Grizzly bear attacks injure 3 hunters in 12 hours in Montana, wildlife officials say

Wildlife officials are warning hunters to clear out of an area in southwestern Montana as they investigate two bear attacks that injured three sportsmen in less than 12 hours on Monday.

All three victims survived but suffered “moderate to severe injuries,” officials said.

First, a bear charged two adult men hunting on the west side of the Gravelly Mountains as the pair headed south from Cottonwood Creek west of Black Butte around 7:30 a.m., according to a Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks news release on Tuesday. Both men were hurt but managed to drive off the animal and get medical care in Ennis, officials said.

The second attack was in the same area around 6:30 p.m. Two hunters were headed north toward Cottonwood Creek when one was hurt in a grizzly attack before the men drove away the bear, officials said. That victim was treated in Sheridan and then Butte.

“Wardens with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks are asking hunters to leave this area while the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest closes Cottonwood Road,” state officials said, adding that “both incidents are still under investigation.”

The Associated Press described the region as “an area frequented by grizzlies about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southwest of Bozeman.” The two attacks were within a mile of each other and the victims were from outside Montana, AP reported.

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“This is a notorious area for grizzly bear activity so it was certainly not an isolated bear,” said Fish, Wildlife & Parks spokesman Morgan Jacobsen, recommending that hunters travel in groups and bring bear spray, according to AP. “There are other grizzly bears in this area.”

Jacobsen said the hunters that were attacked were carrying bear spray, but he wasn’t sure if they deployed it during the encounters, AP reported.

MTN News reports that the morning attack involved two bowhunters who, after getting medical care, “came into Shedhorn Sports in Ennis dressed in hospital gowns looking for new clothing. Shedhorn staff told MTN the men said they were able to deploy bear spray which ultimately drove the bear off.”

State officials said each attack involved one bear, but “it’s unclear whether the same bear was involved” in both the morning and evening attack.

Earlier this month, Montana wildlife officials advised people to carry bear spray in the wilderness and said that “hunters in bear country need to:

  • “stay alert and look for bear sign”

  • “carry bear spray and know how to use it,”

  • “hunt with a partner, leave detailed plans with someone and check-in periodically,”

  • “pay attention to fresh bear sign. Look for bear tracks, scat, and concentrations of natural foods,”

  • “use caution when hunting areas that have evidence of bear activity or areas with scavenging birds such as magpies, ravens, or crows.”

“Most grizzly bears will leave an area if they sense human presence. Hunters who observe a grizzly bear or suspect a bear is nearby should leave the area,” wildlife officials advised. “If you do encounter a grizzly, stay calm, don’t run, and assess the situation by trying to determine if the bear is actually aware of you. Is it, for instance, threatening or fleeing? Always keep the bear in sight as you back away and leave the area.”

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.