BIGFORK — A chance encounter on the last day of hunting season left an adult female grizzly wounded and two hunters shaken.
Two men were walking a ridgeline north of Bigfork in the Peters Ridge area at about noon Sunday when they encountered the grizzly and its two yearlings.
“It was a case of pretty much straight-up self defense on both sides,” said Erik Wenum, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 1 bear and lion specialist. “They bumbled into each other in pretty thick cover.”
The bear was about 60 yards away and already in full charge when the hunters spotted it.
“They yelled and yelled and yelled, but it kept coming,” Wenum said. “They shot it when it was about 18 yards away.”
Both men fired once and when the bear turned and ran, they fired another round in its general direction. After meeting up with the third member of their party, they left the area and contacted FWP officials.
Following an investigation, FWP officers determined the bear had been wounded. After tracking it for about a mile, the search was suspended due to poor tracking conditions due to a lack of snow.
The hunters weren’t carrying bear spray.
Wenum said the outcome probably would have been much different if they had it.
“I think everyone was pretty darn surprised by that encounter,” Wenum said.
Despite the lateness of the season, Wenum said grizzlies and black bears are still foraging for food. That’s probably partly due to the mild weather.
“There are still quite a few bears out and wandering about,” he said. “Many of those have been scavenging on gut piles left behind by hunters. Now that that source has dried up, we’ll probably start to see a few more go to bed for the winter.”
Wenum said people still need to use due diligence in securing any attractants that might bring bears near their homes.
“I expect that adult and sub-adult males will be out for a bit longer,” Wenum said. “They will be looking for that last bit of calories.”
As people switch over to winter activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, Wenum suggested that they continue to carry pepper spray.
“I recommend carrying bear spray throughout the year,” he said. “It’s not just for bear. It works just as well on lions, moose and aggressive deer. While certainly the risk of running into a bear becomes minimal the further we get into winter, there’s a whole host of situations where it can come in handy, including mean people and bad dogs.”
The recent encounter is a good example. The hunters involved may not have been carrying bear spray due to the fact it was late in the season.
“I think the outcome for the bear would have been very different if they were carrying it,” Wenum said. “A study out of Alaska that looked at the effectiveness of firearms and bear spray in encounters with bears showed hands down that bear spray was far more effective.”