STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Humble Ranch manager Jay Trousil woke up at 2 a.m. Saturday, July 15, to the sound of screaming goats.
He grabbed his gun and ran outside before encountering a bear mauling a 200-pound goat. He shot the bear three times with a .45-70 rifle.
The bear, which Trousil said was estimated to be about 425 pounds, was a familiar foe. Trousil said the bear, identified by a white heart-shaped mark on his chest, had been to the Humble Ranch before, killing two goats over the last two years.
Trousil reported the incidents to Colorado Parks and Wildlife and was issued rubber slugs. He had since shot the bear twice with the rubber slugs, and chased it off with a car, but had not yet seen the bear this summer until last week.
Nevertheless, Trousil was ready when the animal did return. On the most recent occasion, the bear killed three goats, bringing his total number of victims at Humble Ranch to five.
“We could have shot him a couple times prior to this, but we tried to use rubber slugs to deter him,” Trousil said. “It’s not fun to shoot bears in that circumstance. … It’s unfortunate that’s how it happened.”
Black bears are omnivores, meaning they eat plants and animals. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, 90% of a black bear’s diet consists of grasses, berries, fruits, nuts and plants, with the remaining percentage generally being insects and scavenged carcasses.
Because the bear was actively killing a goat, Trousil was within his rights to shoot the animal.
“When (bears) are in the act of killing livestock, (people) are allowed to defend their livestock,” said Josh Dilley, assistant area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
After every shooting of a bear, Colorado Parks and Wildlife conducts an investigation to attempt to determine if the shooting was legal.
It is illegal to fire a gun within Steamboat Springs city limits unless the carrier is “discharging the firearm in lawful defense of person or property,” according to city code.
Firing a gun within city limits just to scare a bear is illegal and, as Dilley noted, likely more dangerous than anything the bear could do.
“If you feel threatened, you can take action to prevent that,” he said. “You have to be careful. Once you fire a bullet, you’re responsible. Wherever that goes, that’s on you.”
That applies once a bear enters someone’s home as well. However, engaging a bear inside a building can be risky. The biggest factor to consider when deciding to engage the animal is whether the bear has a clear exit.
“Try and get them out of there. Make some noise, all the things you would do if you encountered a bear outside,” advised Dilley. “If the situation warrants, obviously you can go into a room and close the door and call dispatch.”
The bear shot on Humble Ranch could have been the same bear that’s broken into multiple homes in a neighborhood near Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area.
Following one recent break-in, Colorado Parks and Wildlife set a trap at a home to try to catch the bear. However, that effort was unsuccessful, and the trap was removed on Tuesday, July 19.
While there’s no way to know for sure whether the bear that was shot was the same one that invaded the nearby homes, Dilley said the description was similar.
As Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers have been since spring, Dilley stressed that people should not keep their doors and windows open, even during the day, even if they are home. Bears are not nocturnal, can detect a scent up to five miles away and have taken advantage of many unlocked windows in Steamboat this year.
“We hit a hot streak here with the weather and people are leaving their windows and doors open because it is so hot,” Dilley said. “And those bears are opportunistic when they smell something inside.”