Nov. 21, 2013
Layne Spence’s pet malamute, Little Dave.
Here’s the Great Falls Tribune article in its entirety:
Written by John S. Adams
Tribune Capital Bureau
HELENA – Layne Spence went out into the woods west of Missoula on a Sunday afternoon to do what he loves to do best: recreate in Montana’s outdoors with his three beloved malamutes.
Spence, an avid outdoorsman, drove to the Lolo National Forest’s Lee Creek campground, an area the agency touts on its website for its “winter recreation opportunities such as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.”
The area also is popular with hunters and trappers.
Spence parked his truck, turned on his dogs’ lighted collars, clipped into his cross-country skis and set off down the snow-covered forest road.
Within minutes of starting out on his trek with his dogs Rex, Frank and Little Dave, Spence said he heard a gunshot from up ahead. Spence said he looked up from road just as Little Dave’s hind leg was struck by a bullet. Spence said a man, dressed mostly in camouflage, was standing on the road approximately 30 yards ahead of him and was aiming a semiautomatic assault rifle in his direction.
Merriam-Webster defines an assault rifle as “any of various automatic or semiautomatic rifles with large capacity magazines designed for military use.”
“I started screaming at the top of my lungs, ‘No! No! Stop! Stop! You’re shooting my dog!,” Spence recalled, his voice still hoarse from yelling three days after the alleged incident.
Spence, a licensed emergency medical responder, said even though his dog was gravely wounded, he thought he had a chance to save him after the first shot. Even with a missing leg, Little Dave could live a full and happy life, Spence said later.
“I started running toward Little Dave, screaming the whole time and then I heard this ‘tat, tat, tat’ five or six more times,” Spence said. “Then Little Dave’s head just tilted over and he was dead.”
As Spence huddled over the body of his dead pet, the unidentified shooter approached him and told Spence he thought the dog was a wolf. According to Spence, the man asked if there was anything he could do. Spence he was distraught and screamed at the man to leave him alone.
“I was sitting there screaming, I was covered in blood, and I was trying to find my dog’s leg,” Spence recalled.
Spence said any responsible wolf hunter should have known his domestic dogs aren’t wolves. Spence said Little Dave bears a resemblance to the Ewok characters from the “Star Wars” films.
Local law enforcement authorities, state wildlife officials and U.S. Forest Service officials announced Tuesday that they spoke to the hunter involved in the incident.
According to a joint statement issued by the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, the hunter broke no criminal or wildlife laws in the incident. Authorities said they are withholding the man’s name for his own safety.
“Based on the statements provided by both parties, it was determined that there was no malicious or purposeful intent to cause harm or injury to a domesticated animal on behalf of the hunter,” the statement read. “The Missoula County Attorney’s Office concurs with the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office that the facts of the incident do not fit the elements of any criminal statutes contained in Montana law …”
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said the circumstances do not “constitute any egregious violation of Montana hunting regulations.”
“The incident was not enforceable by their agency because it involved a domesticated animal, rather than a game animal,” the statement read.
Although authorities say no laws were broken, widespread news of the incident has outraged many outdoor enthusiasts and sparked debate over who is responsible for the safety of the nonhunting public and their pets on public lands during open hunting seasons.
Wolf hunting and trapping is legal in Montana, and so far 85 wolves have been killed during Montana’s 2013-2014 hunting and trapping season.
Hunters can hunt wolves with guns from Sept. 15 to March 15, and trapping runs from Dec. 15 to Feb. 28. Wolf hunters are only required to wear “hunter orange” during the five-week general rifle season. After Dec. 1, they can hunt until mid-March without wearing orange.
Matthew Koehler, executive director of the Missoula-based WildWest Institute, said as an environmentalist and a big-game hunter, he is deeply troubled by the reported actions of the hunter who allegedly shot Spence’s dog.
Koehler said state wildlife and law enforcement officials appear to be applying a different set of rules for wolf hunters than other big-game hunters.
“The first rule for any ethical hunter is to know your target,” Koehler said. “If FWP or law enforcement found out a hunter mistakenly shot a bull elk when the regulations only allowed the taking of antlerless elk, they would fine the hunter and perhaps even take away his license. It blows me away that in this case, authorities are apparently saying it’s OK for wolf hunters to shoot people’s pets on public lands and there are no consequences for those actions.”
Jerry Black is an anti-wolf hunting advocate who said Montana’s liberal wolf hunting laws put unreasonable onus on unarmed citizens to protect themselves and their pets from injury or death while recreating on public lands.
“What’s screwed up is this tragic incident shows that we as citizens out walking with our dogs, or out there hiking, fishing or skiing on public lands, it’s now our responsibility to not get shot,” Black said. “For six months out of the year, we’re under siege by wolf hunters who say it’s our responsibility to wear blaze orange.”
Spence said he believes the man who shot Little Dave should lose his hunting privileges and have his guns taken away.
Spence said the hunter violated hunting regulations, including shooting from a public roadway.
According to the 2013-2014 Montana wolf-hunting regulations, “it is illegal for anyone to hunt or attempt to hunt any wolf from, on or across any public highway or the shoulder, berm, barrow pit or right-of-way of any public highway …”
“I don’t want anything bad to happen to the guy. I just want an apology,” Spence said. “He has to be held accountable. I’m lucky to be alive. He was shooting right at me.”
Spence said he believes there needs to be stiff penalties on the books for hunters who endanger nonhunters or their pets through irresponsible actions. He said he hopes if anything good comes from the death of Little Dave, it will prevent future incidents like this from occurring.
“It could have happened to anyone. I could have had a child out there with me,” Spence said. “People need to be aware. I don’t want this to happen to anybody else.”
One state lawmaker is already talking about taking action in the 2015 Legislature.
Rep. Ellie Boldman Hill, D-Missoula, said on her Facebook page that she is considering proposing legislation making what happened on Sunday a crime. Hill is up for re-election in 2014.
Spence said he’s not opposed to hunting and has hunted in the past. However, Spence said he believes the use of a semiautomatic rifles should not be allowed for hunting.
Semiautomatic rifles are legal in Montana and no special permit is required to own them or hunt with them.
“Everybody has their Second Amendment right to bear arms, but irresponsibility and those kinds of weapons that allow you to fire off a bunch of rounds with a few quick squeezes of the trigger should be banned,” Spence said. “Assault weapons are not hunting rifles.”