In Virginia, we have to deal with Black Bears. According to the book, Bear Aware Survival Guide, you never run or play dead with a Black Bear – instead, you fight. The Colorado Division of Wildlife publishes these rules for bear encounters:
IF YOU MEET A BEAR STAY CALM!
- NEVER RUN. Running can make a bear chase you.
- Keep your distance. Back slowly away facing the bear. Avoid direct eye contact. Black bears rarely attack unless they feel threatened or provoked.
- Slowly and calmly leave the area. Talk aloud so the bear will become aware of you.
- Be extra careful around a female with cubs. Never approach a cub.
- NEVER throw food to distract a bear. This teaches a bear to approach people for food.
- Fight back if attacked. Black bears have been driven away when people fight with rocks, sticks, binoculars, or even bare hands.
But who wants to fight a bear with a pair of binos? I became concerned about bears when my son and I were going to go on a trip into the backwoods of Maine. A friend of mine had just seen a bear eat a doe when he was looking at property in Colorado and strongly recommended that I buy the Bear Aware book. I read it and discovered that pepper spray is a great weapon to use against a bear. So I resolved to get some prior to heading to Maine.
I was living in Massachusetts at the time. When I went to the sporting goods store, they had pepper spray – a number of small containers that would fit in a purse, but you had to have a permit to purchase one. Since we were leaving in a few days, I decided not to hassle with that and assumed that the people in Maine would have a more logical approach to issuing pepper spray. I did purchase the air horn – another recommended bear deterent.
We stopped at the big sporting goods store right over the border in the outlet mall and wandered upstairs to the fishing section. I was stunned to see what a real container of pepper spray for bears looked like. While the purse size is fine to deter a human, it takes a can the size of a jumbo can of shaving cream to defeat a bear! These things were huge! Glad I had waited. This thing was about as thick as the smoke grenades I had used in the Army and about 1.5 times as tall. This is the type of stuff I’m talking about.
Once you get your pepper spray, you should wear it on a holster or run the carry strap on your lure bag thru the holster – you do not want to have to dig for this stuff when you need it. If you encounter a bear, you should fire it in short bursts – placing a fog between you and the bear when the bear is about 30 feet away. Ideally, you want to be upwind so as not to get a whiff of the stuff yourself. Be sure to aim it low at the head and face of the animal – this stuff will not work unless it is inhaled.
The January 2006 issue of Outdoor Life had a super article on this subject and I was surprised to learn that pepper spray is more effective than a weapon at convincing a bear not to attack. The problem with a weapon is that it takes more time to put it into firing position and it is a point rather than area weapon.
Here are some tips on bear avoidance directly from the Counter Assault web site – a great source of pepper spray:
“What can I do to help prevent bear encounters in camp?
Remember that bears are curious creatures with a powerful sense of smell. Please follow local camping regulations, but here are some tips:
- Set up cooking, eating, and supply areas at least 100 yards from your sleeping area. Store food and odorous items by hanging at least 10 feet above ground and 4 feet from top and side supports or by storing in approved bear-resistant containers.
- Select food in individually sealed packages. Plan meals carefully to prevent leftovers.
- Store pet food, livestock feed, and garbage the same as food. Never bury it; pack it out.
- Strain food particles from dishwater using a fine mesh screen and store with garbage. Dump dishwater at least 100 yards from your sleeping area. Food odors may attract bears.
- Keep sleeping bags and tents completely free of food, food odors, or beverages at all times.
- Store personal items (such as deodorants, toothpaste, make-up, soap, and lotions) with food and garbage when not in use. Any odorous product may attract bears.
- Camp in open areas away from trails, thick brush, berry patches, spawning streams, or carcasses. Sleep in a tent for increased safety.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after cooking, eating, or handling fish or game. Always minimize odors.
- Change your clothes before going to bed — do not sleep in the same clothes you cook in.
- Rehearse what you and others in your group will do — day or night — if a bear appears in your camp or while you’re hiking. Review local regulations before your outing.”
– Source: Counter Assault
A final word of advice is to avoid berry patches and keep your dog under control.
Bottom Line: I never go fishing without my bear spray.
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore