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Investigation continues into Gravelly Mountains grizzly attacks

Bozeman, MT — Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is continuing an investigation following two separate grizzly bear attacks that happened Monday in the western Gravelly Mountains.

Two hunters were injured in an attack that happened in the morning, and another hunter was injured in an attack later that evening less than a mile from the first incident. Survivors of the first attack have been released following medical treatment. The man injured in the second attack is still receiving medical treatment in Butte but is in stable condition.

It’s still unclear whether the same bear was involved in both encounters.

The four hunters involved in these incidents had taken steps to educate and prepare themselves for hunting in grizzly country. Hunting with a partner contributed greatly to their survival, both in ending the attacks and in being able to get medical attention. Both parties also had a means of defending themselves, which is important when recreating in bear country.

The first attack happened about 7:30 a.m. when two archery hunters from New Mexico were following elk tracks south of Cottonwood Creek, west of Black Butte. The two men said they were walking single file up a hill when they heard a noise. They both turned to see a bear charging toward them. The bear struck one of the men as he was reaching for his bear spray. The man fell to his hands and knees, then the bear grabbed onto his backpack.

The other man deployed bear spray at the bear. When the spray reached the bear’s face, the bear let go of the first hunter and attacked the other hunter. The man continued spraying the bear’s face, and the bear eventually let go and left.

The two men were able to walk back to their truck, which was nearby, and drive to Ennis to be treated for their injuries.

The second attack happened about 6:30 p.m. as two archery hunters from Washington were walking north toward Cottonwood Creek. They said they heard a noise and saw a bear charging at them. The bear struck one of the men, who initially fell face-down. During the mauling, the man ended up laying on his back with the bear on top of him. The man’s hunting partner shot at the bear with a pistol, and the bear stepped away but did not leave initially.

The bear charged two more times but did not make contact with the hunters again as both hunters fired shots at it until it departed. It’s unclear how many shots were fired or whether any of them hit the bear.

The two men were able to leave the area on their own. The injured hunter was treated initially in Sheridan and was later transferred to Butte.

The U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday initiated a closure on Cottonwood Road, which runs through the area where the attacks occurred. Prior to the closure, FWP wardens and Forest Service law enforcement personnel notified other hunters in the area. Both agencies also searched for several hours for a bear in connection with the attacks, but none was located. The investigation will remain active this week despite challenging weather conditions.

Further management action is pending the outcome of the investigation.

Attacks from grizzly bears are most common in surprise close encounters with humans. Bears are especially active during the fall months as they seek protein- and calorie-rich foods in preparation for hibernation. This is also when many hunters are in the field.

FWP reminds all recreationists to be cautious when in bear country. Some recommended practices for avoiding negative encounters with bears include:

Be prepared and aware of your surroundings.
Carry and know how to use bear spray.
Travel in groups whenever possible.
Stay away from animal carcasses.
Follow U.S. Forest Service food storage regulations.
If you encounter a bear, never approach it. Back away slowly and leave the area.

For more information on bear safety, visit fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/livingWithWildlife/beBearAware.

Grizzly bears are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Management authority for grizzlies rests with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which works closely with FWP. For more information on grizzly bear management in Montana, visit igbconline.org.