Game Range Ramblin's
Game Range Articles
by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist,
writing for the Pathfinder
November 30, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
By James Jason Jonkel
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Anymore the sound of a rifle shot in the Upper Blackfoot River Basin is an invitation to various scavengersincluding a few grizzly bears that have learned to associate hunting season with gut piles, blood trails, wounded game and animal carcasses.
In the last two years Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) in Region 2 has responded to several incidents of grizzlies taking big game away from hunters. FWP has also found evidence that more and more grizzly bears are learning that rifle shots and hunter activity mean food.
Last year, for example, in Woodworth, MT, near the Kozy Korner Steak House, a female grizzly with two yearlings followed hunters back to their house and devoured an elk that was hanging on a "meat pole" in their back yard.
This fall, near Ovando, MT, a subadult grizzly discovered that bow hunters in Hunting District 290 were also excellent providers, and that tree stands were good sites to locate food. The bear was tracking hunters and scavenging gut piles and carcasses. Needless to say, hunters were uneasy about the grizzly, especially after the occasional visit. The bear "took over" at least four deer carcasses and on one occasion stole a deer out of an open barn.
One bow hunter observed the bear, nose to the ground, following a wounded deer. The hunter shot the deer shortly before dark and within minutes noticed the grizzly. "All of a sudden the bear appeared and began sniffing the ground. At first it followed the deer's back trail and then it turned and went after the deer."
The bear, a young 350-pound female, was trapped and relocated to the Middle Fork of the Flathead country. In extreme cases, when grizzlies are overly comfortable around humans and are in danger of being poached or becoming "management bears," they can be relocated in hopes that the move will increase their chances of survival. Usually, after an extended journey, the bear comes back home.
This fall at least four additional rifle hunters had grizzly bears take possession of their elk. In future years more hunters will lose big game to grizzlies. Grizzly bears and black bears will take advantage of another predator's hard work. Many a coyote, wolf, mountain lion and now big game hunter have lost their "kills" to these thieving bruins. When it comes to scavenging carcasses, bears are the experts.
While working in Glacier National Park on a wolf/mountain lion interaction study, the Hornocker Wildlife Research Institute discovered that both wolves and lions regularly had "kills" taken away by individual bears. Last summer an excited Ninemile Valley resident phoned FWP. "Four wolves just killed a deer in my backyard, and now a big black bear is dragging it up the hill. What should I do?"
"Grab your binoculars and watch the show, "I said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
It's a different story, however, if the carcass being dragged away by a grizzly is your first six-point bull or an elk that took two days to pack out. Therefore hunters should always assume that grizzlies might be in the area and take the necessary precautions.
When hunting in grizzly country, the golden rule is "24 hours to get that animal out of the woods." The longer a carcass remains lying on the ground, hung up in hunting camp, or in the back of a truck, the more likely it will be discovered by a grizzly. The faster elk and deer are taken home and butchered, the better.
Carcasses left in the mountains overnight should be cached and made to be visible from a distance. Locate an observation point and clear the brush in that direction. Cover the animal with branches and sticks and mark it with a piece of clothing or flagging. Drag the gut pile away from the carcass and cover it with brush. Before leaving, walk to the observation point and memorize the site.
Next morning, approach the downed animal carefully. Yell or whistle repeatedly. Study the scene from the observation point and scan the area for movement. Grizzly bears often drag the carcass a short distance before caching it under a mountain of dirt and debris. If a grizzly bear is at site and refuses to leave or the meat has been cached and is not salvageable, report the incident to FWP. Hunters who have lost an animal to a grizzly may be eligible for another license.
If you live in grizzly country, it is best not to hang carcasses behind the house or in the garage for extended periods. Big game carcasses stored outside should be hung from a stout 15 foot "meat pole" at least 25 to 30 feet off the ground. The elk or deer should be swinging from the center of the pole and well above a bear's reach. Grizzly bears are quite ingenious and have been known to climb trees and stand on snow machines in order to reach carcasses.
Some grizzly bears are opportunists and change their behavior in order to take advantage of new food sources. So if you are hunting or living in grizzly country, always assume that grizzlies are in the area and make sure your camps, cabins and homes are bear proof, and that bear attractants are contained or removed. If you have any questions pertaining to hunting or living in grizzly bear country, please call me at 542-5508.