A recent grizzly bear encounter in the Madison Range reminds us that all of southwest Montana is bear country. All hunters and others who enjoy the outdoors need to be aware of the possibility of running into bears and know how to best prepare themselves. Here’s an example of why …
On Friday morning, a man and his wife were archery hunting off Indian Creek Trail in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. At one point, the husband was cow calling for his wife about 25 yards away from her. He heard some rustling in the brush about 15 yards away and looked up to find a female grizzly staring at him. In little time, the bear had jumped upon him and bit him both on the arm and head. Fortunately he suffered no life threatening injuries. The bear shortly backed off and ran away.
In this case, the grizzly was drawn to the hunter because – she too – was hunting elk. It should be noted that 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 can be found at fwp.mt.gov.