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Backpacker Magazine – January/February 2010

Your Most Pressing Bear Questions, Answered

Real reader bear questions answered by Buck Tilton.


Contributing editor and Wilderness Institute cofounder Buck Tilton is a first-aid expert with 30 years of medical experience and three dozen books under his belt. But the most popular reader questions he fields–by far–aren't about sprained ankles or water treatment. They're about bears. Here's a sampling of the real reader questions our Medicine Man has received–and, once and for all, the answers.


ALL READERS COMMENTS

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Michael Hill
Nov 13, 2012

Do I need to bring a Bear vault when hiking to AT

Bunni
Nov 12, 2010

I am a bit late to this and meant to ask when I saw the chart. My burning question that no one has answered is, Will the same devices that will deter an agressive dog also deter a bear? The device that I refer to is the one that emits a sound that humans can't hear but a dog can.

Anonymous
May 26, 2010

I live in Eastern PA Right off the AT. We have walked up on a few bears..and rattlesnakes. I'm more fearful of the snakes.(well just of being bitten) Most timberrattlers wont rattle until your on top of them. They aren't so aggresive just go around them. We relocate them off the trails so no one gets bit or tries to smash them with a rock or stick. GREAT rodent control. As for the black bears in the area.. They are large.. and everyone i have seen has never just RAN off cause it saw us. More or less just gave us the eye.. and kept on goin.. One point we did startle a black bear on a raised wooden trail.. We seen him first but upon backin up our boots made a bit of noise like we were moving to fast.. He followed us along the trail about 50 yards.. gave a bit of a grunt and huff at us.. So we started talkin loudly.. and i think when he realized we weren't a small animal he moved off.. But yes i would fear the snakes more.. (DONT KILL THEM) The blue Mt of the AT has a very large population of rattle snakes.. especially Wolf rocks area.. Just keep a sharp eye about..happy trails

nugget
May 22, 2010

Did someone actually claim to have been "cornered by a rattlesnake"? I don't know if I should laugh or cry... How does someone get "cornered" by something with a three foot striking distance and no motivation to pursue a human? I know Texas has nothing like a decent tree branch to brush the Rattler out of the way, but just stand back 10 feet and through dirt at the snake until it moves. Cornered my a$$, you were just too scared to use any though before pulling your firearm. An easily frightened armed Texan is far greater danger to me in the wilderness then snakes and bears.

Tiger S.
May 06, 2010

We hike the eastern Lake Superior shore every year at this time. And we fear moose cows with young calves a hundred times more than black bear. Blackies run away; moose mothers will chase you down and kick you to death if the calf is new enough.

Out of two dozen encounters, only once have I seen an aggressive blackie. In one notable instance, with her small cub five feet away from us, the sow bear gave me time to get MY four "cubs" out of the way and down the trail without incident.

Anonymous
May 02, 2010

So I think that it's not the bears you should be worried about but all these crazies carrying around guns and fighting knives.

Cowboy cracker
Apr 18, 2010

I live right off the AT in Ravens Cliff Wilderness area...Official Black Bear Harvest according to DNR records for 2009 Hunt season was 430 tagged and 80 road kills..our 13 county area..Our hiking group have done hundreds of bushwhacking miles over old trails alonng the wilderness corridor in NC and North Ga...seen 2 bears in 5 years...However we have seen dozens of Bears in our community because folks persist in feeding them...Black Bears have a wonderful memory of feeding opputunities and sites..like elephants..don't camp where others gahter...stop 1 mile short of bedding area..prep meal and move on..don't sleep with food,oinments,gum or anything sweet...can of wasp spray..especially kind that shoots a 20-30 ft stream of spray works almost as well as expensive Bear Spray...small cannister of aeresol Noise Maker..Horn works really well..everyone in wilderness should carry a whistle...lot easier to find you when you nget misplaced then having a bear encounter..finally a plain Heft Garbage Bag is an effective noise maker..scaries Hell out of Bear when you whip it out and crack it open and it great emergency pouncho, ground cover, and pack cover not to mention "Cache it In Cache It Out"

RiverRat84
Apr 07, 2010

After reading all the comments made so far, I take it all have had experience in the outdoors. I can agree and disagree with every one. Carry bear spray, AND a handgun if you want, HOWEVER one thing that has not been talked about is the most important thing to carry in the backwoods........common sense! Using common sense will let you know ( that is if you have any) when to use both! Take all precautions when in camp, and when hiking, if that fails use the spray, if you are still in danger ( the bear keeps advancing, or starts to charge ) the spray should slow the bear down enough to take careful aim to dispatch the bear. Common sense again, this is a last resort. And I know this is also under ideal conditions, and common sense tells us that there are no ideal conditions. The main thing I'm saying is ........as if you haven't guessed by now.........USE COMMON SENSE!!!!!

RiverRat84
Apr 07, 2010

After reading all the comments made so far, I take it all have had experience in the outdoors. I can agree and disagree with every one. Carry bear spray, AND a handgun if you want, HOWEVER one thing that has not been talked about is the most important thing to carry in the backwoods........common sense! Using common sense will let you know ( that is if you have any) when to use both! Take all precautions when in camp, and when hiking, if that fails use the spray, if you are still in danger ( the bear keeps advancing, or starts to charge ) the spray should slow the bear down enough to take careful aim to dispatch the bear. Common sense again, this is a last resort. And I know this is also under ideal conditions, and common sense tells us that there are no ideal conditions. The main thing I'm saying is ........as if you haven't guessed by now.........USE COMMON SENSE!!!!!

Bob K.
Apr 03, 2010

I've hiked various sections of the AT and over some thirty years have only had one black bear encounter. During the same time I've passed by and camped close to many people whose reasons for being in the area were suspect. I carry a light weight pistol (but with a very large muzzle) all the time, never in full view but easily accessible. This is for the people. For my one bear encounter I carried pots and pans and a very annoying singing voice. Noise works great on bears unless there are extenuating circumstances. Guns for people, noise for bears. That's my platform for the next hike (which will be a trail run at Providence Canyon, GA. Imagine seeing a bear in Central Georgia? No way! The alligators have control south of Macon!)

oldscout76
Apr 01, 2010

I've seen black and brown bear in the wild while hiking, camping, packing, and fishing. Please realize that bear attacks are much less likely then most deadly injuries in the wilderness. You should be much more worried about falling, spider bites, or parasites in poorly treated water. Just knowing how to orientate with a map and compass is more important then bear repellent knowledge. Follow the guide lines and use a bear canister. Eat on the train and not where you sleep.

Also remember if it wasn't for inept people who would we tell stories about around the campfire?

Just because
Mar 30, 2010

I carry bear spray in case of bear attacks, and firearms in case of other humans attacks. ( :^) I'm being little tongue and cheek) The charts interesting it, basically says don't be stupid, use common sense...and..for the love of god don't shoot a bear with a squirt gun full of ammonia.

Double Cabin
Mar 29, 2010

Before I ask Buck a question I'm moved to contest the practicality of this:

"I know what repels a bear, a bush gun. I dont care what anyone says. when I am in bear country I have a big gun. I would rather break the law than be eaten. I am not even that pro gun, just pro "not getting eaten."
same goes for rattle snake country. It is naive to think you can back pack alone in the wilderness and not need a gun eventually. I have needed a gun before, there was no avoiding it. I got cornered by a rattle snake in a low canyon in west texas.
Posted: Feb 26, 2010 jo"

Jo, with all due repsect and IMHO you're trying to purvey an unsubstantiated rationale with this. IMHO what repels a bear is the removal of the bear's motivation to pursue you. Common sense generally accomplishes that. If not if you use the google you'll find an Alaska F&G Study clearly demonstrated that Bear Spray is more effective at allowing the deployer to escape injury than almost any firearm that won't seperate your pelvis packing it for any real distance. Unless of course that's the sort of thing you carry in your pack? I'm of course kidding you since you must be 6'6" and 230 or better to haul your howitzer through the woods. Bear Spray is far more than practical and with young neices on Grizzly Trails I hope Bear Spray is publicized for the great choice it is. I've never used mine but it sure gives me some peace of mind having seen how consistently effective it is. I don't begrudge you legally carrying your gun but given the dynamics of a bear on all fours coming at you I do contest your implication grizzly country is the property of those that can haul a 50 caliber cannon with a constantly aimed hair trigger all the time. Some of us just can't go through life that way. There are places you keep your bearspray in hand with the safety off. Then there's the sanity of almost all of a great trip being enjoyed with rational cares.

Sorry,

Buck,

Although I've got my own observation to personaly elevate some of your maybes I do truly like this chart and think its a great way to get beyond the hysteria so people can just use common sense and enjoy the backcountry with soon to be quick, routine precautions.

Buck, I'm concerned the recent demise of large stands of Whitebark Pines on the East side of the Divide in Wyoming is going to change the dynamic for grizzlies there. I realize its early to speculate but do you think we should start considering what alternatives the bears might pursue? Should we consider different, possible suprise scenarios? Is there something already in the ecosystem other than animal protein to replace this protein for them?

I don't want Grizzlies hunted in the GYE until these questions begin to answered. Although I support revenue based wolf management I do agree with many of you that its WAY too early for grizzlies to be delisted with what is happening to the forest and how that might make for more encounters.

Zach
Mar 29, 2010

I grew up in Montana and have had numerous bear encounters. They don't want to deal with you any more than you want to deal with them. Be loud and use common sense. They like the smell of food just like a dog. But they're intelligent creatures and won't mess with you if you're smart about what you eat and what you do with the scraps. They won't stalk you (unless you're in Alaska) and will most likely just go on about their business. Bear spray works and can shoot far enough to keep you out of harm's way. Carry a gun if you feel the need (I do) but don't resort to it unless absolutely necessary. You have a much better chance of hitting it with bear spray anyway and an injured and pissed bear is way more dangerous than a blind pissed bear.

John G
Mar 28, 2010

I think some people are missing the point. Number one: avoid surprising a bear and possibly repel it at the same time by hiking noisily and camping intelligently in bear country, and not smelling like anything but body odor (i.e. if it might be used to attract another human, like cologne, minty fresh toothpaste, a steaming hot fruit cobbler, don't wear it, bring it, or make it). Number two: if one does encounter a bear, just don't act irrationally (just like when one interacts with humans). Just speak calmly and slowly back away to give it space, and find another route to where your going. Bears aren't typically aggressive, so just don't surprise one (though even then they'll rarely be aggressive) If you do and it starts to be aggressive, or if one wanders into your camp and doesn't want to go away, again, do like you do with people, be assertive (not irrational) with your voice and tell it to go away and use body language (shoo it away). If this doesn't deter it, use your bear pepper spray (again, just like people). So much research has shown how absolutely effective it is, and that it doesn't aggravate the animal (it just wants to go away and get the crap out if its eyes). Why not a gun? Well first off, I think we can again use our standard human(animal) to human(animal) interactions as a guide - I believe unloading a firearm at someone who is simply upset, even if they had the capacity to crush you with their pinky toe, is a bit excessive, especially when the assuredly effective (and better) alternative is non-lethal, so the result of using it, even if the bear didn't actually mean you any harm, is a win-win situation. Everybody should be happy to be alive.

John G
Mar 28, 2010

I think some people are missing the point. Number one: avoid surprising a bear and possibly repel it at the same time by hiking noisily and camping intelligently in bear country, and not smelling like anything but body odor (i.e. if it might be used to attract another human, like cologne, minty fresh toothpaste, a steaming hot fruit cobbler, don't wear it, bring it, or make it). Number two: if one does encounter a bear, just don't act irrationally (just like when one interacts with humans). Just speak calmly and slowly back away to give it space, and find another route to where your going. Bears aren't typically aggressive, so just don't surprise one (though even then they'll rarely be aggressive) If you do and it starts to be aggressive, or if one wanders into your camp and doesn't want to go away, again, do like you do with people, be assertive (not irrational) with your voice and tell it to go away and use body language (shoo it away). If this doesn't deter it, use your bear pepper spray (again, just like people). So much research has shown how absolutely effective it is, and that it doesn't aggravate the animal (it just wants to go away and get the crap out if its eyes). Why not a gun? Well first off, I think we can again use our standard human(animal) to human(animal) interactions as a guide - I believe unloading a firearm at someone who is simply upset, even if they had the capacity to crush you with their pinky toe, is a bit excessive, especially when the assuredly effective (and better) alternative is non-lethal, so the result of using it, even if the bear didn't actually mean you any harm, is a win-win situation. Everybody should be happy to be alive.

Terry
Mar 27, 2010

Common sense and a BIG bore revolver. There is no substitute for either of these and I am living proof.

IdahoSnowFish
Mar 18, 2010

What I do when I'm hiking in Bear country is to follow these 3 rules to survival......
1. Always be the middleman - hike in the middle of the pack, camp in between your buddies, never be the 1st or last guy to crap, etc. 2. Bring the bacon - Put a little bacon in your partners pack when he's not looking, that way if a bear does come you won't be the first guy he's looking for.
3. Invite a Fattie - remember you don't have to outrun the Bear, you just have to outrun your fat friend. It's best to season your friend up a little with some pepper spray while you're running past though, just to be safe....
Happy Hiking
P.S. I am looking for a new hiking partner if anyone is interested.....

Old Scout72
Mar 16, 2010

Get a reality check. If you don't want to visit the bears, don't go to their home. If you are visiting their home, remember they did not invite you...

Gary
Mar 08, 2010

Best bear help I've found is at North American Bear Center website: http://www.bear.org/website/

Hike-Dreamer
Mar 03, 2010

An experienced A.T. Thru-Hiker wrote back to me about bear concerns--he assured me not to worry about them at all and to enjoy the other 99.9999% of the experience; he sounded knowledgeable and experienced. But if I ever to hit the trail, I'll probably at least carry a repellant and a USMC fighting knife, perhaps more for psychological confidence than real need.

Anonymous
Feb 26, 2010

tru, im confused also. do i run do i cry? How do i avoid getting chased once i'm away and what is their following perimetre?

jo
Feb 26, 2010

I know what repels a bear, a bush gun. I dont care what anyone says. when I am in bear country I have a big gun. I would rather break the law than be eaten. I am not even that pro gun, just pro "not getting eaten."
same goes for rattle snake country. It is naive to think you can back pack alone in the wilderness and not need a gun eventually. I have needed a gun before, there was no avoiding it. I got cornered by a rattle snake in a low canyon in west texas.

Pete J.
Feb 16, 2010

For those missing the point, don't attract a bear, and don't resort to hokey measure to try and scare them off. If you follow bear country guidelines, you should be safe, assuming you have some common sense.

Brenda F.
Feb 09, 2010

I heard that pepper spray has a very short spray field and hornet or wasp spray shoots twice as far. Can this be used as a deterent for a charging bear?

Anonymous
Feb 02, 2010

I think it's funny - and from what I know about bears, absolutely true! If you can't deal with the bears, stay in the house.

confused
Jan 31, 2010

uhhh therefore bears are attracted to everything... and they are repelled by almost nothing.. awesome.

boulder12345
Jan 25, 2010

USELESS

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