Montana Man Charged by Grizzly Bear

Montana Man Charged by Grizzly Bear
This year has been an eventful year for encounters between hunters and grizzlies in the northern Rockies. The latest event involved a wildlife official, Vic Workman of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission (MFWP).

On sunday, November 25th, Workman was hunting near Whitefish Lake with a friend when a lone grizzly charged from 30 feet. Workman yelled at the bear, then fired from the hip at only 10-feet? The shot connected and the big bear veered off.

Workman and his friend were not injured, but the MFWP is following up today to determine the fate of the bear.

Workman, a realtor in Whitefish, has had other exciting calls during his tenure on the Wildlife Commission. Although this grizzly-related incident occurred on his private time, he had to spend the night in the Bob Marshall in February of 2006 after the helicopter he was in was forced to make an emergency landing during a snow storm that struck during a winter elk count.

Several Montana news outlets covered this most recent incident, including the Helena Independent Record.

One thought on “Montana Man Charged by Grizzly Bear

  1. Dave Smith

    Bear spray for hunters? Not so fast.

    Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commissioner Vic Workman has been roundly criticized by state and federal officials for shooting at a charging grizzly with his rifle rather that trying to stop the bruin with bear spray. It’s easy for bear spray advocates to tell hunters they should “carry bear and know how to use it,” but the devil is in the details. How is a hunter with a can of bear spray in a hip holster or shoulder harness, plus a rifle in his or her hands, supposed to use the bear spray safely, quickly, and effectively during a sudden encounter with a grizzly?

    A 2/8/06 Casper Star-Tribune article titled “Lessons learned from hunter/griz encounters,” illustrates why the use of bear spray is often problematic for hunters: “A quiet hunter can surprise a bear, and the resultant charge gives hunters scant seconds to switch from gun to pepper spray canister. ‘Time and again, hunters said it happened so fast that when they shot, the bear fell right at their feet,” said Chuck Schwartz of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.

    Time is critical; dropping your rifle and reaching for bear spray takes longer than simply pointing your rifle at the bear and pulling the trigger. In addition, safety concerns preclude hunters from dropping their rifle. In the chapter on “Firearm Safety” in Montana’s Hunter Education Student Manual, the Montana Dept. of FWP says, “If you are alone, follow these steps to safely cross an obstacle [such as a fence]. Step 1. Unload your firearm.” Hunters are taught to unload their firearm before crossing fences or other obstacles because of the possibility they’ll trip or stumble and drop a loaded gun. Dropping a loaded gun is a firearm safety no-no.

    The only way a hunter facing a charging grizzly can use bear spray is to calmly let go of their rifle with one hand, and reach for bear spray with their other hand. During cool fall weather, parkas and jackets might block quick access to bear spray on a hip holster; so most hunters would carry bear spray in a chest harness, or clipped to the shoulder strap of a backpack. Using one hand, the hunter would have pull up on a Velcro flap that secures the can of bear spray in the holster. Now it’s time for a decision. One, you could remove the can of bear spray from the holster, extend your arm to point it at the charging bear, “thumb off” the safety catch, and pull the trigger. Two, you could just leave the can in the holster, remove the safety, and shoot from your chest harness.

    “Bear attacks happen as fast as lightning!!! Most situations where you will need to use your UDAP Bear Spray will be in a close surprise encounter. Practice, at least seven times going for your spray, or until you can reach it in a split second’s time when needed. You may want to practice actually shooting from your holster with one of our inert cans . . . In a bear attack situation, we do know this: you will panic if you have not been trained ahead how you will think and react.” UDAP website

    A hunter who plans on using one hand to fire bear spray from a chest harness might want to practice this maneuver more than seven times. Bear spray fires out in a wide, cone-shaped pattern, so it doesn’t call for pinpoint accuracy. Still, using one hand to try and shoot bear spray held in a chest harness in the general direction of a charging grizzly might prove be challenging. I don’t believe many of the people who tell hunters to carry bear spray and “know how to use it” could demonstrate the technique successfully during a practice session on a firing range. I’ve never heard of it being done in the field.

    Bear Spray or Firearms: Choose one or the other.

    In a discussion about firearms in Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, PhD biologist Stephen Herrero urges people using firearms for bear protection to practice “shooting hundreds of rounds” until accurate shooting becomes “something you do almost without thinking.”

    In all honesty, I don’t think many hunters train well for this type of self-defense shooting. But when faced with a charging grizzly, pointing your rifle at the bear is pretty darn instinctive. What bear spray advocates are really telling hunters is not just, “Forget your instincts,” but “don’t bother training with a rifle for self-defense. That guarantees you’ll shoot at a charging bear with your rifle rather than trying to use bear spray.”

    You can either practice using your rifle until you can do it “almost without thinking,” or you can practice holding your rifle in one hand and reaching for bear spray with your other hand until you can do it “almost without thinking,” but you can’t do both. Guns or bear spray. Pick one. It’s an either/or choice. Train diligently with the one you choose.

    Much is made of statistics showing that bear spray is more effective than firearms at stopping charging bears. It’s true that hikers using bear spray in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks fare better than hunters using rifles outside the parks. But hikers in the parks aren’t carrying a rifle in their hands. Hikers don’t have to fire their bear spray one-handed. Using bear spray is far more difficult for hunters. In essense, bear spray advocates are telling hunters to cope with charging grizzly bears with one hand tied behind their back.

    It’s also worth noting that hikers are generally most active during the warm summer months, while hunters are out in the fall when it’s cool—or cold. To be able to reach bear spray quickly, a hunter would have to wear their bear spray shoulder harness over the outside of their jacket—out in the cold. Here’s what the website at Counter Assault bear spray says about using bear spray in cold weather: “Will Counter Assault work in freezing temperatures? Yes, although it may not spray as far below 26°F/-3°C. American and Canadian park rangers carry their Counter Assault under their jackets to keep it warm for emergency use.”

    The same state and federal agencies that tell hunters to use bear spray have never tested its performance in cold weather, or rain, or snow, or windy conditions. Hunters know a properly maintained firearm will perform in cold, rain, snow, or wind. All hunters know about bear spray is that is “may not spray as far” in cold temperatures. What about wind and rain? “Be aware that wind or rain can greatly affect the accuracy of the initial burst of spray,” says UDAP. “In some cases, you may have to wait until the bear is quite close before spraying.”

    Why should hunters stake their lives on those kinds of reassurances? Bear spray has been on the market for over a decade—why haven’t the agencies tested it in the real world weather conditions hunters face?

    Some bear spray advocates are so determined to force bear spray on hunters, they paint hunters in a negative manner by claiming that hunters kill charging bears needlessly—after all, most charges are bluffs. A Sierra Club paper titled “Bear Spray: It Works!” informs people “There is evidence that firing a gun resulted in maulings by bears originally intended to be bluff charges.”

    How could the Sierra Club know the bears originally intended to bluff charge unless the Sierra Club staff includes a few Timothy Treadwell-type bear whisperers? Can the Sierra Club tell hunters how to distinguish a bluff charge from a real charge? Stephen Herrero can’t. In Bear Attacks, Herrero says, “grizzlies do not indicate whether their charges are false or real.”

    During the past 20 years, hunters and outfitters have been more than reasonable about working with wildlife agencies to accommode grizzly bears: better food storage in camps, better handling of carcasses, and more. If bear spray would truly save the lives of bears and hunters, I think would hunters would be willing to use it. But wildlife agencies in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming seem to have rushed to judgement on bear spray. They haven’t thought about practical realities for hunters. If bear spray advocates expect hunters to use bear spray, they should start by having bear spray tested in typical fall weather conditions for the Rockies. If state and federal agencies insist that hunters should carry bear spray and know how to use it, those same agencies should be able to give demonstrations that show hunters how to use it while dressed in hunting gear and carrying a rifle. Is that asking too much?

    Dave Smith, author of Backcountry Bear Basics: The Definitive Guide To Avoiding Unpleasant Encounters

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