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Fatality While Bear Hunting

A Homicide or an Accident?

Spagnolia, Alessandra, BS; Kemp, Walter L., MD, PhD

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: June 2019 - Volume 40 - Issue 2 - p 144–146
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0000000000000467
Case Reports

When a hunter intentionally fires a weapon and the projectile strikes another human, the manner of death is most often certified as a homicide. The intent of the individual firing the weapon is unknown and the possibility that a huntingaccident” represents a concealed intentional homicide must always be considered. However, in some circumstances such as a documented ricochet, the manner of death may be certified as accident.

The death of a hunter who was being mauled by a grizzly bear and subsequently died will be presented. While the man had injuries from the mauling, these injuries were, with treatment, survivable; however, he also had a gunshot wound of the left shoulder into the trunk. His partner had shot the bear, but unfortunately, 1 projectile perforated the bear and struck the decedent.

According to the National Association of Medical Examiners' Guide for Manner of Death Classification, if a hunter intentionally fires a weapon and kills a human the manner of death may be classified as homicide; however, if a weapon is discharged and the projectile strikes an object, ricochets, and kills a human, the manner of death may be classified as accident. In the death reported, the scenario does not exactly fit either of the above 2 situations. In this current case, given that (1) the decedent's friend fired a projectile with an intent to hit the bear that was mauling his partner and (2) that the projectile perforating the bear and entering his partner was unintended, the manner of death was certified as accident.

From the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Grand Forks, ND.

Manuscript received December 3, 2018; accepted January 5, 2019.

W.L.K. receives royalties from McGraw-Hill for pathology review book. A.S. reports no conflict of interest.

No funding received from the National Institutes of Health, Wellcome Trust, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, or others.

Reprints: Walter L. Kemp, MD, PhD, University of North Dakota, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, 1301 North Columbia Rd, Grand Forks, ND 58202. E-mail:

© 2019 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.