JACKSON, Wyo. - The 41-year-old hunter shot the bear in what he thought was self-defense. Standing up next to the moose carcass, the bear had looked at him hard.
"My instincts were telling me that bear was going to kill me and I had to act," said the hunter, who lives in Jackson Hole.
Jurors concluded otherwise. In what experts tell the Jackson Hole News & Guide will be an important message to hunters and others, the man was found guilty of the misdemeanor crime of killing the bear, a grizzly.
"Under the circumstances, we feel the defendant acted out of fear instead of self-defense," the verdict said. The punishment, however, was nominal.
Steve Weichman, the prosecuting attorney, told the newspaper that it was the one of the first cases in the United Sates where a person was convicted of taking wildlife when claiming self-defense.
"You are not going to be prosecuted if you killed a bear in self-defense, but you need to be prepared to establish reasonable grounds for your claim of self-defense," Weichman added.
The verdict has particular importance given that the grizzly bear population in northwestern Wyoming has been expanded, even as a new U.S. policy allows firearms in national parks, including Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
Importantly, as seen from Weichman's perspective, the jury included a broad cross-section of the local community - including hunters. But others did not concur. The News & Guide carried letters from out-of-state readers dismayed by the verdict.
"I cannot for the life of me believe it has come to this, that an animal's life is more valuable than a human being's," wrote Jon Rahlf of Decorah, Iowa.
To Dave Smith, from Avalon, Calif., the verdict seemed to indicate that the hunter should have used bear spray if he felt threatened. But Smith says bear spray is neither a "safe nor a realistic alternative to a firearm when a hunter has a surprise encounter with a nearby grizzly."
The hunter had known of the moose carcass for several days. He said he shot the bear about 10 seconds after seeing it, then began running toward his hunting camp, the head and cape of a mule deer that he had killed earlier still strapped to his backpack. He described himself as paranoid.
"I thought I heard noises - very scared," he said.
Authorities credited him with reporting the killing, and he also expressed remorse. "I hear the sound that bear made every day I wake up," the hunter said at his trial.
Mark Bruscino, bear management program supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, described a continuum of bear behaviour. People have been justified in some cases for killing bears, but the circumstances of each encounter must be evaluated, including the bear's behaviour at the time and any potential escape routes.