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Bowhunter encounters grizzly in Bitterroot Mountains

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A Florence bow hunter had a close encounter with what he was certain was a grizzly bear not far from the Bass Creek Overlook in the Bitterroot Mountains Friday morning.

Nineteen-year-old Kyler Alm was using his cow call about a half-mile west of the popular overlook when he heard steps approaching his direction through the thick timber.

“I was walking and I heard the thump, thump, thump of footsteps,” Alm said Friday afternoon. “I was hearing branches breaking. I thought at first it was a bull coming through.”

He nocked an arrow and got ready.

Alm had had a strange feeling at the top of the ridge and had stopped to chamber a round in 7 mm pistol before descending into the timber.

Through the trees, he saw brown.

“It’s so thick in there,” Alm said. “When I saw that little bit of brown, I had a weird feeling. I thought it was strange I wasn’t seeing or hearing horns. So I cow-called again.”

Right then the biggest bear that he’s ever seen in his life came running over the top of a little ridge.

“We were face to face,” he said. “He was close, like 10 to 15 yards. I’ve hunted a lot of bears. I’ve seen a lot of different bears. This was the biggest one that I’ve ever seen.”

He remembers its rounded ears, little beady eyes set in a gigantic head and the huge hump on its back.

“What really struck out to me was the silver stripe right behind its shoulder,” Alm said. “When he saw me, he stood up and gave out a whump.”

Alm had already pulled out his pistol by then.

“I was saying, ‘Hey bear, hey bear, get out of here, bear,'” Alm said.

The bear didn’t budge.

Alm shot three times into the ground between him and the bear.

The bear turned and ran about 3 yards. Then he turned back and continued to stare Alm down.

“He was curling his lip and huffing and then he suddenly just takes off down the hill,” Alm said. “I’m yelling, ‘Hey, bear. Get out of here, bear.’ I fell down as I was backing away.”

Once the bear left, Alm turned and ran back to his vehicle.

“I think it’s the fastest I’ve ever gotten out of the mountains,” Alm said. “I called my dad right after that. I was pretty shaken up.”

Alm reported the sighting the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He returned to the site with FWP game warden Justin Singleterry and a Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear specialist.

Singleterry said they were able to find the location of the encounter where Alm had left his elk bugle. They weren’t able to find tracks or anything else to confirm the sighting.

“I fully believe the guy saw a grizzly bear,” Singleterry said. “Officially, we can’t say it was a confirmed sighting, but we’re one step away from that. The terrain didn’t lend itself for tracks, but his description of the bear was right on.”

Grizzly bears have been spotted in the Bitterroot Valley before, including one that was trapped on a golf course north of Stevensville a couple of years ago.

“This is not going to be a totally uncommon thing in the Bitterroot,” Singleterry said. “If this happened in the Blackfoot, it wouldn’t be news. We don’t want the public to expect that every time a hunter runs into a bear in the Bitterroot that will it be news.”

But, for now, it's still rare.

From the nature of sightings that have already occurred in and around the Bitterroot, Singleterry expects that grizzly encounters will happen more frequently.

“People need to be prepared for that,” he said. “Anyone can encounter a grizzly bear anywhere in western Montana including in the Bitterroot and Missoula valleys.”

“Right now people have kind of a false security,” Singleterry said.

Alm said he doesn’t usually carry bear spray when he’s out in the woods.

“That’s because I don’t think I’m going to run into a grizzly,” he said. “When you run into black bears, they run away. I know what a grizzly looks like and I know what a big black bear looks like. His demeanor was just different. He wasn’t even scared after I shot in front of him. A black bear would have been long gone.”

Alm said he probably wouldn’t be going back to that place again.

“I didn’t even see any elk sign,” he said.

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