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FWP investigating human-caused grizzly bear mortalities; bears still active during hunting season

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PHOTO COURTESY OF UNSPLASH.COM

MONTANA FISH, WILDLIFE AND PARKS

BOZEMAN — Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is investigating a grizzly bear mortality after a hunter reportedly shot the bear in self-defense.

The incident happened Saturday afternoon in Eureka Basin in the south Gravelly Mountains. The hunter, who was uninjured, reported the incident to FWP that day. Further details are unavailable as the investigation is ongoing.

FWP and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are also investigating two other human-caused grizzly bear mortalities that happened last week in the West Yellowstone area. The interagency investigation is still ongoing, and details of those incidents will be released as they become available.

Bear activity during fall hunting season

FWP reminds all recreationists that bears are still active, and precautions should still be taken when hunting and recreating in bear country.

Many black and grizzly bears will remain active during Montana’s general deer and elk hunting season, which began Oct. 26 and lasts through Dec. 1. Hunters and other recreationists should continue practicing situational awareness and be prepared for a bear encounter.

Grizzly bear distributions have expanded to and become denser in areas in western and central Montana where they haven’t been in recent decades. Bears can remain active—even at low elevations—through December, and some grizzlies will even roam around for brief periods anytime during the winter.

The fall hunting season also coincides with when bears are actively seeking protein- and calorie-rich foods in final preparation for hibernation. Certain hunter behaviors can increase the likelihood of encountering bears, such as elk bugling, wearing cover scents, processing animal carcasses and moving quietly in the field.

Most bear attacks on humans happen in surprise close encounters and usually in timber or brush. As bears get closer to denning, they become lethargic and sleep more each day before they finally go to their dens. Sleeping bears can easily be approached at potentially dangerous distances. So be alert to your surroundings.

Hunting safely in bear country

In addition, black bear hunters need to be sure of the species they are hunting. Black bear hunters in Montana are required to pass a bear identification test, which is intended to prevent grizzly bear mortality as a result of mistaken identity.

Proactive preparation can help hunters avoid negative encounters with grizzly and black bears. Avoid hunting alone whenever possible. Hunting with a partner has helped in both ending bear attacks and getting medical attention. If you must hunt by yourself, give someone details of your hunt plan and check in periodically with them.

Carry bear spray and be prepared to use it at a moment’s notice. Bear spray has proven to be a valuable deterrent tool in surprise close encounters. 

Pay attention to fresh bear sign. Look for bear tracks, scat and concentrations of natural foods. Use caution when hunting in areas that have evidence of bear activity or areas with scavenging birds. Animal carcasses can attract bears, so avoid them. Follow U.S. Forest Service food storage regulations.

If you harvest an animal during your hunt, get it home as quickly as possible. Some grizzly bears may move in the direction of gunshots because they have learned to associate hunting activities with a gut pile or animal carcass.

If you need to make multiple trips to pack out your animal, leave the carcass in a place away from the gut pile where you can observe it from a distance of at least 200 yards, if possible, and cover it with a tarp. As you return, look for bear activity at the site. Then make noise while slowly approaching the carcass. If a bear is at the site, do not attempt to scare it away if it doesn’t leave when it becomes aware of you. Leave the area and contact FWP.

If you are attacked by a bear, use your bear spray. Don’t run. Lie face-down, covering your neck and head with your hands and arms until the bear is gone. You shouldn’t play dead if you encounter an intent, calm or curious bear.

For more information on avoiding negative encounters with bears, visit fwp.mt.gov or igbconline.org.

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