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  1. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Bear Spray vs Guns

    Discussion in 'Debate Room' started by Jack Asher, Jan 12, 2015.

    Sorry this took a bit to get up here @GingerCoffee. Lets get to it.

    I'll start succinctly: There is no reason to take a gun into the back country if you are not hunting. And if you're not hunting bear, there is no reason to use a gun on a bear, and no reason to think that there will be a good outcome.

    I'm an "experienced" back country hiker, worked for the Larimer County Search and Rescue for three years, and spent several years hiking for fun in the Lake Yellowstone area, where grizzlies are prevalent. I have never carried a gun into the back country, never felt a need to, and around a dozen encounters with bears have all ended peacefully.

    Lets start with the ramifications. In my state killing a bear to prevent loss of human life, is acceptable, but for any other reason it's a thousand dollar fine. In Yellowstone it would be mandatory jail time in almost every instance. In either case there would be an inquest allowing you to plead your case, but unless you can provide evidence in the case of real injury there's a huge problem. The last grizzly bear in Colorado was killed in 1979 and there was a six month investigation into whether the victim of her attack had acted in self defense (and he killed the bear by jamming an arrow into it).

    In encounters with bears it's very rare for the animal to get aggressive. While they are considered apex predators, very few have extensive contact with humans. They are usually more curious about humans, unsure whether we are food or not. In the case where a bear learns that humans are easy to attack/eat that animal will be hunted and destroyed. Attempts to disseminate this information into the bear community has met with little success, and it's not recommended that you count on it as a deterrent.

    What this means is that your dream of encountering a raging boar grizzly and subduing it with a gun shot to the head is much more likely to go like this:

    The hiker is doing the right thing by not turning his back on the bear. Turning and running is a really bad idea, but he made it out okay. But in an encounter like this, shooting the bear would definitely get him arrested and fined. That bear was not an imminent threat to anyone who knew how to deal with it. (At this point I imagine that someone might ask, "What if they didn't know how to deal with it?" My answer is, "If you don't know how to deal with a bear, hiking into bear country is a bad idea, and bringing a gun with you only makes it worse.") This is also an example of case in which bear spray would have saved the day. When the bear gets close you spray it, and it backs off to deal with the mace.

    I had a friend point out that firing into the air might scare off the bear, but in that case an air horn would be much more effective.

    But what about bear attacks? What do you do when the bear gets aggressive?
    The answer is not pretty.
    We call them sudden encounters, and they happen most often when the bear has been startled, when a sow has cubs, or when there is a kill in the area (bears bury their kills and come back for several days to eat it, they can get defensive when someone is getting in the way of their dinner). This is why people carry bear bells, or keep themselves talking when they walk. The best way to avoid a sudden encounter is to ensure the bear isn't startled, and making noise goes a long way.

    But the stark reality is that a gun isn't going to help in a sudden encounter at all. In most encounters a bear will charge, and (assuming you are facing it, which is assuming a lot) you have only a few seconds to draw your weapon before the bear is on you. After that you're in the midst of a melee with a bear, and there's very little you can do about it.

    But lets pretend the bear is in front of you, you've drawn your weapon in time, and you can pick your shot.

    You are very unlikely to kill the bear.

    A black bear is around 3-4 times stronger then a human of around the same weight. Their muscles are 3-4 times as dense. And if you've seen a bear get aggressive, you know that there's very little of them that isn't muscle. A grizzly is 10 times stronger and 10 times denser. There are cartridges specifically for bears that large, but few of them are made for handguns.

    So you've startled the bear, you've drawn on the bear, you've hit the bear, and the bear is still a huge danger to you. Studies have found that shooting and injuring a human at anything less then 45 feet gives them ample time to close the distance and attack you, in some cases even for head wounds. And that's a human, you just shot a fucking bear.

    I'll let the U.S Fish and Wildlife take it from here,
    So unless you're going into the back country with the express interest of killing a bear, bear spray* is the best way to go in pretty much every situation. Or any situation that you expect to survive.

    *And being aware of bear behavior, cautious hiking, and general wildlife preparedness.
     
  2. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    @Jack Asher

    Well

    The more ya know

    I'd of thought a gun would of been better but nope seems the spray saves the day, learn something new everyday. Yet does make sense that a handgun wouldn't do much to a bear.

    I suppose you'd like a what?

    A rifle I suppose....?


    Also Jack you forgot to the most basic form of bear defense.





    The deadly crotch kick.
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I too have a lot of back country hiking experience. That bear story I wrote for the short story contest was truly non-fiction. And I agree the vast majority of the time, bear encounters are not dangerous. I've seen bears many times and I've never hiked carrying a gun.

    But, the older I get the more incidents I become aware of where a gun might have been a nice thing to have. A sick bear, for example, a starving bear in particular is a threat to people. These two videos come to mind. I've seen a longer version of the second one. The guy had a 1 hour standoff with a bear. He stayed in the water but every time he tried to get out the bear would come after him.



     
  4. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I'm not sure why these examples would be better helped by a gun then bear spray. You don't have to kill a starving bear, you just need to give it a reason not to eat you. The fact that you pack mace that's illegal to use on a human is a pretty good reason to go find something else to eat.
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I would rely on bear spray, it's just that I've heard a lot of discussion that it doesn't work.
     
  6. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I'm interested to see that data.
    Here's an article that compiles a bunch of studies about the superior efficacy of spray
    http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/nature/Shoot-or-Spray.html
    I'm sure a web-surfer-girl will have a great time following all those links.
     
  7. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    So basically if I'm not willing to risk an encounter with a bear, don't even go into bear country. Got it.

    Seriously though, a mace sounds better than a gun. The latter seems to do nothing but enrage the bear and drastically decrease your chances of not getting mauled by said bear.

    And you've probably heard this asked a million times before but, what do you think of the 'playing dead' trick? Does that fool the bear at all? Or climbing up a tree to get away from the bear? Does that work?
     
  8. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Well don't climb a tree. Bears are very good at tree climbing. And going up a tree doesn't really help anything if you are trying to get away from the bear, all that will happen is the bear will wait around until you come down.

    I don't really know of any studies on playing dead. There's only anecdotal evidence of a theoretical strategy, and it's difficult to test. There are success stories and failure stories. The playing dead option makes the assumption that the bear will not decide to eat you at the time and will instead attempt to bury you and save you for later.

    But, if the bear is physically attacking you, you don't really have any chance of fighting him off. That's about the best time to go limp. The bear has less reason to keep killing you if it thinks you are already dead. That's were you see the success stories people who went limp and waited for the bear to make a mistake and get out.
     
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Web Surfer Girl is in top form. ;)

    Linked from your link @Jack Asher:
    The bottom line:
    I don't see that they addresses bear spray. The full article is not free. but on the preview page they note:
    That's all interesting considering the article you cited made this claim about the research:
    From the abstract, I don't see that bear spray amounted to very much of the evidence they collected. They do say they found people who can't shoot were at greater risk. That's a no brainer.

    But the author goes on to cite some additional data:
    The problem here is we don't know how big this sample size is: "all of the incidents involving spray."

    So let's see.

    Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska
    I can't cut and past the whole abstract.

    Wow, I would not want to only have bear spray around a polar bear.

    In the review for the study:
    Sounds like the bear spray failure reputation is undeserved. That's good to know.

    Sample sizes for aggressive bears are still small.
    However, I agree the spray is probably better than I thought, which is comforting since I am using a large can of bear spray now to keep my dogs safe from other dogs when we hike around here.
     
  10. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    We get black bears in our neighbourhood and because of an idiot next door, we would get them in our back yard as well. My daughter and I walked by one climbing a tree earlier this summer. I've bumped into them hiking in several places. Usually scares the shit out me for a minute or two, but they are usually more afraid than I am. I almost never carry bear spray. However, every now and then one of them gets violently aggressive somewhere and will kill someone. Usually a photography who keeps bacon in his tent :) About the only exception I would use to the no need for gun rule would be polar bears. They are a different breed and like to crunch on people quite a bit.
     
  11. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    The Inuit method of hunting polar bears is to grab a 40 foot long spear, with a little disk, like a ratline on a ship, in the middle of it. They wait for the bear to charge them and stab it with the spear, then straddle the spear behind the disk.

    The bear will literally impale itself fighting it's way down the spear to kill them.

    Again this is a hunting tactic, and not recommended for people who are just trying to hike around in the back country. If for no other reason then that carrying a 40 foot spear is difficult with all your other equipment.

    But the nice thing about hiking in polar bear country is that you're going to have so many more problems then just the bears, and with science on my side, I'd still go with the spray over the gun.


    @Gingercoffe is right of course, the sample size for aggressive bears is very small, but that's a good thing. Expanding the sample would be extremely unethical. And I'm not sure how many volunteers you can find who'll sign up to wander into bear country in order to get mauled. In some ways it's kind of like the navy's advice on shark encounters, where no one really has any clue on how to stop a shark.

    I'll leave you with this army manual on how to deal with an anaconda:
    Anacondas were later observed to crush anything that they found, even if their prey had clearly been dead. And anyone who knows snakes knows they swallow their prey head first.
     
  12. outsider
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    Yogi bear is a good lad though.:agreed:
     
  13. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sounds like gun or spay, if the bear attacks, you'll be fucked. I've no idea which I'd prefer 'cause both could turn out just as ineffective in the end. Tough call.

    I haven't hunted bear or even encountered a bear when out in the woods (the chances of that are so small), but my stepdad and his brother-in-law have. The latter was carrying a shotgun at the time, but he didn't use it 'cause scoring a hit that'd actually stop the bear before it has attacked you would, according to him, be very difficult even though the distance between them was quite short. If the bear attacks (some do fake attacks too), there's no time to do jackshit, really. This bear had stood up on its hinds, clapped its paws (??), and then lumbered off. The guy had waved his arms at the bear first. Apparently it confuses them. o_O

    You can't buy bear spray in Finland without a license (our law permits no OC, blades, guns etc for self-defense. Whacking an assailant, man or animal, on the head with a cell phone, key, purse, pen, and such is acceptable although if you fight too ferociously you get prosecuted), but you can maybe-possibly get it if you e.g. pick berries in heavily bear populated areas. It's not very common, I think, to carry those 'cause our bears avoid people and are rarely aggressive or let alone start stalking humans and in any case, if it attacks you, you're pretty much fucked (there have been instances of the dog attacking the bear and this way saving the human, but you can't rely on that 'cause, well, look at the size of them bears!). Berry-pickers carry bear bells or even a radio with them, so preemptive measures are the best thing to do, I suppose.

    The bear spear used to be a thing around here too back in the day for hunting bears. Takes balls of steel, I'd wager, to go head-to-head with a bear like that.

    I've heard grizzlies are too big to climb trees. Is there any truth to that claim?
     
  14. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    To be honest, bears are more afraid of us than the other way around. If they see a human, they'll usually attempt to run away, true?
     
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  15. Shadowfax
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    The things you'll do when you're hungry and the kebab shop's shut!
     
  16. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That holds true at least where I live, but it seems it's more common in the US for bears not to fear humans that much? I mean, depending on the area and the type of bear, I suppose, but I don't know how it's in your neck of the woods... Literally.

    The weirdest bear deterrent trick I've ever heard was that you should piss on the trees around your camp, but you should also piss so high the bear will think there's a beast bigger than him living in the camp. o_O
     
  17. Fitzroy Zeph
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    This has been my experience for any bear you might meet in the wild. Habituated bears are often a problem, as they are wild, but not afraid of human presence. Where we live, there are often one or two bears a year that have to be put down because they enter homes or trash cars looking for food. And for this, I lay blame on lazy humans for not dealing with their trash and food properly.
     
  18. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Black bears and brown bears can be intimidated, most of the time.

    Don't try that shit with a grizzly. They will fuck you up but good. The best thing to do is make yourself look nonthreatening and back away (as mentioned you don't want to turn your back on the bear).
    I have never heard of this trick, and I have my doubts. As far as I'm aware, bears don't mark their territory with urine*. I do know that they are territorial, but I think they mark their territory with sent glands in their shoulders and paws.

    As far as camp safety is concerned...
    You need a bear box or a bear pole. In the case of a box you just have a big steel box (Lake in Yellowstone has several scattered around the campground**) at least 20 yards from your camp (50 is better). You put all your food in the bear box, as well as the clothes that you were in when you cooked the food. Put your garbage in the bear box too, bears be trippin for candy wrappers.

    A bear pole is a horizontal pole 20 feet off the ground, with 10 feet to a side away from the post on which it's suspended. These are more common on back country camp sites. Again, all your food and the food clothes go into your pack and you suspend your pack in the middle of the pole.
    *I know that wolves and cougars do. That might be the genesis of this myth
    **They used to recommend that campers keep their food in the trunk of their car, until several different grizzlys learned that the truck would pop open if they sat on it.
     
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  19. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The weirdest I've heard of was a guy who managed to grab the bear'stongue, gave it a good tug, and the bear took off, probably a bit freaked out. I wouldn't want to try that, though, it'd be like relying on your ability to repeat a freak accident. Best to listen to the pros when it comes to dealing with dangerous animals. Wouldn't hurt to know a bit (or a bunch) about how different bears communicate (although I've heard what applies to most bears doesn't apply to grizzlies, that they are more unpredictable).

    It's ironic that if it comes down to a matter of life and death, I'd be more inclined to use spray against bears and a firearm against humans.
     
  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The tongue story: Sooo very unlikely to be true. Put your hand in a bear's mouth and it would likely be crushed or bitten off.
    Animal bite forces:

    Re the pee: Bad idea according to the US Nat'l Park Service that suggests no food in the tent, pee and poo attracts bears. Pee and poo a long way from the tent.

    Bear safety in the Cascades
    According to Backpacker a few people disagree. Don't think I'd want to test it.

    The park rangers here loan out bear boxes for backpacking. They're easy to carry.
     
  21. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Definitely. I'm not trying to imply otherwise. But if you hike in bear country enough you can on a rare occasion encounter an aggressive bear. Our city councilman was attacked in the driveway of his Lake Wenatchee vacation home a couple years ago. He survived but it did some serious damage.

    And my friends had a sick bear come in their tree planting camp in AK that they had to shoot.

    I've seen bears many times but never encountered an aggressive one.
     
  22. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Keeping your latrine 50 yards from the campsite shouldn't need to be said. But I'm glad you said it, just in case.
     
  23. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's years since that story was in the news, but if I remember correctly, the guy just panicked and managed to grab the tongue (while the bear had its mouth wide open) before pulling it as hard as he could, i.e. his hand wasn't in the bear's mouth for even one second, otherwise he probably would've lost his hand.
    Of course, I wasn't there, so it could be bs, but the story was in a reputable newspaper and it wasn't April Fool's, so it could be true. Not that it's more than a funny anecdote; trying to duplicate the tactic would probably end badly, and not for the bear this time.
     
  24. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    What's more likely with a single anecdote like that one? People very commonly make up stories and the news media almost can't publish a story that isn't wrong in one or more facts.
     
  25. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    This guy in Canada claims he did it:
    Canadian man fights off bear attack by grabbing animal's tongue
    I find this story specious but that's just me. I have concerns about the explanation that I bolded. I don't see the logic panning out and the claim it was instinctive is even odder.
     
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