The recent shooting death of Layne Spence’s malamute has left public land users stunned. A hunter thought Spence’s dog—wearing a lighted collar—was a wolf, and fired a dozen shots after Spence made his presence known to the hunter. Perhaps as shocking as the failure to properly identify a target before shooting—the cardinal rule of hunting—is the dismissive inquiry into the matter by Missoula County and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Despite the recklessness of firing over a dozen rounds in the direction of Spence and his dogs 30 yards away, clearly creating a substantial risk of death or serious injury, no charges were filed against the hunter and the investigation closed within 24 hours. The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office explained in a release: “These events are very unfortunate.” However there was no finding of criminal intent. Likewise, FWP declined to press charges against the hunter as no game animals were involved. While the hunter has since come forward and given his story, the county attorney’s office has been reluctant to release either the hunter’s name or the file to Spence.
Wolf hunting season, which lasts six months, also allows for trapped or shot wolves to be simply “left in the field” (read: rot). This naturally reduces the onus on hunters to truly confirm their target, promoting a shoot now, ask later approach, as in the case of Spence’s dog. This sensitive issue which will not go away is based neither on hunting nor the Second Amendment; it’s instead about accountability when a person fires a weapon. Recreationists who enjoy public lands must speak up and refuse to be held hostage by the fear that either negligent hunters or lax law enforcement can simply walk from such a tragic event, which could easily occur again.
William E. Rideg