By Robert Lucke
In the Northern Rockies, just three hours from Havre and the Hi-Line, grizzly bears are meeting and greeting a new spring. A large number of prairie residents spend time recreating in those same grizzly bear areas. Caution should be used when in bear country to make sure that a weekend of fun does not turn into a scene from a bad horror movie.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has a pamphlet with some good tips for avoiding grizzlies altogether and about what to do if you meet one by accident.
It recommends that hikers avoid traveling alone in grizzly country. Make lots of noise by talking, singing or other means. This can be the key to avoiding encounters. Most bears will avoid humans when they know humans are present. Use caution in areas like berry patches that bears frequent. Also be cautious when you see signs of grizzly activity on the trail.
Campers should not camp on game trails or anywhere there are signs of bears. Keep a clean camp and hang all food at least 10 feet above the ground. Keep tents and sleeping bags free of odors, and, if possible, don't sleep in the same clothes you wore while cooking or eating.
Above all, FWP says, "Don't allow a grizzly to get a food reward and associate that reward with humans."
Hunters should follow the guidelines for hikers and campers. If field dressing an animal, move the carcass at least 100 feet away from the gut piles. Gut piles can easily be moved on plastic. Should a bear ever claim your carcass, let him have it and leave the area, reporting the incident to authorities. Elk hunters should be aware that elk calls and bugles can attract bears.
Anglers should not leave fish entrails on shorelines. Sink them in deep water.
Bear mace has been very effective in bear encounters with humans. However, if you have an encounter and no pepper spray, try to maintain a safe distance and behave in a nonthreatening manner.
Stay calm. Drop something like your hat or gloves on the ground in front of you and slowly back away, speak in a soft monotone and avoid eye contact. In most cases the bear will leave. Don't climb a tree unless you are sure you can get at least 10 feet from the ground before the bear reaches you. Don't run. Running triggers attacks.
If the bear charges, your first option is to remain standing. The bear may be bluffing and run right past you. As a last resort, assume a cannonball position and play dead. Leave your pack on to provide more protection. Curl up protecting your stomach while trying to protect your head and neck with your hands. Do not look at the bear.
If you are armed, use a weapon only as a last resort. Wounding a bear, even with a large-caliber gun, can put you in even greater danger.
Should a bear attack you at night when you are in your tent, fight back to show the bear that you are dangerous.
Report all encounters. Your report can prevent someone else from being hurt.
There are other bear tips and bear facts listed in the pamphlet, called "Living with Grizzlies." It is available in most Montana FWP offices.