Anthony Acerrano

Are Yellowstone-area bears really more dangerous?

By Anthony Acerrano

As hunter-grizzly conflicts increase in the Northern Rockies, one name keeps appearing in the accounts of run-ins, charges and maulings: Yellowstone.

That so many bad encounters occur "north of Yellowstone," or "not far from Yellowstone Park," seems to substantiate a general belief that grizzlies in the greater Yellowstone area—which includes hunting lands in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho— collide with hunters more often than bears in other regions.

"Yes, historically that's true," says Kevin Frey, bear management specialist with Montana's Fish, Wildlife & Parks, who works in the Yellowstone Ecosystem. "We do seem to have a higher number of conflicts."

In the last 4 years, according to Frey, 21 people were injured by Yellowstone-area grizzlies, and 48 griz have been killed by hunters.
Why so many clashes? The problem is not solely a matter of bear numbers, as some believe; other areas have as many grizzlies, with a lower percentage of conflicts.

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What's the best way to defend yourself if you
run into a grizzly while hunting—or if a grizzly
tries to run into you?

By Anthony Acerrano

Nearly all authorities on the subject agree that the first two words to memorize in this regard are "pepper spray." I'm fully aware that some hunters associate pepper spray with politically correct, granola-eating, New Age, tree-hugger crapola. "Just give me my gun," these guys brag, "and I'll drop any charging griz like a sack of rocks."

Other hunters are less fanatical on the subject, but simply have serious (and understandable) doubts about the efficacy of a spray can to stop one of the largest and most dangerous animals in North America. Doesn't it just make sense that a high-caliber bullet is more potent, and more effective in a life-or-death situation?

It’s a reasonable question, and by no means should hunters dismiss the power and value of their firearms, as we'll discuss later. But as is so often the case when it comes to bears, the answer is more complex than it might first appear.

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