bear awareness bozeman montana

Addressing in-town encounters.

On a mundane spring day, I’m out for a routine afternoon jog. I normally don’t venture too far from town, so I travel light. No water or phone or bulky bear spray to weigh me down. I'm running on town trails, so why bother with any of that? I smile as a large dog hustles to join me, trotting only a few yards out front. A moment later, the animal glances back—and I realize it's not a dog, but a small black bear that I obviously startled.

I’m not sure who has it worse, me or the bear. Luckily, it continues up the trail away from me and veers off into the woods. This is the first bear I’ve come across in a while, and I feel a little confused. Should I warn others? Is there someone I’m supposed to tell? There's a lot of information out there on encounters with bears in the wild, but I know close to nothing about what to do when I see a bear in town.

After that incident, I make sure to carry bear spray whenever I’m running around in the woods, even in town and popular trails near town. For added convenience, I tried out the Hey Bear SCAT Belt and was impressed with its utility. It has quickly become my go-to canister case when hiking and biking in bear country. The spray is held securely on my waist, instead of bouncing around like it does with other holsters. There are even loops and pockets to hold my phone and keys while I run.

With Bozeman’s sprawl continuing to encroach on wild places, bear encounters are becoming more common. Since 2010, Big Sky’s population has increased by over 25 percent and Bozeman has grown even more—over 30 percent in the past 12 years. Run-ins with wildlife are inevitable. It’s important to remember that despite the potential feeling of security you might have in and around these towns, this turf was prime bear territory not so long ago.

When it comes to animal encounters of any kind, one must stay cognizant and cautious. Being prepared and knowing how to respond is key to staying safe and allowing bears to thrive naturally. Bears are an important piece of the ecosystem, and they add a unique and rugged quality to the region, which, let’s face it, is pretty dang cool.

If you encounter a bear in town:
• Remain calm, group up if possible, and slowly back away toward a building or vehicle.
• If you have a dog with you, bring it to heel or put it on a leash.
• If you have small children, pick them up and back away as you move toward safety.
• Let others in the area know of the bear.
• Once you're in a safe place, call wildlife officials to report a bear in town. You will be asked the location, what type of bear, size, and what it was doing.
• If walking on trails where bears frequent, carry bear spray in a holster and keep it easily accessible. Make sure you know how to use it. Practice makes perfect.
• To report a sighting or encounter, call Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks at (406) 577-7900.

Preventing encounters:
• Keep your yard clear of wildlife attractants such as garbage, compost, recycling, dog food, bird feeders, grills, and fruit-bearing shrubs and trees. Pick fruit immediately once it’s ripe.
• When walking in town, always keep your dog under control or on leash, and children close by.
• Teach your children to group up and slowly back away if they see bears in town.
• Talk to your local government about creating a bear-smart community and getting bear-resistant garbage bins in town to reduce conflicts.
• Close and lock vehicles, with the windows rolled up.

For more information on bear safety, local news, and functional outdoor apparel, check out Hey Bear is a social-impact brand that advocates for a safe and responsible human-bear coexistence, while actively giving back to support bears in their natural habitat.