Montana Bear Attacks: Could They Have Been Avoided?

A guest post to Field Notes from survival columnist Keith McCafferty, following up on his Feb. '08 magazine story The Grizzly Storm (p. 15).

Sensational headlines to the contrary (and yes, I'm including this magazine), the rash of bear attacks on hunters in Montana in the fall of 2007 were not caused by "rampaging" grizzlies. Instead, each of the eight incidents was precipitated by a hunter surprising a bear at close range, which is a grim reminder both of the inherent risks we assume by hunting in prime grizzly habitat and the importance of learning avoidance tactics in order to stay out of the headlines.

To recap:
September 9, 2007.
Ken Meyer was hunting black bears in the Little Trail drainage north of Yellowstone National Park when he surprised a sow grizzly with two cubs. The sow also was protecting an elk carcass. Meyer fired three shots as the bear attacked, mauling him severely. The grizzly wandered off and died of its wounds.

**September 14, 2007. **
Bowhunter Dustin Flack, wearing camouflage and scent masking materials, was cow calling to attract bull elk in Beattie Gulch near Yellowstone Park when he saw a sow grizzly with three cubs. He hid behind a tree, then tried to climb it after the bears had approached to within several feet. The sow snapped the tree in half and pulled Flack to the ground. He played dead and the bear left after biting him in the leg and back.

October 6, 2007.
College student Roman Morris was bowhunting elk in the same Beattie Gulch area and was hiding behind a sagebrush as a sow with three cubs came within several feet. The bear passed by before seeing the hunter, then attacked. Morris fought with the bear and then attempted to play dead. The bear bit at his shoulder, head and leg, picked him up and dropped him several times, then tossed him into the air and left. The bear is believed to be the same sow that attacked Flack.

October 6, 2007.
Two Minnesota bow hunters stumbled into a grizzly bear's day bed in Tom Miner Basin north of Yellowstone Park. Initially, they drove the attacking bear away with pepper spray, but when it charged again, one of the men shot and killed it with a handgun.

October 15, 2007.
Brian Grand was bird hunting on Dupuyer Creek in northern Montana with several companions. The hunters were intentionally making noise and one of their dogs even wore bear bells. However, a bear near its day bed, which also was feeding on a nearby cow carcass, was apparently surprised by Grand and attacked him briefly before leaving, mauling his hands, elbows, head and legs.

**October 30, 2007. **
Elk hunter Virgil Massey was hunting on private land with a guide north of Yellowstone Park. The guide left him on a ridgetop to look for elk. Massey was apparently attacked by a surprised bear, which slapped him in the face, detaching an eye from the socket and severely damaging his face. The bear, which was not confirmed as a grizzly, then left.

November 3, 2007.
A hunter near Ovando, Montana was approached to by a sow grizzly with two sub-adult cubs. He shot and killed her at 8 yards.

November 20(?), 2007.
Vic Workman was hunting north of Whitefish, Montana when he was charged by a grizzly from 30 feet. Workman fired one shot from his rifle when the bear closed to within 10 feet and bear swerved and ran away; no evidence was found that it was hit by the shot. A whitetail deer carcass was found nearby.

Montana bear management specialist Kevin Frey, who investigated the attacks in the Yellowstone area, points out that in several cases the hunters were wearing camouflage, trying to attract elk (which also attracts bears), and stalking stealthily through heavy cover, a recipe for confrontation. The bears included sows with cubs and those protecting kills, which are most likely to attack when surprised at close range.

However, thousands of hunters each year emerged unscathed from prime grizzly habitat, and by learning more about bear behavior in our new Bear Safety Quiz, chances are you can become one of them.