Four Separate Grizzly Bear Incidents in Less Than Two Weeks Has Southern Montana On Edge

by Jon D. B.
Grizzly bear. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

October is ending on a grizzly note with two bears dead and others relocated after a string of hyperphagia-spurred encounters in southern Montana.

The last few weeks have been stress inducing, to say the least, for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) wildlife managers. Four separate grizzly bear encounters have required officials to respond in southwest Montana alone within that timeframe, putting both FWP and residents on edge. Thankfully, local Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports no human injuries have occurred. But the encounters have led to two grizzlys’ deaths and the displacement of others. The culprit? Hyperphagia.

Hyperphagia is, in a nutshell, the hyper-feeding of bears ahead of their winter hibernation. Fall is the season for this bear-feeding-frenzy, too. While consumed with this instinctual need to feed, brown and black bears will consume tens of thousands of calories per-day in order to fatten up for their long winter’s sleep. The most famous result of hyperphagia is seen in Alaska’s Katmai National Park brown bears; the stars of Fat Bear Week.

Oct. 14: Two Hunters Hear ‘Brush Breaking’ – Then a Grizzly Bear Charges Them

As for their inland grizzly bear cousins of southwest Montana, Morgan Jacobsen, Montana FWP spokesperson, says the compromise of “situational awareness” in this state has led to several grizzlies coming into conflict with local humans. In FWP’s media release, they detail the first conflict, occurring on October 14, as two hunters encountering a grizzly bear while walking the Eldridge Trail in the Madison Range.

The hunters first heard “brush breaking,” only to see a grizzly charge them from the thicket. Armed with handguns, both men fired multiple rounds at the bruin, but both parties are said to have left unscathed. A lucky outcome on each side, to be sure.

FWP’s Jacobsen says the hunters had bear spray, but didn’t deploy as the wind was blowing in their direction. FWP would conduct both air and ground surveillance alongside U.S. Forest Service (USFS) law enforcement, finding no evidence of the bear or life-threatening injuries.

Oct. 17: Three Apple-Eating Gardiner Grizzlies Trapped & Relocated after Entering High School Football Field

Just three days later, FWP wildlife managers would have to tranquilize and trap three grizzly bears feeding on apples near the Yellowstone National Park (YELL) gateway city of Gardiner, Montana. They turned out to be a sow and her two cubs. Each was fitted with a GPS collar then relocated, FWP states.

The trio had spurred a previous call on October 10, when they entered the Gardiner High School football field to feed on grass and dandelions. Both FWP and YELL officials worked together to haze the bears out of Gardiner – and they had to do so five times. But the grizzlies insisted on feeding in-town, even eating apples amid human activity in broad daylight. This led to wildlife managers making the call to relocate them.

“We don’t want to create another conflict. It’s the same reason we avoid trapping bears in the daytime as well,” Jacobsen adds. So on the morning of the 17th, when the grizzly trio was spotted eating apples near a school bus stop , bear managers would trap the bears that evening. Children were unable to enter their bus to school, and the bears had become far too comfortable around populated areas.

Oct. 21: Grizzly Sow Euthanized Near Big Sky after Repeatedly Visiting Elementary School & Homes

Then, on October 21, a grizzly bear sow had to be euthanized near Big Sky. She, alongside her two cubs, repeatedly visited local homes, as well as the Ophir Elementary School. For weeks, both private landowners and the Gallating Co. Sheriff’s Office would attempt to haze the bears out of the Big Sky area. Nothing would deter them, however.

Grizzly Bear, Montana. (Photo credit: Getty Images Archives)

The situation became far worse when this trio approached a group of people who had to retreat into a building. After a good samaritan hazed the sow with his vehicle, the grizzly bear charged, left shortly, then returned again.

FWP would trap all three bears as a result. The sow was a remarkably old grizzly at 25, with “low fat reserves and heavily-worn teeth,” officials cite. So they, alongside USFWS, decided euthanization was in order. Her cubs, old enough to survive on their own, were relocated to a far safer area for both them and local citizens.

Oct. 23: Elder Grizzly Bear Struck by Vehicle Outside West Yellowstone

The last grizzly encounter in FWP’s report covers an elder male grizzly. Sadly, the bruin was struck by a vehicle after entering U.S. Highway 191 outside West Yellowstone. The bear then died, and a FWP game warden would handle the incident. No injuries on the part of the driver have been reported.

FWP’s Jacobsen says it’s been, without a doubt, one of the busiest fall seasons for grizzly bear conflicts. But he remains thankful that no humans have been injured. The loss of two grizzlies, however, is never desirable.

“Even though we have snow on the ground, it’s still very important to be prepared and to be safe,” he adds, before urging Montana hunters to carry bear spray – and know how to use it properly.

“If you harvest an animal, it’s important to get it processed and removed from the field as quickly as possible,” Jacobsen continues. Hunting in bear country during the fall requires bringing the equipment and people needed for an immediate carcass processing. If not, it becomes an attractant, and bears will show up.

In addition, “One of the big things is when hunters are with a group, at least one other person can help in ending the encounter and in getting people out who need help,” Jacobsen notes.

In the end, “Going with a group is super important,” he says, as is making considerable noise while out in bear country. The last thing anyone wants – bear or human – is a surprise encounter.