Wildlife officials say hunters shot and wounded an adult female grizzly bear north of Bigfork on the last day of hunting season, Nov. 26. It marks the fourth grizzly shot by hunters in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and the third known female grizzly.
According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the latest encounter took place around noon in the Peters Ridge area. Two hunters were hiking down a ridge with a third man nearby. The two individuals entered a brush-covered area when the bear emerged about 60 yards away and charged.
The bear had two yearling cubs, according to FWP.
The two hunters yelled and fired their rifles at the bear. They each fired another round while fleeing the area.
The pair met their companion at their vehicle and later notified officers. None of the hunters were carrying bear spray, Fish, Wildlife and Parks reports.
The agency’s officers investigated the incident and determined that the adult female grizzly had been wounded in the encounter.
They tracked the bear for about a mile without finding her. The search was eventually suspended due to poor conditions and the lack of snow.
This is the fourth grizzly bear known to have been shot by a hunter this season. Two have been shot west of the divide and two have been shot east of the divide. One shot east of the divide was also a female with cubs. The second east of the divide appeared to be a single bear.
In all instances, the bears charged the hunters. In an earlier incident this year, a female grizzly grabbed a black bear hunter’s arm in thick brush up the East Side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir. His father and hunting companion shot the attacking grizzly with a pistol.
As bears expand their range, run-ins with hunters and humans, particularly east of the divide, are becoming more common. Grizzlies are now routinely seen miles away from the Rocky Mountain Front as they follow river drainages onto the plains.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating habitat based recovery criteria for grizzlies — a step that could result in a proposal to de-list grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem late next year.
The NCDE is a broad swath of land along the Divide that includes all of Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and lands on either side of the divide from the Canadian border to Ovando.
It’s estimated there are about 1,000 grizzlies roaming the NCDE.
Fish, Wildlife and Parks reminds the public that bears are still active and searching for food before hibernation. Residents are reminded to remove food attractants, such as garbage and bird feeders, to avoid conflicts with bears.
Outdoor recreationists are encouraged to remain “bear aware” and take precautionary steps, including carrying bear spray. For more information, visit fwp.mt.gov.