Seeley Lake native mauled by grizzly
August 6, 2020
CHOTEAU - Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks on Monday still had five grizzly bear traps east of Choteau where a grizzly mauled rural Teton County resident Shanun Rammell on July 27, but a ground and air search has failed so far to find the bear.
Rammell, who was hospitalized at Benefis Health System in Great Falls, was bitten on both hands, his forearms, his shoulders and his back and sustained scratches, gouges and puncture wounds. He underwent surgery to repair the damage to his right hand. He is no longer in the hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.
FWP public relations spokesman Greg Lemon of Helena on July 31 said FWP deployed Choteau Game Warden Rod Duty and Grizzly Bear Specialist Wesley Sarmento of Conrad and other personnel to the area where the attack took place on a farm in the vicinity of 10th Road North and Division Lane.
Lemon said the FWP personnel set five traps on July 27 to try to capture the bear, which Rammell described as a cinnamon-colored subadult male, possibly three years old, and weighing 200-300 pounds. On July 28, FWP began an aerial search, using Two Bear Air from Kalispell since the agency's own aircraft were doing planned biological research work.
Lemon said the helicopter team searched a wide area and did not see any bears.
He said FWP has been called to this area twice in the past year but he could not say whether this bear was the same bear or bears that had been reported in December 2019 and June 2020.
Rammell, 50, in an interview from his hospital bed last week, said he believes this bear has been in the area since last fall as he saw bear tracks on his property during the winter, indicating that the bear had denned in the area.
"He never left," Rammell said, adding that he chased this bear off his property twice with his pickup after the bear tried to get to his children's 4-H pigs and once when they saw the bear digging up anthills beneath snow.
This spring, he said, the bear was at his house again, leaving tracks. A friend of the family's got pictures of the bear that time, he said.
Rammell, his wife Jamie, and nine of their 10 children, live on a homestead at Division Lane and 10th Road, about 14 miles east of Choteau. Rammell works as a logger out of Lincoln, selling firewood bundles to stores in Great Falls and the area. His family raises chickens, goats and 4-H pigs and has a garden. He grew up in the Seeley Lake area, but has lived here for the past 30 or so years.
He said the attack happened on property owned by his neighbors, brothers Howard and Eddie Bouma, a few miles from his own home. He and his wife, along with their 12-year-old daughter Leisal were on their way back from dropping off firewood to Great Falls customers. Earlier the Boumas had told him that there were bear tracks at a pond located between their properties. They decided to go to the pond and look at the tracks to see whether they matched tracks of the bear that had been hanging around, he said.
Rammell said he looked at the tracks and they appeared to be from a bear of the same size. In the area, there is an old barn, where the Boumas a few years ago had dumped out some old grain. Rammell said he went to the barn to see whether there was still grain there that could be attracting a bear to the area.
He said the Boumas use the pond for hauling water and the barn was only about 50 yards from the pond. He said he was concerned for his two elderly neighbors' safety if there was an attractant so close to the pond.
While Jamie and Leisal stayed in the truck, Rammell got out to investigate. He looked in the doorway of the barn, looking first to the right and then to the left. "That bear was in the corner," he said. "All I heard was a growl and that bear came out of there 100 mph."
Rammell, who was unarmed, said he ran about 10 feet, tripped in the waist-high barley and the bear ran past him, then whirled and as Rammell stood up, attacked.
"I grabbed him by the ears and I was punching him in the face," he said. "He didn't like that. He just went to gnawing on my arms as I was trying to hold onto him."
The bear knocked him to the ground and scratched his back and bit at his shoulders. At one point, the bear tossed him in the air. "The worst part about it is when he was on me, he stunk so bad," Rammell said.
While Leisal was screaming, Jamie jumped into action. She drove through the barley and was able to haze the bear off Shanun, he said.
He jumped up, covered in his own blood, and got in the driver's seat. He drove north until they came to North Division Lane. At that point, he said, he started going into shock and Jamie drove the rest of the way to Benefis Teton Medical Center in Choteau.
The BTMC trauma team stabilized him and then he was taken by Mercy Flight to Benefis in Great Falls.
Rammell said that despite reports on social media and television news, he was not looking for the bear. He was looking for any dumped grain that could attract a bear and would need to be removed. He clarified that he found no old grain at the barn.
"I'm just glad that Howard wasn't down there. He hauls water all the time. He's by himself. If that bear had come out of there, he could easily have killed Howard," Rammell said, adding that this bear is not scared of humans.
He said Leisal is still pretty traumatized from witnessing the attack and can't sleep at night.
He said by his count this bear has gotten into trouble five times and needs to be trapped and removed from the population. "I think he would have ate me right there if Jamie hadn't been there," he said. "I think he was starving."
Rammell said the family has seen different bears in the area for at least the past four years so they know they live in grizzly country.
"I don't care if there's a bear up there, but I don't want him close to the house," he said. "It's unsafe for bears to be in buildings." He said the Boumas are now considering destroying the old, unused barn.
"I just don't want him up at the house by all our little kids," he said, adding that the children routinely feed the pigs at 6 a.m. Having a bear hanging around is too dangerous. "We won't stand a chance if this guy sticks around."
Lemon said FWP advises Montanans who are working or recreating outdoors to be aware that the grizzly bear population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (which includes the Rocky Mountain Front) is expanding and bears are ranging east of the Front, following creeks and rivers.
"The bear numbers are increasing and their populations are expanding," he said. "Just because you are not close to the mountains doesn't mean you're not in grizzly bear country."
Sarmento on Monday said he responded to a report of a grizzly bear in the town of Dutton on July 30 at about 11:30 p.m. He said the reporting party saw the bear near Second Avenue North and North Central Avenue. The person who observed the bear went back out to look for it, armed with a shotgun, Sarmento said, but could not find the bear.
"We searched Dutton top to bottom on Friday [July 31] and found no bear tracks, scat or any kind of sign that a bear had been feeding on anything in town," he said, making it likely that the bear was just passing through as bears have on several occasions in the past several years.
In regard to the Rammell situation, Sarmento said the two reports of bears in the area where the attack occurred happened in December 2019, when a person reported a cub of the year eating a grain spill in front of a grain bin. He said there was no damage to the bin and a FWP warden hazed the bear away. A trap was set, but the bear never returned.
The second report came on June 8, when someone driving to work in the morning reported a bear running across the road. Again, Sarmento said, FWP looked for the bear but could not find it. He clarified that no one in the Rammell family had reported either of those sightings.
Lemon said people who see a bear or bear sign in their area should report it. "Give us a call and we will respond," he said, adding that FWP does not want people to compromise their safety when a bear is in the area and wants people to know how to safely use a vehicle to haze a bear away from their homes and yards.
Lemon said FWP reminds rural residents to keep anything that could attract a bear - a grain spill, pet food, livestock carcasses or household garbage - cleaned up and to secure all outbuildings so bears cannot get into them.