On July 15, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks received a report of an injured black bear dragging its lower body in the foothills of Kila. The following morning, the bear was euthanized because of its injuries.
Veterinarians at Central Valley Animal Hospital X-rayed the animal and discovered it was shot with birdshot and likely a pistol. The trash contents in the bear’s stomach indicated that it had visited a residential garbage can. The birdshot pellets broke several vertebrae in front of the bear’s pelvis and inflicted extensive damage to the soft tissue surrounding the area. According to the veterinarian, the sciatic nerve was likely disturbed, leaving the bear partially paralyzed.
It is a common misconception that shotgun ammunition is a good way to chase away a bear. In reality, target or bird-hunting shot is an ineffective solution that often leads to unnecessary outcomes. Bears have relatively thin skin and shotgun ammunition can be extremely harmful and even lethal. Also, this class of ammunition is most commonly made of lead pellets, which can be poisonous to the bear as well as any scavenger that consumes it after death.
It is illegal to harm, harass or kill grizzly bears, which are federally protected as a threatened species. It is also illegal to feed wildlife such as bears.
“Some people are under the false impression that ‘peppering’ a bear with a shotgun is a safe way to discourage a troublesome bear,” said Dr. Dennis Dugger of Central Valley Animal Hospital. “The shot is actually very harmful and often leads to blindness, infection and even death.”
The use of birdshot often results in a debilitating injury that can create an inability for the animal to sustain itself on natural food sources, creating a larger management issue.
FWP Warden Captain Lee Anderson says, “I don’t recommend shooting towards bears with firearms or even BB-guns to scare them out of your trash. It is often an ineffective hazing tool and depending on the circumstances, it can be illegal. We have investigated cases of people intending to scare bears and inadvertently killing them with small caliber rifles (.22), birdshot from shotguns or ricochets from other firearms.”
The best way to avoid conflicts with bears is to remove or secure food attractants. If a bear does not receive a food reward it is far less likely to show up in the first place or return.
Attractants are often items such as garbage, pet and livestock food, birdfeeders, and fruit trees, but also include livestock, compost, gardens, outdoor food cookers, and beehives.
The best way to secure an attractant is to make it inaccessible to the animal by containing it within a secure hard-sided building (a structure with four-sided walls, roof and door). Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) certified bear-resistant containers are useful in preventing the bear from learning that garbage could become a food source.
If containment inside a secure structure is not practical, properly installed and maintained electric fencing is a very effective tool. Loud noise, such as banging pots and pans, using an air horn or your car alarm, or shouting, is also a simple yet effective short-term way to deter a bear. Other temporary and short-term deterrents include high decibel motion-activated alarms, sprinkler systems, motion lights and radios turned on at night.
Bears have a fantastic sense of smell, are very intelligent, and extremely strong. Deterrents like electric fences don’t prevent the animal from smelling the attractant but prevent the bear from obtaining a food reward. It is also possible that you are taking all the proper steps toward deterring a bear conflict, but the neighbor may not be, and a bear could be using your property to access their food source. In circumstances like these, some negative conditioning/non-lethal animal repelling techniques like those listed above could be applicable.
It is very important to always remain at a safe distance — at least 100 feet – from a bear. Often yelling and shouting accompanied by turning on lights are enough to deter a bear and convince them to leave the area. FWP recommends people carry bear spray in the outdoors and know how to use it.
By following these recommendations, people will greatly reduce the chances of an unwelcome encounter with a bear and prevent an unnecessary outcome for that animal. Residents are encouraged to report bear activity as soon as possible. To report grizzly bear activity in the greater Flathead Valley, call FWP bear management specialists at (406) 250-1265. To report black bear and mountain lion activity in the greater Flathead Valley, call (406) 250-0062). To report bear activity in the Cabinet-Yaak area, call (406) 291-1320.
For more information, visit fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/species/grizzlyBear.