Police pull out the big guns in their efforts to control bears

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:15

    Sparta-The Sparta Police Department has a new weapon in a war to keep township residents safe from bears. Last Spring, the department purchased an FN303 Less Lethal Launcher, a gun that was originally designed for riot control, however, the Sparta police is not using the weapon for that purpose, they are using it to condition problematic bears. The gun uses compressed air to fire a single round of non-lethal ammunition into a target. The shell stuns its victim with a punch similar to that of a rubber bullet. The projectile hits hard enough as to produce a bruise. "It does leave a mark, and we would be able to spot the mark if the bear was hit a few days prior, said Lieutenant Joseph Schetting. "However, the purpose is to not only mark the bear, but to condition it." According to Schetting, after a bear is expelled from an area with the use of this gun, the animal is not likely to return. In the past, the department used rubber shotgun rounds to condition problematic bears. However, Schetting has found the new gun to be far more effective. With the old shotgun rounds, officers would have to be within 10 yards of a bear in order to hit a specific target. "As these officers were conditioning the bears, we were basically telling the officer to put (themselves) in harms way," said Schetting. The FN303 fires rounds that are accurate for up to 50 yards. He also said that the ammunition for the new weapon is approximately 80 percent less expensive than rubber shotgun rounds. He added that firing a single round as opposed to numerous that come from a shotgun, makes the new gun a more target specific device and more cost effective. The gun, according to Chief of Police Ernest Reigstad cost the department "only a couple hundred dollars" and will pay for itself in savings for the department after the first year of use. "We don't just randomly go out and shoot bears," said Shetting about when the weapon is utilized. "If a landowner is leaving open garbage containers around their home, we would not condition a bear that frequents that residency. In that case, a bear is just doing what a bear does." As part of their efforts to help control the bear population Shetting explained, when officers are called to a residency for the first time, they distribute literature on how residents can help minimize attracting bears to their property. Only after the landowner has taken proper precautions and has had multiple problems, will conditioning be utilized. Since getting the gun, Schetting estimates that the department has used it less than 10 times. "We find this form of conditioning to be extremely effective.