A grizzly bear feeding on an elk carcass charged a bow hunter over the holiday weekend, sending the man to the Madison Valley Medical Center with non-life threatening injuries, resulting in 90 stitches.
Tom Sommer, 57, was bow hunting up Cascade Creek in the south end of the Gravelly Range when he and his hunting partner encountered a grizzly bear feeding on a carcass. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Information Bureau Chief Greg Lemon, the hunters shouted at the bear in an attempt to turn him away, but the bear charged at them instead.
“Both hunters had bear spray on them but only one was able to deploy their spray,” said Lemon. “The bear attacked (Sommer), whose bear spray did not deploy.”
Sommer reported to the Associated Press that he attempted to deploy bear spray but “grabbed the canister so quickly that he couldn’t release the safety and couldn’t afford to look down” as the bear charged. Sommer also told the AP he circled around a tree twice, ultimately dropping the canister. Sommer said he was also carrying a pistol, which he aimed at the bear after dropping his bear spray, but the animal swatted the gun out of his hand.
The bear attacked Sommer, biting his thigh and head, and clawing his wrist. As the bear continued to attack Sommer, his hunting partner was able to deploy the last of his bear spray and end the attack.
“And just like that it stopped,” Sommer told the AP. “He stopped biting me, got up and started to run away.”
After checking wounds and stitching themselves back up, the two hunters walked a mile back to camp and rode their mules another 4 miles back to the trailhead. Sommer was treated at the Madison Valley Medical Center in Ennis and received 90 stitches in his head.
“Through it all I was very conscious, very level-headed and low key about it,” Sommers told the AP. “Besides some scars it doesn’t appear that I will have any problems.”
Lemon said Montana FWP is not planning on any sort of management of the bear, nor are they trying to locate the animal.
“It was reported to us as self defense and we didn’t see anything or find any information to suggest anything but,” said Lemon.
The Madison Ranger District posted warning signs in the area.
Montana FWP and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest reiterated the importance of hunter safety when recreating and hunting in bear county and asked folks to be aware of closures or restrictions, knowledgeable of the area and aware of their surroundings. And as always, remain bear aware.
“Hunters are, by design, good at sneaking up on bears unobserved,” stated a release from the BDNF after the Labor Day attack. “They also provide bears with an attractive food source in the form of gut piles and carcasses.”
The release offered a few precautions to take when recreating in bear country:
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Watch for bear sign or signs of carcasses that would attract bears such as scavenging birds or foul odors. Be on alert in areas of low visibility and by streams, which mask noises.
- Bear spray produces a large cloud that targets a bear’s nose and eyes – its most sensitive areas. It has proven 98 percent effective at preventing human injury in actual encounters. Remember that bears have thick hides and that they move faster than most pistol shooters can properly aim.
- Calling for elk and deer and elk scents are attractive to bears. Always hunt with a partner and keep your bear spray readily accessible if calling for elk. Include a coagulant like quick clot in your first aid kit.
- Keep a clean camp. Bears are very smart, have a great memory and if they receive a food reward in one camp, they may become aggressive as they continue to raid camps. Make sure all attractants are placed in a hard-sided vehicle, locked in a bear-resistant container or hung 10 feet up and 4 feet out from any supporting branches. Anything that has a smell or has once had a smell needs to be put away.
- Regular coolers are not bear-resistant and must be appropriately stored, even when empty. Check with a local ranger station about obtaining bear-resistant containers through the loaner program, free of charge.
- If you are fortunate enough to harvest an animal this year, gut it immediately and move the gut pile away from the animal and in a place where you can view it from at least 200 yards away as you return. This may help keep the bear to stay away from you and your carcass and may also prevent other hunters from stumbling on a bear. Pack tarps for moving gut piles, ropes and a pulley for hanging game.
- Never bring a carcass into your camp! If you need to leave a carcass on the forest, hang it (10 feet up, 4 feet out) 100 yards or farther from a sleeping area or trail. If you must leave it on the ground, make sure it is at least a half-mile from any sleeping area and 200 yards from a trail. Leave your kill in a place where you can view it from at least 200 yards away as you return.