By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – An elk hunter was hospitalized after being attacked by a grizzly bear south of Ennis yesterday morning.
According to a Facebook post by Mike Asker of Grangeville, Idaho, Tom Sommer was hunting with a partner when the two men came across a grizzly feeding on a carcass. Sommer yelled at the bear and it responded by charging and attacking him.
According to the post: “Tom and [his] partner Dan both pulled out pepper spray. Dan sprayed but Tom’s spray didn’t work, so [the] bear came after Tom.” The post continues to state that the bear followed Sommer around a tree twice. Sommer pulled out a pistol and turned to shoot, but the bear swatted down his hand before he could fire. Once Sommer was down, the bear bit him in the thigh and put his head in its mouth.
Sommer’s hunting partner deployed his bear spray, causing the grizzly to retreat. Sommer then spent several hours traveling on the back of a mule to receive treatment at a hospital in Ennis. Asker’s Facebook post contains graphic images of Sommer’s injuries, revealing a wide and bloody split across the top of his head that appears to be about 1 inch across and more than 6 inches long.
Sommer and Asker were not immediately available for comment.
Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Information Bureau Chief Greg Lemon said Sommer was treated for non life-threatening injuries and he doesn’t know if Sommer is still in the hospital. Lemon said the attack occurred at approximately 8 a.m. Monday morning between Cascade Creek and Dry Gulch.
“We’re not planning to do any management action on the bear,” Lemon said, in reference to euthanizing or relocating the bruin. “The bear was sort of doing what bears do—it was on a carcass and it was startled by the hunters, and that’s often a recipe for an attack.”
Lemon encourages hunters and recreationalists to keep bear spray accessible—“not buried in a backpack, somewhere you can get to it”—know how to use it, and hunt with a partner.
“Hunting with a partner is really important and was probably a critical component of why this guy sustained non-life threatening injuries,” Lemon said. “It sounds like they were pretty far in.”
Since the Gravelly Mountains are connected to the core of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, grizzly sightings are pretty frequent, Lemon said, adding that he doesn’t have a population estimate for bears in that range. The National Park Service estimates there are approximately 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
“People in the Gravellys should expect to see grizzly bears when they’re hunting or recreating,” Lemon said. “Over the past seven or eight years, we’ve had a few grizzly attacks in the Gravellys. It seems like archery season is the time when those…crop up.”
On Oct. 1 of last year, a Bozeman man named Todd Orr was attacked by a grizzly sow with two cubs and recounted the incident in a Facebook video that was viewed nearly 40 million times. That attack occurred northeast of the Gravelly range, on the east side of Madison Valley.
Lemon said Forest Service personnel would post warning signs but area closures are not being considered at this point.