Hunter Shoots Partner As Both Open Fire On Charging Montana Grizzly

A Montana hunter accidentally shot and wounded his partner after both of them opened fire on a female grizzly that was charging them. The grizzly was killed and the man, who was hit in the back of one of his shoulders, survived.

Mark Heinz

August 31, 20233 min read

Grizzly close up 8 31 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A Montana man was accidentally shot “in the back of the shoulder” as he and his hunting partner both opened fire on a charging grizzly, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The grizzly, a 25-year-old female with a cub, was killed in the encounter, according to FWP. The man, who wasn’t identified in reports, was hospitalized. The extent of his injuries, or what types of firearms were used, also wasn’t reported.

Requests for more information from FWP weren’t answered by Thursday afternoon.

State and federal wildlife agents deemed the grizzly killing as a legitimate case of self-defense, and they were still searching for the grizzly’s cub.

Surprised At Close Range

The men, residents of Whitefish, Montana, were scouting for good big game hunting spots in a remote area near Whitefish on Saturday. They were hiking in a forested area when they unexpectedly came upon the grizzly and her cub, according to FWP.

The encounter took place at about only 15 feet, and the men immediately opened fire as the adult grizzly charged them.

That bear had been tagged for monitoring by wildlife agents in 2009, but had no history of conflict with humans. It was determined that her charge was a natural response in defense of a cub after being startled at such close range — but that the men also were justified in using lethal force to defend themselves.

Thicker Cover, Not Meaner Bears

The female was part of the Glacier National Park/Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) grizzly population of about 1,000 bears. It’s one of two established grizzly populations in the Lower 48. The other is in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which has roughly the same number of bears and includes Wyoming’s grizzlies.

The two grizzly populations have yet to intermingle. But it could happen, as about only 60 miles separates the two populations in some places.  

Meanwhile, rumors that the northern grizzlies are more aggressive because more attacks on people are recorded there, are just that —unsubstantiated rumors, retired federal ecologist and grizzly expert Chuck Neal of Cody recently told Cowboy State Daily.

“The Glacier-NCDE bears are not more aggressive than the GYE bears,” he said. “Remember the very differences in the two ecosystems and that will explain the statistical differences in close encounter with human and bears in the two landscapes.”

“The Glacier-NCDE has much lusher, denser vegetation — much of it over head-high occurring on steep mountain slopes,” and so people and grizzlies have greater chances of running into each other unexpectedly, Neal said.

In other words, exactly the sort of circumstances that led to the shooting near Whitefish.

Won’t Be Part Of Yellowstone Grizzly Death Tally

Since the female grizzly that was killed was part of the NCDE population, her death won’t be counted among a tally of grizzly deaths this year in Wyoming and the rest of the Greater Yellowstone population.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team keeps track of the Greater Yellowstone bear population, including mortality rates.

The team recently reported that 24 Greater Yellowstone grizzlies have been killed or found dead so far this year.

None of those deaths was reported as self-defense by private citizens, according to USGS. They included several bears killed by wildlife agents for preying on cattle in Wyoming and Montana. There were also some bears struck and killed by vehicles, and a grizzly that drowned in a concrete-lined irrigation canal in Park County.

Mark Heinz can be reached at

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter