wilderness analysis by Joey Only
In my last article How Not To Die in A Motherfuckin Storm I alluded to the fact that 10 people in Canada are killed every year by lightning and 160 seriously wounded. If I said you are 15x more likely to be killed by lightning than by bears I wouldn’t be lying. Bears is the last thing you gotta worry about in the bush cause most people drown, or fall down a cliff, or fall down a cliff and drown, or drink beaver water after falling down a cliff and nearly drowning, or freeze after they get out of the water, or get struck by lightning or injuries or avalanches, or indecision or panic or accidents or even worse than all that. At least we don’t live in Australia where the tiniest spider could bite you and your insides would just turn to jelly as you bleed out of every orifice.
Also please feel free to google any bear aware websites that can tell you about the basics of bear behaviour. This column is more about how to fight with a bear and win. One thing we agree on is that running won’t help you, they are faster and will chase a running creature.
All in all not that many people die from bears. The problem with bear aware campaigns is that their best advice is to either travel in groups or lay down and take it when the animal has your head in its mouth. I can tell you from my own experience that you don’t have to take shit from anything in the forest if you develop your own power over that environment. Statistically you are more likely to die driving to the forest than once you are actually in it, but once you are in it and you are alone this blog might have some useful advice for you.
BE THE HUNTER: If you are alone in their territory be the hunter. You ought to have a buck knife, small axe or machete on your person if not a nice walking stick. You must consider the merits of listening and paying close attention to every detail. There should not be a mark on the forest floor or in the trees you do not notice. Every change of the birds song, every change of the wind, every rustle in the distance, every sight, smell and sound. Keep your head up, your eyes narrow and stop to listen and look.
OR BE A HIPPIE: Go to the forest and beat all sense out of a giant congo while sitting around naked reading Ginsberg out loud so you can worship nature as most of it is running far away from your racket. Nothing will want to come near you. If you do not have the spirit to be the hunter than maybe try something noisy like this. As for me, I always chose the latter because that is what I am.
Now realize that bears do not hear any better than you and don’t see very well at distance at all. Compared to most animals those senses are not an advantage for them. It’s their nose that gives them the edge, but by considering wind direction you can out manuever anything out there. If you are worried about them smelling your food then you should just bring smarter food with you, simple things like rice and potatoes are not going to attract their nose as you walk nearby.
The most useful way to be when encountering an animal is to show no surprise, pick a clear direction of travel and continue on. If you feel relaxed enough to talk to the animal without spooking it to much it can be a helpful thing to do. They say to not look them in the eye but there is a spirit you can walk about with that will allow you to do just that. You look them in the eye and say ‘hi buddy!’ You show them with your spirit that you are okay with them and you are just passing through.
Don’t let your dog create a problem for you unless you are willing to join your dog and make a stand. Two dogs is better than one as they can bark at it while you run away. Bear bells don’t work because bears don’t hear any better than you do, if you ever run into people wearing bear bells in the bush you almost always hear it right as you come upon them. Bells are just annoying and weenie. If you are going to use noise to keep safe from bears play a bongo or shoot a rifle.
FIGHT BACK AGAINST THE BLACK: Black bears are smaller and much more common but have also been known to hunt humans in a way that the Grizzly isn’t famous for. When you realize a black bear is stalking you it’s time to get mean spirited. You can’t treat this like all those times you let wankers bully you, you have to be ready to fight for your life and to show them you are not to be fucked with.
Run right at him yelling from your gut “HA HA HA HA HA!!!” like a war cry, take your axe and smash it into his goddamned nose! Make yourself look big, mean, loud and nasty so that it will know there are consequences to trying to eat you.
I do not advocate the use of bear sprays. I heard two expert Japanese mountaineers in the Chilcotin sprayed each other thinking it worked like bug spray. I have never known anyone who has successfully defended themselves with bear spray though I am sure it happens. I have however met half a dozen people who have accidentally sprayed themselves and others yet who have witnessed it in street violence. I’ve not met anyone who has actually been mauled by a bear despite tense encounters. Chances are you’ll see 2,000 of them and never need to smash any of their faces with an axe.
I’ve hit a grizzly with a rock to move it on and smoked a black bear with a piece of fire wood while in my underwear. Throwing things can help. If you need to smash one with an axe just enjoy it while it lasts. That’s the best way to have a winning spirit.
DON’T BE AGGRESSIVE TO GRIZZ: Grizzly bears aren’t usually out to make a meal of someone, generally they attack because of a territorial misunderstanding. For example you are trying to pet its cubs or take a picture of this cool dead moose you found…suddenly you got a Grizzly bear who is pissed off. So apologize and perhaps don’t panic if you can and do what the bear aware pamphlets tell you. But if that doesn’t work and it charges at you there’s no outrunning it and even climbing a tree might not save you.
So maybe you gotta give your best ‘Mike Tyson’s Punch Out’ swing and ding the bastard on its super sensitive nose and stand your ground. You can always play dead if that doesn’t work, however it has worked for mountain men in the past. Of course your buck knife and axe are always handy things because you have to try to convince this animal you are not here to mess with them and you aren’t here to be messed with either.
The best thing to do is always consider where you are, pay attention to every detail, walk the higher ground as often as possible, move quietly through the forest like you belong with the animals and more often then not you will see them before they see you. Remember, they can’t see worth shit. Get loud and get mean if you have to get rid of them.
Practice it, go find a bear and with confidence tell it to fuck off…they do almost every time. There is a chance that things will always go wrong, but if you consider deeply the notion of walking with a big stick you may be able to defend yourself rather than lay down and die.
If you don’t have the will to fight then simply travel in groups or stay out of the forest altogether. Remember that there’s a thousand ways to die in the forest and bear attacks are statistically among the lowest percentage of wilderness deaths. Realize what the real dangers are out there and put it all in perspective!