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Bear Safety

BearSafety_Article_512px_219pxGrizzly bears have been sighted on the National Elk Refuge, including designated elk and bison hunting areas.

These bears may be habituated to humans and not as wary as other bears. All grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and protected by federal law.

Research shows that grizzly bears seek out gut piles during the hunting season. During Refuge hunting seasons, the availability of carcasses and gut piles may bring grizzly bears and hunters into close proximity in heavily–used hunt areas. Some bears will vigorously defend gut piles. This behavior should be expected in bear country, and it underscores the risk to bears and humans associated with hunting in grizzly country. 

Please keep in mind that you may encounter bears – including those feeding on gut piles – at any time and in any location. Be alert for the presence of bears at all times! Do not leave a carcass unattended, and be extra alert when field dressing your elk or bison. 

Research has shown that bear spray is a highly effective deterrent during an encounter with a bear. In a Journal of Wildlife Management publication by Smith, et al.1, bear spray was found to stop bears’ undesirable behavior 90–100% of the time. Personal defense pepper spray is not the same as bear spray. Bear spray labels will clearly state it is for stopping charging or attacking bears. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates bear spray, and the minimum size can the EPA will register is currently 7.9 ounces. Carrying an accessible can of non–expired bear spray is not a requirement of your Refuge hunting permit but is highly recommended.  

For your safety and the safety of bears, a list of suggested practices is available for participating in Refuge bison and elk hunting seasons. (PDF) 


1Smith, T., S. Herrero, T. Debruyn, and J. Wilder. 2008. Journal of Wildlife Management 72(3):640–645.  
Last Updated: Aug 30, 2013
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