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a cute fat black bear sniffing some long grass with a forest in the background

A Costly Shot: Hiker’s Bear Encounter Ends in Fine

Bear meets hiker; shotgun meets bear—what happened next cost the hiker a pretty penny and sent a message about the importance of following park rules.

Serge Painchaud, a 42-year-old welder from Edmonton, pleaded guilty last week to shooting a black bear in a national park in August 2022.

He is set to pay a $7,500  fine for violating a hunting restriction under the National Parks Act.

When it comes to an aggressive encounter with a black bear, the general rule of thumb is to fight back. But Painchaud was a little too quick to pull the trigger.

a beautiful shot of the overlander trail in jasper national park showcasing a plank path small creek and lush forest trees with the mountains and blue sky in the distance
The Overlander Trail in Jasper National Park | Hike Jasper

Last August, Painchaud went hiking along the Overlander Trail in Jasper National Park with two friends. The payoff for completing the nine-mile hike is a stunning view of the mountains. 

Painchaud turned back before completing the hike due to exhaustion. But he wasn’t alone; he had his 20-gauge shotgun with him. 

For starters, firearms and hunting are not permitted in national parks. That means you’re not supposed to bring slingshots, bows, pellet guns, crossbows, paintball guns, and, most certainly, shotguns along while you are hiking. 

The only exception is if a firearm is being transported through a park in a vehicle. Even then, the firearm must be unloaded and securely encased.

Painchaud apparently missed that memo. On his hike back, he encountered a black bear. The bear is thought to have been 30 metres from him, across a small creek. 

According to an agreed statement of facts reported by CBC News, Painchaud immediately “became scared” and fired a warning shot. When the bear inched closer, he fired a second shot directly at the bear. 

This shot struck the bear, causing it to bleed and roll down a bank before running into the woods. Painchaud’s friends heard the shot and called park wardens to investigate. 

In the area where Painchaud fired his gun, park wardens found two shotgun shells and traces of blood from the bear.

The issue became,  whether or not Painchaud’s actions were warranted? 

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

Despite many human and bear interactions, there are only about 40 reported bear attacks on average. Fatal bear attacks are even rarer.

In 2022, four out of 26 bear attacks were fatal in Canada. In Alberta, three people were killed by bears in 2021, which is an “unusually high number,” according to Kim Titchener, president of Bear Safety & More Inc

It’s important to note that most attacks occur when a bear feels threatened or is protecting their young. 

a black shotgun laying on a white carpet
A Mossberg Model 510 20-guage shotgun; the same shotgun used by Painchaud | Reddit

“Injured bears can be very aggressive when encountered in close quarters, so any further searches must be approached with extreme caution,” said Parks Canada.

So that means the odds of being attacked by a bear are close to one in 1.2 million, according to the World Animal Foundation

Justice Rosanna Saccomani said Painchaud’s fear of bears did not bear weight. 

“That would apply to pretty much every single person in your situation…we’re all afraid of bears,” remarked Saccomani.

Painchaud’s lawyer, Edmon O’Neill, pointed out that he had no criminal record or wildlife offences before this incident. Additionally, Painchaud’s guilty plea averted a trial that most likely would have focused on whether he was in danger or not.

Still, Crown prosecutor Adam Karbani wanted to slap Painchaud with a stiff fine (as high as $10,000), a year-long probation preventing him from using a Parks Canada pass, and a two-year prohibition on owning firearms. 

Instead, Painchaud will pay a $7,500 fine.  He has a year to pay it off. 

“There’ll be some who will view the fine of $7,500 as high. Those who live and work and enjoy the national parks will view it as low. And that really doesn’t matter to me: it’s what I view is fair in the circumstances having regard to your co-operation,” said Justice Saccomani. 

Laws are intended to reward some behaviors and discourage others. 

So what’s moral of this story?

Don’t carry a firearm in a national park.

If you do encounter a black bear, slowly back away while keeping the bear in sight and wait for it to leave.

If the bear does not leave, make yourself look as big as possible by spreading your arms and making loud noises with a whistle, air horn, or yelling. 

Instead of a 20-guage shotgun, bring bear spray with you on hikes and know how to use it. Remember, when you go hiking in bear country, you are in their home.

While Painchaud may have been scared, the black bear likely was too. After all, how would you feel if someone walked into your house with a gun?

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