A German tourist hoping to get a close up experience with a grizzly bear wound up shooting a bull moose in self-defense in Bear Trap Canyon last week.
The incident resulted in the closure of a portion of the Bear Trap Canyon trail from Bear Trap Creek to the Madison Dam Powerhouse as Bureau of Land Management Officials were concerned the dead moose may become a grizzly bear attractant.
“Christian Kirchstein was camping in the Bear Trap Canyon and he was fishing and looking to get pictures of wildlife, specifically grizzly bears,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden Ryan Gosse. “He went for a day hike up the Bear Trap Canyon dressed in full camo – head to toe – to get close and get pictures of grizzly bears.”
Bear Trap Canyon is a 6,000-acre wilderness area in northern Madison County. It encompasses both sides of a portion of the Madison River. It is a portion of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area. And though Gosse didn’t know of any grizzly bears in the area of the incident, the area is grizzly bear habitat.
Kirchstein was sneaking along the trail on the east of the river when he came upon a bull moose in the area of the famous Kitchen Sink rapids, Gosse said.
The moose was close and rather than backing away, Kirchstein began to take pictures and as the moose started to approach him, he continued to snap photos rather than back away, he said.
“The moose knew he was there the whole time, from my interpretation and from what I saw in the pictures,” Gosse said. “The moose finally got agitated because he didn’t back off.”
When the moose charged, Kirchstein drew his .357 caliber pistol and shot the animal at close range – within about nine feet, he said.
The shot hit the moose in the head and it died instantly in the middle of the trail.
Kirchstein, who told the warden later he was an experienced woodsman and hunter, initially tried to field dress the animal, but soon realized he didn’t have the tools to deal with such a large animal. He hiked out toward the Madison Dam and was able to notify authorities. He told Gosse it was the first moose he had ever seen.
Kirchstein’s story checked out from evidence in the photographs he took and the physical evidence at the scene, Gosse said.
Still, the incident was caused by his irresponsible behavior and should have been avoided. Kirchstein was given a ticket for $135.
“We were glad (Kirchstein) wasn’t hurt and obviously he had to take action when this animal approached him, but we weighed in the fact he provoked this animal,” Gosse said. “He could have given the animal some space … If he had taken any steps to make it easier on the moose and prevent an encounter like that he wouldn’t have gotten a ticket.”
Gosse and BLM workers disposed of the animal, but the trail closure will remain in effect until this Thursday, said Vinita Shea, BLM spokes person in Dillon.
The area will be checked Wednesday, Shea said. If everything is clear, the trail will be opened the following day.
Kirchstein had been staying in Bozeman, but went back to Germany on Monday.
For more information on the trail closure, call the BLM office at 683-8000.