A beanbag round fired by a Stillwater County Sheriff’s deputy killed a 60-pound black bear when the projectile struck the bear in the head.
The bear had been repeatedly seen getting food from campers in Itch-Kep-Pe Park near Columbus. The deputy was attempting to scare the bear out of the park Tuesday night when his shot struck it in the head.
Beanbag rounds — inch-square fabric pillows containing lead shotgun pellets — are used by wildlife officials to scare bears and other animals and are also used by police as nonlethal rounds, although they have caused several deaths.
Bear problems have been common this fall in Stillwater County, said Paul Leupke, Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden in Columbus. He has investigated reports of at least three bears in Reed Point, a pair of black bears in the Countryman Creek subdivision southwest of Columbus and a bear near homes along Shane Creek east of Absarokee.
In each instance, Leupke said, the bears are near houses because they have found garbage, food scraps or other attractants.
Justin Paugh, FWP’s wildlife biologist in Big Timber, said bears are seeking anything they can eat at this time of the year as they attempt to build up fat reserves to keep them healthy through hibernation. Garbage cans, bird feeders, barbecue grills, beehives, pet food and apple trees attract bears to populated areas, he said.
Females and cubs should start to den in the next couple of weeks, if temperatures cool, Paugh said. Big male bears will continue to eat into mid-November before they den.
Anyone who leaves food out for bears, even inadvertently, may receive a written warning from game wardens, Leupke said. Repeat offenders may be charged with a misdemeanor.
“We really don’t want to have to write tickets,” he said. “We prefer to educate people and get them to take their garbage inside, away from the bears. We want to prevent a problem.”
Game wardens and biologists are reluctant to tranquilize and move problem bears during the fall hunting season. The general fall black bear season opened Sept. 15 and will run until the harvest quota is filled or Nov. 28, whichever is first.