Grizzly Bear

Two grizzly bears have been shot and killed by hunters in the last week in Wyoming’s portion of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The pictured grizzly bear was killed defensively by hunter gunfire in the Aspen Creek area west of Cody in 2014.

After three hunters surprised a grizzly bear in the Thorofare region Thursday, the grizzly was shot and killed, and one of the hunters was flown to a hospital.

“It was a surprise encounter,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore manager Dan Thompson told the News&Guide. “There was a carcass involved, but it wasn’t theirs.”

A Cody outfitter, he said, was guiding the hunters. Although the mauled hunter was hurt badly enough to be flown by helicopter over 130 miles to Billings, Montana, by Tuesday the injured man had been released.

Other details being made public are scant. The lethal conflict, which took place on Bridger-Teton National Forest south of Yellowstone National Park, is being investigated because grizzly bears are classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents, in conjunction with Game and Fish wardens, will look into the incident to see if self-defense was warranted in killing one of the approximately 700 grizzlies in the region. If so, charges will be dropped. If investigators don’t find sufficient justification for shooting the bruin, its death could be prosecuted.

“They were very cooperative,” Thompson said of the hunters, “and they notified us immediately.”

A warden happened to be stationed at a Thorofare patrol cabin, he said, and was able to get a jump on the investigation.

The conflict in the grizzly-dense Thorofare was one of two lethal incidents involving bears and hunters in the last week. On Saturday an archery hunter on Rattlesnake Mountain west of Cody shot and killed a charging grizzly. That time the hunter went uninjured.

As with the Thorofare grizzly, the shooting is under investigation, and the details being made public are few.

Yet another grizzly bear was run over last weekend on the highway along the North Fork of the Shoshone River near Wapiti, Thompson said. It’s “highly likely” that it’s a bear that was habituated and had been hanging out near homes in the small community east of Yellowstone and getting into people’s garbage.

“Hopefully that situation will go away,” Thompson said, “although it’s unfortunate it was a vehicle strike.”

The three recent grizzly deaths have not yet been added to an online mortality database maintained by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. Add those three incidents, and there are 33 grizzly deaths documented to date in the ecosystem.

With a couple months to go until hibernation — include hunting season, which is particularly deadly — it’s tough to say if 2020 is shaping up to be a good year or a bad one for grizzly conflicts and deaths. There was a good berry crop in the region this year, and conflict was generally low in August and September, Thompson said. But the pace of negative encounters picked up after a September cold blast that caused berries to wither and fall in conjunction with grizzlies becoming hyperphagic — a technical term for ravenous.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how the rest of the year pans out,” Thompson said.

In 2018, an especially conflict prone year, there were 68 grizzlies known to have died in the ecosystem. Last year the mortality count came in at 45 grizzlies. As recently as 2013 and ’14 there were years when the total grizzly bear mortality in the ecosystem ended up in the 20s.

“Whatever I say, I’m going to get beat up by one side or the other,” Thompson said. “But [higher mortality numbers] is a function of having a healthy bear population.”

Half the grizzly bear deaths that have been detected to date in 2020 occurred outside a “demographic monitoring area” in the core of the ecosystem, he pointed out. It’s unknown how many bears dwell along the fringes of the region. The other half of mortalities logged occurred inside that 19,270-square-mile monitoring area, where the population of grizzlies is estimated at about 700 animals.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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(6) comments

Brad Hill

To those who have inquired about bear spray, have you ever deployed a can of spray while being down wind of a bear ? And to the person who asked about making noise, you obviously are not a hunter.

Dina savoroski

We The People Are Taking Over every inch of USA land.

Before you know, there won't be any wildlife left except for a few in Zoos. Disgusting!

Patrick Tompkins

Too many scenarios come into play during every bear encounter. There will always be a should have done this, should have doe that, why didn't I do this or that moment.

Whether you have firepower, bear spray or nothing at all as a personal defense, the outcome can never be forecasted. Whether you like it or not, you're never at the top of the food chain when you're in the woods and away from civilization.

All you can do is make the best of the situation and hope you walk away from it unscathed. If not, welcome the risks involved and hope for the best.

Not one single person can say what they'd do in a particular situation because when that time comes, there isn't enough time to think or comprehend what is happening so you react in a panic which is usually the wrong reaction in most, but not all situations.

Hunters, hikers, wildlife watchers or anyone else who puts themselves in an environment where humans can be prey and wildlife can be hunters, should be prepared with a plan and in the worst case scenario, plan to never walk out of that environment ever again. because it's possible that you'll become animal turds.

allison levy

Why was the bear surprised? Weren't the hunters aware that making noise is necessary? And why does the animal ALWAYS pay the price for someone's irresponsible behavior? This isn't healthy population control. This sounds like a freak out. Bear spray?

Tony Rutherford

I'm thinking that the fact that a hunter was mauled, and had to be flown to Billings.....justifies the killing as self-defense?

Jay Westemeier

Not necessarily. The bear could have been defending the carcass which is natural. Were cubs in the area? Did the hunters shoot first, causing the bear to charge? Did they have bear spray that could have been used?

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