Hunters must beware still-active bears

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Recent grizzly bear attacks involving hunters reinforces the importance of being bear aware in Montana, even with a thick layer of snow on the ground in most parts of the state.

During the past weekend, hunters were attacked by bears in separate incidents. In one incident, in southwest Montana in Tom Miner Basin, a hunter was hiking in to retrieve an elk. He encountered a bear and deployed bear spray. He sustained minor injuries in the attack.

In another incident near Pendroy, north of Choteau on the Rocky Mountain Front, a pheasant hunter and his dog startled a sow grizzly with three cubs. The bear charged and the hunter killed it with his 12-guage shotgun.

“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 Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “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.”

Hunters within the western half of Montana should consider themselves in grizzly bear country. The past few years, grizzly bears have moved out from traditional ranges into areas they haven’t been documented in decades, including areas of the prairie well out from the Rocky Mountain Front.

Hunters should take every possible precaution when hunting in bear country.

* Carry bear spray and be ready to use it at a second’s notice

* Hunt with a partner, leave detailed plans with someone and check-in periodically

* Pay attention to fresh bear sign. Look for bear tracks, scat, and concentrations of natural foods

* 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.

Most grizzly bears will typically leave an area if they sense human presence. Hunters who observe a grizzly bear or suspect a bear is nearby should leave the area. If you do encounter a grizzly, stay calm, don’t run, and assess the situation by trying to determine if the bear is actually aware of you. Is it, for instance, threatening or fleeing? Always keep the bear in sight as you back away, and leave the area.

For more on bears, visit fwp.mt.gov; then click Be Bear Aware. Bear resistant products are described on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s website at www.igbconline.org.

A “How to Hunt Safely in Grizzly Country” brochure is also available at FWP regional offices.

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