Bear Spray outside of Jellystone...

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Bear Spray outside of Jellystone...

by paisajeroamericano » Mon Aug 30, 2010 7:51 pm

I'm sure this one will open up a big can of worms, but here goes...

I understand the need/desire to carry bear spray in places where trash bears are prevalent... i. e. Glacier NP, Yellowstone NP, Grand Tetons NP, etc. Bears that are conditioned to people have a tendency to act strangely.

My question is in regards to more 'natural' grizzly bear habitat. I want to know what most people do who spend serious time in truly wild places in Montana, Idaho, Alberta, etc. I'm not talking about people who go hunting in ATVs for two weeks every fall or people who fly out and do some sightseeing in the national parks. I'm talking about people who actually live and work and hang out in the woods all the time... people who literally spend hundreds of days in grizzly bear country each year, not just a few long weekends.

Of course, the answer is probably that they carry guns, but personally I have no interest in doing so. My decision is bear spray or nothing.

I have spent perhaps 1000 camping days in black bear country mostly in California throughout the past 5 years, I always have my dog with me, and I have seen perhaps a dozen black bears in that time (plus another dozen in one month in SE Alaska... and those numbers only include sightings when I am on foot, not when I am in my truck), all of them have run away once I announced my presence, and there have been no issues. I always keep roughly one month food supply in my truck and often keep a food bin outside around camp, and I have never had any issues with food security (except the occasional scrub jay or ground squirrel). That said, when I go to Yosemite NP or Whitney Portal, I make sure to clean my truck thoroughly, because all bets are off in these abnormal places where bears have become habituated to humans.

I wonder if the situation is similar in Montana, as well. Obviously weird things happen at the national parks, but I don't go there, I don't particularly like the crowds and I don't deal well with all of the rules. I have worked extensively in central Montana (mostly in the Little Belts), where grizzlies are more or less absent. I may begin working shortly around Helena and potentially in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, which is prime grizzly bear habitat. I am wondering whether or not I should carry bear spray to work with me.

I am not worried about the cost. I am concerned about the practicality of carrying/wearing the can/holster at all times in the backcountry. What are people's experiences with bear spray in wild areas in the northern rockies that are not heavily traveled by tourists? Do most grizzlies just run away like black bears and elk and mountain lions and everything else? How does the dog affect things?

I don't want to be stupid and unprepared, but I've learned over the years that a lot of supposed dangers in the wilderness are totally over-rated (don't drink the water, don't hike alone, watch out for mountain lions) and are ignored by most serious backcountry ramblers)

Right now I'm leaning towards keeping a can at my backcountry camp (where long-term food storage issues could lead to an encounter with a hungry bear), but not bothering to carry it around at work during the day in addition to a heavy load of forestry gear, etc.

Sorry for the long diatribe, but thanks in advance for the advice.

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by Bob Sihler » Mon Aug 30, 2010 8:04 pm

Definitely carry the spray. The debate about guns vs. spray can rage here, and I'm not going to start it up again, but since you've stated your preference not to have a gun, then definitely carry spray. Personally, I travel with two canisters, both in holsters on my belt or within easy reach on my pack. They are light to carry and do not get in the way.

The wilderness areas in Montana do not have the bear problems you get in places like Yosemite and Yellowstone. And yes, most of the time, grizzlies run from you or ignore you. But sometimes they don't.

I don't know how your dog might affect the equation. The extra presence and noise may be a deterrent, especially if you keep the dog under control. A dog is not natural prey for a grizzly, but that's not to say it won't be attacked. But if your dog is unleashed and goes chasing a cub or full-sized bear, that could be bad news.

Your best defense is always to store food properly and make noise, especially where visibility isn't good. But almost everyone has spray, a gun, or both.

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by b. » Mon Aug 30, 2010 9:21 pm

Carry spray. Don't worry about the dog. You'll see plenty of horse packers with dogs in the Bob, so they are not unknown to the locals. Good voice command is nice for his/her safety. And you are truly missing out by avoiding National Parks due to your self-imposed restrictions.

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by BobSmith » Mon Aug 30, 2010 11:01 pm

Here in the East, dogs pretty much keep the bears away. They seem to be really afraid of dogs here in the south and east.

I'd carry bear spray. Better to have it around. It seems to work, from what I've read.

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by lcarreau » Tue Aug 31, 2010 1:15 am

Excuse me ??? Did you say "bear spray" OR beer spray? :?: :?:



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by Arthur Digbee » Tue Aug 31, 2010 2:22 am

Slightly different issue, but I've been advised by a park superintendent not to bring a dog in wolf country in Minnesota. This was the North Coast, I don't know if that's a standard concern in Boundary Waters, say.

Wolves do actively hunt and kill coyotes, so I can imagine them doing the same to dogs. But my big boy has been to black bear country without incident.

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Re: Bear Spray outside of Jellystone...

by peakhugger » Tue Aug 31, 2010 3:28 am

I can't truly speak for working in grizzly habitat, the vast majority of my field work over the last 3+ years in SW Montana has been outside typical grizzly range. It's all in black bear habitat, however, and as I wildlife technician tracking various species on foot, I usually have to be very quiet. Not the best way to travel in bear country, in my opinion, but a necessity of the job. I always carry spray, usually at my hip, in case I come around a bend or through thick willows and find myself surprising a bear, or a moose for that matter.

I regularly recreate in grizzly country and always pack spray, despite being told by a few old timers that a gun is the only option and that I should "give that can back to the Forest Service." No need to stir up this hornet's nest, but I'm perfectly happy with spray; others will always prefer a gun; most will never encounter a bear either way.

Every bear/wolf/moose I've encountered in the wilds of MT has fled if encountered at an uncomfortable distance (excluding one cow moose who was protecting a new calf). However, I've never encountered a mama bear with cubs at a close distance and that's the demographic that keeps my spray at the ready. Even if it's just a bluff charge, I'd rather be prepared than wonder if she's going to stop or run me over.

My advice is in line with most others here: Carry spray, no matter where you are as is works on just about anything - bears, mountain lions, moose, perhaps even a rabid wolf. It's worth the weight. You'll probably never use it, but if you do, you'll be glad you had it.

As for the dog, I'll echo Arthur Digbee's comment that wolves may be your biggest concern in some places along the Rocky Mtn Front. It's certainly a big concern of many locals taking there dogs out with them anywhere in western MT. Bears of any species aren't as big of a concern to many, but are still potentially provoked into an attack by a dog. Voice control would be critical.
Last edited by peakhugger on Tue Aug 31, 2010 8:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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by TyeDyeTwins » Tue Aug 31, 2010 5:38 am

Bear Spray is a great idea....and taking more than one can is an even better idea when traveling multiple days out there. A website called sells a 3.3 pound electric fence that can cover a 30 by 30 area. They also sell "bearspray without the spice" so that you can get some practice. Take it from me, while I was down climbing the Middle Teton in the dark last week and we got charged by large animal out of no where. There is nothing more scary than pulling off the safety plug and pointing the can at the incoming noise. Luckly we made some noise of our own and just as the moose (thank god not a bear) popped out of the bushes, it took off the other way.

I hear the bark beetles have killed lots of Pine Nuts up near NE yellowstone. That is bad news for the bears due to that is part of their fall diet (they also love barries just as much this time of year). Without pine nuts they might start looking for other sources of food. A dog in the backcountry is....well......depends on the dog. Hopefully you do not have a barking mad dog who can't wait to take on a grizzly. Often dogs will challenge a predator and then come running back to you in fear...thus bringing the animal to you. If your dog is chill out there in the forest than the only thing you should worry about is the risk that you are bringing dog. Any predator in predator mode will likely target the dog first.

Last but not least know the behavior of Bears. If it is standing up and looking around it is just looking for a way out. If it swings its head side to side, barks, paws at the ground, it is angry and stressed. Young bears are more prone to attacking humans due to the "older bears" taking the good food habitats. The website has some more great information on bears and bear behavior that every serious mountaineer who travels out in bear country should read.

Hope you find some of this information useful and happy trails

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by BobSmith » Tue Aug 31, 2010 5:52 am

I probably hiked about fifty miles while I was in Yellowstone. I saw two griz. One was in Lamar Valley very far away and he was fast asleep. I only got his photo because I have a really good telephoto lens for my camera. And, yes, I stayed very far away from him.

The other griz I saw was also on the other side of a meadow and the minute he saw me he started moving in the other direction. When someone else walked up he hauled ass down into a ravine. He didn't want anything to do with us. Poof! He was gone in nothin' flat.

By contrast, the only black bear I saw there acted as if we weren't even there. He was pigging out on berries and never lifted his head out of the brush.

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by mrh » Tue Aug 31, 2010 5:42 pm

When I did an extended hike just outside of Yellowstone last year I debated buying some spray. I ended up getting it and was happy to have it when I looked ahead and above the trail to see a big, broad, light brown bear butt. It evidently already knew I was coming and was trying to hide in the brush. After some hesitation I proceeded below him (~150 feet) and continued on. I was relieved to get by and I'm sure the bear was too. But it was slightly comforting to have the spray on me. I'm not entirely certain, but I think it was a light colored black bear.

As far as dogs and wolves its best not to have the pet with you. Here in north central Idaho, wolves have taken literally dozens of dogs. Entire groups of hunting dogs have been lost on more than one occasion as well as family dogs from residences outside of town.

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by Doublecabin » Wed Sep 01, 2010 5:00 pm

There is an enlightening study by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game that demonstrates Bear Spray is an effective deterrent considerably more often than firearms are. When a grizzly is on all fours charging you you have tow targets, bobbing eyeballs at over 30 mph the size of dimes. Spray is a good thing to have. I also carry a small airhorn. Have never used my spray, but the airhorn has served me well. I am in the Dunoir Valley of Wyoming. We have a black bear sow & 2 cubs on the complex now and a 700 pound Grizzly boar sighted two days ago on the Ranch less than a mile away. IMO and that of unamed folks the Grizzly population here is considerably underestimated. A biologist said he thought by as much as 40%. There has been great argument about how to count bears and wolves here. All I can tell you is that with another dismal Whitebark Crop they are out, congregating and squabling at closer than normal quarters and looking for easy eats.

I have been charged twice, both times by non "trash" bears. Yellowstone does not have nearly the problem Yosemite does. Those !@#$ers are Einsteins. Don't take your Toyota Camry there.

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by wyopeakMike » Wed Sep 01, 2010 6:54 pm

I live in NW Wyoming and there could possibly be a griz on almost any hike I go on, so I always keep the bear spray can on the waistbelt of my pack ready to go. You should also always practice the quickdraw with your can and getting the safety off, if you got charged it is no time to learn. It is a good idea to practice spraying with an old expired can, I have learned a lot by seeing what the spray can do, don't get downwind from your cloud or you might get a little taste. There are many stories of people shooting a charging griz with high powered rifles or big pistols and still getting mauled. The spray seems to have a better record at working. I also think it is a waste to shoot or even kill a griz only because it was angry at a person that was trespassing in its territory. Think if you walked into someones house and then you shot them because they got mad you were in their home.

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by markv » Fri Sep 03, 2010 5:12 am

I don't get what the heck you're supposed to do if the bear is charging you with the wind at its back. This happens to be the most likely scenario, since when the bear is upwind it can't smell you coming.

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by Bob Sihler » Fri Sep 03, 2010 5:16 am

markv wrote:I don't get what the heck you're supposed to do if the bear is charging you with the wind at its back. This happens to be the most likely scenario, since when the bear is upwind it can't smell you coming.

You probably spray anyway if you have time. Why not? Or if you have the nerve, drop and play dead. If nothing else, pray that you haven't been praying to the wrong god...

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by BobSmith » Sun Sep 05, 2010 7:47 pm

I'm a letter carrier. I have been hit with pepper spray from my own cannister a number of times. It freaking hurts. I'm talking major league pain.

Another thing that I've observed is that dogs who have been sprayed a lot have developed pretty much total immunity to the stuff. Sometimes it's like they've been hit with water.

I don't know how many exposures it took for these dogs to develop the resistance, but I would figure a dozen or so hits. I've been told that it even stops effecting people after a while, but I've inhaled it four or five times due to winds and one cannister breaking and it still hurts like hell.


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