Man Faces Charges After Defending Himself from a Bear in His Own Yard


Anthony Hopkins in The Edge
The Edge/20th Century Fox

Richard Ahlstrand, of Auburn, Massachusetts, faces criminal charges after encountering a bear in his back yard and shooting the damned thing to avoid being mauled or eaten. Specifically, as noted at Reason 24/7, he's charged with "illegally killing a bear, illegally baiting a bear, illegal possession of a firearm and failure to secure a firearm." All of these charges, once translated from Massachusetts to American, seem to stack up to outrage that Ahlstrand didn't make his yard completely inhospitable to animals that are rarely seen in the area, and then investigated a suspicious noise with a weapon in hand rather than cower under the bed. Worst of all, he actually defended himself when he encountered danger.

According to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Ahlstrand had a 50-gallon drum of birdseed in his backyard, and this appears to be the basis of the "baiting"charge against him. Leaving the birdseed outside might be considered a foolish idea in an area where bears are known to congregate, but the same article quotes the police chief claiming that "bear are not common in Auburn" with the last such sighting about a year ago. So Ahlstrand shouldn't have had birdseed because … ?

When confronted by the bear, Ahlstrand had a shotgun with him — in his own backyard, remember — because he'd heard a noise and thought he'd seen a bear the day before.

From CBS Boston:

Richard Ahlstrand told WBZ-TV he was stocking his bird feeder Friday night when a bear about seven feet tall and 300-to-400 pounds started chasing him.

That's when he turned his shotgun on the bear.

"I didn't have time to aim through the sights, but I aimed in the direction of the head on this thing and I pulled the trigger before it got to me.  It just dropped," he said. 

Ahlstrand said he was carrying the shotgun Friday night because he thought he saw the bear in his yard Thursday.

The police version from the Telegram:

Chief Sluckis said the bear is believed to have been attracted to a 50-gallon drum of birdseed Mr. Ahlstrand had in his backyard. He said Mr. Ahlstrand told police he heard a noise outside and felt in fear of his life.

"He went back inside, retrieved a shotgun and decided to shoot the bear," Chief Sluckis said. "Obviously we believe if Mr. Ahlstrand was truly in fear for his life he would have stayed secured in his home and would have called the police."

I've lived in Boston and Worcester both, sad to say, and so I'm fairly certain that official Massachusetts policy is that people should dial 911 and then curl into a fetal position whenever they hear a curious noise. But living in the wide open spaces of Arizona, as I do, I'm called upon to investigate suspicious noises fairly frequently. Which is to say, my wife slaps me in the head to rouse me from a sound sleep, says "I heard something," and then the dogs and I go scare the hell out of a javelina or a coyote. We don't call the police because who the hell calls the police over every creak and rustle? But I always carry a gun because meaner, hungrier creatures than me roam the landscape. Should I come across one on my property, I'm going to shoot it. My attitude is much the same as what Ahlstrand told CBS:

"They got me set up now like I'm some kind of murderer.  And then the environmental guy told me 'You should have called me instead of shooting it.'  What was I going to do, say 'Mister Bear would excuse me please while I go make a phone call?'"

In both the Telegram and CBS articles, "authorities" are quoted as saying they don't think the bear was a threat to people. I suppose it's possible that the black bears in Massachusetts are a kinder, gentler breed than the one that mauled a man near Payson, Arizona, last June. Or the one that tore up a woman in the same area in May. And then there was the bear that did a job on a woman near Pinetop …

This isn't to say that bears are usually dangerous or should always be shot — not by any means. And the fact that something wild like that still roams free in so many places makes the great outdoors that much more interesting, so far as I'm concerned. But anybody who finds himself being chased across his yard by a big, toothy bear has good reason to feel a bit of concern and to take some action.

As for Auburn Police Chief Andrew J. Sluckis Jr. … He should be sent out at night, unarmed of course, to make friends with some of those big, fuzzy creatures that are "not a threat to people."