Bears Start Waking Up In Wyoming In March, But Not Much Activity Yet

March is usually when Wyoming’s bears start emerging from their winter dens, but some frontline bear observers say there’s little evidence of them so far. But, not for long...

MH
Mark Heinz

March 05, 20244 min read

Black bear in den 3 5 24

The earliest risers among Wyoming’s bears generally start coming out of their dens in March, but there’s been only a little activity so far this year.

“As the calendars turn to March, we do expect to see a few early risers here and there as the month progresses,” Dan Thompson, Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore specialist, told Cowboy State Daily.

“We have not had any recent bear activity reported or that we have observed, but we know they will start stirring soon,” he added.

Avid bear conservationists and hunter Joe Kondelis of Cody said things have been quiet so far.

“I’m hearing of griz tracks, but nothing confirmed,” he told Cowboy State Daily.

Big Males Usually Come Out First

Retied federal ecologist Chuck Neal of Cody spends much of his time in bear county, and said he’s seen tracks, but no bears yet.

“I saw my first grizzly track on Feb. 24 this year — an adult male. I have not seen an actual bear yet, “ he said.

Big male grizzlies, or boars, are usually the first to make an appearance.

“The adult males are typically the first out of the den — sometimes taking brief walkabouts during the course of the winter even,” he said.

“The subadult males are often the second demographic to emerge, followed by females, and lastly the females with cubs of the year. This is the typical pattern, but keep in mind that there will always be exceptions,” Neal added.

Grizzly 399 and her 2023 cub were spotted for the first time in 2023 on May 16. (Photo is owned by Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven and may not be reproduced)
Grizzly 399 and her 2023 cub were spotted for the first time in 2023 on May 16. (Photo is owned by Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven and may not be reproduced) (Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven)

399 Will Likely Be Fashionably Late

Given the pattern of emergence that Neal described, the world will just have to be patient waiting for Wyoming’s most beloved bear, Grizzly 399.

She and her cub, Spirit, are thought to have gone into their remote backcountry den sometime in November.

Last year, she didn’t emerge with Spirit, then her brand new cub, until the middle of May.

This spring, 399 will have an even larger fanbase awaiting her arrival thanks to a new documentary film about her, “399: Queen of the Tetons.”

Tom Mangelsen is a renowned wildlife photographer who has followed 399 for years, and the film is based upon his work.

He lives near the famed grizzly’s home turf in Grand Teton National Park and told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that it’s still far too wintery there to entice bears to emerge from their dens.

“We have had 4 feet of snow since Friday. On top of 2 to 3 feet. It’s snowing still and another winter storm is predicted for Thursday,” he said. “There isn’t any likelihood of bears coming out, or if they poke their heads out, they will realize that they won’t be able to navigate the deep snow and will go back to bed.

“That would be for Teton Park. I don’t know about northern Yellowstone, but southern Yellowstone is the same as the Tetons.”

With that much snow, he doesn’t expect grizzly activity anytime soon.

“Often there are a few males that come out for a look-see around now, but I haven’t heard of anything. And even they can’t move much in 4-6 feet of snow. And food here is pretty scarce. Even the moose are pretty rare. A few bison here and there, but again travel is limited for bears to find anything,” Mangelsen said.

Activity Scant In Montana Too

The story is much the same in the heart of bear country in western Montana.

“I think we had a black bear in the Rattlesnake area just to the north of Missoula,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokeswoman Vivaca Crowser told Cowboy State Daily.

She’s the agency’s communications manager for Region 2, which encompasses some of the Big Sky state’s best bear habitat. It also includes some of the spots where the Northern Continental Divide grizzly population and the Greater Yellowstone grizzly population are getting close to each other.

Bear conservationists have been eagerly awaiting those two populations intermingling. They say that would be a vital keystone to full grizzly recovery in the Lower 48.

There have been reports of grizzly tracks in the Blackfoot Valley northeast of Missoula, Crowser said. And some black bears have been seen further north in the Flathead Valley.

“Black bears are usually the bears we start seeing show up first,” she said. “Obviously, the mild weather has been a contributing factor this year, but it’s not unusual to see some bear activity in March.”

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter