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Bears remain active; recreationists advised to be bear aware

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By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – Despite recent snow, bears remain active throughout Montana and in the Greater Yellowstone area, leading to several encounters with recreationists.

On Saturday, Nov. 4, a hunter was attacked in Tom Miner Basin in Paradise Valley as he pursued an elk, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks spokeswoman Andrea Jones. After an initial attack, the grizzly bear began circling the hunter, which gave him time to deploy his bear spray. The bear ceased its attack, circled the man again and disappeared.

The elk hunter sustained minor injuries to his hand and head but was able to return to his vehicle. This was the second reported bear attack in the Tom Miner area this year. On Sept. 9, a woman was mauled by a grizzly near the carcass of a domestic cow on a private ranch in Tom Miner Basin.

Another hunter was attacked on Nov. 4. The incident occurred north of Pendroy on the Rocky Mountain Front north of Great Falls, according to an FWP press release. A pheasant hunter and his dog startled a grizzly sow with three cubs and were charged by the bear. The hunter reportedly killed the grizzly with his 12-gauge shotgun.

A third bear encounter occurred that same weekend when recreationists saw a bear on a trail in Madison Valley. Jones cites this as evidence that bears have been active and sighted in several mountainous areas of Montana in recent days.

Bear activity has also been observed in the Cody, Wyoming, area. On Oct. 26, a Cody hunting guide and his client were attacked while field dressing an elk. Both individuals sustained injuries and were treated in a local hospital.

“We’ve had a few instances, just in recent days, of hunters encountering bears—both black and grizzly,” said Ken McDonald, wildlife division administrator for Montana FWP, in the press release. “Hunters should remain vigilant because even though we’ve got quite a bit of snow on the ground in some places, bears are still active.”

FWP encourages recreationists to be bear aware. “Anywhere in southwest Montana is bear country,” Jones said.

In recent years, grizzly bears have been expanding their territory, moving into areas where they haven’t been found in decades. This includes areas of the prairie and extends into Wyoming. In October, grizzly tracks were spotted in the open prairie east of Cody for the first time in a century.

Montana FWP recommends the following precautions for those recreating in southwest Montana:
– Carry bear spray and be ready to use it at a second’s notice.
– Pay attention to fresh bear signs. Look for bear tracks, scat and concentrations of natural foods.
For hunters, FWP encourages the following:
– Use caution when hunting areas that have evidence of bear activity or areas with scavenging birds such as magpies, ravens or crows.
– Get harvested big game out of the woods quickly.
– Upon returning to a site where harvested game is left unattended, study the site at a distance for any movement or changes and signal your approach by making plenty of noise.
– Never attempt to frighten or haze a bear from a carcass. Contact FWP if a bear has consumed a carcass or covered it with debris rendering it unsalvageable.

As reported in the press release, if you do encounter a grizzly, remember to stay calm and don’t run. Determine if the bear is actually aware of you and is threatening or fleeing. Leave the area, always keeping the bear in sight as you back away.

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