Two Montana men killed a mama grizzly bear in self-defense over the weekend, after officials say it charged them.
The men from Whitefish were scouting for hunting season in the woods near the Smokey Range Trailhead in the Flathead National Forest on Saturday when they encountered the full-grown grizzly and her cub, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks said Monday in a press release.
“The men were walking through a thick section of forest when they surprised the bears inside of 15 feet,” officials said.
When the bear charged the hunters, both men shot and killed it. One of the men was injured in the attack when his partner accidentally shot him in the shoulder. The injured man was taken to the hospital and treated for his injuries.
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Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks game wardens and members of the Wildlife Human Attack Response Team investigated the incident.
“The bear’s behavior appeared to be defensive in the surprise, close encounter with the two men,” officials said.
Montana officials shared their findings with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and federal officials agreed it was a self-defense killing.
The grizzly bear did not have a history of conflict with humans and was previously tagged for population monitoring work in 2009, officials said. The bear was about 25 years old.
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Montana has the second-largest grizzly bear population of any U.S. state after Alaska. There are at least 1,923 grizzlies in the lower 48 states, and they are federally protected as a threatened species. It is illegal to harm, harass or kill the bears except in cases of self-defense, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Officials reminded the public to take precautions to avoid bear encounters.
Residents, recreationist and people who work outdoors should carry bear spray when exploring outdoors in Montana and be prepared to use it immediately. Travel in groups and when possible make casual noise to alert bears to your presence. Avoid animal carcasses, which often attract bears, and store food in a safe and secure place.
Those who encounter a bear should never approach it and should leave the area once it is safe to do so. Garbage, bird feeders, pet food and other attractants should be put away in a secure building. Keep garbage in a secure building until collection day, or use a certified bear-resistant container.
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It is illegal to feed bears in Montana and officials say you should never feed wildlife. Doing so can condition the bear to lose its natural foraging behavior and create a threat to human safety.
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Hunters are advised to be aware of bear sign and be cautious in areas where any noises they make may not carry well, such as in creeks and areas with limited visibility.