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Backpacker Magazine – October 2011

Survival: Recognize Grizzly Behavior

Hard-won-lessons and tips about grizzly bears from the front lines of survival.

by: as told to Tracy Ross

PAGE 1 2
Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear




Casey Anderson
Grizzly bear expert, host of Expedition Wild on Nat Geo Wild

As a bear biologist and wildlife filmmaker, I’ve made it my business to get close to big grizzlies in the wild. So I wasn’t worried when I took my dad backpacking to a secret spot just north of Yellowstone in 2004. He’d never seen a wild grizzly, and I was sure we’d have an encounter. We camped by a river and set out hiking before dawn. As the sun crept over the mountaintops, we found our first bears: two sub-adult grizzlies digging in a meadow. We hunkered down to watch them until, about five minutes later, an angry-looking grizzly emerged from the nearby edge of the forest. I could tell right away that this guy meant business. His legs were rigid, he kept his head low, and he was chomping his giant jaws together.

Instead of backing away before any of the bears saw us—as we should have done—Dad and I sat transfixed. Then we made an even bigger mistake. When the grumpy griz followed the younger bears, Dad and I tagged along. In a display I now know as badass grizzly bravado—and wish I’d better recognized and appreciated then—the big griz walked over every tree in his path, pissing on them as he passed.

I should have known what would happen next. Suddenly, the bear turned on us. He sniffed, whuffed, and started advancing. Instantly forgetting the first rule of bear-attack avoidance—don’t run—we sprinted for a cluster of Douglas firs. But the limbs were too high for my 65-year-old father to grab. After missing the first signs of threatening behavior, I made no mistake now: It was get high or get eaten. So I boosted Dad up, then found my own tree to climb.

The grizzly was in no hurry to leave. Instead, he wanted to show us who was boss. He didn’t try to knock us out of our perches, but he promptly began digging in the dirt below. (Black bears can scale trees, but grizzlies’ long claws aren’t great for climbing.) Dad and I prepared to spend the night; we envisioned fatigued limbs, hunger pangs, and possibly hypothermia. But then another bear charged into the meadow, forcing Mr. Big to defend his territory. While the dominant bear chased the intruder away, Dad and I took the opportunity to hightail it out of there.

I’ve spent 16 years studying grizzlies, but it took getting treed by one to make me pay closer attention to grizzly behavior toward humans—and how to react to it. I’ve learned that it’s really hard to stay calm and act smart when a 600-pound mass of muscle, claws, and fur is coming at you. So you have to prepare yourself mentally to suppress the urge to run. I take deep breaths, talk in a low voice (which calms the bear and me), and try to exude an aura of unruffled confidence. The good news? By understanding what grizzlies are communicating through their behavior—and faking serenity and being smart—you can feel more confident and comfortable on your next grizzly country adventure.

----

PAGE 1 2

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Jerry W Doyle
Aug 25, 2012

Will,

Thank you for your support. Only you showed the sensitivity and empathy with my comments. My comments in no way were meant to denigrate Casey, but to reconcile in my mind how even when we call ourselves “experts,” we still can make a “multiplicity” of mistakes in our skilled profession similar to that of a neophyte.

The comments by James, Joseph, and I2survive disappoint me deeply. We all need individuals like you, Will Sanders, with us on the trail in the backcountry who exhibit emotional discipline and who are able to stay focus on the problem at hand, able to show empathy and a level of sensitivity calling for us to work together as a team while in the wilderness and that we can "agree to disagree," if necessary, without denigrating one another’s character.

I have little doubt, Will S, that you and I could work through issues that confront us in the wilderness; but I never would start out on a backcountry trip with individuals whose emotions take control of them resulting in their making denigrating comments of others' character and with them "name calling."

I do not call myself a bear expert, or am I a bear biologist. I have, though, spent (by my calculation) over 1,000 hours studying bear behaviors, reading books by the experts such as Stephen Herrero and other bear biologists, reading various journal articles and putting what I have read and learned into traveling solo in bear country in Canada and Alaska. Robert J. Smith is correct to recommend “Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance,” by Stephen Herrero. That book is considered one of the better books on the subject of bear behavior and techniques to employ for avoidance of an attack.

Gretchen McLaughlin's comment has high merit, for all these articles published by the good magazine, Backpacker, are educational, informative and reading these articles can save one’s life in the backcountry.

We all make mistakes in the backcountry from time to time. I guess what surprised me about reading Casey’s article is how even an "expert" can make a series, a multiplicity of mistakes together back-to-back and even after all the didactic training and after all the studying, he failed to employ what he learned. That was the part that troubled me, and I am certain it troubled Casey, too. It happened, though, and as you said eloquently Will, “Let it go at that….”. It is that level of behavioral emotional discipline exhibited by you, Will, that would make me want to have "you" along with me in the backcountry.

Has Jerry D made mistakes in the backcountry? Certainly. If it were not for the reading of articles at sites like these, for the studying of articles and books on the various subjects I would not be here today to write these words. But I am, because I learn from it all and from all of you.

Below is a blog site that described one of my foolish mistakes made on the trail. So yes, we all make them from time to time, and we just hope that we learn from them.

Jerry W Doyle
Alexandria, LA

http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=PluckPersona&U=a4bdbc59955d47418a71c48b9d87d6ae&plckPersonaPage=BlogViewPost&plckUserId=a4bdbc59955d47418a71c48b9d87d6ae&plckPostId=Blog%3aa4bdbc59955d47418a71c48b9d87d6aePost%3a98b63105-47b2-4f03-b0ef-b5a28819e04a&plckBlogItemsPerPage=5&plckBlogOnPage=4&plckBlogSort=TimeStampDescending&plckBlogPostType=All

Will Sanders
Aug 24, 2012

Give Jerry a break, will you? I like Casey Anderson too. We really need to learn basic civility again. Casey did make mistakes, but as he said. when that bear runs at you, you probably will as well. Conversation is conversation. Let it go at that.
Just saying...

James Adams
Jun 13, 2012

Hey Jerry anybody ever call you a big mouthed yahoo or a self serving righteous jerk, or maybe just a DICK!!

Joseph Volpe
Feb 21, 2012

Well Jerry, way to brag about yourself while cutting a man down! All he is trying to do is help everyone stay safe while in the wilderness. As a man who doesn't make mistakes I'm sure you won't commit the error of thinking you are not a dick.
Joseph Volpe
Asheville, NC

Gretchen McLaughlin
Jan 21, 2012

Thanks,Casey, for being so candid about your grizzly misadventure. I have learned a lot from this. My husband and I are beginners on this trek. You may have saved our lives.

Robert J. Smith Totowa, NJ
Nov 25, 2011

I live in New Jersey and our state has LOTS of black bear especially near the NJ/PA North Western border area. Whenever I hike I always bring Bear Spray.

An excellent reference book on bears is:
"Bear Attacks: The Causes and Avoidance" by Steven Herrera.

shut up jerry w doyle
Nov 23, 2011

l2survive i survive the everest i can almost survive anything

Jerry W Doyle
Nov 23, 2011

Casey,

In full deference to your position as a bear expert, I am puzzled over how you made so many mistakes in this outing with your dad that placed both your lives in danger.

As a backpacker and day hiker in bear country (Alaska, Canada, Montana), I don’t consider myself necessarily a bear expert, but I certainly am no neophyte when it comes to bear avoidance techniques and grizzly encounters.

Candidly, I have empathy with the adrenaline rush you two felt when you encountered the bear. I have had such adrenaline rushes that moved me to a desire of circumventing safety rules that would leave me vulnerable to a bear attack. Reality, thank heavens, prevailed and reason took hold causing me to leave the scene.

I am even more puzzled why you placed not only yourself in such a vulnerable position, but your father who relinquished his full trust in your skills of bear avoidance techniques.

I don’t mean to sound as critical perhaps as how all my words may read, but you didn’t make just one mistake, but you made a series of mistakes.

Hopefully your message will leave an indelible impression on yourself and all who read your story that safety and common sense "must" prevail during bear encounters, or else all the bear avoidance techniques in the rules book mean "nothing."

Jerry W Doyle
Alexandria, LA

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