Two elk hunters have been cleared of any wrongdoing in the shooting death of a grizzly bear in northwest Montana, a state game warden said.

The sow grizzly was shot and killed Oct. 31 in the Yaak area after charging hunters Mark Mason and Joe Ricke, both of Libby, who were hunting along the north fork of 17-Mile Creek, said Ed Kelly, regional chief game warden for the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks."They had gotten an elk earlier in that area and had come back," the warden said. "They thought they heard another elk down a trail and they ran into a sow grizzly and a 2-year-old cub. They retreated with the sow and cub right behind them."

Kelly said the incident report, filed by Warden Mike Mehn, stated that one of the hunters fired a warning shot over the head of the charging grizzly, estimated to be 10 to 12 years old, but the animal continued charging.

"The two then began shooting the bear," Kelly said. After the animal had been hit several times, it veered to the right, circled a knoll, and charged the hunters again before it was felled by several more shots.

Kelly said the animal finally dropped within 20 feet of the two men.

Mason said he was reluctant to talk about the incident because of the controversy surrounding grizzly bears.

"I'm not happy or proud about what happened," he said. "Luckily, my friend and I are safe and we still feel there is a place for grizzly bears in the ecosystem. But as far as I am concerned, I am sad about what happened."

Kelly said the two men immediately left the scene without disturbing anything and reported the incident to Mehn.

"All of the evidence at the scene correlated with their story and the entry of the wounds indicates a charge," Kelly said. "It appears to be self-defense."

While state officials are satisfied the shooting was justified, Kelly said federal officials will study the reports and make their own determination.

Grizzly bears are on the federal Threatened and Endangered Species List. The unjustified killing of a grizzly bear carries a maximum federal penalty of a $10,000 fine and six months in jail.

The bear carcass has been sent to Bozeman for an autopsy, Kelly said.