Depending on who you are and your level of experience around bears, your attitude toward the question posed by our theme could range anywhere from: “Yep, they’re potentially dangerous.”, to “When a bear sees me, it runs the other way, so I think they’re generally quite harmless.”, to “Bears are predators, so I don’t trust them.”, to “I think they’re cute and cuddly, so why would anyone want to harm them?”. And those don’t necessarily represent all possible attitudes because people have wide ranging temperaments, experience in contact with wildlife, and sources of education regarding them — the majority being anti, others being limited pro, and perhaps some being neutral.
The majority of my education about black bears has come from first hand experience in specific hunting of them over a period of thirty years in at least as many seasons. If I qualify as a legitimate student and analyst, that should grant status enough to express valid opinions on black bears and hunting them. And if I’m a good teacher, observations made could become practical instructions for the novice hunter of bruins as well as providing useful details for the hunter whose experience has been limited to deer and lesser game. In other words, such information could serve a useful purpose in the absence of a pro guide or outfitter.
In my last blog, I listed several areas of knowledge and awareness that could be critical for the hunter in their pursuit of black bears. The first of these being:
THE ELEMENT of SURPRISE: Those who have undergone a life threatening episode with bears, and survived, did not usually expect it. Therefore, they were not prepared for such an encounter that could terminate in a life altering experience, or worse, their own fatality!
Unfortunately, real life knowledge is mostly unavailable to the rookie hiker, camper, fisherman, hunter and idealist nature lover as they venture into a semi-wilderness, or real wilderness, with high hopes for a revitalizing adventure!
TV and alternate sources of media information often present only the positive and bright side of such experiences that leave the relative novice in the dark concerning the possible confrontation of meeting with a bear in a bad mood, or hungry, or injured, or with cubs in tow! True, it may rarely happen, but “rarely” is NOT “never”! They are different words in a dictionary with distinct meanings!
To venture forth with the notion that it “rarely happens”, therefore that will somehow guarantee that it will “never happen to me” is an attitude of presumption that has gotten some people killed and others maimed for life!!
I NEVER go into a wilderness area, or one that is a known habitat for bears, without some form of protection that amounts to more than my fists and good will! I have no intention of becoming a statistic that people read about and then forget: “Oh well, the poor guy was the only one to get killed by a bear this year — one among how many thousands that yearly visit nature’s wonderlands?” Only one among thousands — but do you want to be that one? The chance of being injured or killed by a bear for those who frequent our parks and wildernesses is greater than winning a lottery! Think about that if you play “the lottery” and vacation in a wilderness area. You are more likely to have a bad encounter with a bear than in winning a lottery! And I’m not speaking of one of those “scratch and play” cards where someone wins $5 once in a while to keep ’em comin’.
On the other hand, I realize that you, being a reader of this article, are more serious about such matters. You may be aware of all that I could mention, or even experienced much of it, but there’s a hidden danger therein: We can too easily become blaisé, or jaded, with an overabundance of knowledge; like the pro hockey player who “knows” he could be checked into the boards by a heavy defenceman that might end his pro hockey career, but while he’s aware of that possibility he believes it will never happen to him!
Yesterday, I went into a Crown Land (public land) hunting area that I know very well in the Haliburton Highlands. While the bear season is still on (the only BG season in the spring), I specifically purchased a bear tag allowing me to tote a loaded rifle, even though my intention was not to shoot a bear. It was purchased for protection while my partner and I were scrounging in a hillside with a metal detector for any bullets that had passed through test media that I had employed for testing in late November, 2017. That was after seasons for moose and deer had ended. And I had a bear tag in my wallet for that occasion as well since bear season was still open for a few days.
I’ve stated that I’ll never visit any bear habitat area without a legal means of protection. In Canada, we are therefore limited to an axe, bear spray or a rifle. At times I’ve toted a long-handled axe when baiting before bear season opens. A few times it’s been bear spray — which I don’t have any experience with in a real-life encounter, and therefore have little trust in. So, I’ve pretty much limited my visits to such areas during bear season so I can be legal in toting a rifle (which I’ve plenty of experience with in shooting bears) in season with a tag in my wallet.
In other words, I put into practice what I preach: NEVER, go into black bear habitat without a legal KNOWN form of ADEQUATE protection. And, I’ll add to that: Adequate for a mean-spirited bear, a hungry predator bear, or even a sow with cubs. Yes, it’s not legal to hunt sows with cubs in the spring of Ontario, but I would defend myself if attacked by one, or even making a charge within a range where I had time to make a valid quick decision, or a surprise attack. I’d take my chances in court if need be, rather than chances with a bear attack — ANY bear!
Statistically, what are those chances? Who knows for certain? The person who perishes in a pile-up of transport trucks, vans and big or small cars on Canada’s busiest highway, the 401, becomes a statistic. But is that a mere statistic to the family? What are the chances of that happening? We still travel on super highways that are too busy and too fast!
The busier the highway, and in bad driving conditions due to fog, snow or heavy rain, the chances of escaping a wreck are diminished by at least 60%!
And what about bears? To have a nice stroll in the bush for a day with no bears present means 100% safety from a bear attack. But to walk on the same trail, as cited in P1, with the hidden presence of a sow bear and cubs that she has sent up trees for protection from me, would have meant a 100% probability of a mother bear attack had I not been aware of the situation and backtracked immediately and quietly! A majority of hikers on that trail would not have been alert to the real danger and walked right smack into a protection-minded bear-at-any-cost with all possible ramifications!
The element of surprise has no regard for statistics!
At RISK: We might be if we are presuming there are no bears in a bear area! At 1 km to the north of our home is a conservation area. It borders one of the Kawartha Lakes. I used to walk its trails about once per week. That is until I invited my wife to join me. There is a lot of poison ivy along the sides of the trails and in open areas. I can walk in poison ivy like in a clover field without any ill affects, but not my wife. While we stuck to the trails, somehow she managed to contact it with very bad consequences that lasted for a number of years. So I decided not to walk there again because I might bring home some spores on my shoes or clothing.
But there was also an additional reason: the sighting of bears caused the management to post warning signs along trails of the presence of bears, with the emphasis that those who used the trails were doing so at there OWN RISK!
I knew there were bears in our area before they posted the signs, but decided it was not worth the risk since I was not allowed to carry a firearm.
I’m not totally against risk taking — even if we stay in our homes 24/7 there is no guarantee against a home accident! As a matter of fact, most accidents occur at home! But we don’t stop living due to that. Same with travelling. Then, there are those who jump from planes for a thrill, or from bridges, towers and rock ledges into a water course! In fact, most of my life has involved risk-taking in one form or another, but that doesn’t mean purposely inviting it! And I think a cavalier attitude in bear country verges on “purposely inviting risk”.
So how do we avoid risk taking in bear country? Of course, we can’t possibly escape from all risks in bear country, but we can minimize that unhappy prospect if we practice the following “dos” and “don’ts”:
1 > Do get as much knowledge and practical information as possible on black bears: their size, nature, habitat, food sources and possible behaviour around other animals as well as humans.
2 > Do become as familiar as possible with the area of your proposed travels in a wilderness region for whatever purpose: its trails, streams, ridges, marshes, lakes and potential food and water sources for bears. Are there berry bushes, nut trees, etc? Is there the possibility of a bear being on the carcass of a moose or deer, etc? Would you be alert to discerning that by the smell of rotting flesh? Or it could be fresh meat!
3 > Try not to be alone in such a venture unless you already have lots of experience. But, even then, there is the unknown and unknowable. Many such explorers of unfamiliar country have failed to return home.
4 > Where legal, carry a weapon for self protection that is both powerful and handy. To go into details would warrant several additional pages.
1 > Don’t pretend that you know everything and have all the answers for every potential bad situation when facing a possible predatory bear.
2 > Don’t try to be quiet in the bush unless you are hunting.
3 > Don’t be overly anxious and imagine danger at every step.
4 > Don’t believe everything in print, or conversations, about black bears that overemphasize danger, or underestimate it. Use some discernment and ask intelligent questions.
I’ve talked with some who believe themselves experts that downplay the idea that black bears are potentially dangerous game and that they can all be killed with nothing more than a .30-30 class of rifle.
Others claim that it all amounts to bullet placement, nothing more, without regard for distance, angle of presentation, temperament, or size of animal.
There are still others who believe that bears (without distinction) are all harmless until cornered or threatened.
It’s WISE to treat ALL wild adult bears with respect as well as a potential threat to your personal welfare.
Til the next on this same theme.