Potential For Conflicts With Grizzlies Rise As Wyoming Hunters Take To Backcountry 

Wyoming hunters are taking to the field just as grizzly bears are trying to fatten up for hibernation; a recipe for conflict.

Mark Heinz

September 02, 20224 min read

Grizzly bear spray scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Hunters are taking to the backcountry just as Wyoming’s grizzly bears are trying to fatten up for the winter – and that can lead to trouble. 

Archery hunters in particular do everything people are told not to do in bear country. That includes such things as moving stealthily into the wind. Or, sitting in cover and using calls that mimic sounds made by elk, a grizzly prey species, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. 

Hunters also use clothing or sprays that mask their human scent. And they tend to be most active at dawn and dusk – which are the best time to catch big game animals out in the open. 

The advice typically given to hikers and campers in bear county by the Game and Fish and other agencies is to be noisy.  And, to avoid moving at dawn and dusk, lessening the chances of startling a bear. 

Bears Fattening Up 

Grizzlies this time of year go into “hyperphagia”. That means they’re trying to gorge on as much high-calorie food as possible, Game and Fish large carnivore specialist Dan Thompson said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. They need to put on extra fat before going into hibernation. 

“Some bears will start going to sleep in October, with most bears denned by Thanksgiving time,” he said. 

A few grizzlies might stay active later into the fall and early winter, if they can find reliable food sources. 

Some bears will hang out in rocky alpine zones, Thompson said. They flip rocks over and feast on moths that have taken shelter there. By September, that food supply starts to dwindle, and many grizzlies begin to wander to lower elevations.  There, the remains of hunters’ kills can provide a bruin’s smorgasbord, Thompson said. Grizzlies find big game soft tissue and internal organs particularly enticing. If a game animal has been gutted, it’s best to move the rest of the carcass away from the gut pile before cutting the meat off. 

Hunters must take all edible portions of a big game carcass, including the backstrap and tenderloins, according to Game and Fish regulations. 

“Our decades of studying bears have demonstrated their adaptability and flexibility to eat healthy and stay plump as they go into the dens,” Thompson said. “We appreciate the cooperation of hunters and recreationists to notify Game and Fish of any bear conflicts or activity.”

Best Practices For Safe Hunting 

Hunters should watch for areas that might be hot spots for grizzly food sources, such as berry patches, or places where squirrels have cached white bark pine nuts, according to the Game and Fish “Bear Wise” program. 

The presence of ravens or other scavengers can tip hunters off to places where bears have claimed a carcass or other carrion, according to Bear Wise. Hunters should also be cautious while moving through thick brush or deadfall timber, because those are the sorts of places bears like to nap after they’ve stuffed themselves. 

It’s best to hunt in teams, because one hunter can watch for approaching bears while the other is trying to call in elk or cut up a big game carcass, according to Bear Wise. 

If a hunter’s kill must be left unattended, the carcass should be placed where it can be seen from a distance. Returning hunters can hang back and check for bears or bear sign before moving in. If it’s evident that a bear has claimed the carcass, it’s best to back off, rather than trying to challenge the grizzly for the spoils, according to Bear Wise. 

Hunters should also carry some sort of defense, such as bear spray. That’s extremely powerful mace or pepper spray, designed to foil aggressive large predators. Firearms are another option. Archery hunters in Wyoming are allowed to carry firearms for defense against bears. They can’t use those guns to shoot game animals, according to Game and Fish regulations. 

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter