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'Self-defense': Montana wildlife officials say shooting of bear in Luther home justified

A photo of the bear's paw
Posted at 5:55 PM, Aug 05, 2023

LUTHER — Imagine you’re awoken in the middle of the night to find a bear has broken into your house. What would you do? That’s the exact situation one Luther couple was in Thursday morning, and they had to make a quick decision.

In a town as small as Luther, a break-in is big news—especially when the intruder weighs several hundred pounds.

“This situation is really not due to any, like, fault of the couples. They didn’t do anything wrong per se in this situation," said Chrissy Webb, the communication and education manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 5, on Saturday. "It was likely that this particular bear had gotten into attractants, like garbage, maybe some groceries, maybe some pet food, in the surrounding area and neighborhood this couple lived. And you know, once a bear realizes it can get food from a certain source, it will start coming back to that for food."

Chrissy Webb
Chrissy Webb

It's a tale Tom Bolkcom and his fiancé, Seeley Oblander, will be telling for the rest of their lives.

They awoke around 3 a.m. Thursday morning to their dog barking downstairs. When Bolkcom went to check out the commotion, he found a black bear in his living room.

Bolkcom grabbed his gun and shot the bear, chasing it from room to room before it finally collapsed after several shots.

"It wasn’t this specific couple’s property that had improperly stored attractants. It sounds like it was the surrounding landowners that maybe had some improperly stored attractants. The bear became habituated and started associating homes and vehicles with getting food," Webb said. "That’s what motivated it to eventually break into this specific couple’s house, and then ended, of course, in the bear’s death."

The bear after being shot
The bear after being shot

MTN News reached out to the couple requesting an interview, to which they declined as they are on vacation. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks say they did what they had to do.

“We had a local warden visit with the couple after this incident. After hearing their perspective on the situation, FWP's stance on the situation is that their action was completely justifiable as a self-defense action. So the couple is in no trouble for killing this bear. It sounds like the shooting of that bear was probably the best option to keep the people safe in that situation,” Webb said. “Our warden disposed of the bear’s carcass. So the couple, even though they did shoot it, aren’t keeping any part of that bear. So we just want to emphasize that. If you shoot something in self-defense, FWP will likely take it away."

The bear got in through a window that was cracked open.

"It’s totally normal for you to leave your window cracked in the summer in Montana," Webb said. "That’s what we like to do."

Many in Carbon County know it could have happened to them.

“It can happen. I mean, bears, if they smell something, they come right in,” said Bernie Beall, a Carbon County resident, on Saturday. "These kinds of encounters only increase with more bears, and there are more bears right now."

Bernie Beall
Bernie Beall

According to Webb, this particular bear had already made a name for itself, getting into other trouble in and around the area.

“This specific property where the bear broke in was actually mostly free of attractants. So it wasn’t that this couple had a particularly messy or smelly home, it just ended up being the house that this bear decided to break into," Webb said. "And we do want to emphasize, this is not normal bear behavior. So it was because this bear had gotten into food sources from humans that motivated it to break into this house."

Webb has a few tips to offer regarding bear safety.

“There’s a pretty long list of potential bear attractants out there, the most common one is garbage. So make sure you’re using a bear-resistant garbage bin if that’s available, and then ideally storing even that bear-resistant bin inside of a locked building until the day of disposal. That’s a big one. Making sure you’re storing pet and livestock feed properly. So again, inside of a locked building. Locked, secured building,” Webb said. “If you observe a bear, either if it’s on your property or someone else’s property, getting into a home, getting into a vehicle, that kind of stuff does need to be reported to either FWP. Or in this case, all these events happening in Carbon County, to their dispatch office."

To view tips on bear safety from FWP, click here.

To view MTN's original report on the incident, click here.

Bear Safety from Montana FWP
Bear Safety from Montana FWP