KALISPELL - Grizzly and black bears across Montana are starting to pack on pounds before they den for the winter, and wildlife officials say sightings are becoming more frequent throughout the Flathead.
"This time of year bears have a tendency to kind of come down and they can find some of the fruit trees that are in the neighborhood," said Montana FWP Region 1 Wildlife Manager Neil Anderson.
With cooler temperatures and shorter days, bears are preparing for hibernation.
"They're really trying to put on a lot of weight," Anderson said. "That's why they're really focused on eating. They're looking for foods and that's why they're seeking out some of these places where, normally, you think they would want to avoid in terms of people. But that attractant is so strong and that drive to put on weight is so strong that they can come into areas that are heavily populated."
Last October a man and his daughter survived a bear attack in the Haskill Basin area near Whitefish. They were walking their dogs when they surprised a female grizzly bear and her two cubs feeding on a deer carcass.
"Most of the attacks, especially with grizzly bears, that occur are because of a surprise encounter or a sow defending its cubs," Anderson said. "So if it knows you're coming there is a tendency for them to want to move out of the way. If you find a carcass, keep your distance."
Wildlife officials encourage folks to make a lot of noise while hiking, but if you do encounter a bear they say that bear spray is your best defense.
You can buy bear spray at any outdoor store, and wildlife officials say the most important thing to remember is to buy the larger 12-ounce can. That will run you about $40. Also check the expiration date, if it passes that date it not be as effective.
Wildlife officials say you should not only carry bear spray but practice how to use it.
Practice bear spray without the pepper spray is available at most outdoor stores. Because none of us know how we will react in a real-life situation, it's important to prepare.
Wildlife officials also offered some tips on how to keep bears away: