A hunter who died during a grizzly bear attack was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest, the Montana State Crime Lab medical examiner announced Friday.
Steve Stevenson, 39, was killed when his hunting partner, Ty Bell, 20, shot the grizzly multiple times in an attempt to stop the bear’s attack on Stevenson, according to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. One of the rounds struck Stevenson in the chest.
Stevenson’s funeral was Friday in Winnemucca, Nev. Ty Bell was a pallbearer.
“It has been a terrible, terrible journey,” said Belinda Bell, Ty Bell’s stepmother.
Investigators have indicated to her family they believe the bullet likely hit the bear first, she said.
“It can hit bone mass and it can hit muscle mass, which means it changes the direction of your bullet,” she said. “We’ve been told they are looking at strong evidence that it was a deflection.”
She said both families are struck with grief at the loss of Stevenson.
“We were there as a family,” she said. “We said goodbye to a wonderful friend.”
Ty Bell, whom she called a “wonderful, wonderful man,” was strong while putting to rest a good friend whose life he tried to save, all while enduring backlash and blame from the community, she said.
“Sometimes freak things happen,” Belinda Bell said. “The bottom line is that this boy was absolutely courageous in an emergency situation.”
The investigation by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is continuing. The Sheriff’s Office will not be releasing any additional information for at least another three weeks, Undersheriff Brent Faulkner said in a news release.
It is unknown if Bell will face charges.
The attack occurred when the hunters mistakenly identified the grizzly bear as a black bear and shot and wounded it Sept. 16. They tracked the bear into some brush before the grizzly began running at the hunters. Stevenson yelled to distract the bear from Bell in an effort to protect him, said Bell’s father, Bill Bell, who was also hunting in the area at the time. The bear then began mauling Stevenson.
The hunters were part of a four-person hunting group. The Bells recently moved to Winnemucca from Bonners Ferry.
The attack occurred about 10 a.m. PDT in a remote, mountainous, heavily forested area far north on the Idaho-Montana border.