Since 1999, wildlife professionals in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho have been sacrificing hunters to save grizzly bears. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee--which includes the Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho fish and game departments--would rather have a hunter get mauled by a grizzly than have a hunter kill a grizzly in a legitimate case of self-defense.
The issue is that hunters using centerfire rifles to pursue elk, deer and other big-game in grizzly country have surprise encounters with grizzlies--a species protected by the Endangered Species Act. Hunters often have just a split second to react. Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho do not provide hunters with tips and advice on how to use firearms quickly and effectively during a dangerous encounter so they can kill a grizzly before the bear can kill or injure them. To protect grizzlies, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and all agencies in the lower-48 states affiliated with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee discourage the use of firearms, and encourage the use of bear spray.
To prepare hunters for a worst-case scenario with a grizzly, here's what the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and wildlife professionals should tell hunters.
One. A 1983 report that focused exclusively on using firearms vs. bears in Alaska said, "there is almost no possibility of a slug rifle being brought into action during a shot-distance confrontation" with a bear. The report on Safety in Bear Country: Protective Measures and Bullet Performance at Short Range provides valuable information and advice that everyone hunting in grizzly country should read. Wildlife professionals should inform big game hunters in grizzly country that they should not sling their rifle over a shoulder.
Two. "If I'm actually out hunting and I have a gun in my hands and suddenly a bear comes at me--do you think I'm going to lay the gun down and pick up bear spray," asks BYU professor Tom Smith in the September/October 2102 edition of Sports Afield. "Are you out of your mind?" Smith is the author of a study on bear spray and a study on firearms, and he's very pro-bear spray. But even Tom Smith admits a hunter with a rifle in hand would be nuts to try to use bear spray. That's the message wildlife professionals should send to hunters in grizzly country.
Three. In Sports Afield, Tom Smith said arguments pitting bear spray vs. guns and bear spray vs bullets are "ridiculous." That's the message wildlife professionals should send to hunters in grizzly country. In an Associated Press article, retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game bear specialist John Hechtel said, "I certainly don’t think we should try to pit one tool against the other." That's the message wildlife professionals should send to hunters. Bear spray vs. bullets arguments merely prove the adage statistics are meaningless. Wildlife professionals need to inform hunters it's not safe or practical to try to switch from a firearm to bear spray during a showdown with a grizzly.
Four. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and wildlife professionals should inform hunters that there's more than one study on firearms vs. bears. An objective 1999 study on Characteristics of Nonsport Mortalities to Brown and Black Bears and Human Injuries From Bears in Alaska found that from 1970-96, people killed 2,289 bears in defense of life or property (DLP), and most people "indicated that no human injury occurred (98.5 for brown bears and 99.2 for black bears)." Wildlife professionals should warn hunters to be wary of bear spray advocates who cherry-pick their data and research.
Now that we're familiar with some of the basic safety information wildlife professionals should provide for hunters in grizzly country, let's look at what wildlife professionals in the lower-48 states are actually doing.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee's web pages on hunting in grizzly country do not offer hunters any meaningful advice on how to use their firearm to survive a dangerous encounter with a grizzly.
In recent years the grizzly bear mortality in the lower-48 states has increased, and the number of hunters injured and killed by grizzlies has increased, too. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee has never expressed any concern about reducing bear-inflicted deaths and injury to hunters, but did commission a 52-page report on how to reduce grizzly bear mortalities. Pages 21-23 focus on convincing hunters to use bear spray and even requiring hunters to carry bear spray.
To keep hunters safe in grizzly country, did the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks do a joint news release with the NRA, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, or the Sierra Club? The correct answer is, the Sierra Club. Is the Sierra Club's top priority keeping grizzlies safe from hunters, or keeping hunters safe from grizzlies? Does the Sierra Club know anything about firearms safety?
Idaho tells hunters that "if attacked," they should "use a weapon only if bear spray is unavailable." Is this the information a hunter needs to be prepared to face a charging grizzly?
To keep hunters in grizzly country safe, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department urges hunters to use bear spray, and compares statistics from biased research on bear spray to statistics from biased research on firearms to prove bear spray is more effective. Just last week, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department representative went on and on and on about bear spray, but added that using a firearm rather than bear spray is a "personal choice." Does that prepare hunters for a do-or-die situation with a grizzly bear?
It's very clear that wildlife professionals in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho are sacrificing hunters to save grizzly bears.