On the prowl
Bears and hunters tangle in the quest for the kill
Tim “Bo Tim” Pattison has faced many grizzly bears in his 45 years of hunting and picking up antlers around Big Sky. His foot was once in a sow grizzly’s mouth after he climbed a tree to try to get away from her – when she tried to pull him down.
“We were picking up antlers. I heard one buddy yell, ‘Bear!’ My one buddy was screaming. I tried to climb up in a tree and kicked her. She let me go. She’s probably still got a headache. It was a total adrenaline kick with heavy duty hiking boots,” he said. “I would probably be a bear turd if I were wearing tennis shoes.”
The friend who provided the warning laid down. She went to him and bit his side.
“He got 22 stitches,” Pattison said.
He describes bear encounters as “part of the job hazard” of picking up antlers and hunting in the mountains. In all, he has been treed seven times by grizzly bears and had his hunting camps destroyed a few times.
Lance and Terry Thomas (also known as Bo Lance and Bo Terry) have had legendary hunting camps in the area since 1980. Lance describes grizzly bear incidents ranging from comical to ingenius to terrifying.
Bear fences are often extended around hunting camps and put out thousands of volts, according to Lance.
“The fence was up for three or four days. This bear touched his nose to that fence and I’m not kidding – he jumped 20 feet up in the air and ran as far as he could,” he said.
Another time, his brother Terry shot an elk with a foot of snow on the ground. It was growing dark and he knew he would not have time to safely pack the elk out. So, he did the usual hunting procedure in such a situation – hung the quarters up in a tree and went back the next day. One quarter was gone.
“That bear must have chewed the rope, dropped the quarter, picked it up and walked off with it,” Lance said. “Five of us went back the next day, grabbed the three quarters real quick – and got the hell out of there.”
The brothers have lost a lot of elk to grizzly bears over the years.
After field dressing a kill and leaving for only a few minutes, they once returned to a grizzly devouring the hind quarters. They tried to get him away from their elk – and he refused.
“I’m tellin you, those bears ain’t nothing to mess with,” he said.
Gallatin County Sheriff ’s Search and Rescue (GCSSAR) – Big Sky assisted a hunter on Sept. 7 who believes he accidentally trekked too close to a gut pile five miles out from Ousel Falls – one that was fiercely defended by a grizzly sow with her cubs.
After sustaining injuries to his shoulder and hip, the hunter was able to call for help and walked out under his own power, with the assistance of a GCSSAR – Big Sky volunteer, “who supported him physically and emotionally down the trail to get him to a medic,” GCSSAR Commander Scott Secor said. “The message that we are really trying to send out is the awareness – to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Around any corner could be an animal willing to defend its food source.”
This is a time of year when an uptick in bear encounters is typically seen, according to Information Bureau Chief of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Greg Lemon.
“The nature of archery hunting is in direct conflict with how to best handle yourself in grizzly bear country,” he said. “We tell recreationists to make noise, avoid a surprise encounter, but archery hunters are sneaking around the woods as part of hunting and are often making cow or bull elk sounds – and that is risky in bear country.”
Hunters need to have bear spray on them and be ready to use it – not in their packs, but easily accessible. He shared Commander Secor’s thoughts on awareness.
Lemon stressed that all hunters, particularly archery hunters, need to be looking for tracks, rolled over rocks, scat, or torn-up logs. Ravens, crows, or magpies concentrated in an area are a big tip-off to a carcass. It can be incredibly easy to unknowingly stumble into a threatening situation this time of year.
“If you weren’t out there when an animal was harvested, you might not know that you are in the space that would cause an attack – that there is a carcass out there,” he said. “This time is always a little more dangerous for people out in the woods. There are going to be carcasses out in the woods as hunters are successful.” This makes every piece of grizzly bear awareness that much more important, he reiterated.