Following that, I’m gonna share a Q&A on the hard facts surrounding bear deterrents that MeatEater just conducted with Frank van Manen, a wildlife biologist from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. He discusses the recent Todd Orr controversy, techniques that researchers use in the field, and how to best stay safe according to the latest research. Stay tuned for that later today.
1) First off, this should be regarded as a completely intellectual discussion by the vast majority of folks who are reading this. Your average American’s chances of getting attacked by a bear are astronomically low. However, some of us do engage regularly in high-risk activities, so this is a legitimate line of inquiry. But still, your chances of dying from hypothermia in bear country are far, far superior to your chances of getting scratched.
2) In responding to my initial post, shitloads of people brought up Todd Orr, who was mauled by a Montana grizzly this year that he claims to have doused with pepper spray. However, no one brought up the case of Steve Stevenson, who was shot through the chest and killed by his hunting partner during a 2011 grizzly attack in Montana. When it comes to anecdotal evidence, try to wrap your arms around more than just one.
3) I spend a ton of time in grizzly country doing the sorts of things that often lead to grizzly attacks. I’ve only been charged once, by a sow, and she turned away at about 30 feet. I was with a buddy and we both had rifles trained on her. If she had taken a few more steps, I have no doubt that we would have dropped it dead or gravely wounded it. Once that bear was in amongst us, it would have been utterly foolish to fire a shot. At that point, pepper spray would be the only option.
4) Pertaining to number 3, I’ve spent a lifetime around firearms and am deeply familiar with how to operate them effectively under pretty much any set of circumstances that might be encountered in bear country. It’s not my intention to sound arrogant when I point out that most people do not share my skill-sets.
5) Also pertaining to number 3, we had ample warning (audio and visual confirmation) that that bear was coming at us when it was still about 70 yards away. In many cases, there is no warning before the bear is on top of you.
6) I was once charged by a wild boar. I shot it in the head at such close range that I got blood all over my pant leg. The only reason that I was able to keep it from raking my legs was that I happened to be holding my rifle in my hand. There was literally no time to either unholster a sidearm or unsheathe a can of spray. For rifle hunters, this is something to consider. Our guns are often readily at hand. When bowhunting, you don’t have that luxury. You need to keep your protection close by and easily accessible.
7) I’ve been present for two instances in which people have mistakenly got hosed by pepper spray. In one case, that person was me. It sucks.
8) My brother Danny is an ecologist in Alaska and spends far more time than me in grizzly country while he’s doing his field work. Given his choice, he prefers pepper spray because it’s lightweight and demonstrably more effective than a firearm. However, at his old job, he used to carry a Remington 870 loaded with slugs because there are considerable complications when it comes to flying with pepper spray. You can’t bring it on scheduled flights, and it needs to be taped to the struts or placed in the floats on chartered bush planes. (If a can of pepper spray cuts loose in the cockpit of a Super Cub, you’re gonna die more reliably than you would from a bear chewing on you.) With his current position, he’s obligated to carry both a lethal and nonlethal means of bear protection. So now it’s an 870 or a .44 Mag as well as pepper spray. It’s a redundant system, like the one used by Arnold Schwarzenegger when he stormed that island in the movie Commando with a duffel bag full of guns.
9) Pertaining to number 8, it should be noted that my brother works in Alaska, where bears are managed as a game animal. There, you can kill a grizzly to defend your life or your property. In the lower-48, grizzlies have threatened species protection under the Endangered Species Act. If you get jumpy and kill a grizzly that is not legally determined to have been a direct threat to your life, it’s your ass. We’re talking heavy duty fines and possibly the revocation of your hunting privileges. You’ll never get in trouble for hosing a bear with pepper spray, no matter how jumpy you are.
10) You commonly see five “tips” for how to behave safely in bear country: 1) be highly alert; 2) make noise; 3) carry bear spray; 4) avoid hiking alone; 5) do not run from a bear. Of those tips, numbers 1, 3, and 5 are good advice for hunters. Numbers 2 and 4 are out of the question.
11) Don’t tell my wife, but I really would like to suffer a mild mauling by a grizzly. If it happens, I’m not going to tell anyone where it occurred because I wouldn’t want the bear to get euthanized by wildlife officials. It’d keep me warm at night just knowing it was still out there.