Chris Queen, who had been hunting elk, told investigators he was returning to his horses around 6:30 p.m. when he came upon the grizzly sow and three cubs.
The grizzly initially made a “bluff charge,” Park County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lance Mathess said of Queen’s account.
“Queen took no action at that time, feeling the sow would return to her cubs and move off,” Mathess wrote in a Friday news release. “He slowly backed away, attempting to gain distance from the bears.”
However, the sow became more aggressive, lowered its head and went into a full charge, Queen told investigators.
“It was then that he discharged his hunting rifle, killing the charging grizzly,” Mathess said of Queen’s account. “It fell only a few feet from where he stood.”
Queen, 48, was carrying bear spray, the Sheriff’s Office says.
“However, he also had his rifle in both hands and the attack happened so quick that he made the decision to discharge the rifle,” Mathess said in an email. “[Queen] would have had to drop the rifle to deploy the bear spray and in his mind, there wasn’t sufficient time.”
The game warden immediately reported the incident to his supervisor at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department via his cell phone, the department said in a separate news release. The case is being investigated jointly by the Sheriff’s Office and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation; Game and Fish bear experts and other department staffers are assisting.
“Game and Fish staff worked with the team to assess the condition of the bear cubs and will continue to monitor their status,” the department said.
Sunlight Basin is located northwest of Cody, accessed by the the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department says there have been more human-bear conflicts this year. Rebekah Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the department, said eight grizzly bears have been shot in 13 incidents where bears were charging or attacking. Four of those resulted in human injuries, she said.
That’s up from three incidents last year and two incidents in both 2014 and 2015.
“It’s not unheard of, but higher than recent years,” Fitzgerald said. She said the last comparable year was 2010.
With one of the agency’s own game wardens involved, Game and Fish turned the investigation over to the Sheriff’s Office and DCI; Sheriff Scott Steward said that’s not an unusual procedure.
“This maintains the integrity of the investigation and eliminates even the perception or impropriety,” Steward said in the release.
(Mark Davis contributed reporting.)