The Wyoming Game and Fish Department urges hunters and other backcountry users to use caution when hunting in bear country, and to carry and know how to use bear spray.

“As bears become more active and hunters begin to pursue game in the field, we anticipate that there will be an increase in human-bear encounters,” said Tara Teaschner, Cody information and education specialist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

“As hunters, we do exactly the opposite of what we would have most recreationists do to avoid bear encounters—you might say that hunters are pre-disposed to encounters,” Teaschner said.

Hunters typically move quietly, camouflage their bodies, mask their human scent, are active at dawn and dusk, and use game calls to mimic bear prey. “All of these behaviors make hunters successful, but at the same time, there is an inherent risk of attracting bears or bumping into one,” Teaschner said.

“If you hunt in bear country, being prepared for an encounter and knowing what to do when you encounter a bear should be as automatic or routine as packing an extra jacket so that you are prepared for inclement weather,” Teaschner said.

To improve the odds of minimizing conflicts, Teaschner suggests the following;

  • Carry a bear deterrent and know how to use it. Many aggressive bears have been deterred through the use of bear spray and all hunters should carry it where it can be reached and know how and when to use it.
  • Always hunt with a partner and stay within sight of each other.
  • Remain alert and watchful for bear activity; avoid “tunnel vision” while pursuing game.
  • Learn to recognize bear sign such as scat, tracks, and diggings.
  • Know where seasonal food sources are present and either avoid or be especially cautious in those areas.
  • Be aware that the presence of ravens and other scavengers is a good indication that carcasses or entrails are nearby and a bear may be in the area. Avoid these areas if possible.
  • Retrieve game animals as quickly as possible and watch for approaching bears when field dressing and quartering.
  • If game must be left on the ground overnight, separate the carcass from the entrails when field dressing and place the carcass in an area that can be viewed from a distance.
  • When retrieving game, make lots of noise; use binoculars to search the area for bears and to determine if the game has been disturbed by bears prior to walking in on the carcass.
  • Bears often daybed near food sources.
  • If a bear has claimed your carcass, leave the scene and report the incident to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
  • “Human safety has to be a person’s number one concern in any bear encounter,” Teaschner said. “Bear spray is an effective deterrent and I encourage all hunters to consider carrying and, when appropriate, using bear spray.”

“Firearms have been used successfully in self-defense situations and using one as a deterrent is a personal choice,” Teaschner added. “No matter what type of deterrent a person chooses, it is essential that a person has practiced and can use the deterrent in sudden, high stress situations.”

Logo courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish Department

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  • Dave Smith

    Environmentalists and agencies that claim
    research proves bear spray is more effective than a firearm; ergo, hunters
    should use bear spray, are conning hunters. Bear spray research is about bear
    spray use by non-hunters who did not have a rifle in hand. Most bear spray
    incidents involved curious or non-aggressive bears. In contrast, all data from
    Efficacy of Firearms for Bear Deterrence in Alaska is about people using guns
    for self-defense during bear attacks. The authors omitted data from
    Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game records on bears killed in defense of life if
    they didn’t think it was a legitimate case of self-defense. They cherry-picked
    their data. When a hunter carrying a rifle has a surprise encounter with a
    grizzly, bear spray is not a safe or realistic option. You need two hands to
    remove bear spray from a holster clipped to a shoulder strap on a backpack, but
    hunters don’t have two hands free while using the two-hand (ready) carry, trail
    carry, cradle carry, elbow (side) carry, or shoulder carry for their rifle.
    With the sling carry, you can use bear spray, but when you shoulder your rifle
    to shoot an elk, your can of bear spray will be in the way. Many jackets cover
    bear spray carried in a hip-holster. Even if you can reach bear spray in a hip
    holster, using it is problematic with most field carries for rifles. Hunters
    can always respond instinctively with their rifle during a bear attack. Bear
    spray? No.