Claws and jaws and teeth
A reminder to hunters
Two separate grizzly bear attacks resulted in three injured hunters on the west side of the Gravelly Mountain range on Monday according to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. It is unclear whether one or more bears were involved. FWP is asking hunters to leave the area, and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is closing Cottonwood Road.
These recent attacks highlight the importance of bear identification as hunting season progresses. Check back next week for in-depth coverage of the bear encounters.
Grizzly bears, in contrast to black bears, are listed on the Threatened Species list. Hunters that shoot grizzly bears face major repercussions, including fines and jail time.
Proper identification and differentiation between black and grizzly bears is crucial to avoiding a negative outcome. Chuck Bartlebaugh, Be Bear Aware director, listed identifiers hunters can use to find differences.
Claws on grizzly bears are normally quite pronounced unless the bear spent a lot of time digging, which results in short, blunt claws until they grow back. Additionally, a grizzly’s hump is much more pronounced than a black bear’s. This massive mound on their backs adds power to their legs. However, if standing just the right way, the grizzly’s hump can be indistinguishable.
Kris Inman, with the Wild Conservation Society, spelled out an important factor almost too obvious. The color difference between the two bear types should not be the main source of identification. “Probably the easiest thing to tell is the ears. A grizzly bear’s ears are going to be smaller and closer to their head, and a black bear’s are going to be oval and pointed, longer,” Inman said. Ears keep their initial form from a young age. They can be used to distinguish juvenile grizzly bears from black bears, which are commonly confused.
A lot of these traits are crucial, but perhaps the most important part is background research. Hunters need to investigate differences between bears before they set out on their mission. “You really have to gather a lot of different points to know for sure which bear you’re about to shoot,” Bartlebaugh said. Inman agreed, commenting that hunters subscribe to a particular code. “More than anything, if you’re in doubt then it’s just wise not to do it,” she explained.
Concerning how to deal with interactions between different bears, Inman made an important note. “Key in on the behavior first to be thinking about what to do,” she explained. In an encounter situation, the difference in species does not matter as much as focusing on reading the situation.
Though aggressive tendencies are usually attributed to grizzlies, both bears are situationally antagonistic. A warning charge is the bear’s way of accessing its own situation, telling humans to stay away and running to scare them, not necessarily to attack. Contact charges are rare.
“When you’re around a bear even if they’re just curious they have claws and jaws and teeth to find out what you’re made of,” Bartlebaugh said, reminding hunters of the majesty of their neighbors. Past reporting on how to handle bear encounters can be found at http://lonepeaklookout.com/sites/default/files/LPL%20e%20edition.pdf. Article titled, “Living in Bear Country.”
Hunters should report grizzly shootings immediately, despite any concern about jail time or fines. Bartlebaugh explained most agencies give hunters some leeway if they were prompt and genuine with their reporting.
“Hunters can make a big different in public education,” Bartlebaugh mentioned. They experience working in the landscape and develop ways to coexist with wildlife. Living in bear country responsibly by carrying bear spray, cleaning up carcasses and paying attention to identification sets a good example for the community.