The tails have turned this fall and if you’ve been following Western hunting reports you’ve seen weekly — if not biweekly — news flashes about bear attacks. The hunters are the hunted. Most of these brazen assaults have grizzly written all over them, but don’t count out black bears, especially in states where hunting pressure is limited or nonexistent. And those black bears aren’t only cantankerous west of the Mississippi, but jumbo East Coast bruins can also have bad days.
I was reminded of bear encounters during the month of September as I chased elk with sting and string across both Wyoming, and Montana. In both regions bear sign was an hourly event. Although transient grizzlies could show up in either of my hunting areas, the real estate was primarily dominated by black bears. In fact, the bears are so heavily hunted in my Wyoming backyard that you rarely see one and if do they are headed in the opposite direction for a game of hide and seek. I bowkilled a nice Wyoming bull in early September and left it for a later recovery. When I returned with my horse, mule, border collie and wife, nothing had touched the carcass, or meat.
That wasn’t the case in Montana last week. After nearly two weeks of pounding the woods I finally tagged a great bull on a DIY, solo, public-land hunt. I arrowed the bull just before sunset and worked feverishly to strip the meat from the carcass to cool overnight. I packed out a front shoulder, inside loin and backstrap, and stashed the rest away from the carcass with a sweaty shirt on it for insurance.
At sunrise I returned and as my Garmin GPS led me to the kill site I started to talk out loud and even shout, “Hey bear.” Whether my loudmouth approach scared off the bear right then or not, I returned to chaos. A bear had ripped apart the carcass, found my meat, dragged quarters off and was even dragging a heavy hindquarter uphill. I think it was in the process of caching that quarter when I arrived.
For the remainder of the morning I was looking over my shoulder as I deboned the rest of the elk and ferried loads back to the trailhead. Since I wasn’t in documented grizzly country I wasn’t toting bear spray although I wish I had a canister during the packing process. I did however pack along a sidearm to make some noise or defend myself in case of the worst.
If you’re headed into bear country, especially grizzly country, it’s best not to follow my routine of solo hunting. Here are some great tips to prepare you for bear country:
1. Hunt in pairs.
2. Carry bear spray.
3. Study and practice proper bear spray procedure.
4. Back up you bear spray with a sidearm, shotgun or rifle if you wish.
5. Stay alert to your surroundings at all times, especially when calling big game. Watch the downwind.
6. Let others know when you will return and where you are hunting.
For detailed instructions on bear encounters visit Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.