While slipping through the forest, has the hair on your neck stood up like the quills on a startled porcupine for no apparent reason? According to a recent study, your sixth sense might not be deceiving you. In fact you might be the prey, not the predator.
The U.S. Geological Survey’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team outfitted eight Montana grizzly bears with GPS tracking units, similar to technology used to study the movement of whitetails and other wildlife. What they discovered was shocking, especially to elk hunters.
The study determined bears were following hunters and moving to kill sites. You think it was a coincidence? Study results were confirmed by also outfitting 100 hunters with GPS units and then comparing the tracking data between the bears and elk hunters. Oftentimes the trails were the same.
For years hunters in grizzly country have speculated that grizzlies raced to the sound of a rifle to partake in the bounty of a gut pile or better yet, an entire elk. This study reinforces that theory. In fact, it even tracked one bear that didn’t need a gunshot to home in on hunters: That bear actually followed hunters from nearly the time they left the parking lot. The theory was the bear might’ve been hoping to snag a dead elk before the hunters found the shot animal. The GPS data revealed the bear stayed downwind of the hunters, but sometimes moved to within 100 yards of the hunters without disclosing its presence.
It’s no surprise that grizzly bears enjoy a meal of carrion. As omnivores, they take calories from a number of means. It’s also no surprise that these large predators routinely command ownership of carcasses from mountain lions and even wolves. This means that a hunter-shot elk also falls into the category of “what’s yours is mine” to a crafty bear. Animals learn through association, so the presence of hunters and eventually the smell of blood has created a woodland classroom for clever bears.
According to agency information within the Fox News article, grizzly bears “have a sense of smell seven times greater than that of a bloodhound, and 100 times that of a human by some estimates. Grizzlies also possess a Jacobson's organ in the roof of their mouth that can detect heavier moisture-borne odors.” GPS data suggested that a bear scented a dead elk from a distance of 4 miles and even swam across a lake to reach the kill site.
Grizzly bears might appear to be slow-moving, clumsy and noisy, but they are exactly the opposite and the recent research confirms many past suspicions. You might not be the top predator in grizzly country after all.
The next time you plan a hunting trip in grizzly country, check for recent posted bear activity. In addition to your hunting tool of choice, carry bear-certified pepper spray, a documented repelling force. Always be alert of your surroundings, particularly if you hunt dense cover.
Lastly, hunt with a partner and have each other’s six. Western grizzly country is spectacular, but not if you find yourself face-to-face with a bear intent on making your trophy dinner.