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View Giant Bear

Type: Real photos, inaccurate captions.
Summary: Photos circulated via email showed a hunter posing with an enormous bear.

Theodore Winnen poses with the bear he shot.
A photo showing a hunter posing with an incredibly large bear began to circulate via email in late 2001. The large size of the bear drew speculation that the photo had been faked. But in fact, the picture was real, in the sense that it had not been digitally manipulated, although the perspective from which the photo was taken did exaggerate the size of the bear’s head.

The bear was shot on October 14, 2001 by Theodore Winnen, a 22-year-old crew member of the 18th Fighter Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base. He is the dark-haired man posing in the photo with the bear. The photo was taken by his hunting companion, Staff Sgt. Jim Urban.

Other photos from the October hunting trip. (left) Winnen displays the size of the bear’s paw; (middle) Winnen poses with the bear; (right) Winnen and Urban pose with the bear.

Winnen and some of his friends were on a week-long hunting trip on Hinchinbrook Island off the coast of Alaska. Hinchinbrook has a population of about 100 brown bears (and five people), but Winnen was there to hunt deer, although he had brought along a high-powered rifle (and a bear-hunting permit) in case he ran into a bear.

Winnen and Urban encountered the bear on the second day of their trip. Winnen described the encounter to a military publication:

“We were walking along a creek, and saw a deep pool with salmon, so right there, we thought we might see a bear. We also saw fresh deer tracks, so we decided to follow the creek,” Winnen said. The hunters came to a point where the creek split, leaving an island in the middle.
“We went on the island and noticed vines with large berries all around the outside of the island,” he said. “That was another good sign that bears might be in the area.”
As they walked a bit farther on the island, “I looked up and saw a bear about 40 yards up the creek. He was walking in the creek, looking for salmon. I grabbed Jim by the arm, yanked him over close, and said, ‘There’s a bear.’”  Both hunters chambered a bullet as the bear continued walking toward them. “There was a large log between the bear and us, and I told Jim that as soon as the bear walked over that log, I was going to shoot,” Winnen said.
The two decided to take cover behind a large pine tree and watched as the bear continued toward them, climbing from the creek onto the island.
“By this time, he was about 10 yards away, and he was still walking directly toward us. Jim kept saying, ‘Shoot. Shoot.’”
Winnen finally did, taking aim at the bear’s eyes, and firing his .338 hunting rifle.
“He raised his head like he was going to roar, but he didn’t make a sound. He just fell over backward.”

The bear weighed approximately 1200 pounds and was 10 feet high. Its skull measured 28 and 1/2 inches. This is a very large bear. By comparison, the average bear weighs around 300 pounds. Winnen’s bear ranks in the top 150 largest bears ever shot. The largest brown bear on record had a skull measuring 30 and 5/16 inches.

Winnen appeared on a talk show to discuss the bear. Photos from the hunt appeared on the radio website, and from there they began to make their way around the internet. As the photos spread further, the text describing them grew more exaggerated. Soon it read that the bear weighed over 1800 pounds and that it was 12 feet in height.

The victim of a bear attack, according to email rumor.
Later versions of the email claimed that the bear had been responsible for killing a number of people. A photo of a human carcass ripped apart, and apparently gnawed by an animal, were appended to the set of bear-hunting photos. The carcass was identified as one of the bear’s victims. In reality, the bear had not been known to have ever attacked a human. The grisly photo of the carcass had nothing to do with Winnen and the bear he shot.