DEPUYER, Mont. — Wildlife officials are keeping close tabs on a sow grizzly bear that was shot in the head at point-blank range by a hunter last Tuesday, but somehow survived and continues to nurse her three cubs.
The bear is only semiconscious and apparently cannot leave the area where she was shot, said Ron Aasheim, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
He said officials have not been able to determine the extent of her injuries, but ruled out attempting to treat the 500-pound bear or to euthanize her.
"We want to give her a chance, to see if she recovers on her own, especially because she has three cubs," he said Friday. "Unfortunately, this is part of what bears in Montana deal with. This is their environment."
Aasheim said a hunter surprised the bear and her cubs west of Depuyer on the Rocky Mountain Front. The hunter shot the sow from about 10 feet away when he believed that his life was threatened. Grizzly bears are protected as a threatened species under federal law, but can be shot in self-defense.
Aasheim said the hunter alerted authorities immediately. The shooting remains under investigation.
"He's cooperated fully," Aasheim said of the hunter. "He feels horrible it came to this."
Mike Madel, a grizzly bear biologist with the state wildlife agency, said the bear, believed to be 16 1/2 years old, was shot in the left side of the head with a high-powered .270-caliber rifle. It didn't appear that the bullet had entered the brain, he said.
"We know from experience that bears can take some horrific wounds and heal up and survive," he said. "Our hope is she might be able to pull through."
Aasheim said if she does not, the cubs' fate is uncertain. They would have a better chance if they can spend the winter in a den with their mother, he said.
Aasheim said biologists will continue to monitor the sow; they have closed the surrounding area west of Depuyer to hunting as a precaution. One of the cubs also was collared with a radio transmitter so that the bears can be tracked if they do move.