Shotgun ammo ineffective for deterring bear

On July 15, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks received a report of an injured black bear dragging its lower body in the foothills of Kila. The following morning, the bear was euthanized because of its injuries.

 Veterinarians at Central Valley Animal Hospital X-rayed the animal and discovered it was shot with birdshot and likely a pistol. The trash contents in the bear's stomach indicated that it had visited a residential garbage can. The birdshot pellets broke several vertebrae in front of the bear's pelvis and inflicted extensive damage to the soft tissue surrounding the area. According to the veterinarian, the sciatic nerve was likely disturbed, leaving the bear partially paralyzed.

 It is a common misconception that shotgun ammunition is a good way to chase away a bear. In reality, target or bird-hunting shot is an ineffective solution that often leads to unnecessary outcomes.

Bears have relatively thin skin and shotgun ammunition can be extremely harmful and even lethal. Also, this class of ammunition is most commonly made of lead pellets, which can be poisonous to the bear as well as any scavenger that consumes it after death. 

"Some people are under the false impression that 'peppering' a bear with a shotgun is a safe way to discourage a troublesome bear," said Dr. Dennis Dugger of Central Valley Animal Hospital. "The shot is actually very harmful and often leads to blindness, infection and even death."

 The use of birdshot often results in a debilitating injury that can create an inability for the animal to sustain itself on natural food sources, creating a larger management issue.

 It is illegal to harm, harass or kill grizzly bears, which are federally protected as a threatened species. It is also illegal to feed wildlife such as bears.

 "I don't recommend shooting towards bears with firearms or even BB-guns to scare them out of your trash," Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Game Warden Captain Lee Anderson said. "It is often an ineffective hazing tool and depending on the circumstances, it can be illegal. We have investigated cases of people intending to scare bears and inadvertently killing them with small caliber rifles (.22), birdshot from shotguns or ricochets from other firearms."

 The best way to avoid conflicts with bears is to remove or secure food attractants. If a bear does not receive a food reward it is far less likely to show up in the first place or return. 

 Attractants are often items such as garbage, pet and livestock food, birdfeeders and fruit trees. However, attractants can also include livestock, compost, gardens, outdoor food cookers and beehives.

 The best way to secure an attractant is to make it inaccessible to the animal by containing it within a secure hard-sided building (a structure with four-sided walls, roof and door). Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) certified bear-resistant containers are useful in preventing the bear from learning that garbage could become a food source.

If containment inside a secure structure is not practical, properly installed and maintained electric fencing is a very effective tool. Loud noise, such as banging pots and pans, using an air horn or your car alarm or shouting, is also a simple yet effective short-term way to deter a bear. Other temporary and short-term deterrents include high decibel motion-activated alarms, sprinkler systems, motion lights and radios turned on at night. 

 Deterrents like electric fences don't prevent bears from smelling the attractant but prevent the animal from obtaining a food reward. It is also possible that you are taking all the proper steps toward deterring a bear conflict, but your neighbor may not be, and a bear could be using your property to access their food source. In circumstances like these, some negative conditioning/non-lethal animal repelling techniques like those listed above could be applicable. 

It is very important to always remain at a safe distance - at least 100 feet – from a bear. Often yelling and shouting accompanied by turning on lights are enough to deter a bear and convince them to leave the area. FWP recommends people carry bear spray in the outdoors and know how to use it.

 FWP Grizzly Bear Conflict Management staff have created a Facebook page to connect people throughout the Flathead Valley who either want to pick fruit and/or have their fruit trees picked. Having your fruit trees picked can minimize bears getting into people's trees and hanging around people's property. Find more info at

Residents are encouraged to report bear activity as soon as possible. To report grizzly bear activity in the greater Flathead Valley, call FWP bear management specialists at 406-250-1265. To report black bear and mountain lion activity in the greater Flathead Valley, call 406-250-0062.

For information about bears in Missoula County visit


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