Fun Friday: How Do You Stop A Charging Bear? (Re-post)

(This post originally published in September 2010)

A: The best way is to take away his charge card! Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself … after all, I spent ~3 hours outside photographing the sunrise and icy landscape in temperatures below 0°F before writing this post, and I think it’s still affecting me!

But seriously, when in bear country, how do you protect yourself if confronted by an angry bear? Well, the most common method you hear about is using bear spray, or pepper spray. There are mixed reviews out on this product. What happens if you can’t manage to sufficiently spray the bear’s face with it? … well, you are likely to just anger the bear even more, creating a sure-fire case of bear rage. And even if you do get a good, direct spray into the bear’s face, there are several stories floating around about the occasional bear that keeps attacking, even when sprayed.

What about using a firearm? First of all, I am totally against using a firearm on a magnificent creature when we venture into his home … we’re the intruder and I don’t think killing a bear is warranted … we just need to be prepared to defend ourselves. Besides, that option also has some serious drawbacks. Again, what do you think the bear would do if you managed to shoot it, but not fatally? Again … angry bear! So, what’s a guy to do? Well, one other option is used by some wilderness folks, the use of specialized flares to discourage the bear.

I have been to Hallo Bay Bear Camp several times. The guides at this bush camp do not use pepper spray, nor do they use firearms (firearms are not allowed at the camp, not only because of the aforementioned reason, but because this camp is located within Katmai National Park, where firearms are not allowed (at least they weren’t a while back, but there has been activity towards allowing firearms into the park, so I’m not sure of current status)). And how does the flare work?

Well, on my last trip to Hallo Bay, I was there at the very close of camp. As I waited at Hallo Bay International Airport for my incoming plane, the camp was literally being tore down and stored away for the winter. As we waited on the beach for the plane, we coaxed Simyra (one of the camp’s owners and a guide there) to show us exactly how the flare works. You see, even the use of flares at Hallo Bay is an extremely rare action. I’ve been told that in the 20+ years of operation, flares were used only about 3 times (twice on the same bear)! And for a place that sees bears, often many at any given time, every day during the season that runs late May thru September, that is quite an impressive statistic. Anyway, after much coaxing, Simyra had an older flare (one that would be out-of-date by the next season) that she lit for us to see how it works. (Kids, don’t try this at home)

The first step is to have the flare at arm’s length from the body (for safety reasons). Note the area behind Simyra, but in front of the water … this is the landing strip at Hallo Bay International Airport!:

Lighting a "Bear Flare", photo #1

 

 

As the flare is put into action (by sharply pulling an activation cord), there is a loud “BANG” and the flare immediately begins to emit an extremely bright light:

Lighting a "Bear Flare", photo #2

 

Now tell me, if you were a bear, wouldn’t a loud “BANG”, followed by strange, bright lights give you something to think about?! One more precaution should you find yourself in bear country, even equipped with a bear deterrant (pepper spray or flare): although bears look fat and lunky, they are extremely fast and can be upon you in a “blink of an eye”. And I can bear (no pun intended) witness to that fact. On a previous trip to Hallo Bay, I was walking along the beach with one of the guides when a young sow wandered over the grassy knoll and onto the beach, not more than 40-feet away. Without warning, she immediately broke into a full run right at us, huffing as she approached, for about 6-8 quick strides (too fast to count). Maybe doesn’t sound like much, but rest assured she was right on top of us! Then, just as quickly, she abruptly stopped, gave us a quick stare, then turned and waddled off. Wow! I had just experienced what is known as a “bluff charge”, which a bear sometimes does to try to scare off it’s “intruder”, or at least to size the intruder up. The thing to remember, “Don’t Run!”. Running brings out the predatory response and will likely result in bodily harm. So when in bear country, always be aware and ready, and follow the rules! And, by the way, when we were bluff charged, the guide had his flare out, a tight hold on the activation cord, and ready to activate it … but not needed … Whew!!!

And shortly after the flare exhibition, our plane arrived:

 

Bush Plane approaching Hallo Bay

 

I’m getting ready to head back out into the prairie meadow, forecast is for some fog this morning. So I’m hoping to find a really neat landscape, both icy and foggy. But don’t worry, I won’t be writing my next blog post until Monday. By then, the effects on my brain should be over and a post, sans corny joke, will be prepared!

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