black bear in camp aggressive
Getty Images, GeorgePeters and slowmotiongli

Montana River Guide Attacked by Black Bear While Camping

Not even bear spray was able to scare the bear away.

Imagine sleeping peacefully under beautiful Montana skies next to a river...and then being awoken by a black bear attacking you. This was a terrifying nightmare turned reality for one Montana commercial rafting guide.

Two guides and three guests were on an overnight rafting trip along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, south of Glacier National Park. On June 7th, the group camped near Nyack, Montana. One of the guides was cowboy camping—aka, sleeping on the ground, without a shelter, enjoying raw nature at its finest. Camping in the open like this is incredibly common and standard among many campers, but especially river guides; however, this means she had no tent, tarp, or bivy, just a sleeping bag to stand between camper and predator.

The unnamed female guide was woken up early on the morning of June 7th as a bear attacked her, unprovoked.

There have not been many details released about the incident, just a press release from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. But we do know the bear in question is believed to be a black bear and that bear spray was released.

Aside from the rarity of a bear attack, part of what makes this event so bizarre is that despite the bear spray release, the bear was not scared off and actually returned to camp multiple times.

Though the bear returned, the group was able to escape and leave, and the victim was taken to a hospital. She sustained injuries that were reported to be non-life-threatening.

Why Did the Black Bear Attack?

Black bears attacking unprovoked, especially as someone is sleeping, is quite rare. We don't have details about the campsite—like if was food cooked there or if it's a usual feeding spot for the bear—so it is unclear why the bear attacked in the first place.

Moreover, it's unclear why the bear returned after bear spray was deployed. Bear spray is a recommended deterrent for bears—even grizzlies, which are known for being much more aggressive than black bears. This common deterrent is essentially super-charged pepper spray, packing three times the heat and concentration of a standard pepper spray and designed to be released from a further distance.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks bear conflict specialists are teaming up with officials from the National Park Service and United States Forest Service to locate the bear and gather more information.

While black bear encounters are uncommon, conflicts with black bears are rare, and fatalities from black bear attacks are even rarer. The North American Bear Center reports that black bears in North America kill less than one person per year on average, and the National Park Service states black bears usually don't attack unless they feel a need to protect food, cubs, or their space.

How To Stay Safe With Bears Around

In bear country it's always advisable to stay alert and know your bears. Carry bear spray, bear bells, or another safe bear deterrent with you and know how to use it. Follow local recommendations for storing your food in bear proof containers, and when possible, cook away from your campsite.

If you do see a black bear, in general remember to:

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Pick up and protect small children that could run away.
  3. Be firm but not aggressive by saying "Hey bear!" to deter it.
  4. Put distance between you and the bear but do not run, turn your back, or climb trees.
  5. Use your bear deterrents appropriately.
  6. In the worst case scenario, fight back however you can.

Black bear attacks are rare, but when entering into bear country, remember that we are the visitors and we must remain alert and know what to do.