Young Grizzlies Accused of Killing 71 Sheep, Bear Hunting Magazine

Wildlife officials hope to capture two young grizzly bears suspected in a sheep killing spree. Traps will remain in place until Friday in an effort to capture the the one remaining young grizzly bears that is suspected in what one government trapper says is the worst sprees he has ever seen.

The bears are blamed for killing 71 lambs and ewes in pastures south of Choteau between June 11 and July 9. Mike Hoggan, of Valier, is a trapper with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services. He says most bears do not kill sheep, and the few that do, do not usually stop.

A grizzly bear management specialist with Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Mike Madel, says a captured female would likely be relocated to the west side of the Rocky Mountains. He says the fate of a male "would be open for discussion." Madel stated that they likely were responsible for the initial depradation, when the most sheep were killed. In two subsequent instances when fewer sheep were killed, one bear was probably involved.

"A lot of these kills aren't even fed on," Mike Hoggan said. "It kind of looks like (they are) doing this partly for fun." The only similar case he can recall came 10 or 12 years ago when a bear killed 50 ewes, he said. Hoggan's been capturing bears for 17 of his 30 years of trapping.

Hoggan actually nabbed the main suspect in a foot snare July 13. It was a young bear, maybe weighing 250 pounds, with blond hair. However, the grizzly put the slip on the veteran trapper.

After discovering the catch, Hoggan and Madel walked 100 yards to a pickup truck to mix a tranquilizer to sedate the bear. When they left the trap, the bear was on its back, using its free paw to try to remove the snare. They returned 20 minutes later with the tranquilizer, but the bear was gone.

"This is like maybe one in a million deal," Hoggan said. Two foot snares, each baited with sardines, will remain in place until Friday while Hoggan checks them each morning.

"He probably left the area," Hoggan said. Grizzlies that kill sheep typically do not stay out of trouble, he added. "Eventually, he'll find some sheep somewhere else."

The killing began the night of June 11 at a pasture leased by Zane Drishinski a mile south of Choteau on the Teton River. That night, 24 ewes and 34 lambs were killed. The next night, Drishinski endured thick mosquitoes swarms to guard the site, but saw only deer.

The bear or bears struck Drishinski's sheep again three weeks later, on July 8. Three ewes and five lambs were killed, bringing the death toll to 66. The next evening, a bear killed four ewes and a lamb at the Miller residence, which is half a mile downriver from Drishinski's pasture, bringing the total number of sheep killed to 71.

"He'll be back, in my opinion," Drishinski said Wednesday. He is frustrated because landowners cannot legally harass bears to protect their livestock.

"Who can stand to take that kind of hit, and then there's nobody responsible for these bears," he said, adding his losses total about $7,500.

Northwest Montana grizzlies are a federally protected threatened species. Hoggan said the Teton River is a hot spot for bears, so most property owners with sheep use guard dogs or electric fences.

Drishinski's flock is now being guarded by an Anatolian shepherd bred to protect sheep from bears, wolves and other predators.

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