A 50-year-old Bozeman man was scouting hunting locations about 3 miles up the North Fork Bear Creek outside of Cameron on Saturday morning when he spotted a sow grizzly bear with cubs.
“He yelled to make his presence known to the bear and it charged him from about 80 yards away,” according to Madison County Sheriff Roger Thompson. “He deployed his bear spray as it got closer, but the bear did not stop.”
According to Thompson, the bear mauled, bit and stomped on the man, who did not fight back. After the bear wandered away, the man started to hike out.
“He got about 1/2 mile away when the bear attacked him again, biting and stomping on him again,” Thompson said. “He played dead and the bear left.”
Bleeding and injured, the man hiked out to his car and drove himself to the Madison Valley Medical Center, 17 miles away.
“He suffered lacerations to his head, neck, back and right shoulder, and has a broken left forearm,” Thompson said. “(The Forest Service) has posted the North Fork Bear Creek as closed until further notice so (Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks) can assess the situation.”
This Bear Creek bear encounter is not the first this year.
On Saturday, Sept. 24, an archery hunter in the Cabin Creek area north of Hebgen Lake received minor injuries after encountering a “presumed grizzly while calling for elk,” according to a press release from FWP.
“Then, Sunday morning, another man hunting elk with his bow on the north side of the Tom Miner basin north of Gardiner was mauled by what his hunting party believes was a female grizzly with two cubs,” the release continued. “He suffered bite injuries.”
Though both hunters were treated at local hospitals and released, FWP is urging archery hunters and other recreators to stay on the lookout for bears.
“While it is impossible to prevent all events like these, archery hunters should understand the inherent risk of hunting in bear country and do what they can to avoid encountering grizzlies,” according to the release.
Learning to share the landscape with bears is something often discussed in the area. On Sept. 1, more than 50 Madison County community members gathered in Alder at the fire hall to learn about bear behavior, how to avoid encounters and what to do if an encounter happens.
At the presentation, Danielle Oyler, bear education coordinator for the Southwest Montana Bear Education Working Group, said this time of the year bears are “eating excessively.” This is called hyperphagia. Bears have a single track mind – to consume food to last the winter – so Oyler recommends taking extra precautions this time of the year.
To avoid bear encounters, Oyler says to remain alert, travel in groups, make noise, carry bear spray, and refrain from recreating in the mountains during the peak activity hours.
No matter what you do, an encounter is a possibility.
“Before venturing into an area, hunters should take notice of warning signs at trailheads, observe the brush at a distance for movement and look at the ground and trees for bear sign,” the FWP release stated. “Bear spray should be carried in an accessible place and hunting with at least one other person is highly recommended.”
Another grizzly incident near Bear Creek
Madison County is not immune to bear activity. On Wednesday, Sept. 14, a conflict with a grizzly bear resulted in a possible wounded bear in the vicinity of the North Fork Bear Creek Trail, in Cameron.
The trail was closed for a few days while U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the Forest Service and FWP searched for the bear.
“We never determined if there was a wounded bear,” FWP game warden Shane Brozovich said.
The incident was reported by a hunting guide and three clients who encountered a sow and a cub on the trail. Brozovich said the hunters encountered the bears in a narrow canyon, and did what FWP recommends. They made noise, announced themselves and hollered “hey bear.”
The hunters reported the bear ran toward them and the hunting guide discharged a firearm in the direction of the bear.
“It seems like archers bump into bears,” Brozovich said. “They’re sneaking around, and they spray themselves with scent.”
Bears and big game
FWP reminds hunters that areas with high deer and elk hunting success may attract bears.
“Elk bugling and cow calling also may bring in bears,” according to FWP. “Hunters should have with them what they need to immediately field dress their game. If hunters have success in the field and can’t haul their meat out right away they should remove the meat from the kill site and hang it at least ten feet off the ground and at least 150 yards from the gut pile.”
Hunters who do hang their meat to collect later should always use binoculars to see if the meat has been disturbed before approaching it. Consequentially, if a bear is in the area of the kill, hunters should never attempt to haze the bear away.