BOISE, Idaho -- Wildlife officials in eastern Idaho said they were unable Sunday to find a grizzly bear wounded a day earlier by elk hunters as they tried to retrieve a six-point bull elk carcass in the Island Park area west of Yellowstone National Park.
Steve Schmidt of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said a team of seven well-armed wildlife officers reported finding the blood trail of the bear near the elk carcass but that it disappeared after about 460 yards.
Schmidt said the team of five Fish and Game officers and two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers flushed a grizzly bear from the carcass Sunday when they arrived, but it's unknown if that's the same bear wounded on Saturday.
Fish and Wildlife is investigating along with Fish and Game because grizzly bears are a threatened species. Schmidt said the group contained a grizzly bear expert who identified the track of the wounded bear as an adult grizzly, but couldn't estimate its size or determine its gender.
"The blood trail petered out and they did not find the bear and they could not follow the trail any father," Schmidt said. "At this point their belief is that the bear is not critically injured. It's very possible the bear might recover from whatever injuries it has, but that's unknown, of course."
He said the trackers, who were in the area for about six hours, didn't find large amounts of blood on the ground, but just a smear of blood here and there, "so it did not appear to be seriously injured." He said there are no plans to resume searching for the bear.
The elk was killed by an eastern Idaho archery hunter whose name isn't being released. The hunter and four others told officials they went to retrieve the elk Saturday morning when the bear charged. The hunters said they fired about a dozen shots with handguns and a shotgun before the bear turned and ran, leaving behind a blood trail.
Schmidt said the area where that occurred is about three quarters of a mile east of U.S. Highway 20 and south and east of the Buffalo River in the Targhee National Forest. The highway in that area crosses the Buffalo River about 12 or 15 miles west of Yellowstone National Park. The nearest residence is about a mile away.
Schmidt said signs are being posted on entrance roads to the area warning of grizzly bear activity. He said the elk carcass had been covered with debris by one or more grizzlies, a typical behavior of grizzlies feeding on a large carcass.
The wounding of the grizzly followed an incident in eastern Idaho on Sept. 14, when a 67-year-old archer from Midland, Mich., was bitten on the arm by a grizzly bear. In that incident, the man was helping his hunting partner retrieve a bull elk carcass killed the previous evening along Sheridan Creek in Clark County when the grizzly charged from the brush, bit the man on the bicep, then quickly returned to the trees.
The two hunters walked four miles back to their truck, and the injured hunter was treated at a medical clinic in Ashton and released.
"We need folks to understand that because of the hot, dry summer, the potential conflict with bears is higher than in past years," Schmidt said. "Bears are searching more widely than they have in past years looking for food. The berry drop they might be exploiting this time of year did not do well because of the hot, dry summer."
He said people visiting the forest should be alert for bears, carry bear spray, and not travel alone. He said hunters should make an effort to get killed game out the same day. If that's not possible, he said hunters should approach the area cautiously when they return.
"The three states that surround the Greater Yellowstone area have all heard stories of grizzly bears who fairly quickly moved in on an elk that was downed by hunters," he said.
Biologists estimate the Greater Yellowstone area has at least 600 grizzly bears.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.