The charge against the Garrett County woman was shooting a bear out of season. The defense: She was protecting her dog.

The state's attorney in this Western Maryland town took just a few minutes Tuesday to drop the charge against Maude LeMaster, who faced up to six months in jail for killing a 210-pound female bear rummaging around her yard.

"There is no deterrent or punitive benefit to prosecuting this case further," Garrett County State's Attorney Lisa Thayer Welch told Circuit Court Judge James Sherbin.

"I believe that's well put," Sherbin replied, snapping the case folder shut and handing it to a clerk.

With that, LeMaster, 49, broke into a smile. As she left court, friends patted her on the back. Then LeMaster recalled the encounter with the black bear in the yard of her 11/2-acre home next to the Savage River.

It was 5 a.m. Dec. 4, and LeMaster had just let her yellow Labrador retriever, Abbey, outside. As the dog scampered into the yard, LeMaster, dressed in her nightgown, saw the female black bear and three cubs in the darkness.

LeMaster said she was afraid the bears would devour her dog.

"I freaked out and got the gun and loaded it," she said. She ran back outside and fired three buckshot rounds from the hip. She hit the female, and the cubs fled.

Abbey was unscathed, but LeMaster said she was shaken.

She called the authorities, who after an investigation charged her Jan. 13 with killing a bear out of season. She replied by asking for a jury trial.

It proved a savvy legal strategy. Bears are none too popular in Garrett County, where they were hunted for the first time in more than 50 years in October.

Though she didn't get to argue before a jury, she was relieved by the outcome.

"I'm hungry," she told reporters. "I want a cigarette."