Three hunters had an encounter with a bear Saturday morning that left two hunters injured and more than three hours from the nearest trailhead.
The hunters, whose names have not been released, were all from Montana and were hunting in the North Fork of Bear Creek in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness east of Cameron, said Madison County Undersheriff Roger Thompson.
The men encountered a bear, which they said was a grizzly bear sow with two cubs, Thompson said. The species of bear and whether or not it was a sow couldn’t be confirmed.
The bear attacked one of the hunters, a 61-year-old man from Helmville, grabbing him by the leg and shaking him. The other hunters yelled at the bear, which dropped the first hunter and bit the second hunter, a 41-year-old man from Manhattan, on the shoulder. The bear then ran off.
The hunters had bear spray, but didn’t use it, Thompson said. They also didn’t fire any shots at the bear.
The third hunter hiked out of the mountains and called officials at 2:30 Saturday afternoon. Madison County Search and Rescue was mobilized and began an operation to retrieve the two injured hunters.
Initially, rescuers tried to take a helicopter to retrieve the men, but the ruggedness of the terrain and the dense timber prohibited a landing, Thompson said.
Rescuers then decided to take in two horses to retrieve the hunters.
The party of four departed on horseback and foot after dark and arrived at the location of the two injured hunters at about 11 p.m. The injuries sustained by the hunters were not life threatening, he said.
The rescue party had the injured men out by 3 a.m. The first hunter was held overnight at the Madison Valley Medical Center. The second hunter was treated and released.
The rescue operations went smoothly, despite the rugged terrain and nighttime trek in the wilderness, said Ryan Gosse, game warden for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Gosse was in the rescue party that retrieved the hunters.
“It went great,” he said. “It literally went as good as it could have.”
The area the men were attacked was a north-facing and densely timbered slope, said Andrea Jones, spokeswoman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Bozeman.
This is the kind of area that would be attractive for a grizzly bear looking for a den site, Jones said.
And even though winter is settling in on southwest Montana, grizzlies can still be active and react defensively when startled, she said.
It is important that hunters continue to be mindful of being bear aware, Jones said.