Fall hunts require ‘bear aware’ vigilence
Fall is in the air. As I write this column on Sunday morning, it is 39 degrees at my cabin. Not exactly a mid-summer morning temperature.
As a hunter, I welcome this sign of the approaching fall.
All of Montana FWP’s special drawings are completed and most of the special B tags, usually for does, are in hand, so hunting plans can be finalized.
This will be another great hunting season that starts in just a few days.
On Sept. 1, grouse and fall turkey season opens. During the fall, either sex turkeys can be harvested.
In Western Montana, grouse can be harvested with either a shotgun or rifle.
A lot of Western Montana grouse are harvested with .22 rifles as they pick gravel along closed logging roads.
In Eastern Montana, prairie grouse cannot be shot with rifles, but only shotguns or archery equipment.
Before going hunting, always be sure to check the hunting regulations for the species you are going to hunt and special rules for the hunting district.
On Sept. 5, archery season opens for deer and elk. Usually the best elk hunting is the last two weeks of September when bull elk are in full rut.
They are so pumped up to breed the cows, they sometimes do very stupid things that allow hunters to notch their elk tags.
If you are hunting in Western Montana, especially if you are an archery hunter, you need to be very “bear aware.”
All of the western half of Montana has black bears. Grizzly bears used to be primarily in the greater Glacier Park and Bob Marshall Wilderness areas. But now grizzly bears have spread out into all of Western Montana and even out into the prairie country east of the mountains.
Grizzly bears are especially trouble-some to hunters.
Each fall there are several bear/hunter incidents where grizzly bears injure and sometimes kill hunters.
Grizzly bears have seemed to have learned that a rifle shot in the mountains usually means there is a dead deer or elk to be eaten. If they don’t find a complete carcass, at least there is a gut pile.
Bears are eating like crazy this time of year as they attempt to consume as many calories as possible, getting ready for a long fast when they hibernate.
Being bear aware in grizzly country means being fully aware of what you are doing and where you are going.
Be alert for bear sign such as tracks and droppings.
Bears will usually do their best to avoid humans. But hunters moving quietly through the woods, usually hunting into the wind, means the hunter can literally step on a sleeping bear. If so, all hell will break loose.
Archery hunters are especially likely to have a close encounter with a grizzly because they go to great length to be camouflaged, scent free and moving quietly.
All hunters in Western Montana should carry a can of bear spray. Bear spray is very effective at turning away a charging bear.
Don’t have your bear spray tucked into a pocket of your day pack. It must be ready to grab and used instantly.
Don’t forget to practice with your bear spray. Know how to use it!
Your chances of having a serious bear encounter increases several times if you have a game animal on the ground and are in the process of field dressing it.
That’s a potential free dinner for a bear. More than one hunter has been attacked by a grizzly as he is hunched over, field dressing an elk with his day pack containing the bear spray and his rifle located several feet away.
I’ve had only one potential bad encounter with a grizzly bear.
My oldest son, Erik, and I were on a self-guided caribou hunt in Western Alaska. This was both good caribou and grizzly county.
This was open tundra county, no trees. Erik harvested a nice bull caribou the first day of the hunt.
It was about day four or five of the hunt when I shot a nice bull.
We were about 4-5 miles from our tent camp and it was getting late in the day.
It would be a two-trip pack to get my bull back to camp. So, we loaded our packs with all the meat we could carry.
The caribou antlers and some meat remained at the kill site to be packed out the next day.
We knew that grizzlies prefer the gut pile over good red meat.
So, we relocated the antlers and the remaining red meat to a spot about 300 feet away. I took off my tee shirt and hung it on the antlers.
My tee shirt had absorbed several days of sweat, so it was ripe with human smell that should deter any bear.
The next morning as we approached the kill site, we could see it had been found by a grizzly.
Part of the gut pile was consumed and the reminder covered with dirt and tundra vegetation.
But our stash of good red meat and antlers, with my tee shirt, remained untouched.
As we loaded our packs with the meat and antlers, one of us stood guard at full alert with our gun ready to deter any charging bear.
There were nearby scattered patches of willow brush 2-3 feet high that could be hiding the bear.
We quickly departed the kill site, so no bear encounter occurred.
So, as you hunt this fall, be careful.
Stay safe and always be “bear aware.”