Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Bear facts

September 2nd, 2011

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"Brown bear lie down, black bear fight back"

"Brown bear lie down, black bear fight back" explained host Angie. A simple mantra I thought. I could remember that. But you do need to be able to recognise what sort of bear you’re dealing with, for colour isn’t a reliable guide. Facial features the key, together with the fact that the brown bear has a grizzled look. Hence why they’re often referred to as the Grizzly. Think bit of a bad hair day. Which, incidentally, is what you’re likely to have if you encounter one close up.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the Grizzly – or brown bear – is the most dangerous. Sounds aggressive. Whilst you’d probably be wise to avoid attempting to give it a tummy rub, it’ll usually leave you alone unless it feels threatened. Unlike the black bear, who’s curiosity means it may well approach. Especially if it thinks it can find food. And there’s quite a few more black ones around than the brown.

Seems the best way to survive a bear encounter is to avoid it if you possible can. So, no surprising them. Or coming between mother and cubs. Like most creatures, they are likely to attack if they feel threatened. Make lots of noise, but avoid rhythmic sounds as this may make them curious. You can buy bear bells – not for them to wear but for you to carry – but I do wonder about their usefulness. Other than to give the hairy critter a spot of indigestion. Whistling’s probably out unless you want to sound like one of their smaller furry staples.

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I’m also guessing they have exclusive fishing rights for salmon, so be very careful near rivers. And look out for their droppings – scat. Especially if it contains bells. Half eaten hikers are also indicative of the presence of bears.

When camping, keep nothing in your tent but yourself, sleeping bag and some bear spray. Always thoroughly wash yourself, ideally with unperfumed soap, before turning in, and never sleep in the clothes you wore when cooking. Everything else gets suspended for a tree, out of reach, and a reasonable distance away. It’s not just the smell of food that can draw a bear in, it’s any unusual odor. Especially if it’s one associated with the presence of humans.

If you do stumble upon a bear, back away slowly. Never run. Never. They can reach forty miles an hour. And sustain it. Make yourself appear big, rather than a tasty morsel. Wave your arms in the air. That sort of thing. Avoid shooting at the creature. Chances are, short of a howitzer, you’ll just annoy it. More. People do carry handguns into the wilds, but they’re far better suited to incapacitating your travelling companions so you can effect an escape. Playing tapes of Sarah Palin speeches remains an untried option.

If the bear does attack worth remembering a couple of things. Brown bears usually bluff charge, veering off at the last minute. The operative word being usually. Seeking refuge up a tree is probably futile. Two reasons. Black bears, with their smaller claws, can climb them. Brown bears can’t. Probably don’t need to, being able to just fell them. Better to rely on your handy can of bear spray. Doesn’t cause any permanent harm to the creatures if that’s your thing. Not sure I’d be too concerned with animal welfare during an encounter.

And, assuming you don’t end up as lunch, important to freshen up afterwards. Bathing in the nearest salmon river probably not a good idea. But you’ll no doubt need a through scrubbing. If only to remove all traces of the bear spray that’ll be lingering on you and your clothes. For, after a little while, it starts to act as a bear aphrodisiac. And that’d be a horrible way to go…

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