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Navigating Grizzly Safety This Hunting Season

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Experts say bear spray offers better protection against injury or death than a gun, in part because most hunters in a crisis situation will not land a shot that stops a bear on its first charge. (USFWS Pixnio)
Experts say bear spray offers better protection against injury or death than a gun, in part because most hunters in a crisis situation will not land a shot that stops a bear on its first charge. (USFWS Pixnio)
 By Eric Galatas - Producer, Contact
October 12, 2020

WILSON, Wyo. -- Don't be afraid, but be prepared, and always keep at least two cans of bear spray within easy reach.

Kristin Combs, executive director for Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, offered that advice for hunters who may encounter a grizzly bear while tracking mule deer, elk or other game.

Combs advised hunters who do not take their kills back home the same day, to be alert when they return. She said like all other animals, bears will protect their food source, and no carcass is worth your life.

"If you come upon a carcass, and a bear has already claimed it, and it looks like it's been partially buried, or covered, or maybe the bear is actually in the area still, that's the best opportunity to just walk away, and leave that for the bear," Combs urged.

While hunting practices are not in sync with standard safety protocol in bear country - they don't make loud sounds to announce their presence, for example, or travel in large groups - Combs said there are still ways to stay safe.

Be hyper-aware of your surroundings, stay clear of heavy timber cover, and areas with dense willows to avoid stumbling onto a bear's day bed.

Combs noted while bear encounters are rare, and most do not involve conflict, those are the encounters that get the most attention.

She added most people who encounter a grizzly say they walked away with a deeper appreciation of wildlife and nature.

"This year, we had a higher incidence of grizzly bear encounters, just because there was more people that were turning to nature because of the pandemic," Combs observed. "Most encounters with bears are people see the bear, they walk away, and everybody goes about their business."

Combs said if there is conflict, bear spray is a better tool for the job than your gun. Most hunters in a crisis situation will not land a shot that stops a bear on its first charge.

Combs maintained research shows for anyone visiting bear country, your best bet for walking away without injury to you or the bear is having bear spray close at hand. She added it's everyone's responsibility to make sure bears are around for future generations.

"If somebody feels that their life is threatened, we want them to be able to rely on whatever method they feel is most effective," Combs stressed. "But if you look at the statistics, hands down, bear spray is the way to go."

Disclosure: Wyoming Wildlife Advocates contributes to our fund for reporting on Endangered Species and Wildlife, Environment, and Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Best Practices