BUTTE – After facing a grizzly bear on his first bow hunt for elk, 12-year-old Hunter Edens says he didn’t know if the bear was going to “play the I’m going to kill you card.”
When Hunter and his father, Dan, met with the bear on a private ranch off Gibbonsville Road 10 miles west of Wisdom, Dan was fearful for his son, a seventh grader at Stevensville Middle School.
Having only seen two black bears in the 25 years he's been hunting, Dan didn't think to bring either his pistol or bear spray on this hunt.
The Stevensville pair had been out in the woods for about an hour and decided to take a break. Hunter tried out his brand new elk call and it brought an elk cow right to them.
“We made a nice shot. It went across the meadow and we let the elk lay down and do its thing. We started trailing the blood. Then we spotted something moving,” Dan said Wednesday.
Hunter saw the grizzly out of the corner of his eye. They thought it was a wolf. Dan used his binoculars and realized what it was just as Hunter said, "Dad, it's a grizzly."
With silvery gray shoulders, the bear was about 150 yards from the two hunters. Dan described the bear as very large and beautiful.
Dan and Hunter watched the wild animal for a minute or two.
“It was a cool thing to see,” Dan said.
But the two hunters were standing in the elk's blood trail.
“We got back into the willows. He did see us and ran over to where we were standing," Dan said.
“It came right for us," Hunter said.
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The two ran through the willows. By now the bear was only 70 yards away. Neither Dan nor Hunter knew what the grizzly was going to do.
“It was an eerie feeling,” Dan said.
Hunter called the experience nerve-wracking.
"The bear stood up. I started yelling at the bear, making loud noises,” Dan said.
The bear got down on all fours and headed into the willows in the direction of the downed elk.
Hunter and Dan ran for a fence and disturbed a few cattle to distract the bear in case it changed its mind and came back for them. When they got to Dan’s truck, he called his wife who called authorities. Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Beaverhead County Sheriff’s department arrived.
Dan wanted to go back out into the woods to collect his elk. But FWP game warden Regan Dean convinced Dan not to go back out there.
“I told him don’t worry about that elk, you can find another one,” Dean said. “He wouldn’t want that meat after the grizzly had been crawling around on it.”
Because Dan did not tag his elk, he did not lose his elk hunting tag. He would have lost it if he had tagged the elk before the bear arrived, Dean said.
Undaunted by the bear experience, Dan and Hunter plan to head back out to look for another elk to hunt this coming weekend. But they will go to a different hunting spot for now.
Educated in wilderness camp and having been a hunter since the age of 5, Hunter talked about the moment with the bear like it was something that had happened at school, Dan said.
“I’m not scared to go back out in the woods,” Hunter said Wednesday.