Legend turns big grizzly into monster proportions

Posted: Thursday, May 08, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A massive grizzly has taken on mythical proportions since it was killed in Prince William Sound 19 months ago.

The U.S. Forest Service in Juneau is still receiving a steady stream of e-mails from all over the world from people asking if the legend is true.

There was never any question that the brown bear that 22-year-old airman Ted Winnen shot to death in October 2001 on Hinchinbrook Island was huge.

The grizzly measured 10 feet, 6 inches from nose to tail. Its front claws were three to four inches long. An Alaska master guide estimated the bear's weight at up to 1,200 pounds. (Average brown bear weight for Hinchinbrook is less than half that.)

But the bear has grown into a monster of impossible proportions in the legend'' e-mail that's been making the Internet rounds all this time, said Forest Service spokesman Ray Massey.

It's now over one thousand six hundred pounds ... 12'6'' high at the shoulder,'' reads one message Massey has received.

E-mail exaggerations about the animal began to circulate little more than a month after Winnen, stationed at the time at Eielson Air Force Base, shot it while deer hunting with several partners. Also circulating are photos taken by one of Winnen's partners, Eielson Staff Sgt. Jim Urban.

The Forest Service, which manages the Chugach National Forest encompassing Prince William Sound, gets three or four e-mails about the bear every week that have to be answered, Massey said.

Many of the messages are from people who are skeptical and want confirmation of their doubts from the agency. About 30 percent of the messages come from hunters who are all but certain the tale is a tall one.

The bear was not a record and it didn't kill anyone, as far as is known, despite some versions of the legend. The bear was coming toward Winnen and Urban from about 10 yards away, but it may not have seen them. Hoping to debunk the myths, Massey answers the e-mails with plenty of details about the actual size of the bear and the hunt. The Forest Service's Web site provides a news release about the hunt and the rumors.

Massey says there's no way to know how many people are reading the false information as the message travels the globe.

It's like the Energizer bunny,'' he said. I have no doubt the Internet is keeping it moving. Otherwise it would have died a long time ago.''

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