Man Injured in Grizzly Encounter Near Dubois

Wildlife managers say the surprise encounter does not warrant trapping or killing the bear

Grizzly bears, native to Wyoming, can be dangerous if they’re startled or surprised. Experts believe that the bear that injured a man on August 5 near Dubois, was surprised and behaved defensively. (Photo courtesy of Walt Ackeman/JH Bear Solutions)

By Melissa Thomasma

Special to the Wyoming Truth

A man working in the Sheridan Creek Drainage in the Shoshone National Forest — about 17 miles west of Dubois — was injured by a grizzly bear Saturday morning, the Wyoming Game & Fish Department announced.

The man was conducting survey work when he encountered a lone grizzly bear at close range.  The agency reported that “the incident occurred too quickly for the individual to deploy bear spray, and once the bear made contact the man dropped and covered his head and neck and did not fight back.” The grizzly left the scene after the encounter.

The injured man left the scene and contacted 911. Deputies from the Fremont County Sheriff’s Department and a local ambulance responded, and the man was flown to a Lander hospital, according to the agency. Breanna Ball, public information officer for Wyoming Game & Fish, told the Wyoming Truth that the man was released from the hospital Sunday morning.

“We cannot stress enough how bravely this man responded to this situation. Had he reacted in a different manner, there may have been more significant injuries sustained,” Ball said.

Agency representatives interviewed the man before he was taken to the hospital. As a result of investigations on the ground and via drone, “Game & Fish located the area of the incident and found sign of where the bear had daybeds and scat, indicating the bear had primarily been grazing on wild berries and digging,” Ball said.

The agency’s investigation reinforced their initial instincts—that the bear was behaving in a defensive manner and isn’t a threat to humans.  

“Human/bear conflicts are handled on a case-by-case basis,” Ball said. “Generally speaking, we always attempt to determine if the injuries were due to a surprise encounter [aggressive/defensive grizzly bear behavior] or a rare predatory encounter. In the latter case, we would work expeditiously to remove the target animal,” she said.

Ball said that in all cases involving a bear and human, a team of highly trained experts analyze data points surrounding an incident before determining a management path, including cause and severity of the incident, the bear’s behavior, age, sex, reproductive status, injuries, level of habituation and level of food conditioning. Based on the information investigators discovered about the Aug. 5 incident, Ball confirmed that wardens are not pursuing the animal.

“First and foremost, we want to wish the individual a quick and successful recovery,” Jason Hunter, Lander Regional Wildlife Supervisor, said in the agency’s statement. “His split-second reaction to this sudden, defensive encounter with a bear was the best possible response to this unfortunate situation.”

Jim Laybourn, director of the Jackson Hole Bear Solutions program, told the Wyoming Truth that he agreed with Hunter’s comment and the agency’s assessment that the bear reacted in a defensive manner.  

“Surprise encounters like that can happen really quickly; I’m glad to hear that he was carrying bear spray,” he said.

Though the victim did not deploy the spray in time, Laybourn said the man’s understanding and use of an effective defensive response quite possibly saved his life. 

“Especially when someone is alone and not making much noise, it’s easy for the bear to not hear you coming,” he said. “I applaud the Game & Fish decision to investigate but not hunt down this bear for acting in a totally normal way. I wish this individual a swift and thorough recovery. And I hope that this can be a reminder to us all that these things can happen in the blink of an eye. Being prepared and informed about being in bear country is critically important.”

The Aug. 5 grizzly encounter occurred just weeks after a hiker was killed outside of West Yellowstone on the Buttermilk Creek trail. The bears in the fatal encounter — believed to be a sow and cub — were not located following the incident.

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