New details regarding the death of famous Yellowstone grizzly bear Scarface (Bear No. 211) have been released to the public.
Scarface, a favorite among wildlife watchers and photographers, who was immediately identifiable by the line of scars running along the right side of his face, was shot and killed November 2015. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials confirmed his death in April 2016, adding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was investigating the incident.
Scarface was also well-known to researchers. At the time of his death, Scarface was 25 years old, a feat for any grizzly bear, who only make it to 11 years on average. In recent years, researchers had noted his weight had dropped precipitously, weighing in at 338 pounds at his last capture in 2015. Officials say in years past, Scarface weighed nearly 600 pounds.
Now, after over a year since the FWP’s announcement, the report on Scarface’s shooting has been released via a Freedom of Information Act request. According to the synopsis, a Special Agent with the FWP received a tip regarding a grizzly shooting outside Yellowstone National Park.
The agent (noted in the report as SA) responded to a hunting camp at the trailhead of Little Trail Creek northwest of Gardiner Montana. According to the report, an elk hunter with a valid elk license confessed to shooting Scarface. The suspect averred he was not hunting bears and had no license for black bears.
Hunting of grizzly bears, of course, is currently prohibited, as the SA explained.
According to the report, the hunter came across Scarface around 6:20 p.m. November 18, 2015. The hunter spotted the bear with his headlamp, saying “I don’t know what, if there is an actual written rule, but when you see them in a head lamp and you can shoot them from the hip, they’re too close.”
A summary of the incident is below, from the USFWS report; redacted information is shown here in brackets:
When asked what he did once he saw the bear, […] said, while mimicking taking the rifle off of his shoulder and pointing it from the hip, “It was, boom.” Using objects on the ground for reference, […] explained the bear was about 10 feet away, stating, “And at night, don’t forget night-time also seems a hell of a lot closer. It was close enough that there was, it was time to start slinging led.” […] continued, “I would seriously, I’d do it all over again, if you were holding a camera and if those two were there, she was, it was right there, it was time to shoot.”
According to the report, the hunter shot three times before running away and restacking his gun. From the report:
When asked whether the bear was dead or alive, […] said the bear was dead because he had gone back up later that night. […] could not recall the time, stating, “Heck if I know. But me and [..] talked about it, I really got no idea what the hell to do. […] I was like, what the hell, and uhh go back and yeah it’s a grizz. And I was like yeah we got to turn this in.”
The hunter said he would not have shot Scarface had the bear been further away, citing his panic at coming across a grizzly bear so close.
The USFWS later conducted a field necropsy of Scarface and found bullets on the left side about mid-rib, in the hide by the left rear leg, and in the left front shoulder. The report notes that the hunter “did knowingly take an endangered species; to wit, a Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis), in violation of Title 16 United States Code Section 1538 (a)(1)(B).”
In the aftermath of Scarface’s death, some grizzly advocates pointed to the murky circumstances behind Scarface’s death as reason to preserve and even bolster protections for Yellowstone area grizzly bears under the Endangered Species Act. Since last 2015, USFWS officials have been weighing whether to delist the population. A decision on delisting is still expected by the end of June, although some are pushing the deadline toward “by the end of the year;” this week, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee met this week to discuss future management plans ahead of any delisting announcement.