Hunter shoots, injures grizzly near Fairfield

By: - September 13, 2023 5:04 pm
A grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

A grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. (Photo by Frank van Manen / USGS / Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 / Unedited)

A hunter shot and injured a grizzly bear near Fairfield in the Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area on Tuesday. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is still looking for the bear.

According to a FWP press release Wednesday, the hunter was hunting for upland birds on private lands when he was charged by the grizzly, believed to be an adult male. Less than 15 feet away from the bear, the hunter fired twice with his shotgun and hit the grizzly once, causing it to run away. The hunter was not injured.

As part of the open investigation, FWP bear management and law enforcement conducted a search Tuesday and Wednesday, on foot, using drones and with a helicopter, covering more than four square miles. They were not able to find the bear, but did find evidence it was wounded and believe it left the immediate area.

FWP said the bear is likely seeking cover in and around abandoned buildings and in areas with thick brush, warning nearby residents to be cautious. The department is also putting signs up in the area advising hunters to be vigilant for bears.

“With pheasant hunting season approaching and other upland bird seasons already open, FWP reminds all hunters to be extra cautious when afield,” the release said.

This bear encounter happened in the same week a hunter was attacked near Big Sky on Friday. FWP concluded their investigation into the altercation, saying in a press release Wednesday one of the victim’s companions fired a pistol at the bear before the bear left. The victim suffered serious injuries from the bear and was flown to a hospital. Custer Gallatin National Forest implemented an emergency area closure for public safety following the incident and the closure remains in effect.

FWP staff did not find the bear, but found evidence of bear activity in the area.

Bears are active longer this time of year as they eat in preparation for hibernation. However, this period overlaps with hunting season and other fall recreation activities when folks are more likely to encounter bears.

Bear Aware Tips from FWP:

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.
  • Make noise to alert bears to your presence and travel in groups.
  • 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.

People who hunt in places that have or may have grizzly bears—which includes areas of Montana west of Billings—should take special precautions:

  • Carry bear spray and be prepared to use it immediately.
  • Watch for and be extra cautious around bear sign, creeks and areas with limited visibility.
  • Hunt with a group of people. Making localized noise can alert bears to your presence.
  • Be aware that elk calls and cover scents can attract bears.
  • Bring the equipment and people needed to help field dress game and remove the meat from the kill site as soon as possible.
  • If you need to leave part of the meat in the field during processing, hang it at least 10 feet off the ground and at least 150 yards from the gut pile. Leave it where it can be observed from a distance of at least 200 yards.
  • Upon your return, observe the meat with binoculars. If it has been disturbed or if a bear is in the area, leave and call FWP.

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