Grizzly Bear Controversy from the Grand Teton National Park Elk Hunt

Grizzly Bear #399 Behind Spruce Tree

The annual Grand Teton National Park Elk Reduction Hunt has been the subject of controversy for a number of years now, but following the death of a male grizzly along the Snake River, tensions began to escalate between a growing movement of people opposing the hunt, and the park itself.

The hunt has become something of a joke to those who oppose it. They certainly have credence given that many "hunters" can be seen parked along the roadsides south of Blacktail Butte as they sit in their cars with the heater on waiting for elk to wander by, then fire at will as soon as a small herd passes through. Along these lines, I tend to agree with the opposition to the hunt. This behavior is in no way representative of actual hunting. In this case, they needn’t even bring their orange clothing with them since it’s not necessary. If, however, you pack up supplies, and go spend some time in the backcountry tracking and searching for an elk in freezing temperatures, then you’ve earned elk meat for the winter. That is the kind of hunting that has ingrained itself as traditional and respected over the centuries in this country.

With that being said however, I do feel that conducting an elk reduction hunt within a national park is blatant hypocrisy. It completely defies the mission statement of the National Park Service, and given the lackadaisical methods used by many "hunters" inside of the park, only leads one to believe that at one point, a catalyst will show up for a change. Enter a male grizzly bear on a carcass shot dead by a small group of hunters along the Snake River, just north of Moose, Wyoming. Questions regarding this case are still awaiting answers. Bear spray is roughly 100% effective against charging bears, so if they fired it, why wasn’t it effective this time? What was the relationship between the hunters and the bear before it charged? Was it provoked at all? Many more questions are awaiting answers, but some of them may never come out.

As a result of the incident, local park enthusiasts began a petition to permanently end the elk reduction hunt within Grand Teton National Park. While I support an end to this hunt, this knee-jerk reaction could have more disastrous effects than its proponents realize. Two of Grand Teton National Park’s most beloved grizzly bears, #399 and her daughter #610, have become habituated to the hunt in the park, along with many other grizzlies. Every fall they are seen on Antelope Flats and around the Snake River following the gunshots to the nearest gut piles, another controversy in itself. If the hunt were to hypothetically end this year, these two grizzlies, along with many more, would take any cubs they subsequently had into the surrounding national forests where hunters are not required to carry bear spray and where, according to the above article, roughly one-third of grizzlies are killed each year from hunting conflicts in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem alone. Thus far, the total grizzly deaths for this year is 51. Even one-third of that is still substantially more than the one that was killed in the history of the Grand Teton National Park elk hunt, yet still alarmingly large in general considering there are only about 600 grizzlies in the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Nowhere in the petition, though, does it mention creating a buffer zone around the park, or requiring hunters in national forests to begin carrying, and using, bear spray, though admittedly, most hunters will still reach for a gun before bear spray. Incorporating a buffer zone around Grand Teton National Park would at least lead to some of the bears realizing there isn’t food anymore, causing them to simply go hibernate. If this were to go through as is however, it would dramatically increase the chances of two of Grand Teton National Park’s icons of wildlife disappearing for good, minimizing the roadside encounters we currently have with grizzly bears that has brought so much attention to the park recently. It would also endanger the other grizzlies that have become accustomed to Antelope Flats providing them food during the fall. They won’t just go and hibernate if the hunt were to end, they would continue to follow their noses into the national forests where deaths are much more likely to occur.

It’s a rather delicate conundrum that may not have an easy solution to find, but if there is to be a movement to end the hunt for good, let’s make sure it’s done right and is thought through rather than just creating an immediate outcry from a first-time incident in the park. Only through setting aside emotions and biases can we find a solution that minimizes bear casualties that would otherwise occur in areas surrounding Grand Teton National Park.

16 thoughts on “Grizzly Bear Controversy from the Grand Teton National Park Elk Hunt

  1. NO HUNTING inside the Grand Tetons national park…bottom line ….if bear goes outside boundary of the park then that is nature…period ………hunters have no business inside national parks where family and millions come to visit …..at same speaking bears don’t eat just meat ….and they be back inside park for their veggies …..will never disappear by eliminating hunting inside the park …

    Aphoto4you

    1. I agree, Bianca. The hunt should stop sooner than later. Keep in mind though that food is gone by the end of October, so most likely they will go to hibernate, as is the case with most bears in similar regions.

  2. NO HUNTING inside the Grand Tetons national park…bottom line ….if bear goes outside boundary of the park then that is nature…period ………hunters have no business inside national parks where family and millions come to visit …..at same speaking bears don’t eat just meat ….and they be back inside park for their veggies …..will never disappear by eliminating hunting inside the park …

    Aphoto4you

    1. I agree, Bianca. The hunt should stop sooner than later. Keep in mind though that food is gone by the end of October, so most likely they will go to hibernate, as is the case with most bears in similar regions.

  3. Hi Mike, I agree with you and my friend Bianca.  The hunt should end!  The attraction of the gut piles in GTNP is an unnatural concentration of  food sources.  Providing privileges to hunters to intercept animals along the migration path to the national Elk Reserve is absurd.  This inside GTNP!   We should be ready to accept the consequences of eliminating the artificial practices and policies.  We might see fewer road bears, but if they adopt a larger range, or food supply, they may survive better.
    The Veggie crop for spring in GTNP will continue to attract the animals.

    And,  buffer zones around the national parks for hunting regulation should be adopted nationwide.
    How about 100 miles. Or more.  Wolves and other animals too!

    Also, thanks for the good times with crackers, cheese, and vino at Sawmill Pond.

    Mike, Joan, Big Black truck, funky antennae…  

    1. Thank you for the comment! I absolutely agree that the elk factory maintained solely for the hunters needs to go. I’m certainly expecting a few casualties as a result of the end of the hunt, so I only mention the buffer zone so that we can minimize the effect of the sudden lack of food in the fall for the bears. I’m sure this also comes from an attachment to the famous grizzly family, but with a little communication and effort, I think it has the potential of playing out well.

  4. Hi Mike, I agree with you and my friend Bianca.  The hunt should end!  The attraction of the gut piles in GTNP is an unnatural concentration of  food sources.  Providing privileges to hunters to intercept animals along the migration path to the national Elk Reserve is absurd.  This inside GTNP!   We should be ready to accept the consequences of eliminating the artificial practices and policies.  We might see fewer road bears, but if they adopt a larger range, or food supply, they may survive better.
    The Veggie crop for spring in GTNP will continue to attract the animals.

    And,  buffer zones around the national parks for hunting regulation should be adopted nationwide.
    How about 100 miles. Or more.  Wolves and other animals too!

    Also, thanks for the good times with crackers, cheese, and vino at Sawmill Pond.

    Mike, Joan, Big Black truck, funky antennae…  

    1. Thank you for the comment! I absolutely agree that the elk factory maintained solely for the hunters needs to go. I’m certainly expecting a few casualties as a result of the end of the hunt, so I only mention the buffer zone so that we can minimize the effect of the sudden lack of food in the fall for the bears. I’m sure this also comes from an attachment to the famous grizzly family, but with a little communication and effort, I think it has the potential of playing out well.

  5. Mike, as always a thought provoking article…. I agree that this needs to be resolved correctly, and I hope quickly – although nothing that has to go through a political machine ever seems to be resolved correctly or quickly.
    While visiting the Tetons in October my husband had set up at one of the Teton over-looks taking some night shots, waiting for the sunrise…. arriving after us, there were hunters that informed us we were going to spook the elk away, basically giving us a guilt trip for interfering with their roadside ‘hunt’ – as you said, that is NOT a real hunt – we just ignored them and kept to ourselves and they eventually left, but it really left a bad taste to see such an attitude.
    It would be really great if a buffer zone could be established to help protect the bears and wolves, not sure how large it would need to be, but our current system is not helpful to anyone except those who hunt only for the kill thrill.

    1. That’s extremely unfortunate that he got to ya’ll like that. National parks were created for the enjoyment and benefit of the people. Nowhere does it say, “except during hunting season.” You had every right to be there so long as you were there for your enjoyment. Conversely, the same could be said about him, but I would argue that you were there enjoying the national parks as they were intended. Not even Teddy Roosevelt, an avid hunter in his time, was permitted to hunt in a national park.

      Either way, I hope we get this resolved in a manner that most people will agree is a good course of action.

  6. Mike, as always a thought provoking article…. I agree that this needs to be resolved correctly, and I hope quickly – although nothing that has to go through a political machine ever seems to be resolved correctly or quickly.
    While visiting the Tetons in October my husband had set up at one of the Teton over-looks taking some night shots, waiting for the sunrise…. arriving after us, there were hunters that informed us we were going to spook the elk away, basically giving us a guilt trip for interfering with their roadside ‘hunt’ – as you said, that is NOT a real hunt – we just ignored them and kept to ourselves and they eventually left, but it really left a bad taste to see such an attitude.
    It would be really great if a buffer zone could be established to help protect the bears and wolves, not sure how large it would need to be, but our current system is not helpful to anyone except those who hunt only for the kill thrill.

    1. That’s extremely unfortunate that he got to ya’ll like that. National parks were created for the enjoyment and benefit of the people. Nowhere does it say, “except during hunting season.” You had every right to be there so long as you were there for your enjoyment. Conversely, the same could be said about him, but I would argue that you were there enjoying the national parks as they were intended. Not even Teddy Roosevelt, an avid hunter in his time, was permitted to hunt in a national park.

      Either way, I hope we get this resolved in a manner that most people will agree is a good course of action.

  7. You might want to read BYU professor Tom Smith’s study on the Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska before making remarks about bear spray being “roughly 100% effective against charging bears.” Sixty two of 72 incidents involved non-aggressive bears that were stationary or making a slow approach. Most of the people who used bear spray were agency personal engaged in bear management activities, or hikers. Nobody who used bear spray had a rifle in hand when s/he needed to use bear spray. In the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of Sports Afield, Tom Smith said, “If I’m actually out hunting and I have a gun in my hands and suddenly a bear comes at me–do you think I’m going to lay the gun down and pick up bear spray? Are you out of your mind?”

    Having said that, the elk reduction hunt in GTNP goes back to the days of Krushchev and the Berlin Wall. If we can topple the Berlin Wall, why can’t we advance elk management from the 1950s to 2012?

    1. Good points, Dave. Although I should have linked to the article I was referencing: http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/research-bear-spray-stops-angry-grizzlies-better-than-guns/article_b0d338b6-7638-11e1-b809-0019bb2963f4.html

      That study suggested that it was 98% effective against charging grizzlies, which was the case in the Teton Park incident. If there’s some new information I’ll look into it. Unfortunately though, you’re right about hunters not putting down the gun. That’s a hard fact to work around.

      That’s a great analogy about the Berlin Wall though! Great point.

  8. You might want to read BYU professor Tom Smith’s study on the Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska before making remarks about bear spray being “roughly 100% effective against charging bears.” Sixty two of 72 incidents involved non-aggressive bears that were stationary or making a slow approach. Most of the people who used bear spray were agency personal engaged in bear management activities, or hikers. Nobody who used bear spray had a rifle in hand when s/he needed to use bear spray. In the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of Sports Afield, Tom Smith said, “If I’m actually out hunting and I have a gun in my hands and suddenly a bear comes at me–do you think I’m going to lay the gun down and pick up bear spray? Are you out of your mind?”

    Having said that, the elk reduction hunt in GTNP goes back to the days of Krushchev and the Berlin Wall. If we can topple the Berlin Wall, why can’t we advance elk management from the 1950s to 2012?

    1. Good points, Dave. Although I should have linked to the article I was referencing: http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/research-bear-spray-stops-angry-grizzlies-better-than-guns/article_b0d338b6-7638-11e1-b809-0019bb2963f4.html

      That study suggested that it was 98% effective against charging grizzlies, which was the case in the Teton Park incident. If there’s some new information I’ll look into it. Unfortunately though, you’re right about hunters not putting down the gun. That’s a hard fact to work around.

      That’s a great analogy about the Berlin Wall though! Great point.

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