A young prospector and an old prospector are flying in to a remote camp. The young prospector takes out a .357 handgun and starts loading it. The old prospector says "What's that for?"
"Well as soon as you can, you should file down the front sight. It's an old timer's trick."
"Really?" Replies the young man. "Why should I do that?"
"Because it will hurt less when the bear shoves that thing up your @ss."
... I don't want to write an editorial, so here are a couple of comments on the discussion point-form:
-I'm from Canada, where we have a) no handguns allowed anywhere except shooting ranges and on the hips of police officers, and b) large predatory bears. We can't carry rifles in our parks, which is where most of the hiking is.
-Having a gun and believing that you could kill any attacking animal if necessary *will* change *your* attitude. It's inevitable. Having *no gun* and believing that only your wits will keep you alive is more likely to keep you out of harm's way than traipsing around the woods thinking you're Dirty Harry, able to kill anything that threatens you at your discretion. Shooting a charging bear is hard; killing one before it gets to you happens mostly in movies.
-If you're observant and calm enough to see an animal early, anticipate an attack, draw your gun, make it ready to fire, aim it, fire accurately, aim again, fire again, and have 2+ rounds on target before the attack gets to you, you are observant enough to avoid the attack anyway.
-Conversely, if you're inattentive enough that you surprise an animal and cause it to attack you, you do not have the time or the reflexes necessary to use your gun. You are a piece of walking bear fodder, and what's worse is that the gun will boost your confidence artificially making you even more vulnerable. You are safer not to delude yourself into thinking that there will be some kind of Hollywood-style standoff between you and the bear. You are not Anthony Hopkins; you are Timothy Treadwell!
Approaching a thicket, at dusk, haven't been making noise. Recognize the possibility that you might surprise a bear, draw and arm pepper spray, cough loudly, lift your head up, use your ears, and above all use your eyes, and walk around the corner slowly. Bear is 20 feet away, you stop and speak calmly and then back away or else stop a bluff-charge with pepper spray and then move away. No gun, no problem.
Watching your feet, tired from the day, trying to get to camp before rainstorm, charge cluelessly around a corner into an unexpected thicket. Bear is as surprised as you are, and by the time you see it it's in full charge. An adult Grizzly can outrun a quarter horse. EPIC FAIL, gun or no gun.
In scenario 1), having a gun isn't necessary or useful. Pepper spray is more likely to avert a possible charge since it doesn't have to be accurate. For the gun to have been useful, you would have had to have drawn it and taken the safety off when you first saw the thicket anyway -- which you didn't and wouldn't do unless you want to get shot by a hiker coming the other way!!
In scenario 2), the inattentiveness that caused a bear attack is the same inattentiveness that prevents you from being able to stop the charge with your gun. Bears don't charge from 500 yards away, after all: you would need time to realize there's danger, produce the gun, and make enough holes in the bear that you're out of danger. Likelihood of that is 0, unless you're paying enough attention *anyway* that you didn't cause the bear to attack in the first place.
It's a catch-22.