Recent encounter drives home message of bear awareness

Fish, Wildlife and Parks

BOZEMAN – A recent grizzly bear encounter in the Madison Range is a reminder that southwest Montana is bear country.

On the morning of Friday Sept. 14, a married couple was archery hunting near Indian Creek Trail in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. At one point, the husband was cow calling about 25 yards from his wife. He heard rustling in the brush 15 yards away and looked up to find a female grizzly staring at him. The bear jumped on him and bit him both on the arm and head, then backed off and ran away. The man suffered no life threatening injuries.

In this case, the grizzly was drawn to the hunter because she was also hunting elk. This bear was likely feeding on hunter-provided gut piles in the area as an easy way to put on calories prior to denning. She was with her two young cubs at the time of the encounter, and that added to the likelihood for conflict. Any encounter at close range can precipitate conflict, but especially in cases involving the defensive instinct of a mother bear.

These archery hunters were experienced and bear aware individuals. However, archery hunting carries with it the inherent risk of bear encounters – especially when imitating the sounds of prey. And while both hunters were carrying bear spray, it was not accessible given the swiftness and distance between the bear and the hunter at the time of the encounter.

So, in addition to simply being aware of their presence on the landscape – recreationists should be prepared to use bear spray – especially when calling for elk. This means having the spray within quick reach (outside of a jacket, in a holster) because in the case of an encounter, there isn’t time to reach into your pack for spray.

Also remember to avoid venturing out alone and don’t run when you see a bear. More information about safety in the outdoors and bear awareness is available at fwp.mt.gov.