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  • John Livingston

Hunters Should Be Aware Of Bears, Lions In The Field

It is important for everyone recreating in Colorado to understand and react to the warning signs a large predator may send their direction.

Each year, hunters in the field encounter black bears and mountain lions and in rare instances must be prepared to defend themselves from an aggressive animal. It is important for everyone recreating in Colorado to know how to react and understand the warning signs a large predator may send their direction.

Every encounter with these charismatic creatures can be different. Here is a closer look at the warning signs and what you should do if you encounter a bear or mountain lion while on a big-game hunt.CPW asks that anyone who encounters an aggressive bear or mountain lion report it to the nearest CPW office. The Gunnison office can be reached at 970-641-7060.

Black Bears

Colorado is home to an estimated population of 17,000 to 20,000 black bears. While aggressive behavior is rare, bears may be unpredictable and there have been three documented bear attacks on a human in Colorado in 2023. With that said, experience has shown that the majority of conflict with wild bears is avoidable, and for hunters that starts with keeping a clean campsite.

“Unsecured food and trash remains the leading cause of human-bear conflict,” said CPW Area Wildlife Manager Brandon Diamond. “Maintaining a clean camp and securing food away from camp is the best way to keep bears away from your campsite.

“For successful hunters, meat management at camp is also a good thing to think about. If you can hang your meat out of reach of bears, that really helps. We seem to have instances every fall where a bear drags a quarter out of camp, which leads to problems for the hunters and bears. The last thing we want is for wild bears to associate hunting camps with food rewards.”

When encountered in the wild, black bears are usually wary of humans and will look to turn and go the other way. For those without a valid bear hunting license in their pocket, if you find yourself in close quarters with a bear, or happen across a bear on a food source (think elk or deer carcass), simply back away or give them plenty of room to escape. Wild black bears seldom attack unless they feel threatened, cornered or are provoked. Many hunters carry bear spray these days, which is proven to be an effective, non-lethal tool in many conflict situations.

If You Surprise a Bear on a Trail

  • Stand still, stay calm and let the bear identify you and leave. Talk in a normal tone of voice. Be sure the bear has an escape route.

  • Never run or climb a tree. 

  • If you see cubs, their mother is usually close by. Leave the area immediately.

If the Bear Doesn’t Leave 

  • A bear standing up is just trying to identify what you are by getting a better look and smell. 

  • Wave your arms slowly overhead and talk calmly. If the bear huffs, pops its jaws or stomps a paw, it wants you to give it space. 

  • Step off the trail, keep looking at the bear and slowly back away until the bear is out of sight.

If the Bear Approaches

  • A bear knowingly approaching a person could be a food-conditioned bear looking for a handout or, very rarely, an aggressive bear. Don’t concede to this behavior: instead, stand your ground. Yell or throw small rocks in the direction of the bear.

  • Get out your bear spray and use it when the bear is about 40 feet away. 

  • If you’re attacked, don’t play dead. Fight back with anything available. People have successfully defended them­selves with pen knives, trekking poles, and even bare hands.

Mountain Lions

Colorado is also home to an estimated 3,000 to 7,000 mountain lions, with studies ongoing around the state to get a better understanding of their density. One such study is currently being conducted in Gunnison.

“Mountain lions are rarely seen but are common throughout western Colorado,” said CPW senior wildlife biologist Jamin Grigg. “They prey primarily on deer and elk and are likely to be present anywhere deer and elk are abundant. They are generally shy around humans but are also very curious, similar to house cats.”

Mountain lion attacks are relatively rare. There have been 25 known attacks of a mountain lion on a human in Colorado since 1990. Oftentimes, protective behavior by a mountain lion can be mistaken with predatory behavior.

Grigg said mountain lions are ambush predators, meaning they rely on stealth and secrecy when hunting.

“If a lion allows you to see it, it’s likely not acting in a predatory manner,” he said. 

What is observed more commonly is protective behavior by mountain lions when they make an effort to direct a human away from a food source or its young kittens. Protective behavior can include bluff-charging – an act in which the lion will behave aggressively by walking toward a person and gesturing with its paws while vocalizing.

“When you see that, a lion likely has a kill or kittens nearby and is simply trying to encourage you to leave the area,” Grigg said. “Bluff-charging is a protective behavior.”

If You Encounter a Mountain Lion

  • Do not approach a lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.

  • Stay calm when you come upon a lion. Talk calmly and firmly to it. Move slowly.

  • Stop or back away slowly, if you can do it safely. Running may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright.

  • Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you’re wearing one.

  • If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. What you want to do is convince the lion you are not prey and that you may in fact be a danger to the lion.

  • Fight back if a lion attacks you. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have fought back with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools and their bare hands successfully. Remain standing or try to get back up!


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