From a hundred yards away Vic Workman could see the grizzly charging, froth building on the edges of its gaping mouth as it roared.
Workman, who was hunting near Whitefish last month when he encountered the bear, says he had only seconds to decide what to do. At first he started hollering at the bear, “Ho bear! Ho bear!”
But it kept coming, fast. The bear was less than 20 feet away when he fired his rifle from the hip.
The bullet may have hit. It may have missed. All Workman knows is that the bear charged past him, and he’s alive.
“I didn’t even have time to think of death. The whole event was over in about four seconds,” he says. “And you know, the thing is, you ask any bear expert and they’ll tell you hollering at the bear wasn’t that great an idea to begin with.”
The frightening brush with an aggressive bruin provoked Workman, a Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) commissioner, to action. Using his authority on the FWP commission, which makes decisions on wildlife management, he intends to push for a limited grizzly hunt and get the bears off the federal endangered species list.
“We would have a chance to not train, but retrain the bear’s attitudes with humans,” he says. “We could teach them to avoid man.”
But bear biologist Chris Servheen, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly recovery coordinator, says there’s a gap in Workman’s logic. “Dead bears don’t learn,” he says.
Moreover, bear encounters are rare, with few people ever encountering a grizzly, he says.
Workman understands Servheen’s perspective, but categorically rejects it, arguing that the grizzly population has recovered and will become increasingly problematic for humans.
“Anybody who would suggest that hunting a grizzly, we wouldn’t change its attitude, isn’t paying attention,” he says.
Regardless of Workman’s attitude and his position as an FWP Commissioner, de-listing the grizzly would take years.
“We need to study this population more to ensure the population increase is more than fleeting,” Servheen says.