Surprise Encounter With Grizzly Bears Underscores

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IDAHO FISH AND GAME
UPPER SNAKE REGION NEWS RELEASE
Idaho Falls, ID

Date: September 30, 2002
Contact: Gregg Losinski
(208) 525-7290


Surprise Encounter With Grizzly Bears Underscores Need For Appropriate Precautions

ISLAND PARK - Most sane people don’t go looking for trouble, trouble just has a way of happening. Last Saturday, September 26, three hunters weren’t looking for trouble when they went to help a friend retrieve some elk hind quarters that had been left behind, but they certainly found trouble of the grizzly bear variety. The hunters startled a female grizzly bear and her two two-year old cubs that had been feeding on the gut pile of the legally hunted elk. Surprising a feeding grizzly bear is not a good thing to do, surprising a feeding sow with cubs is an even more unfortunate turn of events. The scene that resulted is one that neither the hunters nor the bears are soon to forget.

The hunters were at the head of Cooney Creek on the side of Bishop Mountain near the West End of Island Park Reservoir in Unit 60. They were in the woods to retrieve the remainder of the meat from an elk taken earlier in the day when they startled the sow and she ran off into the woods. Unfortunately, the mother bear quickly circled around and charged the three archers. Armed only with bows and arrows, the archers attempted to keep the bear at bay by striking out at her with their compound bows. In the excitement that ensued, one of the archers was able to knock an arrow and let off a shot at the adult bear from a distance of approximately seven yards. The hastily placed shot succeeded in driving the bears off and allowed the archers the opportunity to vacate the scene. Once safely away, the hunters contacted IDFG officers who accompanied the archers at first light the next day to investigate the scene.

As officers worked towards the site, they encountered some blood from the bear that indicated that the arrow had made some contact with its mark. Further investigation of the site led officers to deduce that while the bear had been hit, it was apparently only a superficial wound to the sow’s shoulder. The spent intact arrow was found in the ground right near where it had been shot, indicating that the shot had probably only grazed the animal. In fact, the bears had even returned to the gut pile and covered it with dirt after the incident, typical behavior for a bear. While officers investigated the area, the hunters retrieved the remaining elk meat that had been untouched by the bears.

While this incident involved grizzly bears, another incident occurred the same day to a hunter near Soda Springs involving an attack by a black bear. Hunters and outdoor enthusiasts are once again reminded that Idaho is bear country and that proper precautions should be taken before heading out into the woods. Bear pepper spray is recommended for all adults as a general rule of thumb. Handguns, bows and rifles are the proper tools to use when hunting for black bears, but they generally prove inadequate as methods of self-defense when surprise encounters occur with either black or grizzly bears. In the case of the Soda Springs man attacked by the black bear, the man’s father was the one able to kill the bear using a bow and arrow,

The Island Park hunters who surprised the grizzly bear were extremely fortunate to successfully drive the bruin off with a single arrow. Their hunting companions were on a neighboring ridge when the encounter occurred and reported to officers that they heard their friends yelling to try and scare the bears off. Because of the self-defense aspect of the incident, no charges are currently pending, but the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has been notified as a matter of standard procedure because an endangered species was involved. Historically, in North America the number of humans killed by blacks and grizzly bears is about equal in number. The difference being that there are far more black bears than grizzly bears, particularly in the lower 48 states, so that while there are many encounters with black bears, most are relatively benign.

In addition to carrying bear pepper spray in the woods, there are a few other simple precautions to keep in mind. The easiest thing to do to reduce the risk of confrontation is to make noise. Unfortunately, making noise is the last thing most hunters want to do when they go forth in search of game, hence the reason that hunters often end up in surprise situations with not only bears, but also mountain lions. Keeping a clean camp is also another simple thing that can be done to help reduce the chance of attracting bears. Bears are quick learners and it doesn’t take too much garbage or even dog food to result in having them seek out camps as a source of food. Hunters who leave game behind for later retrieval should exercise extreme caution when returning to the kill site. Caution should even be taken when hunters are involved in the actual act of field dressing an animal. In what could be best described as a modified version of Pavlov’s Dog experiment, stories are circulating of black bears showing up at big game kill sites after hearing gun shots. Their reward being a few hundred pounds of steaming entrails.

Individuals with questions about safety in bear country should contact their local IDFG or Forest Service Office. Bear pepper spray is now available at most sporting goods stores and even most general department stores that carry outdoors gear.
 


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