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Hunting in Bear Country
Preventing Conflicts and Avoiding Confrontations
Bears in Wyoming

All hunters in Wyoming should be alert to the fact that they are hunting in bear country, and in some instances,grizzly bear country.

If you will be hunting in the mountains of western Wyoming, you need to take precautions to minimize the possibility of a confrontation with a black or grizzly bear. Grizzly bears are most likely to be found in the Beartooth, Absaroka, Owl Creek, northern Wind River, Gros Ventre, and Teton Mountains.

Bear Identification

The black bear and the grizzly bear are often in the same areas. Neither color nor size should be used for identification.

Grizzly bears are also called brown bears. Grizzlies will typically have a distinctive hump on their shoulders made of muscles used in foraging and digging. From the side, the face will appear to be dished with a dip or notch between the eyes and the nose. Their claws are typically 2 1/2 inches or more in length, and are gently curved as an adaptation for digging. Although often difficult to distinguish, the grizzly's ears are smaller and more rounded than the black bear. The color may vary from blonde to black. Dark colored grizzlies often have light colored tips on the longer guard hairs.

Black bears have no shoulder hump, although they may appear to when digging. They have a straight face in profile that is not dished like the grizzly. Their claws are relatively short (1 1/2 inches at most) and are sharply curved for climbing trees or tearing logs apart. The black bear's ears tend to be more erect, more pointed, and larger in proportion to the head. Color phases that are typical in Wyoming black bears are brown, cinnamon, and black.

It is a generally accepted fact that black bears are very good tree climbers and will often take that route when alarmed. Grizzly bears, on the other hand, are often good tree climbers when they are young, but usually do not climb as adults because of their large size and long claws. Adult grizzlies can climb trees with evenly spaced limbs. So if you intend to climb a tree to escape from a grizzly, make sure the tree is stout and you get up at least 20 feet from the ground. Climbing a tree may not be a good option in a black bear confrontation, since black bears climb trees.

Bears Don't Like Surprises

If you are going to travel in bear country, always "Be Bear Aware." Most bear confrontations can be avoided if you let the bear know you are there.

When not hunting, tie bells on your pack or on your shoes and make noise, especially when traveling where visibility and hearing are limited. If you use pack stock, tie bells on them. Horse back riders appear to have fewer problems than people traveling on foot. Grizzly bears are often found foraging in mountain meadows and on rocky slopes above timberline in summer and early fall. Watch for bears in white bark pine tree stands near timberline in late fall. Be careful about hunting or traveling in dense "dark" timber, including willow patches,where bears often make their day beds. Bears disturbed in their day bed may charge you in confusion.

Bear Sign

Learn to recognize bear tracks and scat. Grizzly and black bear tracks (front paws only) can be distinguished by drawing a straight line from the bottom of the largest outer toe across the top of the pad, then out beyond the opposite outer toe. If the opposite outer toe lies above or mostly above this line, the track is that of a grizzly.

Bear scats vary in color and size, and should not be used to identify black bears from grizzly bears. Instead,they should be recognized as bear scats and examined to determine what the bear has been eating. Then try to avoid areas where bears may be feeding.

Avoiding or Minimizing Bear Encounters

If you spot a bear before it sees you when traveling or hunting, walk quickly and quietly away. If the bear sees you but seems disinterested, do the same. If the bear becomes interested and begins to approach, observe the bear's head and body movements. Back up slowly, avoid eye contact, and speak in a soft monotone. If the bear stands upright,it is trying to get a better look and smell. Standing upright is not an aggressive display. Never get between a female bear and her cubs; mother bears are extremely protective of their young.

If the bear charges, stand your ground and avoid direct eye contact. Bears often bluff charge by running with their head and ears up and with a stiff legged gait. Aggressive bears will run with their head down and ears back.Should you find yourself being charged by what appears to be an aggressive bear your options are limited. Running from a bear is never an option!

Options

Playing dead should only be done if you are sure you are going to be touched by the bear. In this instance,drop to the ground and lie flat on your belly, interlocking your fingers to cover your neck and head. Be sure to stay in this position until you are sure the bear is gone. If you are wearing a pack, leave it on.

Climbing a tree may be an effective option if you can get at least 20 feet up the tree before the bear reaches the tree. Be extremely cautious of dead or broken branches.

Using a bear deterrent such as bear pepper spray may be the most effective option if certain conditions are in your favor. The spray must be worn on your body in a place where it is immediately accessible, it must be sprayed directly into the bear's face, and the wind must be to your back. Once the bear's attention is directed away from you, immediately leave the area.

Firearms have been used effectively in aggressive encounters, but are only recommended if no other options exist.Wounding a bear may increase the seriousness of the situation.

At the Camp

Keep a clean camp. Some forests in Wyoming have mandatory food storage orders specifying that all foods must be kept unavailable to bears. It is best to always store food and garbage in bear resistant containers. If you don't have a bear resistant food storage container, hang all food, garbage, and other attractants, such as horse or dog food, in a bag, pack, or pannier at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet out from the tree trunk. Deposit garbage in a bear proof container when one is available or, better yet, pack it out when you leave.

Sleep a good distance from your cooking area and food storage site. Keep sleeping bags and personal gear clean and free of food odors. Don't sleep with the clothes you wore while cooking.

Don't use perfumes or deodorants. Women are often warned that they should not travel in grizzly country during their menstrual period. There is no evidence that grizzlies are overly attracted to menstrual odors more than any other odor. Proper personal hygiene, such as the use of unscented cleaning towlettes and tampons instead of pads, is recommended.

After The Kill

When you kill a game animal in bear country, field dress the animal, quarter it if needed, and remove the carcass from the area as soon as possible. Separate the entrails "gut pile" from the carcass as soon as they are removed. Never leave a carcass or gut pile on or near a trail. Hang the carcass out of reach of a bear(at least 10 feet up) if you have to leave it. Always leave a carcass where you can see it from a distance and use special care when returning to it.

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