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ENNIS -- A sow bear with two cubs bit two hunters on Saturday afternoon in the North Fork of Bear Creek in the Madison Mountains southeast of Ennis.

The hunters were working through timber about 1 p.m. on a slope about three miles from their vehicle when they startled the bears, said Roger Thompson, Madison County undersheriff.

The bear charged one hunter, a 60-year-old man from Helmville, and bit his thigh. The bear then turned on another hunter, a 41-year-old man from Manhattan, and bit him on the shoulder.

"It was very quick," Thompson said. "The one gentlemen was ready to shoot the bear, but the bear had his friend and he didn't want to shoot him."

The bear ran off after biting the second hunter. Thompson said the third hunter in the group was not attacked.

Thompson said the hunters reported that it looked like a grizzly bear. He said it was unclear whether any of the hunters was carrying pepper spray.

The hunter who had been bitten on the thigh could not walk, so the group sent the man who was uninjured to get help. He hiked out and went to the nearest ranch house to call emergency responders.

A helicopter from Idaho Falls was dispatched and landed at the ranch house. But Thompson said the terrain was too rugged and timbered for a helicopter to land near the injured hunters.

A Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden and U.S. Forest Service law officer joined Madison County Search and Rescue volunteers and the third hunter to get the two injured men out. They rode in on horses, starting in the dark about 6:30 p.m., Thompson said.

They reached the hunters after more than three hours and brought them out. The two men were transported in an ambulance to Madison Valley Hospital in Ennis, and then taken to Bozeman for further treatment.