Reno man who killed first bear pleads guilty
RENO – A gun safety instructor who bagged the first bear killed in Nevada’ first-ever bear hunting season admitted on Monday he did so illegally with the help of bait.
Timothy Kawelmacher, 55, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of unlawfully baiting a trap for the purpose of killing a big game animal. He was ordered to return the bear meat, hide, head and claws.
Judge Jack Schroeder also ordered him to pay a $500 civil penalty and $230 in additional fines and fees. He gave Kawelmacher two weeks to turn the bear’s remains over to state wildlife officials: “All the way from the toe nails to the snout,” he said.
Kawelmacher had faced a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail and fines and fees totaling as much as $3,000.
The Reno businessman and certified firearm safety instructor, who said he has trained thousands of gun owners in Washoe County over the years, originally pleaded not guilty. He said he misunderstood the law.
“I have hunted responsibly my entire life,” Kawelmacher said. “It is not my nature to skirt, disobey or find ways around the law.”
“The very thought I handled my bear hunt in any way that was considered illegal is irreprehensible,” he said, adding that the reason he hunts for bear, mule deer and elk is for “the very best all-natural meat on the planet.”
Kawelmacher said he baited an area in the Sierra foothills just west of Reno in August with apples, bacon grease and anise oil – which smells like licorice – while scouting for bears in the weeks leading up to the Aug. 20 opening of the black bear hunting season. Kawelmacher told the judge he didn’t realize at the time that made it illegal for him to later kill one.
“I never intended to bait an individual bear,” he said.
Mike McCusker, the Nevada Department of Wildlife game warden who led the investigation, said Kawelmacher had set up cameras at three locations in the hills south of Verdi and U.S. Interstate 80 near the California-Nevada line.
“His understanding was, that was not hunting them but tracking them,” McCusker said. “But he did go back to that location to hunt.”
Washoe County Assistant District Attorney Chris Hicks said Kawelmacher cooperated in the investigation and that that without the assistance, it may have been difficult to prosecute him.
“With crimes like these on public lands, there is so much land and so few game wardens that often times it is like a needle in a haystack,” Hicks said.
“Had Mr. Kawelmacher not been so cooperative, we probably would have been asking for more” punishment, Hicks added. “I know he’s not happy about having to give up his bear.”
Schroeder praised him for having the courage and “profound humility” to admit his mistake.
Rob Buonamici, the state’s chief game warden, he thought officials had gone “the extra mile” with the mandatory indoctrination to explain the rules and regulations for the state’s first bear hunt. “We made it clear if they violated the rules, they would probably in the limelight and not in a positive way, and that has proven to be true,” he said.
“The message we want to send is that at the state of Nevada’s Department of Wildlife, we take our laws and regulations seriously.”