Bold bruins bedevil hunters

Bold bruins bedevil hunters. By Mark Henckel. Billings Gazette (reprinted in Helena Independent Record).

One critical point Henkel makes is to be sure you hang your carcass well away from the gut pile. Bears actually prefer the organs. Their tastes are not the same as ours.

I don’t buy the notion that the grizzly bears are bold because they haven’t been hunted. The bears are hungrier because their traditional food sources have slowly disappeared just as predicted by those who protested their delisting.

Just as future Montana summers are almost always going to be filled with forest fire smoke, the bears are going to be hungry, and you will have to worry about West Nile virus from the mosquitoes. . . . just a few changes in the exciting world of the warming climate.





  1. TPageCO Avatar

    Ralph, I’ve got to partially disagree with you on the boldness of unhunted bears, at least for black bears. The ones living in the National Parks or on the fringes of developed (unhunted) areas are much more aggressive in their search for food. I’d say 90% of backcountry bears will turn tail and run – I’ve not found this to be the case with urbanized or NP bears. I’ve only had one bear act really aggressive towards me, and that was in a very lean food year in Yosemite. Whether that was because of the food shortage or habituation – who knows? But even in very dry years in Western Colorado, the bears are still shy (outside of the habituated town bears), in my experience.

    While I’ve got limited personal experience with griz, I’ve heard many similar comments from folks working in Alaska.

  2. Mike Avatar

    I would agree. In my experience, bears in national parks seem less shy than national forest bears.

  3. Linda Hunter Avatar
    Linda Hunter

    Hunting bears only kill bears . . bears do not learn to run from people when they are dead. Bears who run from people have had training by people that people will stand their ground, pepper spray them if they get too close and don’t want to pet the bears. Media overview of bears causes people to act timid around bears in body language and bears learn they can come close. . the other media view, that bears can be pets, is equally harmful to a bruins good idea of what a person is. A teenage bear wants to get up close a personal and smell a person which is always misconstrued by people . . people need body language training and some plain, honest facts on how to be around bears . .not more hype like bears don’t run if they aren’t hunted. (I have had lots of experience with both black and griz)

  4. catbestland Avatar

    I live in bear country in western Colorado also. There is a very large boar black bear in the canyon on our property. In 4 yrs he has never come up to the house or been any trouble at all. I have seen him twice, both times while hiking with my very large dog. He has been hi-tailing it in the opposite direction as fast as he could go each time. I believe he has been hunted by dogs before and that is why he wants no part of us. I often see his sign and am pretty sure where dens.

    I was saddened to hear that a smaller bear was killed recently when it attacked and killed a miniature donkey who was kept in a very small pen at a neighbor’s home a short distance away. We had only recently had a discussion that it was not smart to keep a defenseless creature like the donkey trapped in a small pen in bear country. Unfortunately the bear had to pay the price. I was relieved to see fresh scat in the canyon some time after that though I have not seen the big boar. I believe it was a teenage bear who killed the donkey, one who had never had bad experiences with people. But I definately believe the big boar has been hunted by dogs and man and that is why he keeps his distance. I got a real nice cast of this track.

  5. catbestland Avatar

    Edit….”His” track. that is.

  6. Dave Smith Avatar
    Dave Smith

    I think writer Mark Henckel made a mistake by relying on hunting outfitter Edwin Johnson as his one and only “expert” source on bears. Think barroom biology. On 11/1, Scott McMillion at the Bozeman Chronicle did a story that dealt with hunter-grizzly bear clashes, but McMillion talked to both an outfitter, and Ph.D. biologist Chuck Schwartz at the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team:

    “Grizzlies lost their federal protections earlier this year, and if that decision withstands a court fight, Montana officials say they want to have a limited hunting season on them.
    Johnson said he likes that idea.

    “There’s just an awful lot of bears,” he said. “We’re going to have to start hunting them sometime, so they can educate these bears that the human scent is something they should be afraid of.”

    Schwartz said that kind of lesson might not spread far.
    “The ones that are targets end up dead,” he said. “There’s no learning curve there.”


    When people trot out the ol’ cliche that “hunting teaches bears to fear man,” Doug Peacock’s response is, “death is a poor learning experience.”

    Generations of black bears have lived their entire lives within the friendly confines of Yellowstone National Park, where they are not hunted. Conflicts with people are uncommon–or not nearly as common as some towns in Colorado, or on US Forest Service lands anywhere.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I certainly agree with Dave. Bears, other than sows with cubs, are solitary, it’s hard to conceive how shooting and killing a solitary bear would teach other bears anything.

    Aversive conditioning on the other hand does sometimes work. Of course, that’s a job for those trained.

    Pepper spray, however, may well teach a bear that acting aggressively with humans causes them pain.

    I didn’t post Henckel’s article because I thought he was right on mark, but rather a mixture of good ideas plus folklore so common among local and regional outdoor writers for newspapers.

  8. TPageCO Avatar

    Well, body language is certainly important when encountering a bear, but that still doesn’t explain why bears that spend lots of time around people (primarily in the parks and towns) act differently than those who encounter few humans (the ones on the forest getting shot at). I would also suspect that very few black bears get a faceful of pepper spray – I don’t think I’ve known anyone who’s used it in that manner and virtually nobody carries it outside of griz country. So these backcountry bears that run away are likely not running from the memories of previous pepper spray experience.

    As for the argument that a dead bear doesn’t learn anything – true, but that doesn’t take into account all the bears that survive getting shot, or coming across the smell of a dead bear and the smell of human in the same area, or listening to gunshots in the woods and linking the sound with the presence of dead elk. Bears are easily smart enough to sense a massive influx of human scent in the woods at the same time that lots of dead elk/deer show up, and make a connection. Reading Doug Peacock’s work and listening to him lecture, one comes away with a good understanding of just how smart bears are. I think they absolutely know where and when they are hunted and what they can do in certain areas.

    Personally, I have no interest in hunting any kind of bear, and I don’t think we should be hunting grizzlies in the Northern Rockies, but to say that bears act the same in hunted and unhunted areas is contrary to my 30+ years in the (mostly black bear) woods.

    One additional comment: other solitary animals that are hunted (such as mature whitetail and mule deer bucks) show similar behavioral differences in hunted and unhunted areas.

  9. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I think you have some valid points.

    I want to suggest one big difference between hunted and unhunted areas and bears. The bears are very smart about food. The bears have learned that with the large human hunter influx into the woods, there will be lots of food in the form of gutpiles. The fact that some of their number are killed each year by hunters, either does not occur to them or is discounted due to the promise of lots to eat.

    It has been documented both informally and in referred papers that Yellowstone bears leave the Park and move into areas where the hunt is about to begin or underway.

    Therefore, it might be some of the same bears that will run from you in the Park, will stand their ground or change a few months later when they have moved north or south of the Park.

  10. catbestland Avatar

    Does anyone have any knowledge about a bears aversion to dogs. large dogs that is? As I mentioned earlier I believe the bears in our area (Southern Colorado) have been hunted by men and dogs. Although it is illegal, I am sure it still occurs. Is this considered a useful tactic in avoiding conflict with bears? I sure feel a lot safer when I hike with my huge Rottwieler who is very well heeled and does not chase wildlife.

  11. TPageCO Avatar

    I’ve got a couple of big hounds (a coonhound and a ridgeback mix) that I don’t hunt with, but they still have it in the blood. It’s taken lots of work to keep them from chasing wildlife, but a coyote will still send them running if they don’t have their electronic collars on. On the couple of unfortunate occasions that they have bumped bears on the jeep road where I take them, the bears just stood their ground as the dogs barked from a couple feet away. Of course, these bears were so full of serviceberries they could hardly move, and they were pretty close to a major semi-urban trailhead so they’d seen lots of dogs. I would say they were indifferent to the dogs more than anything. Incidentally, the really exciting part of having hounds is walking up to the dogs to pull them away from the bear…

  12. Dave Smith Avatar
    Dave Smith

    Bear hunting, again. The comments that follow are from Mass. Fisheries and Game, which has excellent information on black bears. Please note that the comments are directed at the question, will bear hunting solve the problem of bears getting into garbage? not the more general discussion we’ve been having about does bear hunting give bears in general a fear of people.

    We’re all walking some mighty fine lines here in terms of our expectations about bears–the same hunting outfitters who say we need to hunt bears to teach them to fear man, say grizzlies regard gun shots as dinner bells announcing fine dining at a gut pile. But dozens of bears answering the dinner bell have been shot by hunters in the past few years. Are the bears just slow learners, or what?

    “Speculation persists that bears in heavily hunted areas are more “wary” than those where hunting is absent, perhaps by selectively removing bold bears while those predisposed to avoid people survive, or when bears are shot at but missed. These hypotheses cannot be rigorously tested due to subjective impressions, unquantified statements, and short-term observations. Behavioral changes resulting from food-conditioning may have greater influence on “wariness” than does hunting. Others have suggested that bears respond to human behaviors and avoid hunters because of the hunters’ audacious or domineering demeanor. Bears may also exhibit a conditioned response to audible cues, such as the click of a firearm’s safety. While bears can undoubtedly learn and respond to human behaviors and sounds, these learned responses may simply cause bears to avoid certain people or locations, but not terminate offending behavior elsewhere.”

  13. Justin Avatar

    Actually, you may want to take your cat with you if you want to avoid a bear. There are numerous documented occasions where a house cat ran a bear up a tree. It’s thought to be a holdover from the Ice Age when black bears were pipsqueaks compared to other larger carnivores, like short-faced bears, lions, saber-tooth cats, and dire wolves. That’s why many biologists believe black bears are naturally (key word) more wary than grizzlies: because they evolved that way. 12,000 years ago, an aggressive black bear would have been whipped by the larger carnivores. That’s also a thought for why they climb trees.

  14. catbestland Avatar

    Or take some who can’t run as fast as you.

  15. elkhunter Avatar

    Cat, is bear hunting in CO with hounds illegal? I thought you could hunt bears with hounds in CO. Just curious.

  16. catbestland Avatar

    I believe they outlawed any hunting with hounds a few years ago. I could be wrong, but I haven’t noticed any hounds in the woods for several years. And they used to get seperated from their masters on occasion and show up at our house and we would contact their owners from the info on their collars. I know the foxhunters in Aspen were unhappy because they were afraid they would not be able to enjoy the chase. But they proved that they had never killed a fox or even a coyote in all the years since the club started so they can still hunt from horseback with the hounds by dragging a scent that leads back to the barn.

  17. catbestland Avatar

    Elkhunter, here is what I found under dogs in the CDOW hunting rules and regs guidebook. It still isn’t too clear to me.
    2.a. The use of dogs in the taking of wildlife is prohibited except as authorized in commission regulations. (See also 33-4-101.3, CRS)
    1. Dogs may be used to hunt or take mountain lion, small game, waterfowl and furbearers, only as an aid to persue, bring to bay, retrieve, flush or point but not otherwise. Further, dogs shall not be used to hunt cottontail rabbits, snowshoe hares, and tree squirrels where a regular deer, elk, pronghorn or moose season is in progress.

    I think this elliminates their use in hunting bear but I’m not sure. Are bear considered furbearers?

  18. elkhunter Avatar

    No bears are not considered fur-bearers. That would be a hard hunt finding them without dogs, I have yet to see one in all my years of hunting. But I always hunt later in the year when they are getting ready to hibernate.

  19. catbestland Avatar

    Also, from Colorado Revised Statutes 33-4-101.3:

    Elkhunter, this is what I meant to send. sorry

    (3) It is unlawful for any person to take a black bear with the use of bait, or with the use of one or more dogs, at any time during any calendar year. In the event that a dog or dogs accidentally chases a black bear while the owner or person in control of such dog or dogs is in legal pursuit of other game, such owner or person in control of the dog or dogs shall not be charged with the illegal taking of a black bear so long as the dog or dogs are called off as soon as the mistake is realized and the black bear is not injured or killed.

  20. catbestland Avatar

    Elkhunter, I missed this earlier. It is a little more explicit.
    It explains in no uncertain terms that no dogs are to be used in hunting bear.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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