Bear Safety in the Rockies

Joined
Oct 14, 2018
Messages
8
Location
Colorado
I'll bite on subject of sprays vs. pistols. The answer is... neither really. Your best defense is your wits.

I am a FGASA certified safari guide in the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa. I have thousands of hours logged in the bush with hundreds of encounters with elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, buffalo, hyenas, and hippos. I've had buddies who've been attacked and gored and I've had friends who've unfortunately had to kill animals in charge scenarios. That beings said, here's the deal with guns for wildlife defense as I see it. I'll be describing things from an African angle but I think the ultimate conclusions still apply to potentially dangerous creatures the world over.

Firearms are the most effective means of defense but unfortunately only in extremely specific scenarios. As a guide in Africa, pistols were out of the question given the species we work around. In our case the field arm of choice is a CZ-550's in .458 WIN MAG with ghost ring sights. Situations where firearms are effective for defensive work are situations where you bump an animal and it's in front of you, or you are in an encounter where you and the animal have seen one another well before the situation escalated and it has chosen to attack. In all other scenarios, i.e. exploding from dense cover due to starling etc., or predators deliberately hunting you, you will not have a chance to shoot before it animal is upon you. It's just that simple. For this reason we're legally required to guide in pairs, both armed. That way if the lead falls victim the second might be able to get a brain shot in before a serious injury becomes a fatality (And yes we rotate lead, 1hr shifts). An in order to protect each other and our clients effectively we had to go through rigorous training and assessments including attack simulations wherein you are attacked unexpectedly by a dummy lion moving in at 11 m/s. If you don't get a brain hit and if you fire BEFORE the animal is within 10m you fail that part of the exam and must schedule for a complete reassessment. Despite extensive training nearly half of all trainees cannot pass this test.

What is the point I'm trying to make? Despite all of this elaborate firearms work, we spend 1000x more time training on the BEHAVIOR of animals, where they go and when, what they eat, how they socialize, what their body language and physical condition indicates and so on (If you seriously want to tag an elk you should be doing this for that species already anyways). That is your greatest defense. For this reason the final exam for guides in SA where I trained is to be dropped many many miles away from camp. The assessor then takes away your service rifle and tells you to walk back to camp and informs you what species have been seen in that area that day. And that's it. Better know your shit.

I'm not saying that every mountain hunter in the west should go through all that type of training but to be honest: If you live in the area and have the time and interest, create as many training challenges for yourself as you can. If you don't live in the area then still do your best to educate yourself and make trips to scout and expand your knowledge of bears and cougars then. If you want to pack a pistol fine, but you better practice with it as much or more than you do with your bow or bolt gun. And I don't mean shooting torso shaped paper, I mean recreating being attacked as best you can. If you shoot to kill at 75 yards you're not being attacked so you better have that $100 bear tag in your pocket. If you have spray, don't use it until the animal is almost on top of you. Yeah it's terrifying but that will actually give you the greatest chance of success.

Do what you can and accept that life in the wild comes with inherent risks, many of which you cannot control... animals, weather, and other hazards etc. If you cannot accept that there's at least a small chance that despite your best efforts the dice may roll against you, then you should stay home.

As for me. It'll be a can of spray, a sharp blade, and sharper mind.

Enjoy the hunt!
 
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crossone

Junior Member
Joined
Jan 20, 2018
Messages
26
Lots of folks around Yellowstone carry both a handgun and pepper spray for defense against bears, The grizzlies cause way more problems than black bears. Way more, like 99+% of the problems are grizzlies. When I’m not in grizzly country, I ignore bears completely. They are awesome at avoiding me and I’m accustomed to counting on them to do so. Grizzlies, no way and that’s how most folks I know feel about them. The best thing you can do in grizzly country is have a buddy with you who is armed with both spray and a firearm. Often it seems the bear will charge and put 1 person down but the other can get the bear off of him/her. Nobody ever knows who the bear will go after so both need to be prepared. This scenario played out twice just last week in SW Montana.
 

wind gypsy

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 30, 2014
Messages
2,384

The stats on this are skewed. VERY few examples of individuals spraying a charging Grizzly. Out of 50 examined instances only 9 were deemed aggressive. Most sprayed bears for the 98% number were just curious/feeding/not expecting to be sprayed. This non-combative behavior makes a significant difference.

Furthermore firearms employed that do not result in injury to the hunter are not reported, leading to the erroneous belief that firearms do not work. A 12 gauge shotgun has a 78% chance to stop a bear in one shot when using slugs. That number is from a massive Alaska fish and game study on most effective firearms used in bear encounters. You can google it if you like, it will turn up. They sort over 250 bear shootings by weapon and ammunition type.

Meateater Podcast was discussing a Wyoming guide in 2018 that was killed. They found the spray bottle by him and it had been discharged. You could argue it may have stopped the attack, but I'm going to argue he's still dead so it wasn't that effective. His sidearm was knocked away before he could deploy it effectively.
Good Article.
 

Mike7

Senior Member
Joined
Feb 28, 2012
Messages
1,065
Location
Northern Idaho
Yes, great article, thanks...one that actually thoughtfully looks at available data, limitations and all, and applies some common sense rather than regurgitating the "bear spray good, guns bad" mantra. Looks like chasing, rubber bullets, and maybe air horns might be better than bear spray for hazing, while the right guns/ammo in the right hands might a lot be better for aggressive/charging bears? Imagine that, it kind of echoes the thoughts of many with actual experience in the field.

As far as hazing, bear spray or an air horn would have to be options for me, since I am not carrying a gun for rubber slugs, and don't have the balls likely to chase a brown bear off?

Something maybe hinted at but not mentioned in this article is the number of firearms uses never reported as a DLP even. I would not be surprised if the number of grizzly/brown bear incidents with firearms that have occurred and are never reported, is higher than all of the other numbers? And the same goes for wolves in the lower 48. People are much less apt to report an incident where they have used a firearm and didn't get injured themselves, if it is an incident which might get them in trouble if they were to report it.
 

kid44

Junior Member
Joined
Sep 26, 2019
Messages
25
I am new here, but in my opinion a solo hunt for anything in bear country really isn't a good idea. A solo hunt anywhere is never a good idea, too many things can happen.
 

Dos Perros

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 30, 2015
Messages
1,110
Location
Overland Park, KS
I think the ratio with grizzlies is more like 60/40 than 99/1. The 40 being the percentage that don’t give a shit about you, are curious of you, or are aggressive towards you.
 

Deplorable77

Senior Member
Joined
Sep 6, 2019
Messages
229
9mm ???? Can’t hardly kill a human with one ?

You’re much braver than me. .45 or 10mm for me. Even my .40 I have doubts. Bear bone is wayyyyy heavy.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
I personally carry a 10mm. My teenage son carries a 9mm with 20rd mag staggered with Underwood hardcast & extreme penetrators.
Last year i was able to test 9mm ammo on a steer that died of natural causes. The penetrator and hardcast both punched completely through the skull, neck shots went through also. Not exactly scientific, but this combined with Underwoods ballistic tests, I'm satisfied.
 

Short Track

Senior Member
Joined
Oct 3, 2017
Messages
244
Location
Too far east
Bear spray only works if the wind is not blowing in your face :p

Bear are curious creatures for sure. I was hunting over bait, and a bear came into the bait. I was 60 yards away in a box stand. No way this bear saw me. He smelt something different in the environment, stood up on his back legs, and whiffed, sniffed for a good 20 seconds before I blasted him through the chest.
 
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