Conventional wisdom says that to avoid a surprise encounter with a bear you should hike in large groups and make lots of noise. Bow hunters are unlikely to do either if they wish to be successful in their hunt. An additional concern is that bears are often attracted to elk bugles and cow and calf calls in their pursuit of food. So, not only can a bow hunter accidentally encounter a bear while sneaking quietly through the forest, but they may actually attract them while attempting to call elk! This can, and has in the past, led to bow hunters and grizzly bears having encounters in which the outcome was not good for either.
If you encounter a bear in the forest, there are several actions you can take to ensure your and the bear’s safety. The first thing you must always do is correctly identify the species of bear. Here in southwestern Montana you have the possibility of running across both black and grizzly bears, and your reaction will be different depending on the species. For more information on identifying bears go to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks website: www.fwp.mt.gov/bearid/default.html.
The best defense against a bear mauling with either species of bears is bear spray. Always buy a can of bear spray that is clearly marked for use against bears, not humans, and replace it when it has exceeded its expiration date. Your bear spray should always be easily reached, either in a hip or shoulder holster. The effective range of bear spray is only 25 feet. With a charging bear you should give it a two second burst when it is 40 feet away, to create a cloud of spray between you and the bear. If the bear penetrates the cloud and continues coming towards you, spray the remainder of the can directly in its face and then either fight back or play dead, depending on the species of the bear. Studies of bear spray have shown it to be 87% effective in preventing human injury versus 50% for firearms.
For more information on bear encounters or bear spray go to www.bebearaware.org.