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#166581 - 02/06/09 04:20 PM Bear encounter and spray
Colourful Offline

Registered: 11/14/07
Posts: 86
Loc: Yukon
Used with permission from the author, Peter Upton.

I am going to try to write this out. It will help my typing.

First, some background. I live at Kluane Lake in the Yukon, and have lived here for 40 years. I worked as a biological tech. for many years in this area, as well as guided hikes and treks for Parks Canada, as well as private companies. I still spend lots of time in the bush. I have seen lots of bears. This is only the second time that I didn't see the bear first, and the first time that I have been "hunted". I am also now a convert to the effectiveness of bear spray. I always thought it would only work in a very close situation, as in, he is chewing on you.

I was walking through mature forest of spruce, bordered by heavy willow growing along a small lake shore, following a game trail that followed the border. I spooked a black bear that was digging roots in the willow patch. It was a fair size bear, 350 to 400 lbs., and I assumed to be a male. He ran a head, in the direction I was headed, and I thought that he might have left, but ducking down to be able to see under the tree branches, I could see the bear turn about a hundred feet ahead, carry on and then turn again, to come up on me from down wind. I knew then that I was in for it.

I had a can of bear spray in my pack, but no time to stop and get it out! this guy just kept coming. I also had air horn, the kind used for fog horns on small boats. I have used the horn before to get bears out of the yard, and found it very effective, bears do not like the sound. Problem was, I brought the small one to save weight and bulk. The little ones are not loud enough. The horn was right to hand, and as soon as I used it, I realized that it wasn't going to work. The bear would stop, and move off a little, but it was clear that it was an annoyance, not a deterrent.

I also had my walking stick that I always carry, and could stick it in his face, but he wasn't impressed. It helped my courage more than intimidated him, but it could have useful, maybe.

I kept a tree or bush between me and him, making short charges at him with the horn, but he wasn't impressed, and just kept moving closer every time he came back. He would move off 10 or 15 feet, and the stop and wait for me to come up. He would just stop and look at me, no sound, never opened his mouth, never charged, just waited. When this happened, I would stop as well, and then get something between us. I thought I might be able to leave the area, as my wife was pushed out of the bush by a black bear, for about a kilometer, but it was a little one, and more easily intimidated. As soon as I started to leave and then turned back, I realized my mistake, having lost ground between us. He now was about 8 to 10 feet away, and feeling more sure of himself, and I realized that what I was doing wasn't working and this guy was going to eat me if he could.

The time spent so far was about 15 to 20 minutes as near as I could tell, time having gained a different dimension now. I said to myself that I have to get up a tree, and looked around for the right one. I am still in a mature spruce forrest, and a lot of the trees were spruce beetle killed. I picked one I liked( I liked them all), and worked us around to it, made one last charge, turned and jumped into the tree, climbing probably faster than I have ever done before, and kept climbing until I was about 18-20 feet up, dreading the feeling of teeth grabbing my foot. Luckily this didn't happen, and looking down, I could see the bear about 4 feet below me. I grabbed one of the branches I had broke off on the way, and started jamming it in his face, trying to get it in his eyes, just to give him something else to think about. He really didn't like this, and I could see that he was having trouble getting up the tree, as he couldn't maneuver his arms around the branches. The stick in the eye was working and he went down the tree to figure out something else. This gave me time to get out of my pack and get out my bear spray, and take a deep breath, and congratulate myself for being able to get up the tree so fast( I am 64). Pretty good for an old man, I said to myself! He fooled around and tried to come up a couple of other places, but couldn't negotiate the branches, and so came back up the hole I had made.

I was ready for him with my branch and now bear spray. I gave him a little taste of it as he came back up, and was very happy to see that he really didn't like this, and with a little help from my branch, he went back down again. I gave him just a little more spray as he was down wind. He really didn't like the spray, rolling his lips back and throwing his head. He started off, and as he was going down wind I gave him another little squirt. He seemed to take off, but I wasn't sure wether he was going to leave or lay down and wait for me to come down.

I waited 10 minutes, and then climbed down to the bottom of the tree, waited right there so I could go back up if I had to, and then left in a hurry, pretty well walking backwards for about 500 meters, and then thinking that if he hadn't come by now, he probably wont, I at least started walking frontwards! I made it out of there with no more sign of him.

I had my camera in my pocket, but was to busy to get it out. Would have made a great picture, him 4 feet below me!!

In retrospect, I realized that your bear spray has to be right to hand, always. You have no time to stop and do anything. And pack a bigger horn. If, when he turned to come up wind and get my sent, I had given him a little taste of bear spray; here, this is what I smell like, and I had had a better horn, I bet he would have taken off; as to noisy for something that smells so bad.

I think it very relevant in a situation like that to realize that he will come up wind to see what you are and smell like, and that it is safe and important to give a little squirt of bear spray then. That alone may change his mind, and if nothing else, will give you some time. Many people have a hard time telling which is up or down wind, but the bear has no trouble at all, and will come up wind.

I learned:

-Carry bear spray and horn right to hand.

-Pick a big tree with lots of branches; Poplar and Aspen don't work, bears have no trouble with those,as they have no branches.

-Bears have a hard time with branches, and can't work their arms around them.

-Climb as high as you can

-Black bears really don't like bear spray

-A predatory bear will always come up wind ( I say always knowing there is no such thing with animals, but also knowing they have certain ways, and coming up wind of something they don't know, and may want to eat is pretty well certain)

-Just a little spray is sufficient, don't use it all up right away if you can get some bear spray in the air as he is coming up to you, it may be sufficient to turn him off, certainly have second thoughts

I hope you find this story of interest. Don't hesitate to contact me if you want more info.

Peter Upton
Kluane Lake, Yukon

Edited by Colorama (02/06/09 05:00 PM)

#166583 - 02/06/09 04:37 PM Re: Bear encounter and spray [Re: Colourful]
Desperado Offline

Registered: 11/01/08
Posts: 1530
Loc: DFW, Texas
Edit this for Telephone number. Safety first, even on the web
I do the things that I must, and really regret, are unfortunately necessary.


#166587 - 02/06/09 05:00 PM Re: Bear encounter and spray [Re: Desperado]
dweste Offline

Registered: 02/16/08
Posts: 2463
Loc: Central California
Great post, thanks.

Glad you came out okay.

#166589 - 02/06/09 05:52 PM Re: Bear encounter and spray [Re: dweste]
Tom_L Offline

Registered: 03/19/07
Posts: 690
Holy crap! Now that must have been one hell of an outdoor experience. I'm glad it worked out that way.

I EDC a can of pepper spray and have used it before on a hostile animal, worked like a charm! I can also say from first-hand experience it's effective against humans. Still, I was never entirely sure about bears.

I hike all the time in bear country and though I realize the danger is remote, it's always in the back of my mind. While I don't carry a firearm I always have some weapon at hand apart from a can of pepper spray, usually a walking staff and an axe or Cold Steel shovel on my pack. Then there's my Kabar as a last-ditch backup. Can't say it's the best means of defense against a berserker bear but at least I'd do my best to inflict some real damage before dying a heroic death if it came to that. frown I was never quite sure if the bear spray would actually work so I put more trust into my tools/blades. But it's good to know the spray works! Will get another can soon...

#166593 - 02/06/09 06:28 PM Re: Bear encounter and spray [Re: Tom_L]
Susan Offline

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 5163
Loc: W. WA
I had never heard of using an airhorn against a bear. Very interesting!



#166599 - 02/06/09 07:02 PM Re: Bear encounter and spray [Re: Susan]

Registered: 02/03/07
Posts: 1852

i do alot of canoeing in bear country..the rangers make you watch a video that has how to handle bears in camp before they will give you a park permit..i get sort of lazy about where my pepper spray is--maybe in a pack at the other end of the portage.
this year i'll get a holster and carry it all the time..good post. thanks..

#166604 - 02/06/09 07:31 PM Re: Bear encounter and spray [Re: CANOEDOGS]
Still_Alive Offline
Finally, I am a

Registered: 04/08/08
Posts: 119
Loc: Utah
Makes me think about all the possible uses for pepper spray, not just against 4-legged "varmints"--a lot of 2-legged varmints can be dissuaded by this less-than-lethal tool. Great commentary demonstrating the need to have items you will need in a hurry easily and quickly accessible.
“Learning is not compulsory... neither is survival.”
W. Edwards Deming

#166612 - 02/06/09 08:31 PM Re: Bear encounter and spray [Re: Susan]
Dagny Offline

Registered: 11/25/08
Posts: 1916
Loc: Washington, DC
Thank you for the detailed account. Scary just to read it.

Good to know your first-hand account of bear spray. I always hike with bear spray in a holster on my hip belt. And when riding my bike at night I have bear spray on the handlebars.

For darn sure I wouldn't have made it up that tree.

Edited by Dagny (02/06/09 08:33 PM)

#166615 - 02/06/09 08:59 PM Re: Bear encounter and spray [Re: Colourful]
acropolis5 Offline

Registered: 06/18/06
Posts: 358
I second the bear sray in the holster idea. One added question, is there a reason you do not carry at least a double barrel 12 gauge. I understand the concept of avoiding or discouraging a fatal encounter, to either you or the bear. However, a shot into the ground, with a backup if push comes to shove, seems like a good idea. YMMV.

#166616 - 02/06/09 09:01 PM Re: Bear encounter and spray [Re: Colourful]
bsmith Offline
day hiker

Registered: 02/15/07
Posts: 589
Loc: ventura county, ca
great post - thanks for sharing this.

am happy it turned out well.

both educational and inspirational.
“Everyone should have a horse. It is a great way to store meat without refrigeration. Just don’t ever get on one.”
- ponder's dad

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