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Backpacking in Grizzly Country


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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Backpacking in Grizzly Country

Viewing 22 posts - 1 through 22 (of 22 total)
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  • #3813072
    Mark Wetherington
    BPL Member

    @markweth

    Locale: Western Montana

    Companion forum thread to: Backpacking in Grizzly Country

    Backpacking in grizzly habitat: considerations and best practices for bear spray use, food storage, safety, and ethical considerations.

    #3813113
    AK Granola
    BPL Member

    @granolagirlak

    Great article! I appreciate the admonishment to those who would be lazy, or make up their “own truths” instead of following science-based advice. I have hiked in grizzly country for many years now; even a walk out my back door is potentially grizzly country. When I was in my 20s working in Denali and couldn’t find anyone to backpack with, I went solo; many of us did. I probably wouldn’t do that today though, being a more cautious person and knowing more people who have been mauled or attacked.  I do take issue with one of your statements though. I really hate when people yell “hey bear.” I think it’s like calling wolf. When you yell “bear” everyone around assumes there is a bear. What are you going to yell to fellow hikers when there is a bear? It’s very easy to shift the pattern to “hey ho” or whatever else you want to yell in thick brush, that helps the bear hear you, but others in the vicinity know there is a person there, not a bear. Thanks for your article; I hope folks without bear experience read it and pay attention.

    #3813230
    Mark Wetherington
    BPL Member

    @markweth

    Locale: Western Montana

    Thanks, AK Granola, for the kind words and for sharing your insight about the downsides of the “Hey Bear” phrasing when making noise to alert bears.

    Those unforeseen effects of using that phrase you brought up never occurred to me and are well-reasoned. I guess I just never thought critically about it, since I remember seeing National Park Service videos (and getting lectures from rangers when getting permits) that used that phrasing. I think the tone also has a lot to do with it — “Heeeeeeeeeeey, Beeeeeeaaaaaaar . . . Heeeeeey, Beeeeeaar”” said in a singsong voice, as opposed to “Hey! BEAR!”, but your point stands regardless.

    Certainly no need to use “bear” when anything else will do, since it is the noise of the human voice that makes the impact at alerting the bear, not what is said. The vocal equivalent of Latin placeholder text (lorem ipsum) would be sufficient and perhaps a good conversation starter when encountering other hikers : )

    #3813239
    Luke Schmidt
    BPL Member

    @cameron

    Locale: Alaska

    Good article.  I think the focus on lower 48 is smart because I do think there is a real difference between a Yellowstone grizzly and a grizzly in interior Alaska or a coastal brown bear. Same principles but some things are different. First it’s perfectly normal to camp next to a pile of fresh meat on a hunt. That basically takes the worst behavior from the lower 48 and dials it to 11. But problems seem relatively rare.

    I remember when I shot my first caribou I was super nervous about this. I tried to keep blood off my pants… epic fail. So I hung the meat and hiked back to my base camp because I thought I’d be safer with my neighbor hunter if a bear raided my tent. Turns out he had hearing aids he took out so he would have been no help if a bear had chewed on me at night.

    It probably helps that there just aren’t as many people doing such things compared to say Yellowstone campers. And for better or worse bears that get too bold tend to get shot. On the other hand a grizzly in a super remote valley in Canada grabbed my friend’s pack because he left a sealed pack of dry oatmeal in there. You never know, I never would have guessed that would be the one time I had problems on a camping trip with bears.

    Bottom line. Be smart and be humble. Just because you “got away” with something once doesn’t mean it’s a great idea. Statistics are nice for separating anecdotes from real probability of problems in a situation.

    #3813609
    Eli
    BPL Member

    @patchessobo

    Locale: Canyon Country

    I’ve been the thru-hiker cutting corners in various ways with food storage – sleeping with my food, half a**ing hangs –  but being honest with myself, I want to be professional in the outdoors and I want to be a part of a culture that can continue to support the recovery of the grizzly bear in the lower 48. I’ll be spending a lot of time in the GYE this summer and will be bringing a canister, bear spray, and acting in accordance with best practice. What a treat to share the environment with such amazing animals.

    Good reminder to do the right thing.

    #3813905
    Brad W
    BPL Member

    @rocko99

    I’d just like to point out the current range graphic should include the Idaho panhandle area.   https://idfg.idaho.gov/sites/default/files/brochure-2020-hunting-in-grizzly-bear-country.pdf

    #3813983
    Martin Van Laarhoven
    BPL Member

    @vtrek

    Locale: NorthEast

    The article about backpacking in grizzly country reminded me of a memorable camping experience in a dense forest. One summer evening, we encountered a mother black bear and her cubs while enjoying a peaceful night by the campfire.We froze in awe, marveling at the sight of these wild creatures so close to us. Remembering the guidelines we’d read, we quietly retrieved our bear spray and kept a respectful distance. The bears seemed unperturbed by our presence, going about their evening routine of foraging and exploring.

    We were preaty lucky tho

    #3813991
    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member

    @retiredjerry

    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    where was that?

    most of the time black bear runs away fearfully in my experience

    except Olympic National Park where they mostly ignore humans like your experience

    #3814396
    Brad W
    BPL Member

    @rocko99

    One scenario I have never seen a good protocol on is this-in your tent at night and grizzly bear approaches the tent. What is the proper response in this case? Remain silent? Sit up with spray ready to fire? Make noise?

    Assuming all safety protocols were followed-food stored correctly, not cooking at site, etc.

    #3814397
    AK Granola
    BPL Member

    @granolagirlak

    I don’t know what “protocol” would be in a tent, but personally I’d be armed and ready with bear spray, and making as much human noise as possible, with a bear outside my tent. It’s just a piece of thin cloth so you’re no safer in there hiding like a rabbit. I haven’t checked to see if there’s any actual research on that scenario though – kind of doubt it.

    #3814398
    jscott
    BPL Member

    @book

    Locale: Northern California

    Good question. And I don’t know the best answer. I don’t hike in Grizzly bear country. I would if I could! However, I do hike in brown bear country, and have a lot of experience around them.

    They’re really quiet and stealthy! I know for sure that brown bears have visited my camp and tent in the night without my ever hearing them. And I’ve been awake plenty of times outside of my tent and watched a brown bear silently amble through. She was investigating. I’ve  also heard brown bears howl and it’s a sound I’m not  likely to forget. (I’m largely speaking of sierra bears. which can be quite large.)

    My point is that I wonder if campers even hear a grizzly approach. this makes a difference. If an attack has already begun, options to respond are different than if one watches a grizzly approach, as in daylight hours. If one wakes up and hears soft padding sounds around the tent, assuming that it’s a grizzly (when it’s more likely a deer or a squirrel or mouse) firing off the bear spray inside of your tent will be the wrong response. Having the spray near at hand is still a good idea.  Better to be pepper sprayed than bitten and clawed. It would seem. I  have no experience with grizzlies!

    #3814400
    AK Granola
    BPL Member

    @granolagirlak

    Brown bears and grizzly bears are the same species.

    #3814401
    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member

    @retiredjerry

    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    He meant to say black bear:)

    I’ve seen a black bear from a long ways off, and what was noticeable was that it was a very black spot – on closer inspection, yeah, that’s a bear

    #3814403
    jscott
    BPL Member

    @book

    Locale: Northern California

    Thanks,  guys, I get my black and brown bears confused  when writing about them. Knowing this about myself, I included the added info that I was writing about Sierra bear. There are no grizzlies  in the Sierra. Hence, I assumed my meaning would be  clear. Apparently not.

    In my own defense, so called Black Bears are most often brown colored in the Sierra. But not always! sure, I understand the hair color doesn’t define a species. I’ve studied Aristotle. I understand the difference between accidents and substance.

    Meanwhile, I hope someone will respond to my actual  point, which is, one may not hear a grizzly approach your tent before an attack. True? As I also mentioned,  I have  no experience in Grizzly country.

    At the end of the day, it won’t really matter if you accurately identify the species of bear that’s mauling you.

    #3814407
    AK Granola
    BPL Member

    @granolagirlak

    “At the end of the day, it won’t really matter if you accurately identify the species of bear that’s mauling you.”

    Indeed, especially here in Alaska where it might very well be a Black Bear that has chosen you as dinner, almost as likely as a Brown/Grizzly!

    #3814409
    Brad W
    BPL Member

    @rocko99

    “At the end of the day, it won’t really matter if you accurately identify the species of bear that’s mauling you.”

    Joking aside, it absolutely matters. Black bear-fight back. Grizzly defensive attack, play dead.

     

    from NPS.GOV

    Brown/Grizzly Bears: If you are attacked by a brown/grizzly bear, leave your pack on and PLAY DEAD. Lay flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over. Remain still until the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks. However, if the attack persists, fight back vigorously. Use whatever you have at hand to hit the bear in the face.

    Black Bears: If you are attacked by a black bear, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. Try to escape to a secure place such as a car or building. If escape is not possible, try to fight back using any object available. Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear’s face and muzzle

    #3814559
    Luke Schmidt
    BPL Member

    @cameron

    Locale: Alaska

    There are two options for a bear attack in a tent

    • Sleep under a floorless tarp so you can roll out and deploy bear spray.
    • Sleep with a handgun. If you wake up with a bear on top of you… start shooting. Bears actually aren’t as tough as you’d think so this actually can work. Obviously don’t shoot your neighbors, follow laws etc.

    Aside from habituated bears attacks in tents are rare. So in wilderness areas I wouldn’t lose sleep over it. In parks you’d hope authorities would be on top of problem bear issues and let you know or close the area. I did use a floorless shelter for a long time. It made me feel a bit better.

    As far as hearing a bear…. I’ve seen bears up close and they are amazingly quiet. Grizzly bears tend to be more noisy, maybe more confident? But after a long day I am going to sleep one way or the other. I’m not going to sit around listening for a bear.

    #3814690
    Brad W
    BPL Member

    @rocko99

    Scenario is Grizzly is not attacking but investigating tent, camp. Best to remain silent, make noise?

    #3814691
    David D
    BPL Member

    @ddf

    >One summer evening, we encountered a mother black bear and her cubs while enjoying a peaceful night by the campfire

    Last week I went for a very long day hike in an area infrequently travelled: the “trails” (what remained) were covered with blow down, some of the “trail” was completely consumed by the wilderness for a lot of solid bushwacking.  So not an area with habituated bears.  At one point I came through a green tunnel into a clearing facing the back side of a big momma black bear (maybe 50′ away) and two cute little cubs foraging.  First thing I did was check the wind and realizing she was was upwind and had no idea I was there I quietly as possible backed into wooden cover.  But she wasn’t going anywhere and I had no alternate way around (even bushwacking) so once I saw she had clear line of site to both cubs and was facing me, I stepped out ~ 100′ away with my poles extended and started yelling at her.  She got on two feet and give me a “whatchu talking bout Willis” look but eventually with some persistence took off into the brush.  Coming up to her spot I noticed huge fresh scat and saw her standing on 2 feet in the adjacent woods but a few more yells and they were off.

    No way in hell I’d try that with a Grizzly or brown bear.

     

    #3814692
    Luke Schmidt
    BPL Member

    @cameron

    Locale: Alaska

    Brad in that scenario I’d get ready to deploy bear spray THEN make noise. Chances are the bear will run. If not, you might have a habituated bear and a dose of bear spray is best for everyone.

    #3814693
    David D
    BPL Member

    @ddf

    [deleted]

    #3814714
    jscott
    BPL Member

    @book

    Locale: Northern California

    “Brown/Grizzly Bears: If you are attacked by a brown/grizzly bear,  Remain still until the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks. However, if the attack persists, fight back vigorously. Use whatever you have at hand to hit the bear in the face.

    Black Bears: If you are attacked by a black bear, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. Try to escape to a secure place such as a car or building. If escape is not possible, try to fight back using any object available. Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear’s face and muzzle”

    So…if you’re attacked by a brown colored bear, don’t fight back, unless things reach a certain point. Then, indeed fight back! However, if you’re attacked by a black colored bear, and you accurately identify it a as a brown bear; or  it’s a brown colored bear, and you correctly identify it as a black bear…fight like hell.

    That’s helpful. (eyeroll emoji here). My guess is that in the middle of a sudden bear attack, the last thing that occurs to you is to identify the species of bear and remember the rules.

    If I’m in grizzly country and an aggressive bear comes charging, I’d use bear spray or a gun to defend myself. If I’m in the Sierra, or anywhere on the West Coast south of Canada, I don’t carry bear spray or a gun. I don’t need it. I’ve come to a good understanding with Sierra bears. We’re sympatico. Grizzlies around the Tetons? not so much.

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