Montana Outdoors

October 28, 2006

He broke four laws that night,

Filed under: Montana, Outdoors, Writing — montucky @ 9:22 pm

and committed one simple act of compassion.

It had been blistering hot that day in late August 1997 and it was County Fair time in western Montana. The night temperature had cooled a little and it was quite pleasant as he dropped his daughter off at her dormitory at the university, eighty-some miles from his home and he and a friend (who had accompanied him just for the ride) started the long drive back.

About twenty-five miles from home as he steered his Jeep through a sharp and narrow curve, he could see the headlights of a dozen cars stopped at the far end of the curve. It was just after midnight. The moon had already gone down and the night was black, the highway was black, and the bear laying in the middle of it was black. There had been a collision between the bear and a Chevrolet Suburban, one of many vehicles returning home after a day at the fair; no one’s fault really, just an event that occurs all too frequently on the highways of the west.

When he pulled over and off the side of the road and came to a stop, a middle-aged couple quickly approached with a rather urgent question: “Do you have a fire arm with you? The animal is suffering!” He was already reaching for the case containing his S&W model 19: this was not a first-time event.

After instructing his friend to move the gathering of several dozen people off to the side at least thirty yards, he approached the bear with a feeling of admiration for this creature of nature, he admired the beauty of its heavy black coat, shiny even in the lights of the cars, and felt the sadness that always comes over him when he knows he will squeeze a trigger and end the life of a wild thing. He cautiously touched the bear and there was no movement: it could not move: its back was broken and it was paralyzed. Its breathing was heavy and difficult: it was alive, it could feel pain, but there was no possible hope for recovery.

He carefully calculated the direction his bullet would take after it would pass through the bear and ricochet off the pavement, made certain it would be a safe shot, not a danger to anyone present or to anything in the background, chose the exact point of impact for an instant kill, and after softly saying, “Go to sleep, my friend”, squeezed the trigger and simultaneously and willfully broke four laws.

1. It is illegal to shoot a game animal aided by artificial light.

2. It is illegal to shoot a game animal out of season.

3. It is illegal to shoot a game animal without a valid license.

4. It is illegal to discharge a firearm from, across or on a highway.

After the animal was removed from the highway, permitting traffic to resume, over a dozen people, men, women, and children, some still shaking from the disquieting sound of the report of a magnum round in the middle of a peacefully quiet night, came over to him, shook his hand and thanked him for doing something that needed to be done.

Considering the alternative, and knowing that the response time to get a law officer to the scene would be a minimum of several hours, what might you have done?


  1. There was no other answer. A good man knows the purpose of the laws as well as the conditions they do not cover.



    Comment by knightofswords — May 1, 2007 @ 8:02 am

  2. I would have done the same. I hope the main character in this narrative was not charged with any crime – that would be ludicrous.


    Comment by wolf — May 1, 2007 @ 8:11 am

  3. knightofswords,

    I think sometimes there is a greater law. In this particular case, given the light conditions and the road configuration the collision was probably inevitable; a black night, a black bear, a black road. With the sharp curves, speed was not an issue; it was a 45mph curve.

    Automobiles strike animals every day on Montana highways, and I’m sad to think that many, perhaps most, people are not equipped, or capable of dispatching the wounded animal, or afraid of violating those four laws and leave a very sad situation behind them.


    Comment by montucky — May 1, 2007 @ 9:03 am

  4. wolf,

    There were no repercussions to that incident. I have talked about that sort of thing to several well-respected law enforcement officers in Montana, and have been told that no good officer that they know of in the state would cite someone for dispatching a severely injured animal. I’m still concerned however, that with all of today’s focus on political correctness, some day that might not be the same.


    Comment by montucky — May 1, 2007 @ 9:07 am

  5. What had to be done was done. Sad, of course, but less sad than continued suffering. When we lived in Wisconsin, such situations were not uncommon.


    Comment by Elizabeth — May 1, 2007 @ 12:03 pm

  6. Two bad Montana stopped putting out those white safety crosses for fatalities some years ago. Another color could have been added to account for large wildlife – deer, bear, antelope, moose.



    Comment by knightofswords — May 2, 2007 @ 8:45 pm

  7. If we would post each wildlife fatality along our highways, the highways would look like tunnels. And still, people won’t slow down at night. Last year 27 Big horns were killed in a 5 mile stretch about 6 miles west of here, even though there are lighted signs warning of sheep on the road. I heard the other day that the average repair bill for a collision with a deer is around $4,000 now. I’d think that would make people more careful if nothing else.


    Comment by montucky — May 2, 2007 @ 9:05 pm

  8. Elizabeth,

    These situations are very common around here. There are in Montana, fortunately, a lot of sportsmen who will take care of the situation that they encounter, and where there are major highway improvements wildlife underpasses are being constructed to alleviate the situation.


    Comment by montucky — May 7, 2007 @ 2:16 pm

  9. I would definitely have helped the bear across the divide. Black bear is my personal totem. Sad story.


    Comment by Cedar — March 5, 2010 @ 8:34 am

    • It happens, sadly, and one simply has to do the humane thing. Black bears are still doing very well in this area. I saw seven last summer, and I’ve hear they are now coming our of hibernation already. We even have one or two pass through our yard in late summer.


      Comment by montucky — March 5, 2010 @ 9:13 pm

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