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Recreation Advocate

The OutdoorWire family websites feature news and information affecting outdoor recreation opportunities and access to public lands. 

Hunters Reminded to “Be Bear Aware” in Light of Recent Attack

With a recent bear attack on an elk hunter north of Jackson, officials with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department are urging hunters in northwest Wyoming to be “bear aware” and take steps to avoid conflicts with bears. 

On the morning of Tuesday, September 13, an elk hunter was attacked while calling for elk. The incident occurred in the Skull Creek drainage on the Bridger Teton National Forest approximately 25 miles northeast of Jackson, WY. Game and Fish’s investigation indicates the victim suffered several injuries, but was able to walk out and get to an ambulance. The hunter was then transported to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson for treatment.

Members of the Department’s Predator Attack Team responded immediately and initiated an investigation of the scene and the incident.

The attack occurred in steep, timbered terrain with limited visibility. The heavy vegetation made it difficult to detect sign or evidence of the incident. Investigators were unable to confirm the species of bear involved, but the type of injuries and reports of the incident are consistent with an aggressive-defensive type of attack from a grizzly bear. Evidence collected is being submitted to the Game and Fish forensic lab in Laramie, which may help to identify the species of bear(s) involved.

“Obviously, our primary concern is with the health of the victim at this time,” said Brad Hovinga, Jackson Wildlife Supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “This is a terribly unfortunate incident and we’re really hoping for the victim’s speedy and full recovery.”

Game and Fish officials point out that hunters are often in areas where bear activity is high. Hovinga notes that while not all conflicts can be prevented, Game and Fish encourages people recreating in areas occupied by bears to do their best at following important “bear aware” tips.

In Camp:

  • ALWAYS keep a clean camp. Be sure that each person in camp follows the food storage regulations in effect for the National Forest.
  • Be aware that bears may be attracted to the smell of food in camp or inadvertently encounter a camp when traveling. Hunters should make noise in camp to alert traveling bears of human presence.
  • Have bear spray available at several locations around camp.

While Hunting:

  • Hunt with a partner.
  • Carry an EPA approved bear spray and know how to use it.
  • Watch for sign (tracks, scat, digging, broken branches of fruit bearing shrubs).
  • Watch for bear foods (white-bark pine cone piles, carcasses, berry patches).
  • Avoid the thick “dark” timber during mid-day where bears often bed down.
  • Have a predetermined plan of action for retrieving harvested game from the field.
  • Become extra cautious after making a kill and when hunting in areas where animals have been killed.
  • When using calls, be aware that predators may be attracted as well.
  • Avoid hunting in areas where fresh bear sign is repeatedly observed.
  • Avoid gut piles, recently disturbed squirrel caches, berry patches, or other popular food sources.

Field Dressing and Carcass Retrieval:

  • Take extra precautions during field dressing; bear spray should be un-holstered and readily accessible.
  • Pack game to camp and/or directly (preferred) to the trailhead as quickly as possible.
  • If the carcass must be left, hang from a tree if possible and at least 10’ off the ground and 4’ from any vertical support.
  • Leave an article of clothing or bell in the tree, something that leaves an unnatural feel and sound in the area.
  • If unable to hang your game, position the carcass so that it can be seen from a distance.
  • Spatially separate the entrails from the carcass and follow applicable Forest Service regulations for carcass storage in the field.
  • Cautiously approach carcasses left overnight: prior to walking in on the carcass make lots of noise and use binoculars to search the area for bears and to determine if the game has been disturbed by bears that scavenge hunter kills and bed down nearby.
  • If a bear has claimed your carcass, leave the scene and report the incident to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Bear Encounters:

  • Casual encounter: when a bear is observed and there is no threat, note the location, direction of travel and slowly back away.
  • Close encounter: if a bear bluff charges, avoid the area for a day or more.
  • Mauling of a person: seek immediate help, leave the scene undisturbed, write down details if possible, contact Game and Fish or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Bear in camp: allow bear to leave camp if you are on the outside looking in.
  • Bear in camp: use bear spray if bear is overtly aggressive.
  • Bear has claimed carcass: leave the scene, report to Game & Fish.

Hunters are reminded grizzly bears continue to expand their range and can be found in areas they haven’t been for many years, including the Snake River, Wyoming, and Wind River Ranges. Hunting in grizzly bear country requires added skill and preparation. However, every year, hundreds of hunters successfully harvest big game in areas occupied by grizzly bears without having human–bear encounters.

For more information on bear safety, visit the Wyoming Game and Fish website https://wgfd.wyo.gov/  and click the Bear Wise Wyoming link or contact your local Game and Fish office. 

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