A Brainerd man is heading to prison for killing and decapitating a 700-pound black bear on the Red Lake Indian Reservation.
The 15-month sentence given Tuesday for Brett J. Stimac, 41, by U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson also included a year of supervised release and a $9,500 fine.
Stimac pleaded guilty in September to misdemeanor wildlife trafficking and trespassing on Indian land after removing the head of the bear, but he later told the court that a hunger for glory inspired him to lie about killing the animal. Instead, Stimac claimed, the bear was already dead when he found it in September 2019.
Federal authorities say Stimac shot the animal with a compound bow near a trash bin. The bear ran away, but when Stimac found it dead the next day, he sawed off its head and paws to keep as trophies, according to prosecutors.
Stimac later posted a photo of himself with the bear on Facebook and included a caption saying he "got it done last night with an absolute giant over 700 pounds." The image circulated among online hunting groups, drawing outrage from those who said it was poaching. The Red Lake Band does not permit nontribal members to hunt bears.
The defense's presentence filing with the court offered a different scenario for the bear's death and Stimac's actions.
Stimac came upon the bear after it had been dead "for a long period of time, according to the taxidermist who examined the head of the bear that [he] brought to him for mounting," the filing read.
Defense attorney Brian Toder also contended his client didn't remove the paws, but "this had to be done by some animal." Stimac came up with a tall tale because he "saw an opportunity to appear to be a hero," his attorney wrote.
Stimac posed for a Facebook photo with the bear and his crossbow in the hopes of being credited with a state-record kill, the defense explained.
"He did it because he wanted to be recognized as a mighty hunter with the [accompanying] glory and attention," the document read. The government countered with Stimac's repeated confessions to state conservation officers in the weeks after the bear's death.
"Stimac claimed that he merely found the bear only after he … learned that the government was seeking a [prison] sentence," prosecutors wrote.
The judge's sentence fell in line with federal guidelines. The defense asked for four to 10 months, and Toder said his client will appeal the sentence.
"This is the first time I've ever had a federal misdemeanor case result in incarceration," the attorney said.
Stimac reports for prison on July 6. Toder noted that by the time the appeal process ends, Stimac "might have already served most of his time."
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482