There have been a rash of reports in the news recently (here is one from CNN) about bears attacking and mauling unsuspecting victims . Since last Thursday (just 4 days ago) there have been seven attacks on humans by bears in Michigan, Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska, and Colorado.
I was planning to write a post at some point about bears and the proper precautions to take when in bear country, since I just completed a 70-mile backcountry hike in Montana and saw two bears along the way. But being that there has been so much press about bear attacks, it may be the right time to write while people are paying attention to this issue.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people I encounter on trails, and yes sometimes in the backcountry, who are ill-equipped, ill-prepared, or who have completely neglected studying, researching, or seeking out good advice.
Keep in mind that I was in Grizzly Country. So I did my research in advance to insure that I could control everything that was in my control. Yes, there is always a chance that something could happen in which you can’t control the situation BUT you can control those things that can be controlled- so plan, read, and equip yourself with the best advice in order to eliminate as much risk as possible.
I have seen some really bewildering things on all of our trips… but just in our recent backpacking trip in Montana alone:
1. I saw individuals hiking alone (without bear spray).
2. I saw two young girls hiking together at dusk in the backcountry (without bear spray).
3. I saw both individuals and groups hiking without making loud noises to alert bears they were in the area.
4. I had a guy admit to me that he and his wife DID NOT take time to hang their food away from their camp… instead keeping it in their tent overnight.
5. I witnessed a young lady emptying the contents of her backpack (including food) then leaving the area… only to have a bear walk right passed the food.
6. I saw a group of a dozen tourists run into woods along a trail to get a peek of three moose (a baby with it’s parents)… only to have a Ranger run after them in frustration.
This was in the span of eight days in specific locations in Glacier National Park. I can only imagine how much carelessness goes on each day around the US in bear populated areas.
I believe the reason that so many people are so careless when in wild areas is because they really do not think they are in any imminent harm or danger. We kind of have a “zoo” mentality that everything is controlled and that there is no real way I will be in a precarious or life-threatening situation. The problem with this mentality… is that it is careless and wrong. When we go into nature we are entering the home of wild animals. That’s just the bottom line. To that end, we should ALWAYS enter with the utmost caution and always be prepared for the unexpected.
I heard about a guy a couple of years ago in eastern Kentucky who saw a black bear walking along a trail a couple hundred feet in front of him. Rather than stopping and simply letting the bear go on its way… he followed it. He walked behind the bear and took pictures of it so he could show his buddies and wife. And then the bear turned around and began to walk towards him. He slowly began to back away but the bear got closer. Nervously, he continued to back away but eventually backed right into some steps and fell to the ground. The bear attacked him and tore him up pretty good. One hundred and seventy stitches good.
So what are some good pieces of advice to take with you in bear country? This isn’t an exhaustive list by any stretch, but certainly some pieces of advice to chew on. I would recommend doing even more research in addition to talking to park rangers about additional precautions that may be taken.
– Always have BEAR SPRAY on your person. From the studies that have been done bear spray is more effective than a firearm in dissuading a bear from attack.
– Do not hike alone. Hike with others and make plenty of noise. The noise won’t scare the bears. It simply alerts them that you are coming so that they aren’t startled. Attacks may happen when you startle an unsuspecting bear.
– Try to avoid hiking at dawn/dusk as this is the time when bears are active and feeding.
– Do not approach a bear cub AT ALL… even if it is super cute. You are asking for the protective mother to tear you apart.
– Put all of your food and smelly stuff in a rain proof bag and hang it by rope over a tree branch a hundred or more feet from where you sleep- or- put your food in a bear canister and place it away from your camp.
– Do not leave food at your camp unattended… even for a second.
– If you encounter a bear, slowly back away and resist the urge to turn and run.
– Do not move forward until the bear has cleared out of the area.
– If a bear begins to move toward you… throw something between you and the bear. Hopefully the bear will be more curious about the item you tossed so you can continue backing slowly away.
– If a bear begins to attacks, fall belly to the ground protecting your head and neck with your arms. If you are wearing a pack, it may protect your back. Since you are traveling in a group… they will spray the bear with bear spray.
Again, this is not a complete list. But a good beginning for you to read and study about the proper precautions in which to take before journeying into the wild.
Be Careful Out There,