Hunting in grizzly bear country can present some unique and challenging experiences. Hunters should realize they may be predisposed to sudden encounters and conflicts with bears and that proper preparation and mental preparedness is the key to reducing risk.
Quietly pursuing game in the field, masking human scent, moving into the wind, and being active during dusk and dawn increase the probability that you will surprise a bear at close range and, in turn, a bear will behave defensively.
Also, activities such as handling a game carcass in the field or in camp and calling elk may bring a bear to you. Despite these predispositions, with preparation and the proper knowledge, there are many ways you can avoid conflicts with bears in the field. Below you'll find tips and advice on how to stay safe in bear country.
• Always hunt or call with a partner and stay within sight of each other.
• Remain alert and watchful for bear activity; avoid "tunnel vision" while pursuing game.
• Learn to recognize bear sign such as scat, tracks, and diggings.
• Know where seasonal food sources are present and either avoid or be especially cautious in those areas.
• Be aware that the presence of ravens and other scavengers is a good indication that carcasses or gut piles are nearby and a bear may be in the area.
• Carry a defense readily accessible. The knowledge of how to use your defense should be automatic.
Take special precautions when handling game carcasses in the field and in camp. The best way to minimize conflicts over a carcass is to pack and remove the game meat out of the field as quickly as possible. While field dressing game, have your hunting partner act as a sentinel to watch for an approaching bear and have a defense readily available.
If you must leave the carcass for any amount of time:
• Separate the carcass from the gut pile with as much distance as possible.
• Quarter and hang the carcass in a tree at least 10 feet from the ground and 4 feet from the trunk.
• If you must leave the carcass on the ground, place it in plain view so when you return, you can see if a bear is present or if it has been disturbed prior to making your approach. Placing something conspicuous on the carcass may help you detect if there has been a bear at the carcass.
• When returning to a carcass that has been left overnight, use caution. Stop and view the carcass from a distance with binoculars. Approach the carcass upwind and make sufficient noise to alert a bear of your presence.
• If you detect disturbance from a distance or if the carcass has been buried, a bear has probably been to the carcass or may be bedded nearby.
• Never attempt to scare a bear off of a carcass it has claimed.
• In camp, store game meat, capes, and dirty tools/clothes at least 100 yards from your sleeping area and preferably down wind.
In most situation bears will avoid humans. If you encounter a bear in the field and it does not avoid you, you need to determine if the bear is exhibiting predatory or aggressive/defensive behavior.In most situations, grizzly bears act defensively to protect their personal space, a food source, or their offspring. A defensive bear often displays stress behaviors such as moaning, woofing, jaw popping,or paw swatting. Remember, the bear is acting aggressively to defend something and if you are not perceived as a threat, the bear should leave the area.
If you encounter an aggressive/defensive bear at close range:
• Try to remain calm, slowly back out of the area, and have a defense ready.
• Do not run or challenge the bear with any aggressive body language.
• If the bear begins to approach, stand your ground and use bear spray if available.
• If a bear makes contact or is about to make contact, drop and cover by lying flat on your stomach and inter-lacing your fingers and placing them on the back of your neck. Do not fight back.
Unlike defensive bear attacks, a bear that is acting in a predatory manner is NOT defending anything.Predatory behavior is often recognized when a bear appears to be intensely interested in you or deliberately approaches you without displaying any stress behaviors. If a bear enters your tent, it is behaving in a predatory manner. In a predatory bear attack, you should fight back by any means necessary,do NOT drop and cover!
When you are camping, keeping a clean camp is the key to human safety and is the law on most U.S.Forest Service lands in northwest Wyoming.
Bears have a highly evolved sense of smell and are strongly attracted to human food, garbage,livestock feed, and game meat. When a bear gains access to attractants in a camp, it is likely to become food-conditioned. Food-conditioned bears are less likely to avoid humans and can become destructive and even dangerous in their attempts to obtain human foods. A bear that has received a food reward from a camp will likely return or stay in the area, and may become a problem for other people.
Attractants should be stored in vehicles, hard-sided campers or trailers, or bear boxes which are provided at most forest service campgrounds. Remember that attractants include stoves, grills,coolers, pet food, and toiletry items as well as human food and garbage. It is best not to burn or bury any trash or left-over food in a fire pit.
In a back country camping situation, hang food and other attractants from a tree or meat pole, 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet from the vertical support. Meat and food storage poles are provided at many popular campsite locations and should be located at least 100 yards from your sleeping area.
With the proper preparation and knowledge, hunting in bear country can be an extraordinary and rewarding experience. Mental preparedness, utilization of techniques to avoid bear encounters,and the knowledge of what to do in a bear encounter are all essential components of a safe and successful bear country hunt.