The field investigation into a surprise grizzly bear encounter in the Gravelly Mountains earlier this week has concluded.
The attack on Tuesday wounded a hunter and the bear, according to wardens with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
The hunter said he was walking through blow-down timber that morning when he was attacked by a bear at close range. He reportedly fired multiple shots at the bear until it left. The hunter later met up with other members of his hunting party and was treated for his injuries.
FWP wardens began an investigation the same day, with help from U.S. Forest Service law enforcement personnel and Madison County Sheriff’s deputies, and notified other hunters and campers in the area. FWP wardens also conducted an extensive ground search on Wednesday. During the investigation, they examined the site of the attack and found some evidence that the bear had been wounded. However, due to minimal evidence and dense forest vegetation, they were unable to locate the bear during the search.
The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest has posted signs warning visitors of bear activity in the Coal Creek/Twin Springs area. Last week the Forest issued a closure along Cottonwood Road, about eight miles north of Tuesday’s incident, as FWP wardens investigated two separate maulings [fwp.mt.gov] that happened on Sept. 16. That closure will be lifted Friday now that the field investigation is finished.
The Gravelly Mountains are used heavily by grizzly bears as their population distribution becomes denser and more widespread across southwest Montana. Bears are also hyperactive during the fall as they seek protein- and calorie-rich foods in preparation for hibernation. This increased activity, coupled with hunting and other forms of recreation, can lead to frequent encounters between bears and humans. Attacks happen most often in surprise close encounters in dense timber and vegetation.
All recreationists should take precautions when entering bear country. Recreating in groups, making casual noise and staying away from animal carcasses can help avoid surprise close encounters with bears. However, recreationists should be prepared to defend themselves in the event of a bear attack. Bear spray provides a simple and affordable means of self-defense that can be effective when used properly. Follow Forest Service food storage regulations. If you see a bear, stop. Never run from a bear. Back away slowly and leave the area.
Grizzly bears are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Management authority for grizzlies rests with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which works closely with FWP. For more information on bear safety, visit fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/livingWithWildlife/beBearAware. For more information on grizzly bear management in Montana, visit igbconline.org.