A grizzly bear Roams a field in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. GETTY IMAGES

Grizzly bears

Like the proverbial mountain lion question in Maine, folks who live near the high country in western Colorado are asking: “Are the grizzlies back?”

As with the mountain lion in Maine, wildlife officials in Colorado insist that the grizzly bear was officially ruled to be extinct in that state as of 1953. However, a grizzly popped up in the fall of 1979. Ed Wiseman, an outfitter, was bow hunting elk when he had an encounter. He awakened the big bear from its nap. The bear slapped the hunter’s bow out of his grip and begin chewing on Wiseman’s leg. Amazingly enough, though badly mauled, the elk hunter managed to save himself by stabbing the bear repeatedly with one of his broadhead arrows. The bear died from its wounds, and you can view the apex predator’s skeleton and hide at the Denver Museum of Science.

Colorado was once home to thousands of grizzly bears. Colorado wildlife officials are adamant: there are no plans to reintroduce these big bears in Colorado. Animal rights activists in Boulder and other liberal enclaves on the Eastern Slope are agitating to bring back the grizzly bear to the Colorado high country.

For obvious reasons, cattle ranchers, hunters and other interest groups want no part of a grizzly reintroduction program! Not unlike the gray wolf, which is migrating into other Western states from Montana and Yellowstone, it seems likely that the grizzly bear eventually will find its way back to the Colorado Rockies, if it hasn’t already. In just two years, the Yellowstone grizzly has expanded its home territory by 1,500 miles!

Recently, during a backpacking elk hunt in Colorado’s Rout National Forest, our group saw more bear tracks in the new snow than we had seen in 20 years of hunting the same area. During the hunt week, elk hunters camped above us returned from a day’s hunt to find their entire tent site destroyed by a brazen bear pillaging in midday! Tents, sleeping bags and sundry gear were all ripped to shreds by an aggressive bear.

We asked ourselves: “Would a Maine black bear be as bold?” A friend who is a seasoned Colorado bear hunter insists that this would not be out of character for a Colorado black bear looking for a free lunch. The friend also believes that an occasionally grizzly bear passes through western Colorado.

After having punched my elk tag early in the five-day hunt, I drew bear-guard duty for the rest of the week at our tent site. A nearby loaded rifle and a warming campfire not far from my hanging elk quarters were my companions for the next three days.

As it turned out, bone-chilling cold and an occasional coyote howl from across the drainage were our only adversaries during three days of bear guard duty.

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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