Montana men kill charging mama bear; case ruled self-defense

The bear had no history of conflict with humans and was 25 years old. Her cubs whereabouts are unknown.


Two Montana men killed a mama grizzly bear over the weekend after officials say she charged them.

The men from Whitefish were scouting for hunting season in thick forest near the Smokey Range Trailhead in the Flathead National Forest on Saturday when they came across the bear and her cub, surprising them, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said Monday in a news release.

When the mama bear charged them, the men shot and killed her. In the process, one of the men was accidentally shot in the back shoulder and had to be treated at a hospital, the agency said.

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Bear’s death ruled self-defense

Wildlife officials investigating the shooting found that the mama bear’s behavior seemed to be defensive and a result of the men surprising her.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled the bear’s death as self-defense. 

Grizzly bears are currently listed as a threatened species in 48 states, which means it is illegal to harm, harass or kill the bears unless it is self-defense or the defense of others, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. There are at least 1,923 grizzlies in the 48 contiguous states.

No history of conflict

The grizzly bear had no history of conflict with humans and was previously tagged for population monitoring in 2009, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. She was 25 years old.

The agency said it would continue to monitor the site in hopes of assessing the cub’s health.

If the cub is OK, it’s better off staying in the wild and “has a pretty good chance of survival,” said Greg Lemon, a spokesman with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

“If it looks healthy, we’ll probably leave it be,” he said, adding that other orphaned cubs in the area have survived without their mothers.

If the agency were to trap it, the cub would need to be taken to a zoo and if none could take it, would be euthanized, he said.

What should I do if I encounter a bear?

If you find yourself in bear country, here are some ways you can stay safe:

  • Carry bear spray
  • Travel in groups whenever possible
  • Make casual noise to let bears know you’re nearby
  • Stay away from animal carcasses because they attract bears
  • If you encounter a bear, never approach it and leave the area when it is safe to do so.
  • Never feed wildlife because bears that become food-conditioned lose their natural foraging behavior and pose threats to human safety. It is also illegal to feed bears in Montana.
  • Look for signs of bears, such as scat, and be cautious around creeks and areas with limited visibility
  • Be aware that elk calls and cover scents can attract bears

Food storage guidance is great to follow in areas where bears are prevalent, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recommends on its website. It’s highly important to follow food-storage orders from land management agencies, the agency said.

If meat is left in the field, hang it at least 10 feet off the ground and at least 150 yards from the gut pile, the agency said. It’s also a good idea to leave the meat where it can be seen from a distance of at least 200 yards.

Be sure to observe the meat with binoculars too, the agency said. If it has been disturbed or if a bear is in the area, leave and call wildlife officials.

For people in homes, people should keep garbage, bird feeders, pet food and other bear temptations in a secure building. Garbage should be secured until the day it is collected or kept in a certified bear-resistant container.

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Yellowstone: Authorities search for grizzly bear that attacked woman near Yellowstone National Park

USA TODAY reporter Amanda Lee Myers contributed to this report.

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