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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.

Don't be afraid, but be prepared, and always keep at least two cans of bear spray within easy reach. That's advice from Kristin Combs with Wyoming Wildlife Advocates for hunters who may encounter a grizzly bear while tracking mule deer, elk or other game. If you don’t take your kill home the same day, Combs said be alert upon return. 

"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 said.

 

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

 

"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," said Combs. "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 said research shows that 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. This also preserves bears 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, but if you look at the statistics, hands down, bear spray is the way to go," said Combs.