Allow me a detour if you will…
For almost six years, every two weeks, I write a fishing column in this space.
But I also am an avid archery hunter, having taken up the bow again recently after a hiatus of about 10 years. In fact I am an avid participant in many “blood sports” and I make no apologies for it. I enjoy the flora, fauna and fish that I have harvested by my own hand, especially since it is the healthiest, most organic option out there.
And the time spent outdoors while doing so are my most enjoyable moments, especially when it includes friends and family but also while alone and in solitude.
I just returned from a hunt that found me within 10 air miles of the two groups of hunters that were mauled Monday by quite possibly the same bear, within 12 hours of each encounter.
This event happened within several miles of an area that had been recently closed to the public, due to “10-20” grizzly bears that were feeding on dead cattle, themselves victims of a weed that is toxic to cattle.
A couple of these bears are known “cow killers” and are now being hunted down by contracted bear “technicians.”
I chose to leave this area early, as I was hunting by myself for the last couple of days of my hunt, and while some might consider this foolish, it is a risk that I sometimes take, with full understanding of the possible consequences.
Now, in my humble opinion, “10-20” grizzly bears in an area that is less than a couple of square miles of some of the most popular hunting, fishing, off road riding and just driving on the Gravelly Range Road is begging for human/bear encounters and something needs to be done about it.
As dangerous as it is for the humans recreating on our public lands, it is not fair to the bears that are almost always put down if they are identified in an attack on humans. (Not always, but in the majority of encounters).
Grizzly bears have not been hunted in Montana for more than 40 years, and while there has been much back and forth over the last 18 months about delisting, relisting, setting quotas and hunts, then stepping back, at this time there is still no legal hunting of grizzly bears in Montana.
While almost every single big game manger in the Western states, from the Feds to state and local departments, all agree grizzlies are recovered enough to allow hunting, it is still the courts making the decisions.
While almost every single species of big game in Montana is controlled and managed through hunting we still do not have a way to make these bears fear and be wary of humans, and in my opinion, until this happens, we will continue to have these encounters between bears and people rightfully recreating, working, ranching, fishing, and otherwise enjoying these public lands we so revere out West.
So, are there too many grizzly bears?
I am sure that there will be as many differing opinions about this question as there are bears, but to THIS Montana sportsman, I believe the answer is yes, at least in certain areas.
In the Greater Yellowstone Area, a grizzly density of one bear per 25 square miles is typical. In my informed and personally IMPACTED opinion, 10-20 grizzly bears in an area that might be half that means, yes… too many bears.
And until something changes (hunting) that makes these bears fear and avoid humans, the encounters will continue, and that does neither the bears nor the humans any good.
— Howe is the owner/outfitter at Howe’s Fishing, A Able and Mo Fisch Charters. Call 406-257-5214 or at www.howesfishing.com