Attempting to scare off a grizzly bear with a gunshot turned out to be a costly mistake for a Casper man, as the round from his .22 caliber rifle wound up killing the animal.
In Park County Circuit Court in November, Brent Stalkup, 38, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of taking a grizzly without a license. Judge Bruce Waters ordered Stalkup to pay more than $25,000 and suspended his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for a year.
In sentencing the hunter, Waters expressed shock that he felled the bear with a relatively small-caliber weapon.
“You shot a bear with a .22 and it died?” the judge asked at the Nov. 19 hearing, incredulously.
“Yes,” Stalkup confirmed.
“How could that … never mind,” Waters said.
“It does happen, your honor,” piped in Park County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric.
Stalkup shot the grizzly in October 2017 in the Monument Hill area north of Cody.
“I had multiple encounters with the bear that day and the last time it came in, it started circling me,” Stalkup said in court. “And rather than trying to kill it, I tried to scare it off with a .22 by shooting it in the rump.”
However, according to Stalkup, the bear turned when he fired. The bullet went through the grizzly’s ribs and fatally injured the animal, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department concluded, after Stalkup called the agency to the scene.
“And here we are,” Stalkup said. “It was not my day.”
“Definitely not,” Judge Waters agreed. “I’m sorry.”
Scott Werbelow, the Game and Fish’s game warden supervisor for the Cody Region, said he arrived at the scene thinking the shooting might have been a case of self-defense.
However, “after the investigation, [we] just did the math on everything and said, ‘You know what? He didn’t need to shoot this bear,’” Werbelow said. “The bear never charged him, never bluffed him, never came towards him.”
Further, Stalkup was standing “right next to his pickup” and could have driven off and called for help. “It wasn’t like he was out in the wilderness by himself and had a bear encounter,”
The warden also questioned parts of Stalkup’s account.
For instance, Stalkup said the grizzly initially came within 10 feet — at which point he sicced his dog on the bruin; Stalkup showed Werbelow a brief video clip of the dog chasing the bear down the road.
“I thought, if you’re fearing for your life, you probably don’t pick up your phone and take a video,” Werbelow said.
The warden said that, according to Stalkup, the grizzly returned about 10 minutes later and his dog chased it off again. Then the bear returned a third time and Stalkup, without even taking aim, fired his weapon in the bear’s direction and wound up hitting it. The bullet ended up grazing the grizzly’s liver, Werbelow said.
In his investigation, Werbelow found bear tracks about 33 yards away, but “I didn’t find any other tracks of that bear coming and going two other times,” he said.
Additionally, he found that the animal had been heading away from Stalkup when the hunter shot it in the flank.
Werbelow said Stalkup told him at the scene that he hadn’t meant to kill the grizzly.
“I understand that,” the warden said, “but at the end of the day, we have a dead bear.”
Stalkup wound up being the first person cited by Game and Fish for illegally taking a grizzly in some time, as the department had only taken over the management of the species from the federal government a couple months earlier. A judge put the grizzlies back under federal management in September.
Stalkup’s sentence was the result of a plea deal between prosecutor Skoric and Stalkup’s defense attorney, Richard Jamieson of Casper. However, Stalkup still appeared frustrated with the end result, including the thousands of dollars in penalties.
Stalkup said that when he called the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to report his accidental shooting of the grizzly bear, “I ... thought I was doing the right thing.”
“I tried to be very, very cooperative and … yeah,” he said, apparently referring to his sentence.
Skoric responded that Stalkup did do the right thing, suggesting the Game and Fish might have sought $50,000 in restitution had Stalkup not reported the incident and the dead grizzly been tracked back to him.
Instead, he was ordered to pay $20,000 in restitution to Game and Fish, a $5,000 fine and $55 in court costs. In addition, Stalkup was placed on unsupervised probation for a year (with the only condition being that he obey the law), with 45 days of jail time suspended.
Judge Waters told Stalkup that it was “a bit of bad luck.”
“I’ve seen people shot with a .22 and they didn’t die — and that was intentional,” Waters said.
Both the judge and the prosecutor wished Stalkup good luck going forward. He paid the full $25,055 shortly after the hearing.
Stalkup was the second hunter this fall to receive a hefty penalty for mistakenly killing a grizzly bear.
In September, David P. Huber of Buffalo mistook a grizzly for a black bear in the Bennett Creek area in Clark. Huber, who also reported the error to Game and Fish, pleaded guilty to taking a grizzly without a license in October. He was ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to the Game and Fish plus $55 in court costs.
Huber paid $5,000 at the time of sentencing and now must pay at least $250 per month toward the remaining $5,055.