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Antler-hunter kills charging grizzly bear north of Helena

Grizzly Reintroduction North Cascades
Posted at 8:50 AM, May 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-03 11:05:29-04

(Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks press release)

A man searching for antlers shot and killed a grizzly bear on April 25 during an encounter on private land northwest of Wolf Creek.

The man was walking along a ridge covered with low trees and brush with his two dogs at his side and the wind at his back while searching for shed antlers. After seeing a fresh grizzly bear track in a snow patch, he continued along his path and a few minutes later he first saw the bear standing near the top of the ridge about 20 yards away.

The bear dropped to all four legs and charged the man, who drew his handgun and fired five shots from distances about 30 feet to 10 feet, grazing the bear with one shot and hitting and killing it with another shot.

The man was not injured in the encounter. He was not carrying bear spray.

The adult female grizzly was in good condition weighing around 300 pounds and was estimated to be 12 years old. The bear had a single cub-of-the-year nearby that was later captured by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks bear management specialists and taken to FWP’s wildlife rehabilitation center in Helena. FWP is currently looking for placement for the cub at an accredited zoo.

The incident remains under investigation by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The fatal encounter comes at a time when bear activity is picking up. With the onset of spring weather, both species of Montana bears are active.

Much of Montana has both black and grizzly bears, with grizzlies showing up further and further east each year. Recently, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks confirmed a grizzly bear sighting in the Bear Paw Mountains east of Big Sandy.

“Though not common, grizzly bear sightings around central Montana have increased over the years,” said FWP Region 6 Supervisor Drew Henry. “This emphasizes the need to practice bear aware behavior.”

FWP has recently worked to increase grizzly bear awareness in northcentral Montana, including public presentations in both Havre and Big Sandy in the last few years. All hunter, bowhunter and trapper education students in the state are taught about bear safety and the effective use of bear spray, and great information can be found online at fwp.mt.gov/bear-aware [lnks.gd] on how to live and recreate in bear country.

“Much of central and north central Montana is cattle country,” said Henry. “If producers are worried about bear conflicts or need help securing their property, please reach out to us. We’ve got a number of tools that can be useful in helping landowners avoid bear conflicts.”

Grizzly bears remain a federally protected species under the Endangered Species Act, even though populations have biologically recovered in two of their recovery areas, including the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

Be bear aware

Montana is bear country. Grizzly bear populations continue to become denser and more widespread in Montana, increasing the likelihood that residents and recreationists will encounter them in more places each year.

Avoiding conflicts with bears is easier than dealing with conflicts. Here are some precautions to help residents, recreationists and people who work outdoors avoid negative bear encounters:

- Carry bear spray and be prepared to use it immediately.
- Travel in groups whenever possible and make casual noise, which can help alert bears to your presence.
- Stay away from animal carcasses, which often attract bears.
- Follow food storage orders from the applicable land management agency.
- If you encounter a bear, never approach it. Leave the area when it is safe to do so.
- Keep garbage, bird feeders, pet food and other attractants put away in a secure building. Keep garbage in a secure building until the day it is collected. Certified bear-resistant garbage containers are available in many areas.
- Never feed wildlife. Bears that become food conditioned lose their natural foraging behavior and pose threats to human safety. It is illegal to feed bears in Montana.

Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Management authority for grizzlies rests with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, working closely in Montana with FWP, the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Survey, Wildlife Services, and Native American tribes. This collaboration happens through the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee [lnks.gd].

For more information and resources on bear safety, visit fwp.mt.gov/bear-aware [lnks.gd].

Tips for Homeowners/Landowners:

To avoid conflicts with bears and other wildlife, residents can:

- Remove or secure food attractants such as garbage, bird feeders and pet food.
- Homeowners should stay at least 100 yards away from wildlife and try to haze animals off their property with hard-sided vehicles and loud noises.
- Chickens and other small livestock should be properly secured with electric fencing or inside a closed shed with a door.
- Domestic fruit should be picked up as soon as possible.
- Recreationists are urged to “Be Bear Aware [lnks.gd]” and follow precautionary steps to prevent conflicts, including carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it, and traveling in groups while making noise.

FWP specialists work diligently to help landowners and communities avoid bear conflicts. In central Montana, to report a sighting, conflict or for assistance securing attractants, contact FWP bear specialist Wesley Sarmento in Conrad at 406-450-1097 or bear specialist Chad White in Choteau at 406-788-4755. In case of a conflict where livestock is involved, call your local USDA Wildlife Services agent.