In consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Grand Teton National Park law enforcement rangers completed their comprehensive investigation into the fatal shooting of a grizzly bear on Thanksgiving morning, 2012 by three hunters participating in the park's elk reduction program. As the final step in the process, the United States Attorney's Office has determined that no criminal charges will be filed against the hunters involved in this incident.
At 7:25 a.m. on November 22, 2012, two Grand Teton National Park rangers on routine patrol, and making hunter contacts at Teton Point Overlook, reported hearing five gun shots in less than 5 seconds; the first two shots were followed in rapid succession by three more. At 7:32 a.m., a woman called the Teton Interagency Dispatch Center to report that her husband and sons had been charged by a grizzly bear and they shot at the animal. She also reported that they were in the process of hiking out from the location where the shooting occurred, and she informed the dispatcher that no people were injured.
Park law enforcement rangers and wildlife biologists responded and began a systematic investigation into the incident. Rangers met with the hunting party and all three men fully cooperated with the investigation. The three hunters (ages 48, 20 and 17), all from Wyoming, had permits to participate in the elk reduction program at Grand Teton National Park. All three carried bear spray as required for this wildlife management program.
According to interviews, the hunting party left the parking area at Schwabacher Landing at first light and had just entered into a timbered area in the Snake River bottom, slightly north of Schwabacher Landing and west of Teton Point Overlook, when the oldest of the group first noticed the bear. Although he tried to scare the bear off, it began to charge the group from 42 yards away. One member of the group described the grizzly bear as moving "like a cat," incredibly fast, snapping tree branches, and moving very low to the ground.
All three hunters had bear spray readily accessible. The oldest member of the group immediately began deploying his bear spray while the two younger hunters raised their rifles. When the grizzly bear came within 10 feet of the young men, they both fired shots. Three bullets impacted the grizzly-one on the back and two in the head-and immediately dropped the animal to the ground. During the investigation, a partially consumed and cached elk carcass was discovered 50 yards away, leading park biologists to conclude that the bear was defending its food source. The fatally injured male bear weighed 534 pounds and was estimated to be 18 to 20 years old.
Since the elk reduction program began in 1950, this is the first grizzly bear killed by hunters in Grand Teton National Park. The largest source of known grizzly bear mortalities in Grand Teton have actually resulted from vehicle collisions, with a total of five grizzlies killed on park roads during 2005-2012 alone. To date, encounters between humans and grizzly bears that resulted in injuries to people are relatively uncommon. However, during the last 20 years as the Yellowstone ecosystem grizzly bear population has recovered and regained formerly occupied habitat (including in Grand Teton National Park) bear maulings have increased. Grand Teton has documented six attacks since 1994 when a jogger was mauled on the Emma Matilda Lake trail. Other maulings occurred in 2001, 2007 and 2011. A mauling also occurred in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway in 1997. None of these bear attacks resulted in fatal injuries to humans.
All hunters participating in the elk reduction program in Grand Teton National Park are provided a safety packet with bear information. The following guidelines are suggested for participating hunters:
• Hunt with a partner.
• Carry bear spray (required).
• Avoid "dark" timber during mid-day when bears may be using a day-bed.
• Have a predetermined plan of action for retrieving harvested game from the field.
• Be extra cautious after making a kill and when hunting in areas where animals have recently been harvested.
• Avoid hunting in areas where fresh bear sign is repeatedly observed.
• Avoid gut piles.
Although possessing and carrying firearms in national parks is legal, the "use" of firearms is still prohibited under 36 CFR 2.4 (a)(1)(iii), unless permitted for specific purposes such as the elk reduction program. As a condition of their participation in the elk reduction program, hunters are only permitted to shoot an elk.
In light of this incident involving the fatal shooting of a grizzly bear - the first ever recorded in Grand Teton National Park - managers are reviewing steps that might be taken to reduce such incidents in the future.
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