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Montana bird hunters need to be bear aware

With the Oct. 12 opening of pheasant season, bird hunters around Montana will be beating the brush hoping to flush a rooster or two. These hunters, particularly in the western half of the state, should be prepared for an encounter with a grizzly bear.

In recent years, grizzly bear populations have expanded into areas where they haven’t been for decades, including on the prairies away from the Rocky Mountain Front, in the valleys of western Montana and in valleys and mountains of southwest, southcentral and central Montana. Even in areas where they have been more common – those places close to Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park and around the Bob Marshall Wilderness – it’s a good reminder for all hunters to be ready to encounter a bear this time of year.

What puts bears in potential conflict with bird hunters this time of year is their search for food in anticipation of winter hibernation. Grizzlies often follow streams and river bottoms that offer shade, protection and food. These are the same places hunters target for birds.

Bird hunters should understand they could be in close proximity to bears even if they’re miles away from the mountains. Hunters should be particularly careful near thick patches of brush and even more so in those thickets along canals and creeks. Grizzlies have even been known to bed in tall grass or cattails but prefer very thick shrubs. Keep a watchful eye on hunting dogs as they may stir-up a grizzly sleeping in its day bed.

Some key things hunters can do to help prevent an attack:

If you encounter a grizzly bear, do NOT run or yell, this may provoke an attack. Speak calmly and back away slowly while pulling out your bear spray. Leave the area immediately.
Be aware of bear activity and if bird hunting make noise to avoid a surprise encounter, which is what commonly leads to an attack.
Carry bear spray and be ready to use it.
Hunt with a partner.
Always let someone know where you’ll be.
Look for fresh bear sign and activity and avoid those areas.

“This autumn is like no other I can remember in many years,” said Mike Madel, Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear management specialist out of Choteau. “Grizzly bears are actively moving, searching for natural foods lost in the two recent snowstorms on the Front.”

Rural residents and landowners are urged to contact FWP for help if grizzly bears are coming close to inhabited residences or causing property damage.

Bears are opportunistic animals and will eat of variety of foods. That’s why FWP regularly advises people who work and recreate in bear country to clean up any attractants. That can range from barbeques and pet food near homes to big game carcasses and livestock feed in backcountry hunting camps.

For more information on recreating and living in bear country, go online to fwp.mt.gov. Look under Fish and Wildlife and click on Grizzly Bears.