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Column: Hunters: Think grizzly and be prepared

by Kim AnnisMontana Fwp
| September 16, 2009 12:00 AM

Hunting season has begun and hunters are reminded that they can expect to encounter grizzly bears anywhere in northwest Montana. If you are a black bear license holder, it’s recommended that you brush up on your bear ID skills before each hunting season to prevent the mistaken identity killings of grizzly bears.

Despite their names, not all grizzly bears are “grizzled” and not all black bears are black. People commonly overestimate the size of a grizzly bear. A typical adult female can weigh between 200-350lbs while adult males average between 300-600 lbs. A dark colored adult female grizzly bear can easily look like an adult male black bear, and because young grizzly bears are smaller than their adult counterparts, and haven’t fully grown into their features, they can also be mistaken for black bears.

Because color and size are not reliable for identifying the differences between the two bear species, it’s important to look at the shoulders, ears, face and claws before determining what kind of bear it is.

Hunters should also be especially careful in areas of dense cover where bears may be feeding or bedded down. Hunters should carry and know how to use bear spray. In sudden grizzly bear encounters, bear spray has been shown to be a reliable tool at deterring or stopping an attack. However, carrying bear spray or a firearm for protection is no replacement for using common sense when hunting and recreating in grizzly bear country.

Here are some important safety tips for hunting safely in grizzly bear country:

• Know your bears. Before the fall black bear season opens, brush up on your bear ID skills online at http://fwp.mt.gov/bearid/default.html , or contact your local FWP office for information.

• Carry bear spray where it can be quickly reached and be sure you know how to use it. Keep your bear spray at hand while field dressing an animal.

• If you hunt alone, let someone know your detailed plans and have a way to periodically check in; better yet, don’t hunt alone.

• Pay attention to fresh bear sign, especially in areas of dense cover, limited visibility, and high noise, such as creek bottoms.

• After making a kill, remove the carcass from the area as quickly as possible.

• If you must leave and then return to a carcass, take special precautions: do not field dress the animal in the same place you leave it. Place the carcass where it is easily observed from a safe distance and make noise when you approach the carcass.

• If a grizzly bear is found near or feeding on a carcass, do not attempt to frighten it away. Contact your local FWP game warden or area biologist to report the incident.

• Harvested animals stored outside should be hung at least 10 feet off the ground and at least 4 feet away from any vertical structure.

Bears are opportunists eaters and will change their behavior to take advantage of new food sources. Whether you are at home or at camp, you should always assume that bears are in the area. Make sure that camps, cabins and homes are bear proof and that anything that might attract a bear is secure.

(Kim Annis is a grizzly bear management specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. For more details on how to hunt safely in grizzly country go to FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov or contact Annis at 293-4161.)