After Surgery, a One-Eyed Grizzly is Released Back into the Wild

By JUSTIN FRANZ for the Flathead Beacon

Bear shot in the face by a bird hunter. Veterinarian Dan Savage operates on the eye of the female grizzly.

It’s not often a grizzly bear goes under the knife for surgery. But Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Tim Manley says a female grizzly caught near Ferndale was no normal bruin.

On Oct. 7, an adult female grizzly charged a bird hunter near Bigfork. The hunter shot the bear in the face as it advanced. Two weeks later, FWP caught the grizzly and a local veterinarian removed her damaged eye. The bear and its cub were released last week.

“This is the first time we’ve done something like this, but it was a special circumstance,” said Manley, grizzly bear management specialist for FWP.

Manley said the attack on Oct. 7 was unprovoked. The grouse hunter was sitting on a knoll when he first saw the bear and her cub walk past, about 75 feet away, according to Manley. As the bears walked by, the mother turned to the hunter and started walking toward him.

The hunter started making noise in hopes of scaring the bear away but instead it charged him. With a 20-gauge shotgun, the hunter fired at the bear when it was about 16 feet away, Manley said. The wounded bear turned and ran away.

An injured female grizzly bear is shown inside a Montana FWP bear trap. The bruin had been wounded earlier in the week when it surprised a hunter.

The hunter reported the incident to FWP and Manley said officials tracked the bear. Initially, officials decided against trapping it, but when it moved into the populated Ferndale area, Manley said they had no choice. On Oct. 21, FWP crews caught the grizzly and her cub.
“Once we had captured her and inspected her, we saw that she was in pretty rough shape from the shotgun blast,” Manley said.

Kalispell veterinarian Dr. Dan Savage sedated the bear a few days later and removed the grizzly’s eye and eye tissue, applied stitches and cleaned the infected area of the face. Manley said a specialist kept an eye on the bear for two days, until releasing her and the cub on Oct. 24 near Spotted Bear.

This wasn’t the first time the bear and her cub were captured by FWP. According to spokesperson John Fraley, the two were captured earlier this year along the east front of the Rockies and moved to the east side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir.Manley hopes the bear will wander deep into the wilderness and den for the winter. With winter quickly approaching, Manley said he is not concerned about the bear returning to populated areas, though it is currently wearing a radio tag to track its movements.

Manley said the bear is expected to live a normal life and added that only having one eye shouldn’t hinder her too much. Although, Manley did say there could be one long-lasting effect of the run-in with the bird hunter.

“She may be pretty leery of people now,” he said.