A woman in the Huson area warded off a charging black bear with a garden fresh zucchini early Thursday after the 200-pound bruin attacked her dog and swiped at the woman's leg.
The woman was not seriously injured during the attack, which occurred around midnight behind her home near Sorrel Springs Lane and Roman Creek Road, but she was badly shaken, said Lt. Rich Maricelli of the Missoula County Sheriff's Office. Her 12-year-old border collie, Brin, also appears to be doing fine.
"She was terrified, and understandably so, " Maricelli said. "This could have really been a bad deal. Just imagine what might have happened if that thing had made its way into her house."
That worst-case scenario doesn't require a leap of the imagination, Maricelli said. The woman reported the bear had its head and one paw through the threshold of her back door when she threw the squash at it.
The woman told authorities she had just let her three dogs outside and was standing on a cement patio in her small yard when the bear came racing down a hill. The bear pounced on Brin and began aggressively rolling the dog around on the ground, "growling and acting ferrocious," Maricelli said. The woman yelled and screamed at the bear, and finally kicked the animal in the throat.
The bear then turned on the woman and clawed the outside back portion of her left thigh, tearing her jeans and breaking the skin. The woman was clutching the door jamb and trying to keep the bear out of her house when she reached inside and grabbed the only object on the counter - an 18-inch zucchini that she harvested from her garden.
She threw the vegetable at the bear's head and the animal retreated, running back up the the hill and into the darkness.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Capt. Jeff Darrah said the bear was likely feeding in a fruit orchard about 25 feet up the hill from the woman's house when she let her dogs out.
"One of the dogs was barking and startled the bear and the scuffle began," Darrah said. "It really could have been worse given the fact that the dog owner was so close to the bear, but she reacted quickly and bravely and was able to scare the bear by hitting it with the zucchini."
Darrah said the apple orchard was fenced off and the ground clean, but the bear still managed to find access to a tree.
Two large floodlights illuminated the woman's small yard, but she did not have time to react when the bear charged down the hill, Maricelli said.
"It happened within a blink of the eye," Maricelli said. "The dog was two feet away from her on the patio and suddenly froze. She looked up and saw this black bear racing toward her."
The bear had not been located as of Thursday afternoon, though wildlife officials were setting a trap in an attempt to catch the animal, Darrah said.
If the bear has been trapped previously it will be euthanized per FWP policy, but if it has never been trapped it will likely be relocated. Officials tag a bear's ear after trapping it.
The woman had a tetanus shot for her scratches Thursday morning, Maricelli said. She also took Brin to the veterinarian, but the elderly dog did not have any obvious injuries.
Maricelli said the woman did not want her name released publicly.
Historically, the Huson area sees a heavy amount of bear activity in the fall, but Darrah said it has been relatively quiet this year.
"We have had a lot of bear activity in other areas, obviously," he said.
In Missoula, wardens have trapped four black bears in or close to town. Three were relocated to remote areas, while a fourth cub was sent to an animal rehabilitation center in Helena to be released next spring.
The conflicts have increased recently because bears are in a period of intense eating before the winter season, said FWP Region 2 wildlife management specialist Jamie Jonkel. Because of a spotty berry season, bears have descended on settled areas in the valleys
Two weeks ago, a small black bear found its way into a tree near downtown Missoula and had to be tranquilized.
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at 523-5264 or at firstname.lastname@example.org