Bears

Tomcat

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Mar 22, 2016
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I plan on backpacking in Yellowstone with my son for the first time this June. Do any backpackers carry a firearm, or what do you suggest for a bear encounter to defend yourself? I'm leaning more towards a firearm than a pepper spray
 

Absarokanaut

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There is a definitive study by Alaska F&G that should DEFINITELY CHANGE your mind.

Grizzly bears have a different physiology, their skulls are inches thick and some wander around with bullets in their head because a mensa reject used a conventional firearm/ammo. When a grizzly is on all fours charging you with conventional setup there are two targets, the size of dimes, closing on you at +/- 30 mph. There is no heart lung shot, and you're of course not going to shoot a stationary bear at more than 15 yards, RIGHT?, I was fully charged in 2012 and was REALLY glad to make the sane choice to carry BEAR spray for 13 years before I had to use it. Remember, BEAR spray, NOT pepper spray. It's something entirely different than a woman carries in her purse. If someone suggests wasp spray they are an IDIOT.

Is bear spray a 100% guarnatee? Of course not, but unless you are a cyborg of sorts that can make a shot not many humans that ever lived could then go with the better odds of spray. I also holster an airhorn, and although some self proclaimed experts say it could be a problem it has served me well for years.

You are in far more danger driving to a trailhead or stepping off a curb than you are from bears on the trail. If you are too testosterone debilitated to go with just spray make sure the gun is NOT a substitute. At a MINIMUM you need a 451 Casull and the awkward at least 3 pound monster to fire them. I sprayed from the hip, can you shoot from your holster? If not then your option is the only safe one with other humans too, gun constantly drawn at the ready to establish and MAINTAIN defensive space.
 
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Aldaron

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Yeah, read the research...don't read uninformed posts on hunting forums.

Here is a good study: http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/bear_cougar/bear/files/JWM_BearSprayAlaska.pdf

The bottom line is that an 8 foot wide cone of bear spray is easier to deploy accurately in times of extreme stress (when a bear is attacking) than a quarter inch wide bullet. And bears are shown to react more immediately to bear spray than a bullet...if you don't kill the bear immediately (with a .454 Casull round or a shotgun slug...nothing else has much of a chance of getting the job done in a close-in attack), then it can continue to kill you before it gets around to dying.

Of course, wind does affect bear spray, but I still contend that it doesn't affect the bear spray any more than your stress will affect the accuracy of your gun shot. If the wind is strong then you will have to let the bear get close before you can spray it, but for my safety I have total confidence that the spray will work.

All of that having been said, though, I've never even seen a bear in the backcountry of Yellowstone in my hundreds of miles hiking and backpacking there. And even when you do see them, the odds of an aggressive bear attack are outrageously low. Take a look at the likely causes of death in the backcountry. Bear attacks are way down the line.

Take the bear spray because it's smart to have a defensive weapon...forget about the gun because you'll never need it.

Plus, it's illegal to discharge a firearm in a park. While it's unlikely, theoretically you could be charged if you shoot a bear in the park.

Just go have fun...it'll be a great trip!
 

Wyatt Carson

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Apr 15, 2015
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The long nose on bears contains an amazing amount of olfactory sensors, more than dogs. Spray affects them in a big way, much more than it does humans. I have had a bear within arm's reach and fought it off with rocks and much screaming. Still I would never take a firearm but do take spray in some cases.

A couple of quotes from actual studies;

"Thanks to a study published in the April 2008 issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management by bear researcher Thomas Smith of Brigham Young University, those who market hot-pepper aerosols shouldn't meet as much resistance in the future. Smith analyzed 600 Alaskan bear- human encounters from 1985 to 2006, of which 71 involved pepper spray and aggressive bears—mostly grizzlies.

The results? Bear spray, when properly used, halted aggressive bear behavior in 92 percent of the cases. Of the 175 people involved in the bear-spray encounters, only three were injured and none required hospitalization. Wind interfered with the spray in only five incidents, and in no case, stresses Smith, did it fail to reach the target. Twelve users reported irritation from the spray, but the irritation was minor in all but two instances. And in the 71 encounters when bear spray was used, not once did the can malfunction.

By comparison, Smith's examination of the use of firearms in hundreds of bear encounters shows that bullets deterred a charge just two-thirds of the time, and that it takes an average of four shots to stop a bear."

"Many hikers and park rangers have been skeptical of the bear sprays, fearing that they wouldn’t deter a bear or might not work in the wind. But the cannisters, which can be carried in holsters and work like fire extinguishers, eject the red-pepper spray at more than 70 miles per hour, and the new study showed that they reached bears even in windy conditions."
 

John Goering

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By comparison, Smith's examination of the use of firearms in hundreds of bear encounters shows that bullets deterred a charge just two-thirds of the time, and that it takes an average of four shots to stop a bear.

Again, like every other firearm/bear related statistic, no separation is made whether the person used a 22 or a S&W 500 mag and therefore the results are largely useless. Personally, my wife and I always have both bear spray and a handgun. And while I do pack a 500 on shorter trips, it is usually an AirLite 44 mag loaded with 320 grain flat nose (VERY unpleasant to shoot). That one has a laser and target acquisition is significantly faster. No need for a sight picture-just paste a dot on target-even from your hip. All that said, if you can't acquire and hit the target very quickly, no firearm is going to save your butt. And that takes a lot of practice. Bear spray takes a whole lot less practice.

And the Park Service isn't at all enthusiastic about guns. I believe you still need a concealed carry permit from the appropriate state.
 

Tomcat

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Mar 22, 2016
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Thanks for all the information. That's what I wanted , some advice from people who have been there! Thanks again .
 

kimbur96

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I have never had a bear encounter but I use to shoot pistols in local competition. Even with lots of practice, 1000 rounds a week, it is very difficult under stress to precisely place a shot. And that was just the stress of competition, not a charging bear. Due to the extremely small kill zone on a bear I can see wear bear spray would be optimal. Just point in general direction.
 

Bob Wire

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I have never had a bear encounter but I use to shoot pistols in local competition. Even with lots of practice, 1000 rounds a week, it is very difficult under stress to precisely place a shot. And that was just the stress of competition, not a charging bear. Due to the extremely small kill zone on a bear I can see wear bear spray would be optimal. Just point in general direction.
Bear spray is also very effective on charging bull moose. Twice in Alaska I had first hand experience with its effectiveness
 

Outdoor_Fool

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Tomcat, excellent question. All great advice above. Bear spray works well. Guns can work in the right situation but those situations are rare indeed. I've taught bear safety classes for ~20 years now. My main message is always that your brain is your best weapon and with some knowledge of bear behavior, ecology, morphology and recognizing bear sign, you can largely avoid bad encounters.

Having said that, I always carry bear spray and I recommend that everyone does. If I'm out with my kids, I usually carry a sidearm also as a backup. Neither one will do any good unless it is immediately available, and you have practiced deploying it to the point that you can have it ready to go in 2-3 seconds. Practice pulling the trigger lock on the bear spray while it is in the holster so you can shoot from the hip or chest and not have to expend another second or more pulling it from the holster. To add a bit to what John Goering said above, if you are carrying your handgun concealed, you are carrying it wrong for bear protection. Don't rely on either of them to help you through an avoidable situation, be ready to use them when the situation becomes bad.

If you want to learn about the reality of bear attacks and avoiding them, read Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance by Stephen Herrero.
 

Tomcat

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Do you have any recommendations on what brand, type , size etc. bear spray to get . Thanks for the advice on the book! Sounds like valuable reading!
 

John Goering

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To add a bit to what John Goering said above, if you are carrying your handgun concealed, you are carrying it wrong for bear protection.

Totally agree. I always use a chest holster, but then we also avoid Yellowstone these days (too many people for us). A chest holster doesn't get in the way of the pack or hip belt and is very readily available. When you think about it, bear spray is a pretty recent phenomena and up until the 90's, there weren't any effective alternatives to a firearm.
 

Outdoor_Fool

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I have 3 or 4 different types at home but Counter Assault is my go-to brand. The 10.2 oz is what I carry. Counter Assault has the blessings of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, the team responsible for conservation of grizzlies in the lower 48.

I'll add this link. It seems fairly intuitive but there are some wild stories out there on how people have used bear spray.

http://counterassault.com/igbcpp.htm
 
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Outdoor_Fool

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Totally agree. I always use a chest holster, but then we also avoid Yellowstone these days (too many people for us). A chest holster doesn't get in the way of the pack or hip belt and is very readily available. When you think about it, bear spray is a pretty recent phenomena and up until the 90's, there weren't any effective alternatives to a firearm.

Excellent point on the chest holster. John. You've been roaming Yellowstone long enough to remember the good days when the park would go pretty quiet by mid-September. I miss those days.
 

Wyatt Carson

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Do you have any recommendations on what brand, type , size etc. bear spray to get . Thanks for the advice on the book! Sounds like valuable reading!

My can says Counter Assault, Bear Deterrent, Grizzly Tough Pepper Spray

Never had to spray it yet. Every other bear save that one bold one has run off when we saw them. A huge moose with calf up in Algonquin did come within 10 yards of us but we were in a designated campsite right on the shoreline of a lake where the moose were sloshing along. We just lay real quiet in our tent, looking out the screen at them as they strolled by. Our hearts were pounding loudly. LOL A full grown moose is like a prehistoric tank looking thing. If she thought she had to defend her calf I'm sure it would be like getting run over by a bulldozer on speed...

It is good to think ahead and be prepared with a plan and I'd probably take my bear spray into the country you'll be hiking in too, but to tell the truth I worry more about injuring an ankle (or some other kind of injury that would keep me from hiking out) than any other thing.

Have a good journey.
 

Aldaron

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I'll echo what others have said about your brain being your best weapon. Every time we backpack in grizzly country I spend the first half hour of the hike discussing what we're supposed to do in different bear encounter scenarios. That way I make sure that we both have the plans fresh in our minds and we understand what we're supposed to do if it happens. For the best advice on what to do in different situations, read that Stephen Herrero book...it really is a great book. But remember that you have to keep the information fresh in everyone's head...it's easy to forget things.

One time we had a small black bear come within 20 feet of us in camp in the Olympic National Park. When I saw the bear coming closer I picked up my bear spray, a pot, and my fork so I could bang on the pot. When I turned around, I saw that my wife was still standing there holding a Mountain House meal in her hand. I just softly said, "Was it our plan that you should hold the food if a bear comes at us?" So, yeah, it's important to always discuss the plans.
 

Jimmy

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Dumb question from a Midwesterner who only deals with bears when I head out West...

Are there any types of bear spray that can be placed in checked luggage? One issue with traveling (often under a tight timeline) is that we have to find a source for bear spray upon arrival. It's not always feasible, depending on where we're traveling. Would love to be able to bring it along, but it appears to be banned from airplanes just like fuel.
 

andyjaggy

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There is a brand of spray I've seen that also came with a practice canister so you could practice deploying it, might be worth it if you have never fired one off before. Saw it at Cabellas.
 

Aldaron

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Are there any types of bear spray that can be placed in checked luggage?

Unfortunately, no. Now that I've moved back east, I run into this problem when I go back.

The pepper spray itself will keep it off the plane, and the aerosol will also keep it off, per the TSA rules.

I've read where people have varying success of shipping bear spray ahead, though. Some have successfully done it through the US Mail, while others have been refused. Some have done it through UPS while others have been refused. It's worth a shot to see if you can ship it to your destination.

I ended up buying a can and leaving with friends in Salt Lake so I can just get it each time I fly in.
 

John Goering

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I really don't think there is any significant difference between Counter Assault and UDAP. We use the latter.
http://www.udap.com/

UDAP has a practice bear they haul around to outdoor shows. If the opportunity presents its self, give it a try. You will have a much better grasp on how little time you actually have to deploy the spray, even when you are expecting it. The bear is on a rail system and launches out of the back of a trailer from behind a curtain of sorts.
 
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