Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Bear Facts

One of the biggest and saddest fallacies about bears is that they will leave you alone unless they see you as a threat. With summer upon us, and many people spending time in bear country (which includes at least 30 states in the lower 48 and also Alaska) I have to point out that said belief is one of the most terribly wrong myths concerning bears. That myth is repeatedly and foolishly spread by wildlife officials, biologists and so called bear experts along with extremist animal rights types. In fact some loonies go one or three steps worse and say or imply that bears are friendly if we treat them with respect. One guy, who was as I understand,one of those last types, who spent what probably amounted overall to years with bears in the wild, was killed and eaten by a bear along with his girlfriend earlier in the last decade.

The truth is that bears do hunt people and do eat them. In fact, it is believed that when black bears (yes the very same bear with the widest distribution of all bears in North America) kill people it is almost always due to predation. I zero in on black bears for the moment because many folks wrongly believe black bears never prey on humans and only attack if defending cubs or injured/ill, while it is closer to common knowledge that brown (aka: grizzly bears) attack and sometimes prey on people as do polar bears. Sadly though, many people still have that Bambi-ized feeling for bears and think them harmless if we do not provoke them. Thus, too many people have learned, the hard way, that bears including black bears prey on humans. Some of those folks did not get the chance to pass on that information to others because they learned it way too late.

If you are in bear country and are approached by a lone bear, that does not back off when you let it know you are there, then does not back off if you make a lot of noise and make yourself look bigger and aggressive but instead keeps coming slowly and determined - you are very likely a prey item as seen by that bear. hile bears do not often prey on humans, it does happen. I have had several encounters with black bears in the wild. Luckily they left me alone each time, went out of their way to avoid me. Yet, I did have to scare one of them off that obviously was none too afraid of me. That one, a big male, about 25 to 30 feet from me, was salivating then clicking its teeth as it stared at me. A shot in the air with a Remington 870 scared it off; the next shot if needed would have been right at it. Another time, I tracked a black bear that was apparently tracking another hunter in the woods on my uncle's farm. Whether or not it was talking him as prey or just finding it easier to walk in the snow by walking in that hunter's track, I will never know and thank goodness for that.

Bears, especially males but also females will hunt people and that includes brown bears (aka: grizzlies), polar bears and even black bears. In the case of black bears, probably brown bears too, it is more likely you will be seen as prey by a male than a female but females will prey on humans too, sometimes even when accompanied by cubs. There are several documented cases and more suspected cases of where bears considered humans as prey. The following is a list of some documented bear attacks on people - defensive, territorial and predatory:

Savvy wildlife experts have warned about predation of humans by black bears for decades, maybe even centuries, but the tree huggers and Bambi lovers have almost always silenced them with their tall tales of how nice are the bears and how evil, stupid and ignorant was anyone who stated that bears prey on humans. Mind you, if a hunter is attacked, those same airheads often gleefully say the hunters got what they deserved. With the decades of the animal rights types insisting that bears do not attack unprovoked, and head-cases like the so called Grizzly-Man trying to convince us that bears were, in my understanding of him and what he preached, our benign wild buddies - the public did not know what to believe about the reality of bear encounters. Even some scientists seemed to believe all the hype. Well, Science finally caught up with reality a few years back:

If the following story is true there are lessons to be learned from it. First and foremost that bears will attack you when unprovoked but also that female bears will attack other than to protect cubs such as to prey upon you, that females even with cubs in tow will attack people as prey, that bears sometimes see humans as prey, that they will eat you if you do not successfully defend yourself, and even that if you are armed you may stand a chance. The woman in this story apparently was unarmed but she had a long time to fight had she been armed and maybe could have saved her own life. Read about how long this woman lived, and was conscious and fully aware of her ordeal, while being attacked and eaten alive (a warning to the squeamish, the story told is pretty gruesome):

Here is an another example, of a brown bear predatory attack:

A bear encounter is nothing to trivialize and they sometimes do look at you like their next dinner and as nothing else - not a threat to them or their cubs, not a provocateur, not a toy, not a pest or other annoyance - just as something to eat - even when other food is readily available. A really interesting but only partial article clearly points all of that out:

So what is my point in bring all of this out. Well, I say it in the hope of keeping you safer when you are in an area that is also occupied by bears. My advice would be to arm yourself with legal arms while in bear country: Carry bear spray. Carry a rifle or handgun in one of the larger calibers. The minimum I would recommend would be 44 magnum with at least a 4" barrel. Yet, if you only have a 9mm peashooter, it may be better than nothing. Also carry a knife, I think a fixed blade type carried on a sheath on your belt best but I certainly am not a knife expert. Something with a blade of at least 5 to 6 inches long possibly could help you fight off a bear in a last stand situation. 

In many states, it is difficult to legally carry firearms and maybe even a knife. Anyway, a knife is only good once the bear is on you. Bear spray and or a firearm can end the threat from a bear at a distance. So, if you cannot legally carry a gun or knife, or can legally carry a knife but not a gun, then think of carrying bear spray too. Heck carry bear spray even if you can carry those other weapons - the more weapons the safer you may be and bear spray often, but not always, should be your first line of defense during a bear attack. In many instances, it may just be more effective than even a firearm at keeping you safe from bears but not always. Bear spray is an OC Spray formulated especially for bears and it comes in pretty large cans as compared to those to fend of muggers and other two legged vermin. Always carry bear spray (if legal) in bear country - even if you are carrying other weapons like a firearm or knife.  That reminds me, I need to pick up a couple of cans of it. I used to carry a strong pepper spray, issued to me by my job, but now that I am retired no longer carry it. I want one for me and one for my son as he spends time in the Catskill mountains, known black bear habitat, with his girlfriend.

Bear (no pun intended) in mind that some experts believe bear spray to be much more effective than a firearm at keeping a bear away from you but also bear in mind that bear spray has its limitations. I am not convinced, it is always the best alternative and because I can legally do so - I arm myself with additional weapons while in bear country. I carried pepper spray for years and used it several times, and know that it will not work every time. All the talk about bear spray is well and good until a strong wind is coming right at you along with the bear or until the pepper spray canister does no function properly (and that is known to happen) or if you are not at the right distance and so on. Thus I will say it again, I would (if legal) carry both bear spray and a firearm along with a good knife, the knife as a last ditch defensive weapon. While the bear spray likely would be my first line of defense in most instances, I like redundancy in relation to me being able to protect myself and I like having options available to me to fight back if need be.

All that said, there is another method to protect yourself from bear attacks and this is just as important as carrying a weapon with which to defend yourself - maybe more important. Arm yourself with the knowledge of how to avoid a bear attack if you ever encounter a bear. Some sources of that knowledge are available on line and I am about to provide links to some of them. Before you read the advice at those links, be advised that - I do not vouch for the veracity of any of the information you may glean from them. As you will see, they differ, to some extent, in the advice they offer:

One other thing to think about concerning bears. Bears do not live only in the wilderness. Some live close to cities. In New York State, bears live within 70 miles of New York City, I know - I have seen them that close to NYC. Some even may wander to as close as 45 miles from NYC. In other urban areas, bears actually have been know to walk the streets and have attacked people within the city limits.

Luckily for the woman in the video that accompanies that linked article, she evidently survived and was able to walk away from the attack.

Sometimes you get the bear but sometimes the bear gets you - it is a fact. Try not to let it be the latter because when the bear shits in the woods (or the alley), you sure don't want it its crap to smell like pepper and be full of the bear bells you were wearing!

All the best,
Glenn B