HEBER, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - On the heels of several wild horse killings, a woman exploring the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest heard gunshots get dangerously close to a band of horses she was photographing.
"I heard a shot, a gunshot, ring out and I saw the horses get startled and I was startled," said Kathie Reidhead, who operates the Instagram account, "arizona.wild.horses."
Reidhead was more than a mile into the forest near FS51 and was taking photos of two groups of horses at a watering hole.
"They were playful, they were chasing each other and I took some good photos and videos of them."
She was sitting by the water's edge for about two minutes when suddenly she heard gunshots. That prompted her to duck behind a fallen tree for cover.
"I saw and heard him shoot four or five shots at the blonde horses. At the same time that I heard the shots, I could hear the bullets whistling by on my left," Reidhead explained. "Then he turned his gun and aimed it at the dark horses that were just over here to my right and I immediately went up in the air so he could see me and hope that he wouldn't take another shot."
Reidhead said the man, who was standing about 200 yards away, lowered his rifle as soon as he saw her stand up.
Reidhead took video of the horses before and after the gunshots, but admits that at the time she heard the 5-7 gunshots, she was too startled to record anything. She says that once the gunshots ceased, the horses scurried away.
"He (the stallion) actually let out a noise like I've never heard any of these horses use before. It was like a scream, basically saying 'danger' to his family," Reidhead said.
Reidhead walked towards the man, who had put his rifle away and was picking up shell casings.
"He was kind of fiery and he already had a story, he told her, 'I was shooting a new gun, I was shooting over here, I didn't know you were there,'" she explained.
Reidhead called 911 and the man stayed at the scene to talk to deputies.
"He was practice shooting and actually checking the function of a new gun he bought and was shooting at a tree stump and was not shooting at the horses," said Navajo County Sheriff David Clouse.
According to the incident report, the man told the deputy that he recently bought a .300 Blackout Carbine style rifle from a gun show. The man claimed that form of gun is known to have cycling issues and he brought two magazines full of ammo to test it out.
"He told deputies that he loaded two 10 round magazines, and he said, 'I shot all 20 rounds... shot 10 rounds, changed my magazines, shot 10 then stopped,'" Sheriff Clouse explained.
Reidhead claims there is no way he fired that many rounds in that vicinity.
The report states that the deputy checked the tree stumps the man claimed to be aiming at and found evidence of projectiles and fresh holes in the stumps.
"As far as matching that gun, it would have to go to a lab and all that, but the deputy did find evidence that the tree stump had been shot and there were projectiles," said Sheriff Clouse.
The stump the man was aiming at was about 25-30 yards south of his pickup truck, according to the report.
"There's no evidence to support that he did shoot a horse or he did shoot at the horses," Sheriff Clouse said. "It's not against the law for this gentleman to be shooting out there and shooting at the tree stumps."
Reidhead believes the man would not be shooting at tree stumps 25-30 yards away with that caliber of a rifle.
"I saw the man in front of his truck pointing the rifle over here to where the blonde horses were," Reidhead claimed.
At the request of Reidhead, the responding deputy walked towards the area where she felt the bullets whizzing by her head, which was about 200 yards southeast of the man's truck. According to the report, the two briefly searched the area for any blood spatter or any wounded horses, which they did not find.
The report states that Reidhead informed the deputy of a narrowed-down search area of where the bullets may be found, but the deputy told her that, "it would be difficult to locate one bullet in such a vast field even with a metal detector." Reidhead then told the deputy that it would be worth the effort because she truly believed a crime was committed.
The Navajo County deputy informed Reidhead that if she decided to continue to search the surrounding area for a wounded horse and locate one to contact NCSO or Forest Service immediately.
NCSO has since closed this case, saying that there was no criminal activity.
"I think a guy with that type of weapon, if he wanted to shoot the horses, he could've done it. But he didn't, and that's just the thing," said Sheriff Clouse.
Since October, there have been 19 wild horse deaths in Heber. At least 11 of them were shot.
[RELATED: Seven horses killed near Heber in January]
[RELATED: 4 more dead horses found near Heber]
"Six of them were too badly decomposed for the Forest Service to determine cause of death, but locals in this area saw those bodies when they were fresh and saw bullet wounds," Reidhead said. "The number is really higher than 11; it's probably 17."
NCSO and the U.S. Forest Service are working together to solve the Heber horse shootings.
"We won't know who shot those until that person is caught, we just don't believe that this guy on May 2 is our shooter," Sheriff Clouse said.
The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest Service said in an email, "The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests considers each horse to be special, and any senseless cruelty to animals on public lands is sad and disheartening."
They also said, "when it is determined that a horse’s death was due to a gunshot wound, the investigation can be complex, as the burden of proof must be rock solid for potential use in court. Our law enforcement officers strive to reach that burden of proof, and that is why these investigations are often lengthy and complex."