Last Friday a hunter in the southern Gravelly Mountains had an encounter with a grizzly bear, but was uninjured.
The unidentified hunter, who is from Billings, recounted his story to wildlife officials, said Kevin Frey, bear management specialist with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Bozeman.
The man told officials he was sitting at the base of a tree when he heard a noise and stood up. When he stood up he saw a bear running at him. The man had no time to do anything and the bear ran over him, knocking him down a hill.
The fall either knocked the man unconscious or dazed him, but he told officials that when he got his bearings he looked up and the bear was sitting there watching him, Frey said.
The bear then stood up and walked away.
Back at camp, the man had his hunting partners call for medical assistance and he was flown to Rexburg, Idaho complaining of internal pain, Frey said.
The doctors in Rexburg couldn’t find any injuries, he said. The hunter returned to Billings.
The incident is unique, Frey said.
“It’s a pretty unique or odd experience that a bear is sitting next to someone until he wakes up and then walks off,” he said.
However, hunters should continue to be bear aware even though the weather has cooled off and snow has come to much of southwest Montana, Frey said.
Typically this time of year, grizzly bears have dug dens and are getting ready to go into their seasonal slumber, he said. However, they may continue to look for a few final meals before denning up.
It’s important for hunters to pay attention to their surroundings, Frey said. Tracks, scat and fresh diggings are a good indication a bear is using the area.
“Don’t think just because it’s snowed and it’s cold today that all the bears have gone,” he said. “We know of bears that are still active throughout Thanksgiving and into December.”
This time of year bears are coming out of the seasonal phase where they look to put on weight for the winter. However, they will often still sit on food sources simply out of habit.
“As they get closer to denning, their appetite diminishes, but the instincts to be closer to a food source is still there,” Frey said.
If hunters are in an area where other hunters have shot elk or deer, chances are bears will be in the area too looking for gut piles to eat on.
“If the hunters are having a lot of success, the bears are having a lot of success too,” he said.
Den sites for grizzly bears are typically on densely timbered, north-facing slopes, where winter temperatures stay relatively stable and cold.
Frey recommends hunters continue to carry bear spray through the general hunting season. He also recommends that hunters who are successful try and get their game out of the woods in one day. If hunters have to leave game overnight, it’s important to try and leave it in an open area away from the gut pile. When approaching game left overnight in the field, it’s important to canvas the area from a distance and make a lot of noise in case a bear has claimed the carcass.