Hunting pheasant in Montana? Best be packing bear spray
In Montana, bear country can be anywhere in the western half of the state and sometimes beyond. In recent years, grizzly bears have shown up in prairie habitats east of the Rocky Mountain Front.
For years, elk and deer hunters in western Montana have taken to the woods prepared for possible grizzly bear encounters by carrying bear spray, following food storage guidelines and by keeping a watchful eye out for bear sign. Now, with an expanding grizzly bear population into the prairie and agricultural lands in central Montana, bird hunters should follow suit.
Pheasant season starts Saturday, Oct. 6, and hunters in grizzly bear country should be prepared for possible encounters by carrying bear spray and being ready to use it, hunting with a partner, and by always letting someone know where you’ll be, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said in a news release Thursday, Oct. 4.
Bird hunters should understand they could be in close proximity to bears even if they’re miles away from the Rocky Mountain Front, the release said. Hunters should be particularly careful near thick patches of brush and even more so in those thickets along canals and creeks. Grizzlies have even been known to bed in tall grass or cattails but prefer very thick shrubs. Keep a watchful eye on hunting dogs as they may stir-up a grizzly sleeping in its day bed.
Additionally, just like in the mountains, hunters should look for bear sign and avoid areas where the sign is fresh. If possible, make plenty of noise in areas where visibility is limited, even in areas where you wouldn’t expect bears.
Grizzly bears are currently listed on the Endangered Species List in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which includes the Rocky Mountain Front and points further east. Though the population in the NCDE has reached recovery goals, the federal delisting process for the population is just getting underway.
With the federal protections in place, FWP coordinates all bear management activities with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.