Young hunter loses first buck to bear

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  • Keaton Simpach, 10, with his first buck on opening weekend of the general deer and elk season. (Courtesy photo)

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  • Keaton Simpach, 10, with his first buck on opening weekend of the general deer and elk season. (Courtesy photo)

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Last weekend, 10-year-old hunter Keaton Simpach shot his first buck. But the night after he, his father James, and grandfather Robert dangled the deer from a meathook, his luck turned.

“My dad heard something outside,” the Kalispell resident recounts, “so I looked out, and there was some bright green eyes, and we didn’t know what it was at first, but then when he got the flashlight, he looked and he saw it was a grizzly bear.”

By their estimation, it stood 6 to 7 feet tall, weighed 400 to 500 pounds, and had come a mere 15 yards from their camper in the Swan Range. “I was scared,” Simpach said.

The three weighed their options. Keaton remembers his father asking, “What should we do? Should we go get the head, or should we just let him drag it off?”

“So then I was like, ‘I want to get the head,’ so my grandpa fired a warning shot at a stump to try to scare it away.” With his knife, James cut off the deer’s head and brought it back to the camper.

But the carcass and its owners still drew interest for the bear, which stayed around the campsite until about 4 a.m. When they woke up, Keaton said, “My deer’s body was all torn up.” He adds that they had to throw the carcass and head away. “I was really disappointed.”

However, he hasn’t been deterred. In exchange for disposing of the deer’s remains, “I got another tag from the game wardens...we’re going to try and get me something again.”

That’s fine by Simpach’s mom, Tiffany, who told the Daily Inter Lake she “kind of panicked” when James texted her about the ursine intruder.

“We’ve never run into grizzlies up there,” she says. “We’ve been warned that grizzlies were around us, but I’ve been hunting up there since I was a little girl, and I’ve never even seen one up there.”

While violent human-bear confrontations are rare, hunters need to take some special precautions, as they and grizzlies often seek the same prey.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recommends that hunters remove carcasses from the kill area as quickly as possible, store them in a location with good visibility, and educate themselves on how to behave in bear country. A complete list of these guidelines can be found on the agency’s website.

An avid hunter herself, Tiffany’s well aware of these practices, and trusts her family members to carry them out.

“They’re safe, they know what they’re supposed to do,” she says. “I don’t get too worried about it, although I’ll probably tag along this time.”

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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