said it's a draw — parents have been bringing their kids in to see the bear. The Alaskan guide laughed about Riter's logistical headache, but he wasn't surprised.

In a phone interview from a town near Anchorage, Riter's hunting guide, Harold ''Zeke'' Schetzle, recalled the story of another client who ''shot a big moose,'' stuffed it, took it home and had to use a block and tackle to haul it up the side of a three-story New York City apartment building.

Schetzle, 56, said this bear was ''a big boy — you know they're big when it takes three of you and you can barely roll 'em around.''

He said the average Kodiak brown bear is a foot shorter than this one, even though this was a young bear, probably 6 or 7 years old.

Riter said the bear was shot with a .338-caliber Magnum Winchester rifle from about 125 yards. That's a fairly long-range shot for a bear kill, he said. It had been fishing in a stream on Kodiak Island. Before Riter fired, it began running and could have disappeared into the brush.

The animal was dropped by a shot to the shoulder. Then Riter finished him off.

Schetzle said the bear was skinned on the spot — the state of Alaska allows hunters to abandon bear meat.

''They don't taste too good when they've been eating fish,'' he said.

Even so, Schetzle said, the remaining skin and the head — with the skull intact — weighed from 125 to 130 pounds. It had to be carried four miles to their camp on a backpack.

Schetzle, a 33-year veteran of guide work, runs one of the few remaining backpack operations, Kichatna Guide Service in Chugiak. Most such hunts are conducted today from boats, he said, reducing the amount of labor involved. Not everyone who stops by the Spotsylvania store is impressed by the bear display.

By chance, Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife biologist who works with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Norfolk, saw the bear when she visited Gander Mountain last week. She had been working with the Virginia Department of Transportation on a project that involved keeping beavers from blocking culverts near Colonial Beach.

Boyles was looking for a patch kit for her waders. What she found, she said, was ''disturbing.'' She complained to management.

''I told them how much more beautiful this animal would be walking around in Alaska instead of sitting in the front of their store,'' Boyles said.

Riter said that kind of talk is not fair — many animals would starve to death if their populations were not thinned by hunting.

The Free Lance-Star is published in Fredericksburg.

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