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Tips while hunting in bear country


In 1991, while hunting the Mulchatna River in Alaska, we had one bear confrontation which lasted for four hours and ended up in a lost moose and frayed nerves. The Grizzly came in quietly, took the entire moose, then wanted us out! He harassed us all night, at one point sticking his nose into the nylon of our tent, until finally we had to shoot over his head and he got the message.

That trip was our first of many encounters with Brown bears. In 1996 we ran into eleven grizzlies on the Koktuli river - without any incident. A testimony to learning from previous mistakes and following these precautions.

 

The chance of an encounter with an Alaskan Brown Bear is slim; However, it can happen. You can minimize your chances of being harassed by a brown bear by following these precautions:

 

Keeping Bears out of Camp

Bears only have about six months to build up fat reserves for their long winter hibernation. Don't let them learn human food or garbage is an easy meal. It is both foolish and illegal to feed bears, either on purpose or by leaving food or garbage that attracts them.

 

  • Do not camp on a bear trail. This may seem obvious, however most people camp on, or near, a river. If the river has salmon, there will probably be a bear trail along its banks.
  • Do not cook in camp. Cook a minimum of fifty yards downwind from the tent and if possible, eat foods that emit minimal odor such as freeze dried meals.
  • Use air-tight, specially designed bear-proof food containers if possible.
  • Keep food, meat, and cape at least one hundred yards downwind from camp. If possible, suspend the meat a minimum of fifteen feet off the ground.
  • Keep a clean camp. Wash your dishes, avoid smelly food like bacon and smoked fish. Keep food smells off your clothing. Burn garbage completely in hot fire and pack out the remains.

 

These pictures show the result of thee days of packing out a large Alaskan Moose, and the result of what a brown bear can do in less than one hour.

In total, we lost the two hindquarters, one front shoulder, and most of the bigger chunks. The left front shoulder was recovered and so were many of the smaller chunks. The bear dragged the cape fifty yards before getting a mouthful of salt and spitting it out.

This meat pole was 40 yards from where we were sleeping, which - by the way, was on a bear trail next to the Mulchatna River at the height of the Silver Salmon Run. Stupid!

Bear Encounters in the Field

  • Identify Yourself - Let the bear know you are human. Talk to the bear in a normal voice. Wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you. If a bear cannot tell what you are, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening. You may try to back away slowly and diagonally, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground.
  • Don't run - You can't outrun a bear. They have been clocked at speeds to 35 mph, and like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals. Bears often make bluff charges, sometimes to within 10 feet of their adversary, without making contact. Continue waving your arms and talking to the bear. If the bear gets too close, raise your voice and be more aggressive. If they are available, bang pots and pans. Use noisemakers. Never imitate a bear or make a high pitched squeal.
  • Surrender - If a brown bear actually touches you, fall to the ground and play dead. Lie flat on your stomach, or curl up in a ball with your hands behind your neck. Typically a brown bear will break off its attack once it feels the threat has been eliminated. Remain motionless for as long as possible. If you move, a brown bear may return and renew its attack and you must again play dead. If you are attacked by a black bear, fight back vigorously.

This is where the brown bear stood when he pushed his nose into the tent. Obviously to check if there was any more delicacies inside. What he smelled, however, was the muzzle of my sawed off shotgun which was a mere few inches from his face - and shaking!  

 

Protection

  • Firearms should never be used as an alternative to common-sense approaches to bear encounters. If you are inexperienced with a firearm in emergency situations, you are more likely to be injured by a gun than a bear.
  • A 300 Magnum rifle or a 12 gauge sawed-off shotgun with rifled slugs are appropriate weapons if you have to shoot a bear. Heavy handguns such as a .44 magnum may be inadequate in emergency situations, especially in untrained hands.
  • Alaskan State law allows a bear to be shot in self-defense if you did not provoke the attack and if there is no alternative. But the hide and skull must be salvaged and turned over to the authorities.
  • Defensive aerosol sprays which contain capiscum (red pepper extract) have been used with some success for protection against bears. These sprays may be effective at a range of 6-8 yards. If discharged upwind or in a vehicle, they can disable the user. Take appropriate precautions. If you carry a spray, keep it handy and know how to use it.
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