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Grizzlies in Glacier: A Gunsight Chalet Encounter

Grizzlies have long served as Montana’s chosen animal symbol, and it’s a known fact that grizzlies populate the Treasure State - especially Glacier National Park. Hikers are warned of bears’ presence and instructed in bear safety etiquette, yet most backcountry users return to the civilized world devoid of bear encounters and intriguing bear tales. One great bear tale does exist, though, and it has haunted park officials and historians for decades.

Legend has it that in 1915, a mule packer transporting supplies from Sun Camp to the Gunsight Chalet encountered the largest bear tracks he had ever seen. The packer’s ten-gallon hat was tiny in comparison, and the packer knew he and his mules could be in for a dangerous adventure. Within a matter of days, one of the mules was missing, and upon tracing a scant splotch of blood and the same large bear tracks, the packer found the few remains of his mule.

The mule packer returned to camp and immediately warned a horse guide accompanying him to beware of the giant bear. And with good reason. Just a few days later, the packer’s mules spooked and rushed to the safety of their owner at the Gunsight Chalet. Determined to drive the bear away, the packer and the horse guide decided to scout out the region and put an end to the ferocious beast’s behavior. What they found, however, put an end to their plans.

Standing in a meadow near Gunsight Lake’s shores was the largest grizzly they had ever seen or even imagined to exist. The packer and guide estimated the grizzly weighed a hefty 1,000 pounds or more, and the bear with its penetrating yellow eyes showed no fear. Although the bear’s golden-brown fur bristled at the sight of its onlookers, the bear simply dropped on all fours and retreated into the brush. The encounter was the last that the packer and guide ever had with the bear, and they returned safely home at the end of the packing season.

But the giant bear was still alive and well. Historical documents report that the bear broke into Gunsight Chalet during the 1915 winter and destroyed or scattered nearly all of its contents. When word reached park authorities of the event, officials decided something had to be done with this bear and its violent temper. They immediately called in renowned bear hunter Bill Burns, instructing him to put an end to the dangerous creature. Burns did as he was told during autumn of 1916, scattering fish parts near the chalet to lure in the bruin.

Burns’ plan worked, and under the light of a full moon, the giant creature stumbled across the meadow towards the decaying entrails. Burns’ dogs broke loose, tearing into the bear and clawing for the creature’s throat. But the dogs were no match for the ferocious killer who swiped his giant paws at the dogs until they lay motionless. The bear then snatched his sack of fish and retreated to the mountains. Unable to track the bear, Burns’ reported to park officials with only another tale of the giant bear.

At that moment, park officials decided there was no stopping the bruin, and the Gunsight Chalet and surrounding area were abandoned. To this day, no one knows for sure the ultimate fate of Glacier’s giant bear.


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