Photo Credit: harrycollinsphotography

Accidental Grizzly Killing Penalties Too Stiff?

By Todd Helms

Grizzly and black bears can be notoriously hard to tell apart at times. This has led to accidental killings of grizzly bears over the past few spring and fall black bear seasons in the states of Montana and Wyoming. Often times the fines levied on hunters making honest mistakes are in excess of $10k. 

Take for example the case of mistaken identification last spring right in my backyard here in northwest Wyoming. A local hunter and his young son thought the boy had legally taken a prime spring black bear but upon closer inspection the bruin was a grizz. An honest mistake which the pair immediately reported to WYGFD. The hunters were up front and honest about the mistake but a fine $10K and a year’s probation was still handed down as punishment. 

This is not the only incident of mistaken bear identity resulting in a stiff penalty. So, I have to ask the question… are these fines too high? Should honesty and integrity be weighed when assessing game violation penalties? 

It seems to me that there’s a special place in Game and Fish jail for folks who mistakenly kill grizzlies. Is this due to the bear’s dynamic stature in our modern world? 

Any way you slice it, game violations are often colored gray and punishment largely rests on the discretion of the agency or officers in charge. Like all of us, sometimes they get it right and sometimes they overstep. 

What’s your opinion… are accidental killings of grizzly bear fines too high? 


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4 Responses

    1. Correct…why in the world would you fine some guy and his kid that made a mistake that reported it quickly….fine these poachers 10k dollars…..good lord

  1. I’m in Alberta where I have heard of several accidental killings of Grizzly bears. I’ve seen two of the dead grizzlies.
    Both were enormous. I’m pretty certain had I seen those bears I’d have readily identified them. Part of me would have wishfully hoped they were record block black bears but the other part would have known better.
    However, I have many many black bear successes including B&C blacks and an Alaskan grizzly to my credit. I’d really could never be able to claim “accidental”.
    However, lots of the readers here may never have killed a bear at all. Situations like poor lighting and baiting with multiple bears on the bait or simple tunnel vision or “wishful thinkingitis” may cloud the novice hunters thought processes.
    In Alberta many cases of mistaken identity killings of mulies vs whitetails or cows vs spike bulls or Antlerless vs antlered mistakes happen. I’d bet it’s several hundreds of mistakes every year.
    The vast majority are just processed and unreported. Why? Because we have all heard where the person who made the mistake was penalized instead of forgiven. It all depends upon the officer.
    I know of at least a dozen people who had made honest mistakes.
    Consider two hunters in their 70s. Both accidentally shot a spike bull when their license was for a cow elk. Both had old eyes. Both men were seasoned hunters. Both were utterly convinced they were shooting a legal animal. Both self reported. Both were fined and lost their hunting privileges for a year. Both never went through the violators exam to get back their licenses. Because both could never identify a cinnamon teal or a Hungarian partridge because they never hunted them or seen them in their lives. (Identification is a big portion of the test)
    Both hunters never got a license again. Both hunters became “poachers” for the rest of their lives. If you can call an old farmer a poacher for shooting an elk to eat off their own land. Both influenced the hunting community to never self report.
    Yes, it’s simpler to just process the animal and deal with it quietly. But it leaves a bitter taste in the least and a blatant rebellious attitude towards officers at the worst.
    The officers know this happens and they are secretly happy the vast majority are never wasted. However the ugly side of a mistake is that there are those cases of mistake’s discovered and the animals wasted because of the fear of legal consequences.
    I would go so far as to say those ugly wasted wildlife pictures we see were initially accidental killings or lost game rather than true willful killings or “trophy” poaching.
    Just my thoughts here in Alberta

  2. If you can’t tell the diff between a Grizzly and a black bear, you should not be hunting them. While I agree the fine was far too steep for this incident, especially since they self reported. However, if you hunt where both species live, you should make sure you know what you are shooting. Every Griz has a shoulder hump and I have never seen or heard of a black Griz and brown black bears are typically (I know, not always) smaller bears.

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