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Backpacker Magazine – May 2011

Rip and Live: Learn to Survive a Bear Attack

With 1 million bears roaming North America, chances are pretty good that you'll cross paths with one of them at some point. To make every encounter safe, from grizzly bears to black bears, bone up on bruin identification and etiquette.

by: Gordy Megroz

Black bears are prominent throughout North America. (John Jacques)
Black bears are prominent throughout North America. (John Jacques)
A grizzly bear snacks on a salmon. (Javier Martinez)
A grizzly bear snacks on a salmon. (Javier Martinez)



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meanolddog
Sep 11, 2012

Lots of good common sense advice here for a change..Especially about carrying a Firearm. 357 or 44 mag is the ONLY way to go, but, if your in a panic and in fear for your life, remember it is a lot different so you need to practice a lot and often and if you can't hit the center of the target with every shot in practice over and over as in being instinctive you odds are not very good of surviving an encounter, aim for the Bears Heart not the head, I have read stories in real outdoor Magazines where the 44 mag rounds bounced off or were deflected off the bears skull and until they got a heart shot the bear kept on coming..You might practice shooting one handed while running in the opposite direction too since most likely that is what you will be doing in real life...My one and only Bear encounter was 35 years ago in the Adirondacks and the Bear just ambled across my path about 50 yards ahead of me, turned saw me or smelt me and took off in the the direction he was going at a rapid rate..I figured after a 5 days of crossw country hiking my smell was real bad!!

Mike M.
Sep 10, 2012

Thumbs Up on intelligent input Posted on Aug 31, 2012 El Comanche.

Worth noting: If you're going to tote a firearm learn to shoot proper and accurate at a moving target. Take a gun safety course and make friends with local gun clubs and/or shooting ranges.





Tim BAllweber
Sep 05, 2012

This is for JAn!!

James
Sep 03, 2012

http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/grizzly/bear%20spray.pdf I have to agree that although spray is no guarantee of survival, use of a firearm may make the encounter worse

Muddrock
Sep 02, 2012

I always enjoy reading backpacker mag but, some of the tips and advice given are just rediculous. You can't always enforce common sense but when your in bear country you should have a bear can, weather it's required or not, some bear spray, and a firearm.

El Comanche
Aug 31, 2012

This is the third totally irresponsible article I've read Backpacker write on bear avoidance and conflict resolution. People take this advice as serious and the results could be deadly. Fist two absurd points:

1. Dog spray? You are comfortable telling someone to protect their family with that? Where did you get that advice?

2. If a black bear mother with cubs attacks play dead? You obviously know nothing of black bear behavior. You need to have some sort of defense system. Do you really think you can win a fist fight with a bear?

The only comprehensive books out there on bear attacks and defense are by Gary Shelton, though Stephen Herero has a good one on behavior. Gary compiles real life attacks and data, persnal stories and explains as much as possible why the attacks happened and what means of defense are possible.

Of course avoidance is #1. If you want to hike around bears, know you stuff and give them their space. The guy who died in Denali this week clearly did not adhere to this.

Pepper spray is way over rated. Though recent studies show it works in around 70% of attacks, you open yourself to a 30% chance it won't. But that is not the real issue. Here is what Backpacker and many others refuse to acknowledge: Pepper spray is rendered useless in a strong breeze. How often do you feel a strong breeze when hiking? I live in WA state and I'd say quite often. That cuts down your odds quite a bit. Still, for most, I think it's a good bare minimum to have on you at all times.

A hiker was killed last year with spray was in his pack. ALWAYS wear it on your belt or in a chest holster or you might as well not have it.

So there is the whole gun issue. I understand everyone has their beliefs and politics, including Backpacker but it is a piece of gear that thousands of us carry that they refuse to acknowledge at all. It is not just legal, it can save lives and is a great survival tool. Plus, if you can't carry a gun in the middle of the wilderness, then where would you? Sheltons books show in North America .44 magnum and up have proved 92% effective in bear attacks. Thats a more reasonable percentage in my book. Given, many of those guys are Alaskan guides who really know how to handle a firearm, but thats my point.

With proper training and practice, anyone can shoot a handgun well, and carry it safely without endangering others. Of course some would never do this, and thats ok. But it should be considered an option, not an offense to backpacking etiquette. I personally cannot in good conscience take my wife into bear territory without one just expecting it would never happen and if it did, the wind would always be in my favor. Ive personally had a couple redneck situations/encounters that convinced me how much safer it is to have a gun.

This If the spray and yelling don't work, then it must be my time mentality you hear often is a very weak place to come from in a survival situation, and frankly is disingenuous. You have to value your life and be determined to live in that situation. Anyone would want to live if they were being eaten by a gizz.

I make a point to be as genuinely friendly and warm on the trail as possible as I know some get nervous seeing someone hike with a gun, especially near Seattle. It sure would be nice if all could treat us with the same courtesy. I didnt give people dirty looks at Glacier National Park last year that hiked without even pepper spray, letting their small kids run ahead when the ranger clearly said there were 7 bear sightings and 2 bluff charges that week on that particular trail. The next week someone died.

For all the strong negative feelings people have about guns on the trail, there are those of us who feel the opposite and feel you are putting your family in harms way without a means to defend them. That being said, I would never make passive aggressive or mocking comments much less give a dirty look while on the trail. I just keep it to myself. Can everyone do the same please?


Bill
Aug 31, 2012

12 years on Kodiak and I can tell you that pepper spray isn't the answer. Be smart, keep a clean camp and be aware of the environment around you. I've seen brown bears with pepper spray running down their faces continuing to eat a zodiac, I've also seen a brown bear continue to paw through a tent while M-80s went off near its paws. It is their wilderness!

floyd
Aug 31, 2012

Just THINK before you go into bear country! Otherwise, please let Darwinism take you out of the gene pool. Too many idiots are stepping into the wilderness without skills or sensibilities and are potential bear food at any moment. Just because you've spent 2K at REI on backpacking gear does not make you a wilderness expert. Having spent thousands of hours and not dollars in the wilderness encountering bears, cougars, wolves without a scratch does qualify.

dont forget the most important safety issue. Unless you are hunting bears and cougars...
KEEP YOUR BARKING LITTLE SHIT DOGS AT HOME!!!!!!!! It also violates several leave no trace principles.

Jeff
Aug 31, 2012

What you carry for protection depends on where you are hiking. In Grizzly country, you best have a shot gun, 44 mag or 10 mm minimum if the area permits it and makes lots of noise on the trail. In black bear country, a 9 mm will do. I always carry bear spray, it's proven to be effective and would usually be my 1st choice. Bears can get used to loud noises though. No one wants to to hurt a bear, all you can do is be responsible with camp housekeeping. If push comes to shove though, you don't want to be disfigured or have a arm knawed off, that's just stupid.

Alex
Aug 31, 2012

What do you do if there are bears (specifically a mother and cubs) pawing around your tent. Despite having kept a clean campsite and hanging our food about 150m away they showed up and would not leave, we're talking hours. We first tried being totally silent hoping they would wander off but the kept circling the campsite. Next we tried yelling, 'HEY, get out of here bear! Go AWAY!' repeatedly while stomping and clapping. This only seemed to make the cubs more curious as they then tried to snuff their noses under the vestibule. Eventually we were able to locate a whistle from the bottom of the back and literally blew it in the face of a nosy bear; this caused them to back away a little bit but they continued to circle and move back and forth from where our food was hanging to the tent. This went on for a total of 3-4 hours. What should we have done?

Laborman
Aug 31, 2012

When did Backpacker become a mouthpiece for under-endowed right-wing loonies to vent their pseudo macho garbage?

Joe
Mar 17, 2012

Use bear spray (from a 10 mm semi auto!) it should work. Keeping a clean camp never hurts either.

Eric
Jan 27, 2012

Harmonicas or guns? I'm not toting either. My best advice is keep a clean camp. Use a bear canister in grizzly territory. And keep a can of bear spray. I'm not lugging a .273 caliber something or other and turning my relax time into a freaging "tour of duty." If the spray and yelling don't work, then it must be my time

Roy Bean
Jan 24, 2012

Air horns?? Bear spray?? How much junk do you people carry around in the woods?? What do you have, native bearers?? Smith 19 in a pancake, pal. Makes VERY loud noises AND is capable of backing them up. And if you can keep a cool head, it will stop anything smaller than a locomotive. Now, will you hippies PLEASE stay out of the woods?

J. Marten
Jan 20, 2012

I suggest bacon grease. That's right, bacon grease. You smear it on your partner (careful not to get any on yourself) and then run faster than them.

citations
Jan 18, 2012

Who is the "Rogers" continually mentioned in the article? Why is he not completely named, and properly cited?

Carson
Dec 10, 2011

The minimum rifle for Black Bear is .270, Grizzly .293. Maximum for grizzly is .450. Black, 375.

JohnnyBear
Nov 30, 2011

Well I have always used common sense to avoid this encounter.(clean camp ground and a big walking stick) and it has worked so far. I will say I never go out without my fire arm. It's great to get all this advice on things that have worked for certain encounters; but in the end playing it smart and safe. And then having the fire power to save you, Is really your only for sure cure to being dinner. And who wants to take a chance that your encounter is with a bear that wont care for your noise maker or spray. My best thoughts are cary both a long walking stick, a proper rifle, and be ready to make a big loud scream. May God keep you safe.

Survivorman11
Nov 29, 2011

@hunter1 said it best .44 mag only use it if you can't scare them off by other things like spray

Hunter1
Nov 20, 2011

.44 mag. Enough said.

Stephen
Oct 29, 2011

Time to stop asking government to ruin people's lives over shooting a wild animal. Watch what you wish for. Americans have lost the fine art of leaving people alone.

EH
Oct 14, 2011

The hunter who shot the Pizzly is an Inuvialuk and is more than likely outside the jurisdiction of the Canadian government. It appears he was actually hunting Polar Bears and shot a Pizzly instead.

BrRyan S
Oct 13, 2011

Halt! Dog Repellent? Really? That stuff doesn't spray nearly far enough to be truly effective. Spend the money and get good bear spray in teh first place.

As for noise making, as a solo hiker in the NW Cascades, I generally prefer making a nice, mid-range, resonating sounds like "Hey-yo" "wey-ro" bey-ho", etc. Those types of sounds are easy for your vocal cords to produce as you breath in and out compared to trying to actually sing lyrics. I vary my volume and frequency according to the terrain. In high visibility areas I do it less. Approaching corners, dropping down out of a saddle, I do it a bit more and louder.

I really want to emphasize paying attention at twilight. It's the time of day that plays the most tricks on your eyes, especially in autumn. Not quite dark enough to pull out a headlamp, but the light quality tends to play tricks with shadows. Slow down at twilight especially. It's too easy to try and take it as a cue to "hurry out of there" and miss the signs. If you find the light quality at twilight is such that you are having a hard time seeing clearly, it's better to stop, take a break, wait for it to get a bit darker, and pull out a headlamp.

b-dub
Oct 06, 2011

awwwwww shizzle. it's dem bears again. dey be crazyZ!

darrin
Sep 12, 2011

I live in southern Colorado. I take an air horn and pepper spray with me hiking,but I have to say the pepper spray is a little too misty. I have never had an encounter, but If I did, I'm not convinced the spray wont come back in my face,making me an easy, blind meal. The can says to spray when the bear is about 15 feet away, I have tried it out. It does not spray that far or even close to that far.
As for using dog spray on a bear, ya, right.

Harold Baquet
Aug 30, 2011

The wife and I had a bear encounter this Summer in the Smokies. The bear had come into the backcountry camp site the evening before and raiided the previous campers during dinner, apparently jacking them of there meal. They left in such a hurry their tent and cooking gear still littered the ground when we arrived. The following evening he returned, going directly to the old tent site. This large solo male scavenged about ignoring our bear bells and whistles. When he was within 80 feet we began using the portable air horn we had perchased from a boat store. This thing is blaring loud enough to hurt the users ears but this black bear was not impressed. He continued to sniff around edging ever closer to where we where about to set up to cook dinner. We waved arms and bandanas trying to make a large commotion, the bear continued to circle around getting to within 40 feet or so. We both had canisters of bear spray at the ready, he still was outside the useful disctance range for the spray though it was still an option. So at this point I deployed a couple of "bear rocks". Missing with the first rock, he still didn't flinch when it landed beyond him. The second stone slammed him across the right cheek of his butt, he lept and ran off away immediately and never returned the two nights we camped at the site. A fifty seven year old female AT through-hiker gave me an ultralight solution to black bear encounters: M-80 Firecrackers. I guess you would drop it at your feet to amend the fire risk as it goes BOOM! I'm keeping my bear spray.

Nate
Aug 24, 2011

This is a little weak, I have lived in thick bear country all my life (Alaska) and the idea of using dog spray on a black bear is crazy!! Try that and you are in real trouble. Backpacker Mag. better get serious about bears protection if they are going to offer advice. The sprays made for bears, works most of the time, but the only sure protection is a high powered rifle, and the knowlege of how to use it. Ask any native Alaskan and they will surely tell you the same.

Chorse
Aug 05, 2011

good ideas especially the ability to make unusual wood's noise, how about bears who frequent juke joints, at least from a distance. this is a public health issue worth my setting up a study.
How about a pig tale:

Pig Tales
The too warm summer sun was low,
Out of the line of sight,
But the fodder grass was glowing with the light reflected from the clouds and sky.
Approach of the 520 exit from the Beachline (528) was just ahead,
The turn signal was on, slight braking began.
The exit to 520 is a down hill grade with nice manicured grass on each side of the road way
And cypress wet lands and swamp after that.
Low light did not hide the gang loitering in the grass.
Finding acorns to finish their supper,
They were black and well muscled.
They were seven in number.
I can only guess, but would say-180lbs each.
They, possibly, were siblings which had not crossed over the hormonal break yet.
They hugged the border between the grass and the tree line.
Probably nervous about the speeding vehicles roaring past
I know better, but could not resist.
Stopped the car-
Left the hazard lights blinking and moved slowly back up the hill.
They had left the grass
They were in the trees,
Making their little piggy grunts
Stomping around.
Two of the seven came to the edge of the grass.
I turned around and began to walk back to the car.
I also kept my head turned toward them,
Good thing
These two curious young ferals began to trot towards me.
I began to trot,
Not in their direction.
The other five came out of the tree line and began to trot after their brave leaders.
At this point I began to run (or as fast as an old guy can call a run).
Glad that I had not locked the door,
I slipped into the drivers seat.
The two pig leaders had began to run when I did,
They stopped 20 feet behind the car,
They and their gang were too late
Even though I had dropped the key,
They did not have thumbs to pick it up ergo could not unlock the doors.

Clifford
Jun 30, 2011

In 1975 a hiker whom I met on the AT in the Great Smoky Mountains mentioned that a bear that had stalked him between Derrik Knob and Siler's Bald ran away when he blew on a harmonica. I remembered that advice when I took an overnight hike along a different trail in the Smokies in August, 1987. I was hiking in the trace of an old jeep road where the sides were about shoulder tall and when I walked around a blind curve, I literally came face to face with a black bear standing on the high ground beside the trace. We were both startled, scared and didn't really know what to do, so he stood up on his hind legs, making himself look enormous, since I was at the level of his feet. We were no more than six or eight feet from each other and I wasn't about to run, when he made a fearsome display that was both terrifying and at the same time an awesome thing to behold. I remembered the harmonica, a C key, and blew it as hard as I could. In turn, that scared him so badly that he swung around and ran about 50 feet away from me before he made another display, slapping the ground and bellowing, with all that shiny black hair standing up and waving back and forth. When I blew the second time he turned around and ran again, this time over the ridge.
In 2008 my daughter and I were (how's this for coincidence?) hiking on the AT in the Smokies and were in between Silers' Bald and Derrick Knob when a black bear verbally challenged us from a thicket along the trail. I had brought along harmonicas for both of us, and for this trip I had a sonic noisemaker, the kind that gets into your head and makes you panic. When we both blew on our harmonicas this bear didn't respond. But when I used the sonic noisemaker, it startled both us and the bear. By the time I got the pin put back in to make it stop, we could hear it run through the thicket and away from us, but it was already some yards gone.
So, I would have to say a harmonica is nice and is fun for the trip, but apparently there are bears who don't care how well you play a harmonica, they just need more incentive. I think a nice bear spray would be good just in case noise won't do the trick.

Tommy Montana
Jun 28, 2011

I too carry a type of air horn that emits an ear shattering noise. It is made by Smith&Wesson and works even on windy days and in small tents! And here, is the best part, it even propels large, heavy chunks of lead!!! And luckily, like any tool, the odds of using it are almost zero if you use proper back country skills like keeping a clean camp, making noise and acting aggressively if you do see a black bear.

Jerry W Doyle
Jun 20, 2011

When in bear country I carry pepper spray and do all the other bear avoidance technique procedures, such as singing, clapping of hands and yelling out especially when approaching rivers, streams and creeks. I also carry with me another protectorate that I never read about anyone else using, or see recommended in readings. That protectorate is a very loud air horn blaster, that sounds like the air horn on a tractor trailer truck and can be heard up to one mile away. Obviously, I never use the air horn because of my respect for tranquility in wilderness areas, but I would have no hesitancy to use it on a charging bear. My concern about pepper spray is if I am heading upwind then all I am doing is spraying myself. It is for this reason I carry the air horn. Am I the only one who carries an air horn, and can anyone comment on their experience with an air horn to ward off bear attacks?

Thanks,
Jerry D

df
Jun 20, 2011

Once you have successfully navigated a bear encounter, what then? If you're on a trail, how much farther should you hike before you can feel safe to pitch a tent? Or should you turn around and abandon the trip? If you're camped for the night, should you pack up and leave in the dark or stay awake until daybreak?

kj
Jun 18, 2011

When was this authored?
The comment that bothers me is "One was shot in April 2010 (allegedly by accident........" in reference to the "pizzly" bear.
It's been 14 months since the incident. One would think the matter would be settled if it was either a self-defense shooting or an act poaching in 14 months.
The use of "allegedly" implies a lie or distortion on the part of the shooter.

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