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Wildlife officials hold bear-spray training in Billings

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Posted at 5:50 PM, Sep 14, 2023

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is reminding everyone to be “bear aware,” especially this time of year.

“The majority of conflicts with bears happen in September or in the fall because bears are preparing for hibernation. They lose situational awareness and they are more likely to be surprised,” says Danielle Oyler, wildlife stewardship outreach specialist for FWP.

Oyler says it's important to carry bear spray and know how to use it if you are out in the outdoors. FWP held free classes Thursday at its Heights location to give people a chance to practice on a mechanical bear.

“Bear spray is one of the best tools you can use to stop or deter a bear attack from happening. Luckily most encounters don’t result in people needing to use it, but it is a great peace of mind and a great tool,” she says.

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Oyler says it’s important that people practice using the spray at least once.

“It’s one thing to carry it, but you wouldn’t believe how many people have carried it for years but have never learned to take the safety off, so today we are showing people how to take the safety off, how to carry it in different ways, and what to do—how to read bear behavior if they do have an encounter,” she says.

She says most bear encounters fall into the category of defensive, where the bear is protecting itself, its cubs, or a large food source like a carcass. They generally act aggressively and show signs of stress that they feel threatened.

“In those cases, you stand your ground and use your bear spray. There is no need to look more scary because the bear already sees you as a danger,” she says.

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If the defensive bear touches you, she advises playing dead.

In the case of a predatory bear—one that may be following or stalking and acting curious yet calm, she suggests acting aggressively.

“If the bear is calm you act aggressive, yelling, throwing things at it, using your bear spray and you never play dead with a bear that acts curious,” she says.

Oyler says the main things to remember is to travel in groups, make noise, carry bear spray, be aware of your surroundings, and avoid dawn and dusk. Also make sure there is nothing that may be attracting bears into your campsite or even your backyard.