Fort Simpson resident Dennis Nelner heard four gunshots go off one evening last September. The last one he felt.
“It felt like someone just smashed me on my thigh with a two-by-four,” he said. When he stood up and took a few steps, the bullet fell out of the back of his right leg.
A GNWT Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) officer was called to respond to a nuisance bear in downtown Fort Simpson. One of the bullets he fired at the animal went through Nelner’s fence, through the wall of his home, ricocheted through his kitchen, and eventually hit his thigh.
Investigations by ENR and the RCMP found the officer “took reasonable actions to stop an immediate threat,” and cleared the officer and the department of any wrongdoing.
But Nelner told NNSL Media he believes officers should be better trained. He said he knows the officer wasn’t there to try to hurt anyone, but he worries “this incident could happen again.”
Nelner grew up hunting. He said he can’t make sense of an ENR officer firing four shots in an inhabited area where children and Elders could be.
“If you’re going to dispatch an animal you go right up and do it, don’t pump him full of holes,” he said. “We had firearms all the time in our household. There were gun racks on the wall, they were never locked up. That’s the era we come from. A friend would sleep over on a Friday night and say we’re waking up Saturday to hunt.”
Since the next generation didn’t grow up the same way, they don’t have the same comfort level with firearms, he said.
On top of more practice to solidify “muscle memory” necessary when handling firearms, Nelner suggests former wildlife officers train up and comers.
“A lot of these guys are retired but they’re not in wheelchairs,” Nelner said. He recalls a former officer in Fort Simpson who called himself the bear slayer. “They are the guys you want to be training with.”
“That’s how traditional knowledge is passed on. That’s why there’s so much respect for elders, they know what they’re talking about it. They’ve seen it, they’ve done it.”
After a story on the shooting was published in the Aug. 31 issue of News/North, ENR Joslyn Oosenbrug wrote in an email that, “the way this incident unfolded was entirely unpredictable, unpreventable and unfortunate” but “to infer a connection between Mr. Nelner’s own experience using firearms and his knowledge of ENR’s training and firearms procedures, or the training and experience of the particular officer involved in the incident in question, is irresponsible and misleading.”
On their current training practices, ENR spokesperson Darren Campbell explains that all ENR officers take part in annual proficiency testing and range courses, in addition to the federal-approved training course required to obtain a valid Firearm Possession and Acquisition Licence, which all ENR officers hold.
Campbell says the officer discharging the bear had also recently completed Wildlife Attack Response Team training, an internationally led training program for conservation officers that includes tactical response training.