Safe Hunting in Bear Country

Release Date: Sep 5, 2013

Contact(s): Leona Rodreick

     Hunters are, by design, good at sneaking up on bears unobserved. They also provide bears with an attractive food source in the form of gut piles and carcasses. This is a safety concern for hunters who can follow a few precautions to minimize bear habituation this season.

  1. Keep a clean camp. Bears are very smart, have a great memory and if they receive a food reward in one camp, they may become aggressive as they continue to raid camps. Make sure all attractants are placed in a hard-sided vehicle, locked in a bear-resistant container, or hung 10 feet up and four feet out from any supporting branches. Anything that has a smell or has once had a smell needs to be put away.  This includes food, garbage, toothpaste, deodorant, blood-covered clothing, and any stock feed (except hay without additives).  Coolers are not bear-resistant and must be stored, even when empty. Check with a local ranger station about obtaining bear-resistant containers through the loaner program, free of charge.
  2. If you are fortunate enough to harvest an animal this year, gut it immediately and move the gut pile at least 200 yards away from any national forest system trail. This will keep the bear away from you and your carcass and will prevent other hunters from stumbling on a bear. Remove your kill as soon as possible. Never bring a carcass into your camp! If you need to leave a carcass on the forest, hang it (10’ up, 4’ out) 100 yards or farther from a sleeping area or trail.  If you must leave it on the ground or improperly stored, make sure it is at least a half mile from any sleeping area and 200 yards from a trail. Leave your kill in a place where you can view it from 200 yards away as you return.
  3. Calling for elk and deer/elk scents are attractive to bears. Bears have approached hunters while calling, and in some areas have become attracted to gunshots after learning to associate the noise with a carcass or gut pile. Consider leaving elk calls and scents at home when travelling in grizzly country. You should always expect to find grizzly bears in Southwest Montana, even in areas outside their known range.
  4. Bear spray works!  Better than bullets in most encounters. Remember that bears have thick hides and that they move faster than most shooters can properly aim. Bear spray produces a large cloud that targets a bear’s nose and eyes - its most sensitive areas. It has proven 98% effective at preventing injury in actual encounters.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Watch for bear sign in the form of scat, tracks, or scratch trees. Be on alert in areas of low visibility and by streams which mask noises.
  6. Pack tarps for moving gut piles, ropes and a pulley for hanging game.

     If you do encounter a bear, it is important to leave the area as soon as possible without running or turning your back. Talk in a low, calm voice to help the bear recognize you as human.  Avoid making eye contact with the bear and stand your ground even if the bear begins to charge, as many bears will execute bluff charges.

     Defensive attacks (where a bear is defending its cubs, its food or itself) are more common with grizzly bears and may happen quickly or be accompanied by warning signs. Look and listen for woofing, growling, jaw-popping, and bluff charges. Stand your ground during a charge, use your bear spray, and play dead by laying face down on the ground and covering your neck if the bear makes contact.

      Predatory attacks (where a bear is treating humans as prey) are more common with black bears and can be identified by a silent approach. The bear may disappear and reappear, circling around with its head low. If the attack is predatory, use your bear spray and fight back with all your might. 

     Remember to make sure all fires are out cold when unattended, use motorized vehicles only on designated routes, and bring certified weed-free hay and straw.  For information about local regulations or bears, go to the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest website at, or stop by a local Forest Service office.