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Hunter charged with killing grizzly found on North Fork

POWELL — The grizzly bear found dead along the North Fork Highway last week was killed by a Cody area hunter who said he mistook the animal for a black bear, according to court documents.

The hunter, Patrick M. Gogerty, reportedly came forward on May 2 — the day after he reportedly shot the bear, and after the bear’s carcass drew widespread public attention.

“Gogerty should have turned himself in immediately,” North Cody Game Warden Travis Crane wrote in an affidavit included in court records.

Park County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric charged Gogerty on Thursday with a misdemeanor count of taking a trophy game animal without the proper license or authority. Gogerty, who was born in 1957 and has a residence in Wapiti, is scheduled to appear in Park County Circuit Court in Cody and enter a plea on Friday, May 19.

Charging documents say Gogerty killed the bear on May 1, which was the opening day of the black bear season for those hunting with firearms. Gorgerty is quoted as saying that he spotted the bruin about 100 yards from the North Fork Highway (U.S. 14/16/20).

“Gogerty felt confident it was a black bear as he could not see a hump on its back,” Crane wrote.

The hunter fired approximately seven shots at the bear, the affidavit says, and a Game and Fish necropsy later determined that the 530-pound male was hit at least four times.

It was only after Gogerty approached the dead bear and saw its claws, pads and head that he realized it was a grizzly, he reportedly told Crane.

Gogerty contacted the warden about the killing around 5:42 a.m. on Tuesday, May 2, more than 20 hours after members of the public spotted and reported the dead bear along the heavily trafficked highway.

Crane was summoned to the scene — located about 14 miles from Yellowstone’s East Entrance inside the Shoshone National Forest — around 9:10 a.m. on Monday, May 1. When the warden arrived, several vehicles and people were already there.

Attention in the incident only grew after a local resident photographed the dead bear and the images were widely shared on social media. A slew of news coverage — including from national outlets like USA Today, HuffPost and The New York Times — followed over the next several days.

Dozens of state and federal officials tasked with managing conservation efforts for the protected species gathered in Cody this week for a meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee. They remained tight-lipped about the investigation, despite being pressured by several members of the public and media.

“There is no further comment on the ongoing federal investigation on the grizzly bear mortality recently that occurred west of Cody,” Game and Fish Large Carnivore Program Supervisor Dan Thompson told the audience Wednesday. “I’ve already been asked five times.”

The federal government is in charge of the investigation because it manages the threatened species in the region, but the Game and Fish did the preliminary investigation, according to Hilary Cooley, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

At Thursday’s committee meeting, Cooley said she asked if the service could release some information, but was denied because “it’s against federal regulations to discuss ongoing investigations.”

Yet, rumors were floating around the meeting that the hunter had already turned himself in — and the charge was filed later that day.

Taking a grizzly without a license is punishable by an up-to-$10,000 fine and as much as one year of jail time. Additionally, a person convicted of the offense can lose their hunting privileges for up to six years and can be ordered to pay as much as $25,000 in restitution to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Earlier this spring, a Cody man was ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution and $120 in court fees and assessments in connection with the May 2022 killing of a different grizzly in the North Fork area. In that case, the man was hunting with his son and had directed the teen to shoot a grizzly that he’d mistaken for a black bear. The case differed in that the man immediately contacted the Game and Fish to report the error — a decision the sentencing judge praised as “very responsible.”

Cody Wildlife Supervisor Dan Smith said he couldn’t talk about Gogerty’s case, but speaking generally, he said it’s not unusual for a hunter to take multiple shots on a large animal.

“If you're hunting and your first shot does not successfully put the animal down, then you have to follow it up with additional shots,” Smith said Friday afternoon.

He said each individual hunt depends on a lot of variables starting with your hunting skill level, whether the animal is moving at the time you take your shot and the conditions, “like what your rest looks like and what the wind is doing.”

It’s not always easy to properly identify the species of bear: Even a Game and Fish employee mistook a grizzly for a black bear during a 2013 hunt on the North Fork and received more than $10,000 in penalties after immediately turning himself in.

“When you’re hunting in areas where there's grizzly bears and black bears, it's a little more challenging,” Smith said. “Black bears can come in many colors. They’re called black bears, but they can come in many colors, including browns that look like grizzly bears. And grizzly bears also can come in different shades. And so they can be darker, like what you would typically think of a black bear or lighter.”

Experts advise hunters to instead identify the species by its claws, the shape of its head and presence (or lack) of a hump.

Ultimately, “you’re responsible for what you shoot. You have to take the time to make sure you know what you're hunting,” Smith said. He added that, “It's always better to take responsibility for your mistake than it is to walk away.”

This story was posted on May 12, 2023 and permission was granted to the WNE to send it out prior to publication on May 16, 2023.