Hunter wounded in Little Bridge Creek area last October
State wildlife police have completed an investigation into a shooting incident last fall that resulted in a wounded hunter being airlifted from the Methow Valley.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) law enforcement officials have handed their report over to the Okanogan County prosecuting attorney, who will decide whether to file charges in connection with the incident, said Sgt. Dan Christensen, Okanogan County supervisor for WDFW police.
The incident occurred on Oct. 20, during deer hunting season, on U.S. Forest Service land in the Little Bridge Creek area west of Twisp. Christensen said the investigation found two groups of hunters, all from the west side of the state, were involved in the incident, which took place near a spur road off Little Bridge Creek Road.
According to the investigation, Nathan Hlebechuk, 45, of Seabeck, and his 16-year-old twin sons walked along the spur road before dawn and positioned themselves in underbrush “waiting for shooting light.” Legal hunting time on that day was 6:50 a.m., a half hour before dawn, according to WDFW.
As they waited in the underbrush, three more hunters walked up the road toward them, Christensen said. The second group included Christopher Conover, 32 of Marysville, who was hunting with his father, 58, and a 15-year-old brother.
“One of the people in the first group thought it would be funny to make growling noises and rattle the bushes,” Christensen said. Conover “thought it was a cougar” and shot toward the bushes with a .45-caliber handgun, the WDFW report said. One shot was fired, from a distance of 46 feet, Christensen said.
The bullet struck Hlebechuk in his right cheek, passed through his ear canal and exited the back of his head, Christensen said. “One of his sons jumped out and said, ‘You shot my dad,’” according to the report.
Conover and one of Hlebechuk’s sons ran back to Little Bridge Creek Road to call for help and to meet emergency responders and lead them back. The calls came into dispatch just after 7 a.m.
The other hunters stayed with the victim, placing coats on him to keep him warm and applying pressure to the wound. Dave Graves, Forest Service law enforcement officer, arrived and unlocked a gate to the spur road to allow an Aero Methow Rescue Services vehicle through, Christensen said.
A medical helicopter was called and flew Hlebechuk to Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee for treatment. Christensen said last week that Hlebechuk is reported by family to be “doing well.”
The investigation into the incident resulted in a 354-page report, which was completed last month and has been provided to Okanogan County Prosecuting Attorney Arian Noma’s office. Christensen said potential charges could include reckless endangerment and unlawful aiming or discharging of a firearm, both misdemeanors. “It will be up to the prosecutor to determine if there is fault here,” he said.
Christensen said the incident underscores one of the principal rules of firearm safety training that is required of hunters before they receive a license: “Be sure of your target and what lies beyond before firing.”