New law pits guns vs. grizzlies in national parks

Are we going to see a spike in grizzly deaths due to this new law?

Grizzly tracks north of Island Park Reservoir 5/4/2010 © Ken Cole
Grizzly tracks north of Island Park Reservoir 5/4/2010 © Ken Cole

The new gun law which allows people to carry guns in National Parks will be put to the test this year as people take to the backcountry of Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier. Will there be an increase in grizzly bear deaths or maybe even wolf deaths in the nation’s National Parks? It’s as if some people confuse the 2nd Amendment with the 2nd Commandment and insist on people being able to carry guns anywhere and everywhere. I hope I am wrong and that gun owners will be responsible in our National Parks.

“Experience shows that putting firearms and grizzly bears in the same place ends up with dead grizzly bears,” said Steve Cain, senior biologist for Grand Teton National Park.

The Associated Press: New law pits guns vs. grizzlies in national parks.



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  1. Virginia Avatar

    All of these defenders of guns need to be reminded of the rules written about in this article – killing a grizzly is still a federal crime and shooting a gun in a national park is also a crime. Of course, it is always self-defense and it is the bear’s word against the killer’s. What a great idea this should prove to be!

  2. Tim Border Avatar
    Tim Border

    I have taken a few hikes in Yellowstone this spring and encountered a couple different people carrying a pistol in a chest holster with no bear spray insight. I wanted to say something about the gun vs. the spray but didn’t. I hope the Park Service gets outs out in front of the issue of guns in the backcountry. I am not stating in the least a prohibition on guns as we have the new law and have to learn to live with it. However I believe there is much needed for educating your average Joe Blow from Suburbia USA who now feels emboldened by the gun in his holster yet does not realize the use of it may very well be the death or injury of his him or partners as well as injury or death to the animal involved be it bear, wolves, rutting moose, deer, elk, coyote, badger,…. Bear spray is the most effective tool for stopping bears and other animals. I feel the Park Service must educate their visitors or at the very least their backcountry permit holders on gun vs. spray. It is still the user’s choice but at least they can’t say they were not warned.

  3. Paul White Avatar
    Paul White

    How many get killed in national forest/grasslands (where you can carry guns?)

    frankly, anyone using their concealed pistol against a grizzly is asking for a painful, gory death; a 9mm or 45 acp against a brown bear…not a great idea. I think the fears of rampant poaching will prove to be overblown. This (if I read it right) basically allows people that have concealed carry licenses to carry their concealed weapon in the park. It’s not like you can carry a hunting rifle with you…

  4. Peter Kiermeir Avatar
    Peter Kiermeir

    Before we go hiking in Slovakian or Romanian bear country next time, I need to make a note to take some kind of firearm along, hidden in my rucksack maybe. Seems, I need to make a donation to the bear projects over there. They need some guns when strolling through the woods. Just in case – and for self-defense only of course. How have they survived without over all those years, with all these bears and wolves and bad guys around? A miracle for sure! How comes, I do not even own a weapon despite statistics say Germans come in only second place after the Americans in weapons fetishism? Do I need to gear myself up a little bit on my next USA visit?

    1. WM Avatar


      What is the temperment of Romanian or Slovakian bears? Black bears, for example, in most of the lower 48 states of the US are pretty passive and shy. Other areas, not so shy, and of course they get their fair share of newborn deer and elk. In Alaska, however, they are a bit larger, and some people say they can be as unpredictable as, and maybe even more dangerous than, a grizzly bear.

      What is the general reaction of people live in areas where Romanian/Slovok bears are present? Are they opportunistic and do these bears hang out near dumps in urban areas? Any wildlife management efforts undertaken to allow for bears and people to co-exist better?

    2. Peter Kiermeir Avatar
      Peter Kiermeir

      We do not have black bears here in Europe, only brown (Grizzly) bears, Ursus arctos arctos. They come in about “Yellowstone” size. I tend to feel they are not as “aggressive” as the US grizz but nevertheless, they are bears. Take Slovakia, a very small country with a high bear density. Numbers vary between 400 and 1400 individuals, depending on what source you believe. Human/bear conflicts are high, especially in autumn when the forests are full with berry pickers and mushroom collectors. European bears being mostly herbivores, so the competition for the berries is high. But the attitude of the people is quite pragmatic and relatively relaxed, also with wolves, nowhere as hysteric as in the American West. They are not eager to shoot a bear but if it´s absolute necessary….Yes, bears hang around in town in search for food and from time to time one has to be relocated. A recent mail from the Slovakian bear project describes the situation very well: “We are getting some interesting early season data, and have started in earnest, our community programme. The timing was good, because the authorities have just had to kill a rogue bear, and people are thinking about human/bear conflict. We were able to get some good TV and press coverage for the project, and plenty of newspapers want a regular update now”. Romania is very different. They have a bear overpopulation because of the breeding programme of the former ruler who wanted to be the greatest bear hunter of them all. Conflict potential is extremely high there. I recommend the webpage of the slovakiak bear project (it´s in English): and I encourage you to contact the project manager David Guthrie via mail if you have questions. And, if you want to take a vacation in the Slovakian Mountains, they are breathtaking. People are friendly there and the capital “Bratislava” is almost as nice as Vienna.

    3. WM Avatar

      Thank you Peter,

      A couple more questions, if you have the time and inclination to answer. While the Slovak and Romanian bears are primarily herbivores, do they also prey on whatever ungulates are present in Spring before the berries ripen- what are they? Are there bear and ungulate hunting seasons available to residents of these countries, and is there much public land for the hunters there? What is the tolerance level between those who hunt and those who run wildlife tours such as the folks at

      And, yes, those are some very beautiful and majestic Slovakian grizzly bears. Thank you again. We Americans tend to get very myopic and ingnorant when we think of wildlife issues, and as for myself am relatively clueless about what is going on in Europe.

    4. Peter Kiermeir Avatar
      Peter Kiermeir

      Yes, there are hunting seasons for bears in Slovakia as well as Romania for controlling the population. Herbal nutrition make up to 80% of the diet over the year, including fresh grass, roots, berries, mushrooms, spiced up with insects, small mammals, fish, amphibians. Larger mammals, such as deer, are taken, this includes the occasional domestic sheep, goat or cattle. Carcasses left over from winter are not as abundant and readily available as e.g. in Yellowstone. And of course they stroll in town for garbage and to open beehives. I try to raise the people of for an assessment of the local public opinion from their day to day operation. My impressions are mostly from the few visits there and could be a little bit sketchy. One word about use of bear spray in Europe. It is not very common here, better virtually unknown, but nowadays available at least in Slovkia, imported from the USA.

    5. Peter Kiermeir Avatar
      Peter Kiermeir

      WM, I simply relay the Info I received from the bear team:
      Hi Peter,
      On the question of Spring feeding, the bears eat grass, grass and more grass. Before the grass arrives, they will forage for grubs, and ants, and will raid the red deer feeding stations for oats, and whatever else they can try and digest. At the moment we have very little evidence of carnivorous behavior – they certainly do not hunt, and opportunities for carcasses seem extremely rare (Romania may be different – I haven’t seen much research from there).
      The hunters are a powerful lobby, but bear hunting is banned, except where bears leave the national parks, and threaten communities. This is rare, and most of the communities disturbed by bears are in the national parks, so the bin raiders cannot be touched. Even here the situation is interesting because while people are afraid of bears, still believing they will attack you if hungry, there is usually an outcry when the authorities consider shooting one (especially a mother with cub).
      We haven’t had much interaction with hunters yet, but after two decades in Africa, I understand that hunters are usually serious conservationists, and part of a strong cultural tradition to be respected. That said, they have to face the fact that opinions are changing among the younger generations, and to survive they probably need to redefine their organizations a little.
      I hope this helps.

  5. Charles Newton Avatar
    Charles Newton

    Too many times I have been camping in places where there were signs posted that guns were not allowed, next thing I knew it was midnight and all the beer they had drank earlier caught up with them and out came the guns. I don’t believe guns have any place in our parks, except being carried by a police officer or park ranger. I have handled guns all my life and there is no way I would put my life on the line thinking I could hit a charging grizzly bear with a pistol. My wife and I both carry bear spray when ever we are out hiking in yellowstone.

  6. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    I agree Charles. Guns have no place in a national park. I think you will see some trigger-happy yokels that will use them on more than just bears.

  7. Mike Avatar

    It’s simple physics. The more people with guns means more things are shot.

  8. Dawn Rehill Avatar
    Dawn Rehill

    Gotta tell ya I live near Teton and Yellowstone, not a fan of the carry a gun into the parks, scary .

  9. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I haven’t said anything about this, but I’ll bet when it’s all said and done, it won’t make much difference in the backcountry or wildlife.

    The real action will be in some urban parks and places where there is theft and campground disputes.

    1. WM Avatar


      …and alcohol. I am in agreement with you on the campground disputes.

      I just wonder how many backcountry types are going to carry an extra seven pounds for a rifle, three + pouns for the right kind of pistol, + ammo for a long backpack trip. And then there is the issue of where to put it. Not easy to sling a rifle on the shoulder with a pack, or hip for the pistol, where it is easily accessible.

      I have carried a rifle/shotgun (shortened 12 ga. Remington 870 pump) enough in Alaska to know it adds another dimension of discomfort and inconvenience to a long trip – very tired arms. My guess is most of these backpackers in the lower 48 who are inclined to carry, do it only once. Seak makes some great points. If you are on a horse, that is a different matter. Bear spray, anyone?

    2. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson

      I was the one responsible for the 1970’s federal regulation of not being allowed to carry a firearm in Yellowstone broken down or otherwise.
      This stemmed from poachers carrying firearms in Yellowstone with bolts out and hunting all day in the Park.

      They would shoot from in the Park at big horn sheep (in the Gallatin) outside the Park. Then unload and take the bolt out again. It was almost impossible to catch them doing this.

      Guides and hunters in the Thorofare also would hunt outside the Park early morning then take the bolts out and work the line from in the Park during the day to push elk out for evening hunting outside the Park. Jackson holes Triangle X was the worst at doing this.

      I showed administrative law enforcement office what was happening and then got support to have that federal reg enacted. I don’t know the specifics of this new gun tolerance law but if it is what I think it is then all this and more illegal activity will be happening again.

  10. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    One other point – if people are tempted to carry both a gun as back-up to pepper spray. Things happen so quickly, I think you are better off having just one plan and pepper spray will win out over a pistol in nearly every case (a likely exception being an attack on a low tent that restricts/contains the spray, but even the armed couple killed in their tent 4 years ago on the Hula Hula only had time to open the lever on their short 45/70 rifle). One guy with too many plans was deer hunting over on Admiralty carrying an AR15 (.22 cal.) for deer and a .454 Casul revolver in a holster for bear protection. When he was jumped at close range, he hesitated for a second and wasn’t able to make the switch between firearms and had his scalp detached and other serious injuries for it (Fortunately, he was near the beach fringe with a cell phone and was able to crawl out of the woods about the time a diverted helicopter arrived and was landed at the hospital something like 20 minutes after the attack). I think its better to concentrate on quickly and effectively implementing one good plan and pepper spray is usually it, in a park at least.


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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