This is not an uncommon topic on various outdoor, hunting and survival forums. It potentially involves an infinite amount of details, such as: outdoor recreation, various types of employment in remote rural, agricultural, forested, and semi-wilderness and wilderness areas. So any discussion of success in hunting and/or survival in tough, remote areas, must take into account the potential or real threats involved. To do this in a single article would amount to taking on an impossible mission. Even several blogs by a well informed author would still leave a significant amount of questions unanswered.
Nevertheless, I will set out on this mission, knowing full well that I may (or may not) have more than average knowledge, with the intent of covering the basics that may be too much for some readers, and not enough for others. At the moment, I can’t guarantee how many blogs of a reasonable length this may take, but there will be several.
(Would you expect to see a black bear here? It’s private property that borders a Provincial Park. In bygone days it was farmed. A professor of wildlife biology was investigating this property as a potential pasture for forty head of cattle when he was chased by a black bear! It was a good thing he was in good shape because by the time he made it to the home on the property he nearly collapsed! I hunted there for six seasons and took four bears. My trail cam for my last hunt in 2015 recorded at least eleven distinct bears were hitting my bait! Left click on pics for enlargement.)
However, two main divisions: Bear defence and offence will be in view. Let me qualify: By Bear Defence, I’m thinking recreational activities in areas where bears live, as well as the employment of those whose work involves potential bear encounters. Of course, that could also include those who are hunting any game or varmints in those areas, as well as bear hunters themselves.
The second main division, Bear Offence, will specifically concern hunters whose objective is to tag a bear under license, or others officially employed to deal with troublesome and/or dangerous bears.
Under both sections, the main theme will be the firearms employed for both defensive and offensive purposes in personal bear encounters.
Yet to suggest, or even hint, that any one individual has all possible knowledge in these matters is pure fiction. And I include government officials and wildlife managers in particular. Therefore, let it be said up-front that no two bear encounters — whether engaged in recreational or employment activities, or in hunting bear — are identical. Let’s keep that in mind — yes, there may well be similarities, but similar is NOT identical! Added to that is the fact that comparatively few are reported. I know of at least one serious encounter involving a company employed by the Ontario Government that lost one man to a bear attack while clearing brush in a remote area. A fellow employee reported that to me as a first-hand account. And they had to have special permits to carry a firearm on their persons. That is one that didn’t make the headlines or TV casts. How many scrapes have others had that they didn’t care to talk openly about? I don’t know, do you?
In 1960 – 1961, I was engaged in learning the french language in Quebec from a course issued from Laval University. To get a break from the intensity (and boredom) of language study, I had a former classmate from college days who lived just down the street from where we — my wife and three small kids — were apartment dwelling in Sherbrooke, Que. Despite having not seen each other for a number of years after graduation, we managed somehow to find one other while living only about 1/4 mile apart. He was a high school teacher as well as engaged in the sports of the high school as a coach. (He and I both played hockey at our college — he was a fantastic player.) He also was an enthusiastic chess player. So was I. So, as a break from our more “bookish” activities, every time we got together at our place or his, we engaged in combat over a chess board.
As a hint to our personality types, he always played right-wing forward (offence) in hockey, and I played mostly right defence. In chess, he went immediately on the offensive, which put me on the defensive. He won six of six matches, but he always used the same strategy in starting the game by moving the king and queen inside “the Castle” before going on the offensive. In studying his strategy, I played against myself (which you can do in some board games like chess) and developed a foolproof method in both defence and offence. The next ten matches were +10 in my favor.
The lesson is obvious: before going on the offensive, a solid defence is mandatory whether in team sports, military strategy, chess or bear encounters! In observing the first two games of the Playoffs between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s quite obvious that both teams are well equipped for offensive hockey — both can score — but going into this series, by far and away, Boston had/has the better defence, and that is reflected in the results of the first two games in Boston. Boston is up +2 and Toronto -2, in a series of the best of seven.
In “the bush” where bears dwell, they have the advantage in both defence and offence, should they choose to use it. Why? Because of their keen senses, awareness, strategy and weapons. And they “own” their territory. Humans are considered intruders. Every other animal is a subject. They are at the top of “the food chain”. Unless any human goes into their territory with a defensive mindset, they might wish they had if encountered by a dominant male (boar) or a defensive female (sow) with cubs!
Humans must therefore have a defensive strategy, if they are not hunting bears, because they are largely unfamiliar with the details of the terrain, unaware of a bear’s intentions in an “accidental” encounter, and mostly in a daze as to how a bear might react when confronted by a two-legged creature that stands on its hind legs. We are here speaking of remote areas where bears make a living and rarely, if ever, have had interaction with humans — NOT where bears live in and around human activities on a regular basis! In such cases, and there are many, bears will usually avoid humans unless they become overly familiar with them, and are rarely threatened. I’m aware, for instance, that in some of our more southerly rural areas, as well as the suburbs of some more northern towns and even cities, that bears are regularly seen on private properties. A friend of mine, and former hunting buddy, has had at least one bear show up in his shop, nosing around in his garbage, when his back was turned doing fine carpentry! And, his guns were locked in a far corner of his shop! The bear was unimpressed by his presence, and only left the premises when satisfied there were no “goodies” in the trash can!
Defensive strategy starts with comprehension of bear facts through educating oneself. Bears are individualistic and we must learn their body language. And that doesn’t imply from Internet chatter, though some of it might be helpful. I know, for instance, of one fellow hunter and farmer from Western Canada — have had correspondence with him — who poo – poos any notion that more is needed to kill a bear than a .24 to .30 caliber. And literally hundreds (according to his claim) have been killed at long range using relatively light bullets at warp speeds! And, of course, he is right in his situation! But his circumstance doesn’t represent what I’m referring to in our current theme. Because one can “pick off” a potentially troublesome 150 lb to 250 lb bear at long range, when the bear is grazing like sheep or cattle, is one thing only! It’s not the norm! It may be for the land owner, but not for the hiker in remote, largely unknown territory who may be surprised by an aggressive bruin, black or brown!
(Watch for bear signs and activity when hiking or hunting. These claw marks were made by a large bear!)
(This track was made on a familiar remote trail. I was toting my Ruger 96/44 lever action in .44 Rem Mag — a good defensive weapon.)
In Canada we’re not allowed to carry handguns for either hunting or self-protection. There is one exception, being that if it can be demonstrated that a particular employment might require it. In the United States of America, it is legal in most scenarios to carry one for personal protection and/or for hunting purposes.
So, what would I recommend and/or choose for myself. Those are two distinct issues due to the fact that I can’t just walk around even with a shotgun in a remote area (or anywhere) unless I’m in possession of a hunting license for which a shotgun might be legal in both season and area, all the time observing all other regulations. I could protect myself using it against a bear that was intent on attacking me, but I might have to explain my actions before a judge if I didn’t have a bear license, AND I wasn’t legal in every other way, such as open season and jurisdiction.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s pretend that I’m legally hunting whitetails in a habitat that also supports a number of bears — in my case that would be blacks. Since those seasons overlap, it would be a wise pro-active strategy to also have a bear license in my wallet. Why? Cheap insurance. I may not want to even shoot a bear, but I may have to. My experience over decades is that I’ve often hunted solo, and by times in a remote area that I was still becoming familiar with. Also, on many occasions, I’ve hunted with a partner in deer, moose and bear hunts. Occasionally, with more than one partner, but rarely were we close enough in distance that if one had a bad bear encounter, the others were too scattered to provide immediate support. I’ve reported this previously: A number of years ago a CBC radio news report told of a bear attack in Quebec wherein a mature hunter was killed. The report was sparse in detail, but two sons were in the area, heard their father’s screams, but couldn’t get to him in time to save his life. There are no grizzlies in Quebec! What they were hunting was not reported, so speculation doesn’t fill in any blanks.
The point is just this: Be pro-active. Think ahead. Even IF you are a veteran hunter or hiker, and have never had such an encounter, or you recall one in which the bruin took off in the opposite direction, never to have been seen again, your next journey into THAT wilderness could be your last! Really? Yes. It’s overconfident people who become careless! They believe a serious car accident could never happen to them! They might also believe they could handle any bear encounter by blowing a whistle, clapping their hands, yelling, unleashing bear spray (which they’ve never practised with!), not even knowing it might not reach the bear’s nose or eyes due to wind in THEIR face! Some of MY family have camped in Algonquin Park without a thought of a bear or moose attack! Yes, moose! Knowing full well that in Algonquin, some campers have been dragged out of their tents by bears, I’ve had to address the issue with them. Knowing also, that campers have been chased by both bull and cow moose. One young man I met at our range told me of his experience camping in Algonquin. He barely escaped a big bull by paddling a fast as he could in his canoe with the bull moose plunging into the lake and swimming as fast as it could in chasing him! He said it was the scariest experience in his short life of 21 years! What if that had been a big black bear?
In hunting lessons, we are told to play over in our minds various scenarios before we actually hunt a particular species of big game. That’s pure wisdom. It’s also pure wisdom to play the game of “What if?” BEFORE it becomes “What do I do now?”
RECOMMENDATIONS: When deer or wolf hunting, I carry a shotgun or rifle that is also adequate for bear in season. In a moose hunt, I’ll be sufficiently armed for moose, therefore for bear as well. My choices will be upcoming.
1. Be pro-active
2. Be aware and alert
3. Be legal – carry an adequate handgun, shotgun or rifle (details later). And, oh yeah, pepper spray if you’ve practised with it, and know it’s limitations.
4. Practice with any weapon until it becomes a part of your psyche
5. Watch for signs of bear activity, use caution and try to avoid an unwanted encounter by turning back or choosing another path or route. On the other hand, all that may result in a meeting with Mr. Bruin anyway. What then?
Yeah, I know, in our nanny state we’re not allowed to carry lethal force for self protection — unless we’re hunting! Even then, the government watchdogs can’t smile on you if you legally purchase a bear tag with the purpose of self protection during bear season! “You can’t do THAT because the purpose of a bear license is NOT for self defence but ONLY offensive purposes!!!”, they might scream at you! At the very least, they could get heartburn and lose a night’s sleep! “Oh Canada, our home and native land…” the True NORTH strong and Free…”! “FREE”? You gotta be kidding! In checking the price of leasing cars in Canada vs the USA, hear this: For what I’m paying for leasing a KIA SOUL here in Ontario, I could OWN a Cadillac SUV in the States! AND! That’s not all… the cost of gas is 2x that of the USA on average! And the Canadian Government (still broke) loves to tell us how lucky we are to live in Canada vs the USA with all their troubles… I need to go eat some Tums lest I end up with heartburn that will keep me awake at nights!
Till the next