Just 45 minutes from Yellowstone National Park, Buck’s T-4 Lodge has been welcoming visitors to Big Sky, Mont., for more than 50 years. But last weekend, it hosted a very different kind of guest than the usual nature lover: a young black bear, which climbed through a bathroom window and took a nap in the sink.
The bear appeared to have no reservation at the lodge and was removed immediately.
Buck’s posted a video to the lodge’s Facebook page on Monday, showing the efforts of Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials to remove the yearling bear out of the lobby bathroom and into safety.
It’s not uncommon to spot wildlife like moose, elk and deer around the lodge, but bear sightings are rarer for the property. Even more out of the ordinary is having one come indoors: “We have never had one inside the building,” says Buck’s co-owner David O’Connor.
The video starts in the lobby of Buck’s. It’s nighttime, and officials are working on getting into the women’s bathroom, where the bear of the hour is sleeping.
Earlier that evening, two front desk employees had heard a banging noise come from the corner of the lobby. Through the window, they could see the small bear peeking inside. The bear appeared a few more times before disappearing back into the night. Not long after, the employees heard noise from the nearby lobby bathroom.
“He had worked his way down that wall and found a window that was cracked, and opened it up,” O’Connor explains. “Bears are pretty strong.”
The bear was stuck. It wasn’t possible to climb out of the window anymore, and to get out of the bathroom through the lobby, the bear would have had to use the handle to pull the door open.
“He was, for all intents and purposes, pretty safely tucked into that room,” O’Connor says. “It was very easy to control the situation.”
The hotel staff called in the help of county and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials. The sheriff was on-site quickly, but because of the distance, it would be hours before the game warden could get to the lodge.
While the humans hatched their plan and rescuers monitored the scene, the bear continued to flex its license to chill.
“He was pretty happy where he was,” O’Connor says. “He saw people outside and was pretty spooked. He made himself at home in the bathroom counter where the sinks are and went to sleep."
When the game warden arrived, the rescuers made a video call from the outside so that the team inside could watch what was happening from the bathroom door. They tranquilized the bear, watched the FaceTime video until the bear was safely asleep, then carried it outside to safety.
“He’s so cute,” a guest says in the video as the sedated bear is whisked away through the lobby. A small crowd had gathered to watch it go.
Outside the lodge, the game warden checked the bear’s vitals and administered eye drops to keep its eyes lubricated during sedation. The warden also answered questions from the curious audience. For many lodge guests, it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see a wild animal so close.
Eventually the uninjured bear was taken to a more remote part of the state to be released.
“It was the best-case scenario,” says O’Connor. “Best for the bear, best for the guests.”
The end of summer signals the time for hyperphagia, the process in which bears put on all of the weight they need for winter hibernation. Experts warn that you don’t want to get in between a bear and its food, so keep your distance if you spot one.
The state’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks website has a special Be Bear Aware page, and recommendations include carrying bear pepper spray (and knowing how to use it), maintaining a safe distance from the animals, staying calm and avoiding eye contact, among others.
“There’s no shortage of stories around the Yellowstone area of people getting too close to wildlife,” O’Connor says. “Wildlife is unpredictable. They can be dangerous. This was a very unique experience."