A Wyoming hunter has been fined $10,000 for mistakenly killing a grizzly he thought was a black bear. This punishment likely would have been worse had he not self-reported the incident as soon as it happened, according to local reports of the court proceedings.
Last year on May 30, Joel Proffit and his 13-year-old son were hunting black bears for the first time. With the proper tag in their possession, the two hiked into the Sleeping Giant Ski Area, which is roughly 40 miles from their home in Cody and within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (where grizzly bears are still federally protected). They spotted a bear and Proffit, thinking the animal was a black bear, told his son to shoot it. The teenager shot and killed the bear.
It wasn’t until they went to retrieve the animal that Proffit realized his mistake. Thinking it might be a grizzly and not a black bear, he immediately contacted WGFD to report the incident. A wildlife official came out the following day to inspect (and then confiscate) the bear’s head and hide.
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“I immediately confirmed it was a grizzly bear,” WGFD game warden Travis Crane wrote in an affidavit. “[It had] a large, dished head and large, mostly straight claws on its front feet.”
Months later, in October, the Park County Attorney’s Office charged Proffit but decided not to charge his son. In March 2023, Proffit pled no contest to a misdemeanor count of being an accessory to taking a grizzly bear without the proper license.
The criminal offense is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. However, prosecutors granted Proffit a plea deal that took jail time off the table, the Powell Tribune reports. Proffit still has to pay WGFD $10,000 in restitution for the dead grizzly, but as long as he doesn’t break the law in the next 12 months, his case will be dismissed without a finding of guilt.
“I know from reading the reports [that] you did the right thing immediately, as you should have done. And that speaks well of you,” Juedge Ed Luhm told Proffit during his sentencing on March 30. “I’m looking forward to you being successful here in your probation, so this will be dismissed.”
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