Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

With a number of bear attacks in the news recently (AlaskaYellowstoneColorado), I feel it is incredibly important for people to know how to deal with bears.  Now, I will never say I am any sort of wilderness expert by any means.  In fact, if you read some of my previous posts, you’ll see I’ve only been doing this for a few years.  However, my husband is ALL about making sure I am fully prepared for anything we might encounter, including bears.

Black bear in Big Bend National Park... from a safe distance, this was as zoomed in as my camera would get.

One thing I do know:  don’t be stupid and attract bears to you (like these people who decided to feed cheeseburgers to bears).  When you go camping, there are bear-safe containers for your food and trash for a reason, use them.  If there aren’t containers to put your food in, you need to hang it up in a tree, high enough and far enough out on the limb that the bears can’t get to it (remember, black bears can climb trees).  Bears are attracted to the smell and if they begin to associate people with food, they may become more aggressive towards people.  Before going out into the wilderness where you can expect to encounter a bear, make sure you do your research.  See what kind of bears have been spotted there (grizzlies and black bears are very different), if there have been any recent incidents, etc.  Check the “news” section of the park’s website you will be going to, they’ll normally include important information such as that.  Also, Google how to deal with bear attacks.  I’m awesome though and already did some of the work for you (although I suggest doing some of your own work, too)… these are four of the top five websites that came up (each page will open in a new tab):

http://artofmanliness.com/2008/01/30/how-to-survive-a-bear-attack/

http://www.arcticwebsite.com/BearSurvival.html

http://www.trails.com/how_971_handle-bear-encounter.html

http://www.mountainnature.com/wildlife/bears/bearencounters.htm 

Now, you may find some conflicting suggestions, but just be smart about it.  Obviously, most of the suggestions for how to deal with bear encounters are very non-violent, but I’ll be honest with you, my husband and I both carry hunting knives on our packs and, where permitted, I carry my pistol.  In the event of a bear attack and the suggested methods aren’t working, my life and my husband’s life is more important to me than the bear.  I AM IN NO WAY ADVOCATING KILLING BEARS!  However, we do carry a second line of defense that we hopefully will never have to use.  It is definitely a worse-case-scenario back-up, but, I’d rather be prepared than mauled by a bear and left for dead.  Just something else to think about.  And if you read the news stories about bears that attack people, if the bear is later found, it is put down anyway, so for any uber-conservationists reading this, horrified, we don’t PLAN on ever actually killing a bear but if we did, we would just be doing what the park service would have done anyway.  And of course, we would report it to them, save our GPS coordinates so that we could let rangers know exactly where the bear is, etc.

Another option is bear pepper spray.  You can find it at places like REI or Cabelas.  Now, pepper spray makes me a little nervous because I feel like it would just make a bear even more mad (think about if someone sprayed you with pepper spray), but, it is often suggested as a line of defense.  Decide on your own whether you’d feel comfortable using it or not.  Also, carry a bear bell or make sure you are talking or making some sort of noise.  You are less likely to encounter a bear if they know you are coming and can move away.  For the most part, they don’t want to see you any more than you want to see them.  You can find bear bells at REI for about 4 bucks, or, we just made our own.  Found a small cow bell for a couple bucks and put it on a carabiner.  I’ll tell you, it’s rather annoying, but it’s said to work (and we haven’t encountered a bear yet).

It’s never something you want to think of, but you have to be realistic and prepare for a bear attack just like you would for a bee sting or changes in the weather.  Know what to do and be prepared to do it if the situation arises.  There are books dedicated to dealing with bear encounters.  These are just a few suggestions from things I have read on my own and been told.  Obviously, do your own research and make sure everyone you are hiking with knows how to deal with bears as well, including children.  The number one thing they need to know is: do not run!  Or think they are cute and want to take a picture.  Pictures are fine from a safe distance, but don’t be dumb and try to get close.  Is getting 15 feet closer really that important when it gets your loved ones mauled?!  Didn’t think so.

Last little note, to repeat myself: just be smart about it.  Don’t get close, don’t provoke them, don’t try to feed them.  Happy hiking!

Stuffed bear at one of the visitor's centers on the way up Pikes Peak

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