Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bear Banger

The joke about black bear and grizzly bear scat goes like this.  Asked what the difference was, the old hunter told the newcomer, "you know how people tell you to carry pepper spray and where little bells when you're in grizzly territory. Well, black bear scat looks pretty much the same as grizzly bear scat.  Black or red depending on the berries the bears been eating, with little bits of fur and generally a good sized heaped.  With grizzly though there's more of it and it oftens smells like pepper and you can find these little silver bells in it.
If you're hiking in the Canadian woods and you don't want to be attacked by bears know the following cardinal rules:
1) You probably can't outrun a bear but because polar bear think you're a seal and food it's the only bear it's worth a try with. On the open tundra where polar bear are there's little choice. I outran a polar bear when I was younger making to safety seconds before the bear.
2) Don't run from black bear. They are opportunistic bullies and will attack you for sure if you show cowardice.  They often charge and stop 10 to 20 yards away as a bluff.  I've charged them to get them to run away shouting and throwing rocks.  I've punched one too and been knocked down by one but those are other stories.
3) Grizzly are territorial and they will attack. I've encountered grizzly several times but been fortunate to ease away without them getting wind of me.  Also I've been carrying a bow or a rifle so had some advantage.  Wounded bear travel at 40 miles an hour and can live for a half an hour with a heart wound so it's not television.  Best avoided. I did have the priviledge of hearing an amazing forestry specialist on bear at a Wilderness Medicine Conference and he recommended curling up like a ball if there was no other escape. I have met survivors of grizzly attacks and they said they just tried to cover their face and head.
2) Carry a "bear banger". I prefer a 12 guage shot gun loaded with buck shot followed by two slugs but if you're not packing the 'bear banger' is the next best thing. They're the size of a pen. They are idiot proof. They cost about $35 for the pen launcher and the the bangers themselves come in packages of six at anywhere from $3 to $5 each. I've got one loaded in my pocket at all times when I'm hiking without a gun.  I used to hike grizzly bear country, doing wilderness photography for a decade or so in my vegetarian non hunter days.  I've carried bear bangers, pepper spray and flare guns but as I've said I prefer a 12 guage. My favourite guide carried a 45 pistol and I'd prefer carrying a hand gun but it requires a special license.
3) The bear banger makes a loud noise sounding just like a 12 guage shot gun. You can also shoot off a flare that goes hundreds of feet in the air. They're come as kits or separately and really should be standard issue for hikers.
4) Be aware of whether you're hiking upwind or down wind.  Grizzly bear are especially annoyed by being surprised.  Either make a lot of noise or don't make any noise at all. I stalk in the woods, tai chi walking Canadian style, so my encounters with grizzly cubs have allowed me the option off backing away from an obviously dubious family affair. When I was younger I made a lot of noise with whistles and singing and talking loud and that's a fair alternative for those who don't know how to be quiet and aren't particularly interested in seeing any wildlife at all.

I loved hearing Sarah Palin, one very bright and truly accomplished woman, say, to paraphrase her, "If you're taking children camping in Alaska and you're not prepared for bear we consider that 'child abuse' here."
The bear attacks I've personally seen were in campsites where campers stored food in their tents and on the roadside where tourists vying for the Darwin Awards were trying to feed black bears.

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