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Bear that hurt hunter won't be captured

Oct 5, 2016 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Officials will try to confirm whether the animal involved in the attack was a grizzly.

Officials say they will not pursue capture of the bear that attacked a 59-year-old hunter Sunday in the Warm Springs area above Dubois.

The hunter was airlifted to Denver after the incident to be treated for "significant wounds" to his face, arm and leg.

An update on his condition was not available Wednesday.

No capture

Wyoming Game and Fish large carnivore section supervisor Dan Thompson said the hunter had been trying to retrieve an elk he had shot the day before. When he approached the location, he saw the elk had been moved and cached by a bear.

Immediately realizing he was in danger, the hunter turned to leave the area when he noticed three bears nearby. The family group likely consisted of an adult female and two smaller grizzlies, Thompson said.

The hunter believes it was the older animal that attacked him.

"It was pretty much instantaneous," Thompson said. "He had no time to react before he was attacked."

Officials will test samples to confirm whether the animal involved in the attack was a grizzly, but Thompson said his agency will not pursue capture of the bear.

"There are no closures in effect, (and) there is not an ongoing human safety threat - beyond those threats that always exist in grizzly occupied habitat," he said.

The bear was demonstrating natural food-guarding behavior, Thompson noted. She also may have been defending her young from a surprise encounter with a human.

"There were multiple things going against (the hunter)," Thompson said.

The man was not carrying a gun, and Thompson wasn't sure if he had bear spray, but based on the timing of the event, Thompson said the man probably wouldn't have been able to defend himself with any weapons.

"As quick as everything happened, it's hard to say if that would have made a difference," he said. "It's a very unfortunate occurrence that can happen (with a) high density of bears and a lot of people in the woods."

Officials will not attempt to retrieve the elk carcass either, Thompson said.

Rescue

Thompson said the three other members of the man's hunting party heard their friend yelling for help around mid-morning Sunday. They had been traveling together to retrieve the elk carcass and were walking nearby.

When the three hunters approached the scene of the attack, Thompson said, the bears ran away.

The hunters were able to call law enforcement at about 2 p.m. Sunday.

"They were two or three miles off from the trailhead (in) pretty steep, timbered terrain with limited visibility," Thompson said. "(The victim) was able to walk a short distance ... but not all the way (out)."

In their initial call to police, the hunters said their friend was able to see and was breathing, but his "face has been ripped off" and his "leg is torn up."

Thompson said the leg injury involved puncture wounds from bear bites.

Fremont County Search and Rescue crews responded to the area and moved the man to a landing zone where he could be extracted from the scene by helicopter. He was transported to SageWest Health Care at Riverton at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday then flown to Denver for further treatment.

A Wyoming Game and Fish predator attack team also responded, Thompson said. He commended the injured hunter for cooperating with officials throughout the ordeal.

"We really appreciate that," he said. "It's a life-changing event, physically and emotionally, (and) he was very helpful and courteous."

Hunter safety

Hunters have a higher risk of encountering a bear at close range, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department: They try to be quiet in the woods, they are active during dusk and dawn, they use game calls and they handle big game carcasses.

To avoid bear encounters, the department advises hunters to work with at least one other person, and to stay in sigh of that person at all times. Remain alert and watchful for bear activity, and learn to recognize bear sign such as scat, tracks and diggings. Finally, carry a defense mechanism that is readily accessible.

To minimize conflicts over a carcass, Game and Fish recommends packing and removing the game meat out of the field as quickly as possible. Separate the carcass from the gut pile with as much distance as possible, and quarter and hang the carcass in a tree at least 10-15 feet from the ground and 4 feet from the tree trunk.

If a carcass must be left on the ground, the hunter should place it in plain view so, when he or she returns to the area, it is obvious whether the remains have been disturbed.

Placing something conspicuous on the carcass - like branches or an article of clothing that can easily be seen from a long distance - may help determine whether a bear has been in the area.

When returning to a carcass that has been left overnight, Game and Fish says hunters should stop and view the scene from a distance with binoculars. Approach the carcass upwind and make sufficient noise to alert any potential bears that a human is coming.

If the scene has been disturbed or the carcass has been buried, a bear has probably been there or may be bedded nearby.

Never attempt to scare a bear off of a carcass it has claimed.

For more information visit wgfd.wyo.gov.

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