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Thinking About Bears and Cougars
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Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Thinking About Bears and Cougars on 09/04/2009 19:08:39 MDT Print View

Last month I was in BC Canada and I hiked the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. Great trip and some of the best hiking memories I've had. One thing that I had never experienced before was the constant talk of black bears and cougar, with signs all along the trail warning walkers to be careful and with lengthy descriptions of how dangerous they are (there are black bears in Japan, too, and earlier this year a famous Japanese mountaineer was mauled by one while running in the mountains near his home, so I'm aware of the possibility of danger) and basically making everyone feel as if every shadow needs to have an eye kept on it. But then, upon coming back here, I read Andrew Skurka's account of his Alaska trip and all the bears he saw and that didn't deter him from just going on with his trip.

My question for my future walks in such places, to those of you who have a lot of experience in bear and cougar country, just how much does one really have to worry? Was most of my fear in my head? Sleeping in an open-ended tarp definitely made me aware of the surroundings and one night when I heard my hiking partner suddenly snore in his tent I woke up terrified it was a bear, switched on my headlamp, and saw two glowing eyes staring at me not five meters away... a moment later turning out to be a raccoon. Another night I woke up to something moving on my chest and came face-to-face with a mouse... that nearly made me jump out of my skin! But no bears. Or cougars. Do I just need to get used to such surroundings and relax? Or is the constant fear justified?

Edited by butuki on 09/04/2009 19:09:49 MDT.

Zack Karas
( - MLife

Locale: Lake Tahoe
keep rolling on 09/04/2009 19:44:07 MDT Print View

It's absolutely not justified. I think that in the backcountry, the smaller the animal the bigger the nuisance. That mouse would have startled me, too!

Now in Japan, I believe the most common bear is the Asiatic black bear and that it is more aggressive than the North American black bear. So I'd treat it differently, but not fear it more.

Compare the differing rates of occurrence of bear/cougar maulings to bee stings, dog attacks, etc. You are far safer in the woods than you are in the city, in my opinion. A little fear is a good thing as it keeps you doing things intelligently, but too much fear makes you stupid.

Josh Leavitt
(Joshleavitt) - F

Locale: Ruta Locura
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! on 09/04/2009 22:00:39 MDT Print View

I'll agree with what Zack said, and follow up with a healthy respect may be in order, rather than fear. I've had a lion make contact with me in the middle of the night by pressing its front paws against my tent and me. I had a wolf double back, and follow me for about 1/2 a mile a few years ago. And today I had a bear, that I only caught glimpses of, follow me for about 1/4 mile. The bear disappeared when I pursued it. Most likely the same bear that left the tracks(pic) in the mud.

bear tracks wheatgrass canyon

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Thinking About Bears and Cougars on 09/05/2009 01:40:16 MDT Print View

Miguel -

Too bad I didn't know you were in my area, I could have arranged a trail meeting.

As for the bears and cougars, we do have a very healthy population of bears and cougars in this area and our Parks Dept posts the signs to make backcountry travelers aware of the fact that they really are in bear country. This is to protect you and the bears. The Parks folks really want to make sure that careless campers don't create problems that inevitably result in a bear being destroyed.

I try to be careful in bear country and avoid situations that could lead to an encounter. I also carry bear spray. That said, I don't worry about bears when I’m in the backcountry but I do maintain a healthy respect for them.

It does concern me when I hear people in this forum saying that black bears are nothing to worry about... the fact is they can be dangerous. If they are in ill health, starving, protecting their young or just bad asses they can be a problem.

Bottom line is that you should always be bear aware and just make this part of your hiking style. Once you are confident in your ability to avoid or handle encounters you will be able to relax and enjoy your trips without worrying about the bears.

Edited by skopeo on 09/05/2009 01:44:59 MDT.

Josh Leavitt
(Joshleavitt) - F

Locale: Ruta Locura
Clarification on 09/05/2009 11:10:53 MDT Print View

After recieving a few emails, I just want to make clear, you should not "pursue" bears, they can be a threat.

larry savage
(pyeyo) - F

Locale: pacific northwest
through the years .. on 09/05/2009 12:10:36 MDT Print View

Through the years I've watched the infomation change with how to deal with bears and cougars. Each situation needs analyzing; did you surprise the bear, was it stalking you or your camp, are there cubs nearby,is it park bear or problem bear moved out of the lower campgrounds.
In the end each of these situations leads to set of things in your control and things out of your control.
The problem from my point of view is we spend our energy worrying about the encounters with the wild we can't control; i.e. the rogue bear or cat jumping us.
Practice good housekeeping, [I prefer to camp high and isolated in heavy bear country], be obvious of the signs [manmade and animal left], carry spray where you can reach it,make noise,travel in groups, all this is out there to read and study but we need to put in practice, adrenaline alone in wild animal encounters is a nasty beast. We are like the handgun owners who end up shot with our own weapons because we are thrown into a situation we did not prepare for - anyone can hit a target from a bench rest on a windless day. Act aware in the wild but you know you are ten times more likely to suffer a domestic dog fatality then being attacked in the wild.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: MidAtlantic
Re: Thinking About Bears and Cougars on 09/05/2009 12:23:53 MDT Print View

I (or more correctly, one of my backpacking companions) had an interesting bear encounter recently. We were hiking from High Point State Park, NJ, south on the AT to Buttermilk Falls, where we planned to spend the night. Perhaps an hour before Buttermilk Falls one of our party (there were four of us, I was out front alone, two were together, and the last, who had the bear encounter, was alone). She encountered a bear, but didn't think much of it since she's encountered plenty in her years of hiking. She gave it wide berth and kept going. But the bear began following her. It was never aggressive, she later felt that it was more curious than anything else. But it followed her for about half an hour before leaving. Concerned her, and the rest of us when we heard about it, greatly. As far as we know it never showed up in our camp that night, and we didn't see it the next day. We reported it to the rangers as we left the area.

Zack Karas
( - MLife

Locale: Lake Tahoe
What to do? on 09/05/2009 13:29:28 MDT Print View

What would you guys do in the example of the woman being followed by a bear for a half hour? I imagine I would yell, make noise, throw rocks, do anything while stopping short of truly attacking the bear--basically let the bear know I'm not going to be an easy snack/victim. And I'm talking about a black bear, obviously. I'd only fight a brown bear if it had started eating me (beyond mauling...).

This may be wrong to equate my approach with mugging victims, but this is kind of my philosophy on the matter: if you start acting like a victim, I would imagine your chances of actually becoming a victim increase. While traveling abroad, I've been shadowed by thugs. When I made it very clear that I knew I was being pursued and wasn't happy about it, they took off. I've met other travelers who were in similar situations and did nothing, and got mugged. Am I wrong here?

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: MidAtlantic
Re: What to do? on 09/05/2009 14:25:39 MDT Print View

FWIW, she did make noise and generally let the bear know that she knew it was following her. She did not get aggressive, didn't actually yell and such.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
bear following on 09/05/2009 16:17:34 MDT Print View

We had a bear follow us at about 15 yds distance - sniffing at us the entire time - until he spotted a fisherman by the lake. Then he went down to demand lunch from the fisherman.

First time in well over 50 yrs I've had any trouble from a bear or cougar.

Yeah, we did all the recommended stuff, but he wasn't having any. He seemed to know humans = food (i.e., had food about them), and wanted his share.

I admit it had me worried! And now my wife won't hike where there's bears...

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Bears&Cougers on 09/05/2009 17:13:53 MDT Print View

My understanding is that a bear will only hurt you for two reasons. First he feels you are a threat and for whatever reason can't or won't run. This is more common among Grizzlies. The second reason is he's predatory and wants to eat you, this is the main concern with mountain lions, and black bears in wilderness areas. The problem is there will be little or no warning and this animal will mean business. This is when you need to be ontop of your game with bear spray or whatever. I know predatory attacks are very rare but saying you're more likely to be struck by lightning isn't a fair comparison(no offense to anyone here) I avoid a lightning death by staying off high mountains in thunderstorms animals are more of a constant concern (although still unlikely).
I've been to enough funerals lately that I'm a bit more careful. I'm not paranoid but I'm carrying a bit more safety gear than I used to. I just figure I owe it to those who love me and those who share the trail with me.
Safe Hiking.

larry savage
(pyeyo) - F

Locale: pacific northwest
signage on 09/05/2009 22:43:57 MDT Print View


Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Don't hike solo on 09/06/2009 04:46:53 MDT Print View

Personally, I simply don't think about bears or cougars. (Well, except for the remote risk of a cougar snatching up my 2 year old daughter.) As others have said, I just try to maintain good habits and stop worrying.

That said, I read "somewhere" that there has never been a documented bear attack against a group of more than 3 people in North America. And most of the attacks against 3 people were unusual- for instance one was a guy who was dragged out of his solo tent while his two buddies were sleeping (a little too far away) in the double tent. When the two buddies woke up and attacked the bear it ran.

So, if you worry about such things, try to stick to three person groups, or preferably four person groups. I guess bears recognize a pack of dangerous apex predators when they see it.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
Bears and Cougars on 09/06/2009 09:28:34 MDT Print View

Larry...that sign is hilarious! What a way to start the day!

Nacho Libre
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Thinking About Bears and Cougars on 09/06/2009 10:11:33 MDT Print View

This is what I do to bears in the area:Bears

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: MidAtlantic
Re: Thinking About Bears and Cougars on 09/06/2009 10:19:16 MDT Print View

Whether you're the one on the left or the right, you've gained a bit of weight since your avatar pic was taken....

Nacho Libre
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Thinking About Bears and Cougars on 09/06/2009 10:21:07 MDT Print View

On a more serious note, Miguel, I have done a lot of hiking in that area, including the West Coast Trail several times and had some bear encounter. For areas where both humans and bears live, confrontation can be an issue but it is almost always a case of the bear thinking you are withholding a food source. Black Bear don't eat humans; we are not a food source, but a habituated bear can be an issue. Where you were hiking is a popular spot and the bears are more likely comfortable with humans - it did not want to eat you and short of trying to give it a hug, you would likely not have had an issue. On the West Coast Trail, however, the bears are not habituated and run away from you at any chance. Grizzlies are a completely different animal and need to be treated as such.

Black bears have incredible smell and hearing (up to a KM away) so noise should keep them away. Be bear safe when at camp and when hiking (i.e. food in odor free bags, etc).

Cougars can be a problem - they are unpredictable and predator to almost any animal. But they are not likely to try to attack an animal if it is larger than them and if they are well fed to begin with. There are far more attacks from cougars than bears in Canada, although many of the attacks are against small children.

Nacho Libre
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Thinking About Bears and Cougars on 09/06/2009 10:22:08 MDT Print View

Doug - HA!

The Avatar was taken just last month so still in fighting shape.

Walter Carrington
(Snowleopard) - M

Locale: Mass.
Re: Don't hike solo, bear attacks in Algonquin on 09/06/2009 17:27:58 MDT Print View

Dean Fellabaum (acrosome) said: "That said, I read "somewhere" that there has never been a documented bear attack against a group of more than 3 people in North America."

There have been a couple of multiple fatality black bear attacks in Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada. In one 3 boys were killed.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: MidAtlantic
Bear spray? on 09/06/2009 18:44:12 MDT Print View

So how many east coasters on here carry bear spray? I guess, actually, it'd be interesting to know how many west coasters do as well.

And how about you europeans?

Edited by idester on 09/06/2009 18:44:42 MDT.