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Hunter shoots, injures grizzly bear near Fairfield

Choteau and Fairfield map
Posted at 4:04 PM, Sep 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-14 18:47:03-04

GREAT FALLS - A hunter shot and wounded a grizzly bear on Tuesday, September 12, 2023, near Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area near Fairfield, according to a news release from Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP).

FWP said the surprise encounter happened in the morning as the hunter was walking along a shelter belt hunting for upland birds on private land when he was charged by the bear, which based on evidence of the animal found at the scene, is believed to be an adult male.

The hunter fired twice with his shotgun at less than 15 feet, hitting the bear at least once and causing it to run off; the hunter was not injured in the encounter.

FWP bear management and law enforcement staff searched for the bear on foot and using drones on Tuesday and continued their search on Wednesday with a helicopter, covering more than four square miles.

Although they found evidence that the bear was wounded, they have been unable to find the bear and believe it has left the immediate area.

Choteau and Fairfield map

Hunters and nearby residents are advised to be cautious as the bear is likely to seek hiding cover in and around abandoned buildings and in areas of thick brush and heavy cover.

FWP is also placing signs around the area advising hunters of the incident and to be vigilant for bears.

With pheasant hunting season approaching and other upland bird seasons already open, FWP reminds all hunters to be extra cautious when afield.

Avoiding conflicts with bears is easier than dealing with conflicts. Here are some precautions to help residents, recreationists and people who work outdoors avoid negative bear encounters:

  • Carry bear spray and be prepared to use it immediately.  
  • Make noise to alert bears to your presence and travel in groups.  
  • Stay away from animal carcasses, which often attract bears.  
  • Follow food storage orders from the applicable land management agency.  
  • If you encounter a bear, never approach it. Leave the area when it is safe to do so.  
  • Keep garbage, bird feeders, pet food and other attractants put away in a secure building. Keep garbage in a secure building until the day it is collected. Certified bear-resistant garbage containers are available in many areas. 
  • Never feed wildlife. Bears that become food-conditioned lose their natural foraging behavior and pose threats to human safety. It is illegal to feed bears in Montana.  

People who hunt in places that have or may have grizzly bears—which includes areas of Montana west of Billings—should take special precautions:

  • Carry bear spray and be prepared to use it immediately.  
  • Watch for and be extra cautious around bear sign, creeks and areas with limited visibility.  
  • Hunt with a group of people. Making localized noise can alert bears to your presence.  
  • Be aware that elk calls and cover scents can attract bears.  
  • Bring the equipment and people needed to help field dress game and remove the meat from the kill site as soon as possible. 
  • If you need to leave part of the meat in the field during processing, hang it at least 10 feet off the ground and at least 150 yards from the gut pile. Leave it where it can be observed from a distance of at least 200 yards.  
  • Upon your return, observe the meat with binoculars. If it has been disturbed or if a bear is in the area, leave and call FWP.  

Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Management authority for grizzlies rests with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, working closely in Montana with FWP, the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Survey, Wildlife Services, and Native American tribes. This collaboration happens through the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.