A federal investigation involving a dead grizzly bear that was found near Yellowstone National Park earlier this month has been resolved. The man who killed the grizzly, Patrick M. Gogerty, admitted to illegally shooting the grizzly bear. Gogerty came forward the day after the bear was discovered, according to local news outlets. He was charged with a misdemeanor in Park County Circuit Court on Thursday.
The investigation began on May 1 after a wildlife photographer discovered the dead grizzly just off the North Fork Highway near Wapiti, Wyoming, which lies roughly 14 miles east of Yellowstone National Park. The photographer, Julie Argyle, shared photos of the bear’s carcass on social media, which led to multiple rumors and unverified reports regarding the grizzly’s cause of death. Many, including Argyle, were quick to point out that the bear was most likely shot illegally.
“The bear was roughly 20 [to] 40 yards off the road,” Argyle wrote in the Facebook post. “At first glance it was thought to have been hit by a car but has now been verified through [WGFD] that it had been shot, and that there have been no reports of self-defense filed in that area.”
Because grizzlies are a federally protected species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service led the investigation into the bear’s death. Officials were tight-lipped at first, but USFWS special agent Richard Gamba told the Cowboy State Daily that the case was being investigated as a possible illegal killing.
Gogerty came forward on May 2, the day after the bear was found dead, the Powell Tribune reports. He contacted a local game warden that evening and admitted to shooting the grizzly bear. Gogerty claimed that he thought it was a black bear at the time.
“Gogerty felt confident it was a black bear as he could not see a hump on its back,” North Cody game warden Travis Crane wrote in an affidavit that was included in the court records. “[He] should have turned himself in immediately.”
In Crane’s affidavit, he explained that Gogerty admitted to firing approximately seven shots at the 530-pound male grizzly bear on May 1. A necropsy later revealed that the grizzly bear was hit at least four times. After seeing the dead bear’s claws, pads, and head, Gogerty realized it was a grizzly. However, he didn’t contact WGFD to report the killing until around 5:42 p.m. on May 2, almost a full day after he killed the grizzly. By that point, the bear’s death had already been highly publicized in several national news outlets, including Outdoor Life.
Gogerty was charged with a misdemeanor count of taking a trophy game animal without the proper license or authority on Thursday, May 11. The crime is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. If convicted, Gogerty could also have his hunting privileges suspended for up to six years and face additional restitution fines that would be paid to WGFD.
Gogerty is expected to enter a plea on May 19, according to the Powell Tribune, although it’s still unclear what his punishment will entail. A similar case involving a hunter who mistook a grizzly for a black bear recently concluded in Wyoming. While that hunter was charged with the same crime in the same circuit court in Park County, prosecutors granted him a plea deal and took jail time off the table because he immediately reported the incident as soon as he walked up to the dead grizzly and realized his mistake.
Because Gogerty waited before coming forward, he could face stiffer punishments for killing the grizzly illegally. WGFD wildlife supervisor Dan Smith told reporters last week that although it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish black bears from grizzlies, that responsibility ultimately falls on the hunter.
“When you’re hunting in areas where there’s grizzly bears and black bears, it’s a little more challenging. Black bears can come in many colors…” Smith said. “[But] you’re responsible for what you shoot. You have to take the time to make sure you know what you’re hunting. It’s always better to take responsibility for your mistake that it is to walk away.”