Montana is renowned for its glorious outdoor scenery, including the magnificent Glacier National Park and part of Yellowstone National Park. The natural beauty includes abundant wildlife, including bears, both Grizzly bears and Black bears.
With the combination of people using this outdoor space for recreational opportunities where bears are living in their natural environment, it raises the chances of encounters and potential bear attacks in Montana.
Several years ago, I went on a week-long hiking trip to Glacier National Park and hiked by myself on many of the most popular trails. It gave me pause to occasionally see the signs at trailheads that this is Grizzly Bear country, complete with a warning to not hike alone.
Not having a companion, I did hike fortunately without incident (only seeing a bear far away in a pasture) but wondered about how often there are bear attacks in Montana and what to do to prepare against such encounters.
Bear Attacks in Montana
Are there Grizzly Bears in Montana?
Montana is home to many native grizzly bears. In fact, the state has the largest remaining grizzly bear population in the entire country aside from Alaska.
Grizzly bears were historically a common feature in Montana and at one time they would have frequented the majority of the state. The journals of Lewis and Clark contained many references to the bears although eventually, these same grizzly populations dwindled from an estimated 50,000 or more to less than 1,000.
The grizzly bears in Montana range from light brown to black in color and it’s not uncommon for males to weigh between 400 and 500 pounds and stand more than 8 feet tall on their hind legs.
There are always mixed feelings about bears in terms of both their iconic value and the danger that they can represent. The grizzly bears in Montana typically start to emerge from their temporary winter dens around March or April in springtime and continue to actively hunt and feed for six to eight months.
How Many Have Occurred In Montana?
Montana is prime bear country. The area along the Continental Divide that includes Glacier National Park has seen 11 fatal bear attacks in the last 50 years.
As for Glacier National Park, there have been only 10 bear-related fatalities in the history of the park (all since 1967 when two young women were killed the same August night during what was subsequently called the Night of the Grizzlies, and prompted major changes to park bear policy).
Regarding Yellowstone National Park, over the past 20 years, there have been eight fatal maulings of people by grizzlies.
At the end of the article, we have compiled a list of fatal bear attacks in Montana along with its connected parks in other states. This will give the reader an idea of both what has happened in the past and how to practice proper safety to ensure their own safety.
Where Are Attacks Most Likely To Happen?
The Grizzly bear is the official animal of Montana, and the species usually resides in the western parts of the state. Black bears reside across most of the state.
The most active U.S. national parks for bears are Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Denali National Park, Glacier Bay National Park and Katmai National Park.
What Are The Reasons For The Increase In Bear Attacks?
Grizzly bears are responsible for most fatal bear attacks. In the lower 48 states, they have been listed as an endangered species since 1975. Then there were only about 700 and 800 grizzlies in the continental U.S. Today, that total has risen to over 2,000 animals.
Grizzly bears have had more human encounters in the Northern Rockies over the ten years as the federally protected animals expanded into new areas and the number of people moving into the region and doing outdoor recreational activities expanded.
Why Do Bears Attack Humans?
Several factors contribute to bear attacks. It may be that a mother bear is protecting her cubs, or a bear is defending its food source. Or it can simply result by surprising the bear, which becomes startled and defensive.
What Times of The Year Is A Bear Attack More Likely?
Be especially careful with outdoor recreational activities in the fall, when bears enter what’s called hyperphagia, where they seek as much food as possible before hibernating. This means more active bears, and a higher chance of bear attacks in Montana.
Grizzly Bears in Montana During Hibernation
When hibernating Grizzly bears in Montana will dig or locate dens between 6,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation on land with a 30-to-6o-degree slope with Northern exposure. During this time bears may lose 15 to 30 percent of their body weight. Female bears will nurse their cubs in the den.
Needless to say, under no circumstances should you approach a bear den when exploring Montana.
How Many Grizzly Bears are in Glacier National Park?
Most people are aware that Glacier National Park is also bear country. However, if you are wondering just how common they are likely to be within the park, the Bear Monitoring Program estimates the current population numbers at around 300.
How Many Bear Attacks are there in Glacier National Park?
Bear attacks are rare in the park considering the millions of visitors every year. There are on average just one or two reported ‘bear’ incidents in any given year, and the national park in fact has ten recorded incidents in the past thirty years.
Most of these attacks occurred in the instance of a lone hiker unwittingly stumbling across a mother with two cubs. Needless to say, being on the lookout and keeping a good distance is vital, as is staying in groups when possible.
How Many Bear Attacks per year in Montana?
The number of total annual bear attacks across the state can vary greatly according to various factors. In 2019 the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in Montana was the site of 18 potentially hazardous human and bear incidents.
Five people were injured in these attacks although there were, fortunately, no fatalities. The incidents led to the slaughter of two adult bears and confirmed that most grizzly bear attacks in Montana result from surprise close encounters which cause the grizzly bears to attack defensively.
This is especially common where cubs are around or even an animal carcass.
When was the Last Bear Attack in Glacier National Park?
The last major bear incident in the vicinity of the national park occurred in 2016. It happened just outside the park about 3 miles from the west entrance, and a mountain biker was attacked and dragged off by a bear before being mauled.
Reports indicated that the cyclist had in fact most probably collided with the bear while descending a hill at speed, prompting the attack.
Avoiding Bear Attacks in Montana
When you’re outside, whether out hiking or camping, take the necessary precautions to minimize the chance of a bear encounter.
How to Avoid Bears While Hiking
- Travel in groups whenever possible, ideally three or more people, and make noise, which can alert bears to your presence.
- Be aware of your surroundings and look for signs of bears (claw marks, bear scat).
- Stick to marked trails and avoid hiking at sunrise, sunset or at night when bears are more active.
- Don’t leave food or garbage along the trail.
- Carry bear spray and know now how to use it.
- Avoid dead animals that may be a food source for bears.
Bear Safety when Camping
Bears have a great sense of smell, so take the proper precautions with your food, both when cooking it, storing it, or disposing of waste to avoid attracting bears to your campsite.
- Never leave food out.
- Use proper food storage techniques: for storing food, you can use hard-sided bear canisters or bear bags.
- Separate cooking from sleeping areas: sleep at least 200 yards upwind from your food storage and kitchen.
The National Park Service has good information about bear safety on its Glacier National Park website that provides information on hiking and camping precautions and what to do in the event of a bear encounter.
Getting out into the Montana wilderness to hike or camp is an exhilarating experience. But always remember that you are sharing these natural environments with other wild creatures, including bears. Plan your outdoor adventures with this in mind, knowing the safety tips to follow while hiking or camping to lessen the possibility of an unwanted encounter with a bear.
List of Fatal Bear Attacks in Montana and Connected Wilderness Parks
It is always important to be aware of your surroundings and practice proper safety, below is a list of fatal Montana bear attacks (mostly Grizzly bear attacks) and its parks connected with other states. While some of these are tragic accidents, the majority come from ignoring safety precautions — serving as a reminder to prioritize your safety when exploring the Montana wilderness.
2000 to Present
Charles “Carl” Mock, 40, April 17, 2021, West Yellowstone, Montana: While fishing north of West Yellowstone near Baker’s Hold Campground, Charles was mauled by a 20-year-old male grizzly bear believed to be defending a moose carcass. The bear was later shot and killed by wildlife authorities after the bear charged them.
Mark Uptain, 37, September 14, 2018, Teton Wilderness, Wyoming: Uptain was a hunting guide and during a hunt with his client the two got caught off-guard by a 1 1/2-year-old cub while cleaning an elk Carcass. With their gun and bear spray out of reach, a struggle ensued and while both men were injured they both got away. Unfortunately, Mark Uptain ran into the mother bear who took his life. Both bears were euthanized after being captured.
Barbara Paschke, 85, September 27, 2015, west of Kalispell, Montana: Paschke was attacked inside her home near Kalispell by a black bear. Barabara was illegally feeding the animals that kept them returning to her property which led to one attacking her. Two of the bears that she was feeding we found and euthanized, but the one that attacked Barbara was not captured.
Brad Treat, 38, June 29, 2016, Flathead National Forest, Montana: While mountain biking, Treat struck a grizzly bear while going around a blind bend. The grizzly bear attacked him in response and despite his friend running for help, Brad did not survive the encounter. The grizzly was not put down in this case as it was considered a natural response to a surprise physical encounter.
Lance Crosby, 63, August 7, 2015, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming: After being reported missing after failing to come to work, Lance Crosby’s body was found along a hiking trail he frequented, The Elephant Back Loop Trail. It was determined he was killed by a sow Grizzly, which was later captured and put down.
Adam Thomas Stewart, 31, September 4, 2014, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming: Stewart was conducting research along the Bridger-Teton National Forest, and after not returning home was reported missing. He was found in an area known to be frequented by bears, yet they were unable to determine the breed or specific bear that attacked him. Stewart was not carrying bear spray or a gun despite being in a highly inhabited area.
John Wallace, 59, August 24, 2011, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming: Wallace was discovered by hikers along the Mary Mountain Trail, northeast of Old Faithful. The rangers reported that after his body was found that he was advised of safety but had shown disinterest claiming himself a”grizzly bear expert”.
Brian Matayoshi, 57, July 6, 2011, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming: Brian and his wife came across a grizzly in a field and ran when the bear charged. Brad was killed and his wife feigned dead and was left unharmed. An initial investigation determined it was a reaction to protecting cubs, but later after the bear was involved in another encounter it was captured and put down. A later investigation determined that the couple’s running from the bear was a mistake, and the fatal attack was a “one in 3 million occurrence”
Kevin Kammer, 48, July 28, 2010 Gallatin National Forest, Montana: Kramer was pulled from his tent while camping at Soda Butte Campground. Two other campers were attacked. The bear was later captured and euthanized, while her cubs were sent to ZooMontana.
Erwin Frank Evert, 70, June 17, 2010, Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming: Evert was mauled by a grizzly bear while hiking in the Kitty Creek Drainage area of the Shoshone National Forest, just east of Yellowstone National Park. As a field Botanist, he was aware that the area was designated as a bear research area, yet because warning signs were recently removed it was debatable if Evert knew he had stumbled into the restricted area.
Timothy Hilston, 50, October 30, 2001, near Ovando, Montana: Hilston was attacked while cleaning an Elk carcass by a mother Grizzly and her cubs. The bears were later captured and put down.
80’s and the 90’s
Craig Dahl, 26, May 17, 1998, Glacier National Park, Montana: Dahl’s partially consumed remains were found three days after his solo hike into the Two Medicine Area of the Glacier National Park. He was attacked by a mother Grizzly Bear and her two cubs.
John Petranyi, 40, October 3, 1992, Glacier National Park, Montana: Petranyi was attacked by a mother with two cubs on the Loop Trail, near the Granite Park Chalet.
Gary Goeden, 29, July 23, 1987, Glacier National Park, Montana: On a solo hike and going off-trail, Goeden was discovered at Natahki Lake, Many Glacier Valley, Glacier National Park.
Charles Gibbs, 40, April 25, 1987, Glacier National Park, Montana: Last seen alive on the trail of a grizzly bear in the Elk Mountain area for photos, her camera was later recovered showing a female approaching her in attack mode from approx 50 years away.
William Tesinsky, 38, October 5, 1986, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming: Mauled after approaching a grizzly in the Otter Creek area of Hayden Valley trying to capture photos. The bear was discovered and put down.
Brigitta Fredenhagen, 25, July 30, 1984, Yellowstone National Park: Fredenhagen was dragged from her tent while backcountry camping at the southern end of White Lake in Yellowstone National Park.
Roger May, 23, June 25, 1983, Gallatin National Forest, Montana: At the Rainbow Point campground, Roger May was dragged out of his tent and mauled. The Grizzly was later found and put down with poisoned feed.
Laurence Gordon, 33, September 30, 1980, Glacier National Park, Montana: Gordon was killed by a grizzly bear at the Elizabeth Lake campsite in the Belly River Valley, Glacier National Park.
Jane Ammerman, 19, Kim Eberly, 19, male, July 24, 1980, Glacier National Park, Montana: A rare case of two people being attacked, the pair’s remains were found near their campsite at Divide Creek in the St. Mary Valley. The Bear was tracked down and killed by hunters in response to the attack.
70’s and Prior
Mary Pat Mahoney, 22, September 23, 1976, Glacier National Park, Montana: Mahoney was dragged from her tent while camping a Many Glaciers. Two grizzly bears were hunted down and shot dead after the incident.
Harry Walker, 25, June 25, 1972, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming: While camping at Old Faithful Inn, Walker was mauled by a bear who was attracted to his site due to food being left out.
John Richardson, 31, July 25, 1971, near Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado: The first recorded Montana black bear attack in modern era Colorado, Richardson was attacked while camping on private property just west of Rocky Mountain National Park, and north of Grand Lake.
Julie Helgeson & Michele Koons, 19, August 13, 1967, Glacier National Park, Montana: Know as the “night of grizzlies” this day saw two women at two different campgrounds mauled and killed. A sad coincidence, the attacks came from two separate bears. Two days later both Grizzlies were hunted down and shot.
Sam Adams, 45, October 27, 1958, near Ovando, Montana: Adams went missing while hunting near the Continental Divide northeast of Missoula. His rifle was found smashed into pieces, and it was later determined that he was, most likely, attacked and killed by a Grizzly Bear.
Kenneth Scott, 29, male October 22, 1956, near Augusta, Montana: After the hunting party that Scott was with was attacked and shot a bear, Scott decided to return after they fled the area to finish the job. However, after his gun became jammed the bear was able to attack and maul him.
Martha Hansen, 45, August 23, 1942, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming: After leaving her cabin to go to the restroom, Hansen surprised a bear when coming out of the facilities and it attacked her. She dies several days later due to wounds sustained in the struggle.
Joseph B. “Frenchy” Duret, 60, June 12, 1922, Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Montana: Duret was attacked and partially devoured by a Grizzly. Despite the injuries, he was able to crawl back towards his ranch, crawling 1.5-mile (2.4 km) before passing.