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On the trail: How to be bear aware



Ciara Wolfe BSCO Executive Director

While out on the trail April 2, I was quickly reminded that this is the time of year to brush up on your wildlife identification skills, check your equipment and spend some time refreshing your memory about what it means to be bear aware. About a ¼ -mile into a hike up Porcupine Trail with my son and two dogs, we ran into fresh bear tracks.

After the bears’ long winter hibernation, we’re not necessarily accustomed to grabbing bear spray and being on the lookout for bear signs while we recreate, but I encourage you to spend a couple of minutes reviewing the following information now that bears are emerging from their winter dens.

Grizzly print on Cinnamon Mountain trail. PHOTO BY AMANDA EGGERT

Grizzly print on Cinnamon Mountain trail. PHOTO BY AMANDA EGGERT

1) Check your bear spray expiration date. Bear spray only keeps it’s potency for four years. When the only thing between you and a grizzly is a can of spray, I can guarantee you will want the highest level of potency possible. Replace your can if it has expired and recycle your old one at Grizzly Outfitters here in Big Sky.

2) Review the bear identification card that Bear Smart Big Sky put together so you can recognize differences between grizzlies and black bears. You can find this info at Confidence in your identification skills will allow you to make educated decisions and reactions if an encounter occurs.

3) Review what you can do if you encounter a bear or see signs of bear activity while you are recreating. Knowing and memorizing how to react will make these habitual no matter what situation you’re in. 

4) Report sightings to keep your fellow recreation partners safe and informed of bear patterns and locations here in Big Sky. Reports can be made online at and will go directly to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

5) Remind your friends and family who recreate to do the same!

Those who live in or visit Big Sky are choosing to cohabitate with lots of wildlife. It’s one of the many special aspects of Big Sky that make it so unique. However, in making that choice, it’s your responsibility to be educated and prepared for an encounter with a bear or moose. BSCO hopes that through its community education and preparation efforts, you can continue to enjoy recreating, while staying safe and keeping our local wildlife safe and healthy too.

For more information about Big Sky’s parks, trails and recreation programs, visit The Big Sky Community Organization is a local nonprofit that connects people to recreational opportunities by acquiring, promoting and preserving sustainable places and programs for all.

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