Safety in Bear Country

There is a lot of information on how to be safe in the woods when there are bears about.  In fact, most people probably have some incorrect assumptions about what actually constitutes bear safety and awareness.  There are many misconceptions and some misinformation out there.

In looking to find a one-stop shop for the latest research on how to deal with bears while enjoying the outdoors, I found a video of Tom Smith, PhD. presenting Safety in Bear Country at the 2012 NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) Faculty Summit.

It's a long presentation, about 1 1/4 hours, but it's filled with new data and the results of years of research, mostly accumulated from Tom's time spent in Alaska, working for the US Geological Survey.  It's also got some good, light-hearted humor. I highly recommend that you watch the whole thing, or at least until they start doing the field testing of bear spray, although that is pretty interesting as well.

Some of what I suggest you take away from this presentation:

  • Always take a deterrent (bear spray, noisemaker or a legally carried firearm) with you when travelling in bear habitat (each member of a group should have a deterrent)
  • Bear spray is actually a more effective deterrent than a firearm for most people
  • Know how to use your chosen deterrent, before you are in a situation where you have to use it
  • Have spares of your chosen deterrent available on hand (cans of spray, noisemaker consumables or ammunition)
  • Don't use bear spray as a repellent, ie. don't spray it on anything, other than at a bear... like many strong smelling substances, bears will be attracted to the scent
  • Don't wear strong scents that could attract bears to you
  • Bright colored tents can actually attract bears, and pique their curiousity
  • Bears are not risk takers, they will most likely avoid a confrontation if it's not in their best interest
  • The more people in a group, the less chance of a negative encounter
  • If you are in a group, stay together.  If you encounter a bear, present your group standing side by side to show the bear that there are more of you
  • Close encounters in thick brush tend to be more dangerous, and things can happen very quickly in denser bush
  • You will not be able to outrun a bear, any bear, don't run away or you'll be chased
  • Don't back away from a bear, it is a submissive gesture and may encourage a chase
  • Bears are very curious, sometimes allowing them to satisfy their curiosity is all that is needed
  • Yelling at a bear may actually provoke a bear into an attack, make noise appropriately
  • Bear bells are not effective

For more reading, here are a few good articles that summarize the Spray vs Firearm debate:

Bears are predators, they can be unpredictable and dangerous.  They are also one of nature's most beautiful creatures.  Respect them.  Learn to be safe around them and you too can enjoy the wilderness in bear country.

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