LIBBY — Officials in northwestern Montana say a shot fired at a grizzly bear as it attacked a Nevada hunter passed through the bear before striking and killing the hunter.
Tests requested by the Department of the Interior found grizzly bear DNA on the 30-06 bullet that killed 39-year-old Steve Stevenson, of Winnemucca, Nev., on Sept. 16.
Stevenson and 20-year-old Ty Bell, also of Winnemucca, were hunting near the Montana-Idaho border when Bell shot what he thought was a black bear.
The men tracked the bear into heavy cover, where the 400-pound animal attacked Stevenson. Bell fired several shots trying to kill the bear.
Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe called the shooting a "horribly tragic accident."
"It started off with a single misjudgment and ended up in a horrific act that will affect families for a very long time," he said, adding that he doesn't expect charges will be filed. That decision will be up to the county attorney.
It is illegal to kill grizzly bears in the lower 48 states, where the animals are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Grizzlies were largely exterminated across the lower 48 last century, but their population has rebounded dramatically in recent decades.
The bear shot by Bell was one of about 45 of the animals that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates live in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem Area in northwest Montana and northern Idaho.
The area the men were hunting in is a grizzly bear recovery zone.