Animal wasn’t a threat, officer says

June 8, 2011

SYLVA — Wildlife officers say they charged a Jackson County man with killing
a bear after finding it posed insufficient threat to safety or hadn’t caused
significant property damage.

Some people mistakenly believe it’s legal to shoot a bear that wanders into
a yard or neighborhood, said Mike Carraway, a biologist with the N.C.
Wildlife Resources Commission.

“You can only shoot a bear if it’s causing some kind of significant property
damage or if it poses a direct threat to somebody’s life,” Carraway said.
“Just having a bear walk through your yard is not a valid reason.”

John Caplinger wasn’t justified in shooting a bear near his home in a
neighborhood off Quest Ridge Road just outside Sylva on Saturday afternoon,
wildlife officer Brent Hyatt said.

Officials learned of the shooting from a call to the commission’s hotline
for reporting wildlife violations, he said. Officers responded to
Caplinger’s home and questioned him.

“The fellow said it was in defense of his property and he was scared for his
kids,” Hyatt said. “I found the bear had not been doing a justifiable amount
of damage to kill it.”

Hyatt said Caplinger told him the bear had left bite marks on a container of
chicken feed and a dog food feeder in his yard.

But the bear was shot out of a tree in woods behind Caplinger’s property
with two rounds from a .20-gauge pump shotgun, the officer said.

“The bear was not in the act of doing damage when it was killed,” Hyatt
said. “It was in a tree.”

Caplinger was charged with taking a bear during closed hunting season. If
convicted, he must pay a state-mandated bear replacement fee of $2,232 and
faces a fine of up to $2,000 plus court costs.

A judge will determine if his firearm, which was confiscated, will be
destroyed.

Violators of the law also face losing their hunting license for two years,
although Caplinger is not a hunter, Hyatt said. His next date in Jackson
County District Court is set for July 12.

Caplinger, 47, a Sylva chiropractor, could not be reached for comment.

Carraway said there are two or three instances a year of someone in Western
North Carolina shooting a bear out of hunting season.

People who spot a bear in their yard should leave it alone, go inside and
wait until it leaves, he said. Then remove any outside food sources that
might be attracting the bear such as garbage, pet food, bird feeders and
grills.

“That’s usually why the bear is there,” Carraway said.
Source: N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

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