Bear advice from Dad: if you come upon a bear, don’t run. Don’t look at it in the eye. Make noise. Look big. Play dead. No, don’t play dead. Climb a tree if you have to, and by all means, if you are carrying a juicy, tenderloin steak, drop it.
Upon informing my Dad that I am motorcycling to Alaska this summer, he was very adamant about lending me two things for my trip: a fishing pole. and a shotgun. The first I can understand, it’s useful, I can feed myself with it instead of eating out of a can. The latter though, was a harder sale. His biggest concern for his daughter is bears. Big, brown, killer grizzly bears. Throughout the rest of the evening, the topic popped up. What to do if I encounter a bear? (See advice above.) Where could I mount a shotgun on my bike? Will I be safer in populated areas or wilderness? How many grizzly bears are there in Alaska? How prevalent are attacks? So I decided to research the statistics as well as ask some locals (I was in bear country for a week) instead of just speculate.
Some bear basics (I am focusing on grizzlies known to be more aggressive.) Noted by distinguished hump on back and longer snout. They live mostly in Canada, Alaska, and NW US. Funny enough, the grizzly bear is depicted on the California flag, but the last one to exist in that state was shot in 1922. They are omnivores. Plants make up 80-90% of their diet.
According to Wikipedia, total fatal attacks by bears (black and grizzly) since 2000 is 26.
Attacks in the NW territories I am visiting this summer: 13 (one was a bear that turned on its trainer, so I’m not counting that)…that leaves 12 deaths by bear in the wilderness in the past 11 years.
Aptly, but sadly, two days after this discussion, a man was killed and wife maimed by a grizzly bear while hiking in Yellowstone National Park wilderness. Most common reason for attack is a mother defending her cubs, as was the case described above. So, rule no. 1, definitely Do NOT get in the way of a mother and her cubs.
While helping me work on my bike, I get advice from a fellow gun enthusiast… He pulled out a double barrel shotgun from the safe, dismantled it in 3 pieces and showed me how easy it was to stash on my bike. He can reassemble, load and shoot 8 rounds in 10 seconds if something were charging. He knows his gun; He’s trained himself to shoot like that. What’s my reaction time like? I don’t know since I’ve never shot a shotgun. His suggestion: just go with bear spray. Works on more than just unsavory bears.
The next day I find myself working in Whistler, Canada, so I decided to ask a local (who has come upon them on the trails) what he thinks about bear etiquette. His #1 suggestion…don’t eat where you sleep. And when you are in bear country, make noise, be big, drop anything (hat, jacket, goods, etc.) sometimes their curiosity gets the better of them. He also recommended bear mace or bear bangers (mimics the sound of a shotgun).
What do the experts say to do if you encounter a bear: (the above was all fairly good advice)
Do not run, back away slowly if permitting.
Bears do bluff charge, sometimes works to hold your ground.
Go ahead and climb, but bears have been known to climb trees also, so find one that is over 33ft tall…
As a last resort…Pepper spray (at least 2% capsicum)…only works at close range, 5-15ft, (do I really want to get that close?) and as long as its not raining.
If you do come in contact, playing dead reduces mauling time…curl up and cover up (keep pack on) vulnerable areas.
So, with this knowledge, do I feel set to go into the Wild? About as much as I did before, and I am going to do it anyway.