If you are planning a backcountry hunt or fishing adventure in Montana, bears are always part of the equation. We have plenty of black bears but big grizzlies are the real danger. We can coexist without issues but you must be aware of their presence and take precautions to avoid an encounter. Respect their space and habitat, travel with caution and be prepared to defend yourself.
Spray vs. Guns
The bear spray vs gun debate is a fun subject and everyone has an opinion. Pistols are effective but you must be a skilled shooter. Accuracy and speed are important. .44 and .454 Casull are good calibers for bears. Short barreled shotguns with alternating loads of buckshot and slugs are a great choice as well. They weigh more and are more difficult to carry but the combination of buckshot spray and heavy slugs is enough to stop a bear without requiring perfect accuracy.
Bear spray is a heavy duty version of pepper spray. It packs easily on your hip and requires little accuracy. Carry bear spray if you want the lightest weight defense system that requires little skill to use. The holsters are easy to hand of backpack straps and the spray covers a large area, leaving less room for error.
Bear proof food containers are required in many areas and should be utilized even when they are not mandatory. Bear proof coolers are easy to find and food storage containers are easily bought or rented in Montana. Keeping your food sealed and out of the way will deter bears from your camp area. Hang food from trees at night. Hang the food at least 100-yards away from your campsite to avoid drawing bears into the camp.
Look for campsites that have already been used in the past. This is a good Leave No Trace ethic that prevents the landscape showing use. Choose sites that have some open area that allows for a view. Dense brush can cause accidental run-ins as bears follow scents and have no warning that you are present. Keep a clean campsite and pack out everything you pack-in to prevent bears from visiting the sites in the future.
On the Move
Make noise as you hike and travel through the backcountry. Bears rarely want an encounter with people and they will leave when you make noise. Moving in silence and surprising a bear increases your chances of an attack. Let them know you are coming and travel in groups if possible. Adding a few people to your party decreases the odds of an attack.