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Backpacker's Health & Safety The Backpacker's Health & Safety forum is for the discussion of health and safety/survival issues that directly relate to backpackers.

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Old 11-07-2007, 02:38 PM
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Dusty Boots Dusty Boots is offline
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Backpack: Depends on trip conditions. I have 4 to choose from. 2 Keltys, 1 Gregory, 1 MEC pack
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Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: Ontario, Canada
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Be 'Bear Aware' and use common sense!

I have hiked many years in 'bear infested' areas, up here in Canada. My 1st season in BC alone(10 years ago), I saw 24 black bears in the bush. Once, while out for a hike In Ontario with my wife and SiL, we were bluff charged by a young Black. I stood my ground, while my wife and SiL left vapour trails, running in the other direction. The bear stopped about 20' from me and slowly made it's way back into the bush. Sobering, yes.
Since then, I have had a couple other 'close encounters' with Blacks, but none have charged. A couple of them were I suspect 'habituated' to humans and they either sat and watched me, or stood off to the side of the trail and watched, to see what I was going to do. Neither of them made any threatening move towards me.
98-99% of all my bear encounters ended up with the bears high tailing it out of there. When I am hiking along a trail(especially when solo) and I come to an area I suspect is prime 'bear habitat', such as avalanche chutes, or areas that are brimming with berries, I usually bang my trekking poles together, to alert any bears that might be in the area, of my presence.
I have however, recently decided that I should carry some kind of 'bear deterrent' .
A while ago, I purchased what is commonly known up here as Bear Bangers, which is a centre fire pencil type launcher that fires off flares as well as a loud 'bear banger'. These are good for encounters that are at a longer distance of 100' or so and you want to scare the bear off. They are as loud as a 12 gauge shotgun blast. They would be ideal for scaring off bears in a high alpine meadow, or someplace that is not densely forested.
However, I haven't gotten around to finding/obtaining a suitable 'holster' for it to be easily mounted/accessible on one of my shoulder straps, so it has remained at home thus far.

I recently obtained a small 50g can of Sabre dog repellent, with a holster that I can attach to my shoulder strap. I obtained it for free, from work. Although I've never used it, I know it does work well on dogs and should provide enough of a deterrent on a Black, to allow me to get to a safer location, if the need ever arises. Not sure on that one, but it's better than nothing.
I should mention that while there are lots of Black Bears where I hike, there are not that many Grizzlies. I am planning to do some hikes in the future where there is a rather extensive Grizzly Bear habitat and I may rethink my options, when/if I do those hikes.

I'm always aware of my surroundings when I go hiking. I feel more 'threatened' by the large Mountain Lion population up here, then by Black Bears! They are a completely different, stealthy threat, altogether!!

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Old 03-05-2008, 12:48 PM
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kitvan kitvan is offline
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Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 14
Thanks everyone for the great information!!!

I'm a relatively new hiker- and I'm totally paranoid about large, carnivorous animals in the backcountry.

Truth be told, I often decide not to hike alone because of this fear. I haven't even seen a bear in the wild yet, but I did witness a large mountain lion while car camping at Buckhorn campground in the Angeles Forest, which was interesting...

I have 2 canisters of bear spray, and feel pretty content with them. I've read that this mace also can deter mountain lions...if you manage to hear it coming!

From what I've taken from your helpful entries, there's no substitution for vigilance when it comes to safety. But having a little reassurance in your pack certainly helps you to enjoy your hiking a bit more!
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Old 03-07-2008, 11:06 AM
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Siayn Siayn is offline
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A quick safety note on bear spary or any pepper spray. This stuff is spray, as in a mist that blows around. It is designed to overload your eyes and nasal passages, and it works very effecitvely.

Just like any weapon (yes, this is a weapon, just a non-lethal one) you need to know how it will effect you. This is why police who carry pepper spray usually have to get sprayed by it before they are allowed to carry it. I did some volunteer law enforcement and had the pleasure of going through this training class so I can say first hand that this stuff knocks you on your butt. After being sprayed I physically could not open my eyes for about 10 minutes. My nasal passages felt like they were on fire for a few hours and snot poured uncontrollably for a good 20 minutes. For the next 12 hours afterwards, the lightest moisture on my face reactivated the pepper and it felt like a really bad sunburn.

Why am I going into so much detail? Cause blowback is a VERY common occurance when using pepper spray. With blowback it probably wont be as bad as a direct hit, but it will still mess you up. My primary concern is that people not be surprised by this should they choose to carry/use pepper spray in the outdoors. Getting charged by a bear or cat is a tense enough life-threatening situation. What would make that situation 10 times scarier is if you got blowback and suddenly couldnt see because you cannot open your eyes.

I am not saying to not carry the spray, what I am trying to say is to mentally prepare for the reality of the side-effects of the spray (like blowback) so that you do no go into a panic if you go blind temporarily while trying to fight off an animal.
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Old 04-26-2008, 04:54 AM
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nogods nogods is offline
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Bear Spray is working

The first defense against a bear attack is avoiding confrontations with bears. But that is not always possible.

Intuitively many would think that a firearm would be more effective in stopping a bear attack than bear spray, but recent studies indicate that bear spray is more effective than a firearm in preventing injury from a bear attack.

A US Fish and Wildlife Service report entitled Bear Spray vs. Bullets states that:

"The question is not one of marksmanship or clear thinking in the face of a growling bear, for even a skilled marksman with steady nerves may have a slim chance of deterring a bear attack with a gun.

Law enforcement agents for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have experience that supports this reality -- based on their investigations of human-bear encounters since 1992, persons encountering grizzlies and defending themselves with firearms suffer injury about 50% of the time.

During the same period, persons defending themselves with pepper spray escaped injury most of the time, and those that were injured experienced shorter duration attacks and less severe injuries. Canadian bear biologist Dr. Stephen Herrero reached similar conclusions based on his own research -- a person’s chance of incurring serious injury from a charging grizzly doubles when bullets are fired versus when bear spray is used."

A recent story in the Anchorage Daily News (March 26, 2008) states:

"Twenty years of data on aggressive bear behavior shows that hitting a bruin with bear spray is more likely than a gun to stop aggression, according to a study reported in a CBC News story. The study by American and Canadian researchers showed that spray stopped aggressive bears — whether they were attacking or foraging for food — in 92 percent of the cases; guns worked 67 percent of the time."

A more complete report of the study, along with cautions about proper use of bear spray, can be found in the March 26, 2008 edition of Science Daily

Most importantly, backpackers need to remember that bear spray is not a repellent like DEET. Spraying it on your tent or in and around your camp is going to attract bears rather than keep them away.

It works on a charging bear because it disrupts their senses and causes a great deal of discomfort. The first thing you should do after stopping a bear attack with bear spray is get yourself out of that area because other bears in the area will be attracted to the smell of the residue.
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Old 04-26-2008, 04:01 PM
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djtrekker djtrekker is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2008
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Echo nogods post. I spoke with a bear biologist from Montana Fish Wildlife and Game a couple days ago on the subject of bear deterrence. By the way, give them a call, to the Wildlife Center of the dept, and they will be happy to mail information or discuss. She emphasized that it is proven that bear spray is extremely effective in deterring approaches and charges. She also stated that using guns is more likely to compound trouble.

I think her personal favorite was Counter Assault, but officially of course she can't recommend any particular brand. I also saw on the 'net the other day, but can't remember brand, that there is an inert practice can available for about 1/2 price of the real stuff that can be used to practice (no blowback consequences).

The US Fish & Wildlife Service has great fact sheets on bear deterrence and behavior.

The way I approach it: #1 - get reliable knowledge (I prefer biologists, scientists, and reputable professional guides because popular literature is rife with misinformation on the subject) #2 - prepare mentally; learn the common sense stuff so you don't create trouble #3 - equip yourself with the right deterrent to protect when necessary and be confident in its use

Now, I hike in black bear country in the lower mountain and SW states, and VA/WV. Blacks I don't worry about, have seen many and just don't worry about them. I don't carry spray. In brown/grizz country, yes I definitely would.

Another thought spurred by a previous post - it's important to know that everyone in your party is on the same sheet of music about the bear thing, so have a pre-trek pow wow. It's of little use for you to be doing smart things and be prepared if someone in your party panics and does something stupid.
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Old 04-27-2008, 05:26 AM
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nogods nogods is offline
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Originally Posted by djtrekker
Now, I hike in black bear country in the lower mountain and SW states, and VA/WV. Blacks I don't worry about, have seen many and just don't worry about them. I don't carry spray. In brown/grizz country, yes I definitely would.

DJ - the danger of black versus grizzly is difficult to determine because of differing aspects of human-bear encounters. It is true that more people are injured or killed by black bears in the US and Canada than by grizzly and browns combined. That doesn't necessarily mean that black bears are more agressive or dangerous. It could be simply be because more people are near black bears than grizzly and browns. But because of those stats I wouldn't discount the danger of black bears.

Once a human and a black bear are in contact the bear is not likely to leave until it has killed, but grizzlies are known for ending an attack after subduing the subject. That is why experts recommend figting back against a black but playing dead if in contact with a grizzly.

I do think it is more dangerous to be in the vicintiy of a grizzly than a black simply because of the grizzly's temperment. In otherwords, I think a grizzley is more likely to attack than a black bear when it encounters a human. But the black is more likely to kill and eat once it has decided to attack.

In fact, the NYS DEC put out a recent report asserting that most human encounters with black bears in NY are not threatening situations even though they are perceived that way by the humans. Black bears seem to ignore or run from humans unless they are protecting cubs or seeking food, in which case they are likely to attack rather than bluff charge, and more likely to attempt to follow through with a kill.

But again, because of the difference in the number and type of encounters, I don't think one type of bear can be considered more dangerous than the other. I think all encounters with bears should be treated with both awe and caution. If either decides to attack then bear spray increases your chances of avoiding contact.
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Old 04-27-2008, 09:54 AM
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cat cat is offline
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Join Date: May 2006
Location: Alaska
Posts: 63
Did you see this 4-20-08 article in ADN about bear spray being the most highly effective?

Study shows bear spray effective

The Associated Press

Published: April 20th, 2008 02:32 PM
Last Modified: April 20th, 2008 02:41 PM

A study concludes that bear spray works a great majority of the time in warding off bear attacks.

Biologist Tom Smith and others have published a paper of their research in "The Journal of Wildlife Management."

The study says bear spray is effective 98 percent of the time.

The researchers looked at 83 cases where bear spray was used and found that none of the incidents involved any serious injuries. The red-pepper spray causes painfully swollen eyes and nasal passages on its targets.

Smith spent years working in Alaska as a bear biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey.

He is now a professor of wildlife science at Brigham Young University.

In the report, Smith noted the risk for injury is greater with firearms, the other main means of self-protection. Wounded bears sometimes turn on people.

Johnny McCoy, a Baptist minister and former North Pole mayor, had his ear ripped off in 2001 by a grizzly bear that attacked moose-hunting partner Gary Corle. Corle shot at the bear with his rifle, but missed. The bear then turned on McCoy, who needed surgery to reattach his ear and close large gashes in his forehead, arms and hands.

Bear spray has been used in Alaska for more than two decades. No similar attacks against those using spray in self-defense have been reported.

"Bear spray represents an effective alternative to lethal force," the researchers wrote.

But bear spray also has its limits. Smith notes there have been problems with the spray in the wind, although its biggest drawback may be the one-shot limit.

Smith reported that in "7 percent of bear spray incidents, wind was reported to have interfered with spray accuracy, although it reached bears in every case."

Among other problems, spray residue has been found to attract brown bears rather than repel them.
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Old 04-27-2008, 11:24 AM
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djtrekker djtrekker is offline
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Location: Central Virginia
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Originally Posted by nogods
DJ - the danger of black versus grizzly is difficult to determine..........

quite agree; all correct facts. I do pay attention to the importance of regional differences, and I check with local rangers always to get the skinny on the temperament and current issues of bears in the area I'll be hiking.

As for my attitude toward blacks, when I say I don't worry about them, I truly don't = quite cavalier and perhaps not exactly adviseable. One benefit of these forums is to help me look at a part of my trail character that has become blind to me, or an area I'm taking for granted (who is more dangerous when taken for granted: bears or wives....perhaps a new thread? ). I am quite comfortable in bear country, but that comfort can easily become carelessness. I was thinking about it today, and since I have had so many encounters with blackies (although frankly only two in VA/WV in the last 8 years) it wouldn't hurt to think about carrying the spray. Since being on the forum, my vigilance and knowledge on a couple of subjects has been upped...
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Old 05-04-2008, 06:23 AM
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Holubar Holubar is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Alaska
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The recent Articles in Alaska magazine and the Anchorage Daily news about the 'superior effectiveness' of bear spray over firearms promps me to write this.

Anyone not trained in the use of firearms, or who does not practice using it, is better off using bear spray.
Anyone not trained in the use of bearspray, or who does not practice using it, is better off using nothing.
Anyone using practiced in using bearspray is better off knowing this:

Here’s what will get you mauled in bear country.

- Number 1 reason!!!! Hiking with your dog, off the leash.
The dog runs after a bear, the bear turns and chases the dog, the dog runs back to you. The angry bear catches you first.

Even if you don’t have a bear encounter, other animals can kill or injure your dog. More than once I have seen tearful hikers packing out their busted up dog because the unleashed pooch had gotten stomped by a moose or shredded by a lynx. Stupid owners, this really makes me angry.
Leash your dog or leave it at home!

If you hike with an unleashed dog your chances of a bear encounter increase exponentially. Why carry a weapon if you are going to bait a bear anyway?

- Not being aware of your surroundings.
Hiking fast against the wind, coming over rises quickly, letting rivers and streams ‘drown’ out your noise signature. Slow down, enjoy the view, let the bear smell/hear/see you first!
If you surprise a bear, it’s mostly your fault. Have fun, but pay attention.

-Running away from a bear.
Do I really have to explain this?

-Sleeping out in the open, solo.
Bears aren’t stupid. Unless they are young and totally inexperienced with humans, they know a tent contains people, even though they can’t see them. What they don’t know is how many people there are, how big they are, if their eyes are closed and they are sleeping, etc. etc. They usually won’t risk investigation of a tent, but if they do, using spray inside a tent will be very painfull.
If you are out in the open, or even under a tarp, they can easily observe you. They may decide it is worth the risk.
Sleeping is really the only time a bear might attack you without being surprised or provoked. Sleeping solo, in the open, is not a good idea.

A lot of people use tarps now, good for them. Just be aware that this is riskier than using a tent. To believe otherwise is nonsense.

I did use bearspray on a moose once.
I surprised him in the bush. {My fault more than his} I only had enough time to spray him at point blank range. It worked.
Had there been wind in my face I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger, or I might have gotten sprayed AND stomped.
Had this been a bear, he might have been so juiced that he would have mauled me anyway. Spraying myself and the bear while on the ground wouldn’t help me any.
However, I could hopefully have shoved a pistol into his mouth or gut and put an end to it, [while being mauled].

My point is this, bearspray isn’t all it’s made out to be. It is not ‘95% effective’. Good ‘bear sense’ is much more effective. Without it, bearspray is almost worthless. I’m not against it’s use. If it makes you feel better, carry it. Just don’t be fooled into thinking it is ‘all that’.
‘Help keep Alaska trails quiet, don’t wear bearbells’

Last edited by Holubar : 05-04-2008 at 06:29 AM.
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Old 05-05-2008, 06:38 PM
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Kutenay Kutenay is offline
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Posts: 81
After so much of what I read on various BPing sites concerning bears, spray, encounters and speculation by persons who have NO field experience to bas their opinions on, Holubar's post is a HUGE improvement. He is RIGHT in his comments and others should heed his advice and follow his suggestions.

I DO NOT carry spray, had an ugly experience with it and consider it both highly over-rated and actually somewhat "dangerous" as carrying it seems to give the uninitiated a sense of omnipotence where bears are concerned.

I DO sleep in bivies, under a siltarp in Grizzly country, always have and always will. I also have enough experience to know when, where and how to do this and my dogs, over the years, have been very well "bear trained".

BUT, Holubar is also right about this and safety by avoidance, caution and commonsense should, IMO, be more important to backpackers than spray.
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