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Alone in a vast Alaskan wilderness, seven teens fend off a grizzly bear—then try to stay alive
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Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Statistics on 01/06/2012 09:34:45 MST Print View

"You can easily compare the probablity that a person in Montana will diee in a car wreck vs. a bear attack by dividing the number of bear attacks and car deaths by the population of the state (accounting for a few extra tourists). But life is complicated so..."

Don't forget the emotional component and how people actually react confronted by a bear. You are forgetting about conditional probabilities.

"1. Lots of people in a state like Montana have almost zero chance of being attacked by a bear because they stay in town or they live in an area with no bears."

What are the stats fo a Montana resident being attacked by a bear when driving and texting?


Bob - love the summation and couldn't have said it better myself.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Guns on 01/06/2012 09:47:01 MST Print View

>"Do you guys carry guns?"

Ben, I don't. The people I hike with, don't. Unless they are hunting.

>"As someone who experiences guns as something totally alien, the idea of carrying a gun into the woods seems anathema to me."

I started that way. (5th gen San Franciscian). After living here, I do take a more rural view of them as a tool when in the right hands AND my former urban view of them as a dangerous menace in the wrong hands.

>"What would you have to carry to even have some chance of stopping a grizzly? .50?

The State of Alaska recommends .300 Winchester Magnum or 12-gauge with rifled slug as a MINIMUM. The study that it came from confirms the most common choice up here - .338 is easier shooting with a large fraction of the effect of the harder to shoot .375 and the literal "elephant gun" of a .458. The .338 also isn't overly large for the moose or deer or caribou you're going after in the first place.

>"Seems like you're better off carrying the spray."

The professors who have studied all the North American data and seem objective about it agree. Spray definitely, on average, improves the outcome for the human by a bit(and therefore, absolutely, improves the outcome for the bear). Guns are a wash, statistically, for helping the human and obviously don't help the bear.

> "I carry the spray, but I'm cognizant that I'm much more likely to die in my car, or on a patch of ice outside my apartment than I am at the hands of a bear."

I'm cool with that. I don't carry spray myself, I interprete the data as correlating most strongly: quiet people get killed sometimes. Noisy people and parties almost never do. So I yak it up when around water, berries or poor sightlines. But, yeah, mostly I drive careful, avoid hypothermia, falls, etc.

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Re: Re: statistics: Bear attacks... on 01/06/2012 09:58:11 MST Print View

"In cases of a bear encounter with a grizzly, what is the probability that you will be mauled?" They are close to zero. Bear attacks are rare events. I told her that in North America there are an estimated six hundred thousand black bears and sixty thousand grizzly bears. Each year there are millions of times in which each species is close to people and no threat or injury results... I hate to see people's lives crippled by fear based on ignorance. Stephen Herrero

If everyone always carried spray in bear country, I think it's likely MORE people would be killed. Three incidents out of dozens:

Bear repellent causes vet clinic evacuations, two employees were evaluated for respiratory distress...

police were dealing with a number of incidents of people being hit with bear spray in the city’s north-central area. Police said there were several victims...

Winnipeg: Bear Spray Forces Apartment Block Evacuation Paramedics called

It's inevitable that someday there will be a fatal aircraft or car crash because of a bear spray accident.

Very often, people don't have time to react to a bear attack with any weapon. If there are 3 fatalities per year in North America, 100% use of bear spray might prevent 1. Seat belts save tens of thousands of lives, take almost no effort to use, and add very little additional risk. So the risk/reward of seat belts vs bear spray is worlds apart.

With about 16,929 murders a year in the US and Canada combined out of a total population of about 334,000,000, about 1 out of 19,625 people will be a murderer in a given year.

With about 3 fatal bear attacks per year in the US and Canada combined, and about 660,000 bears in the US and Canada total, about 1 out of 220,000 bears will be "murderers" in a given year.
Significant numbers.

I think there are times where carrying bear spray make sense (say, on the Russian River in Alaska, where the brown bears are plentiful and bold.) But leaving bear spray home can also make sense. There are a lot of factors, but to make a rational choice it's important to have some concept of the relative risk.

Edited by Colter on 01/06/2012 10:55:25 MST.

Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
Spray on 01/06/2012 10:51:30 MST Print View

In Banff this year they actually required parties to carry bear spray. This was the first year they had done that but with the late summer bears were pushed lower down into the valleys and there were more encounters being reported.

This is in addition to the requirement that in certain areas you must hike in parties of four or larger. And they have spacing requirements for what defines a tight group.

For me I carry bear spray when I am out with kids as there behaviour can be unpredicable and I am not sure how they would react around bear. Also at that point I am being a sherpa anyways so whats another pound.

I also carry it when I am out trail running as the speed you travel and lack of noise lead to increases in the number of animals you see. As well the fact you are running may trigger the predetor instict in animals. Also that all fatal bear attacks have happened to solo hikers or small groups leads me to believe this is prudent. I still am working on a good way to carry it while running that doesn't bug me too much. I haven't encounterd bears while out running but I did almost crash into a deer that wouldn't get off the trail and have ran into two coyotes. I actually took the safety off the spray when I ran into the coyotes but yelling at them for a while scared them off.

In groups of 3 or more I generally don't carry it although if there are inexperienced members of the group who have some fear of bears I carry it to convince them to come out hiking.

I hike mainly in the Canadian Rockies so prime Grizzly habitat.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Bear attacks... on 01/06/2012 11:11:33 MST Print View


Edited by skopeo on 06/17/2015 16:46:17 MDT.

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
Nothing like a good bear and gun discussion on 01/06/2012 11:17:53 MST Print View

Just for more topical material.

One summer in the CA Sierra, early 90's, I knew of two black bear attacks, both human provoked. Neither reported. You get fines and death threats you see if you do stupid stuff that threatens bears in that part of the country.

One attack involved a camper next to me who left his food out on a picnic table in Tuolumne one night and tried to get the food back. He got swatted in the head and was still dopey in the morning. He refused help.

The other happened in the backcountry when a hiker got between a mama and cubs. He
went to the hospital via h'copter. Never made the statistics for some reason.

So my non statistical opinion
is that many more attacks occur in CA than get reported.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Bear attacks... on 01/06/2012 11:26:39 MST Print View

>"don't suggest that others that don't like to gamble are wrong"

I wasn't. I don't think Bruce was. He explicitly recommended spray when in my most common hiking spot (Russian River / Resurrection Trail) on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska.

>"you have very little control over the situation."

I disagree. I can stay or run (I stay). I talk or be quiet (I talk). I can make eye contact or not (I don't). I can look big or small (I go big). That's not absolute control, but they all shift things in my favor.

>"bear will definitely get the last say."


>"I'd be interested to know how many of you Alaskans carry PLB's (or equivalent)?"

I do about half the time depending on distances, cell-phone coverage, weather, kids along, health of other participants. There are a couple of a saves each year in Alaska from SPOT alone, whereas there rarely more than one fatal bear attack a year to be saved from by any means, so I think the PLB leverages safety more, is lighter, could never gas me, and is multipurpose (bear, avalanche, benighted, injured, hypothermia, etc).

>"As for bear stats, the fact that BC seems to have a sixth of the bears in North America, makes me think that my chances of having a problem with a bear is going to be significantly higher than in other areas of North America. I suspect Alaska is similar."

Agreed. If you mean a problem of human injury. If you want your car or backpack shredded, just go to Yosemite or Sequoia NPs in California with an ice chest in the back seat. 20 years ago, Sequoia was running $60,000 vehicle damage a year.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Re: Re: statistics: Bear attacks... on 01/06/2012 11:34:24 MST Print View

"Winnipeg: Bear Spray Forces Apartment Block Evacuation Paramedics called"

What is the probability of this happening amongst all of those who have bear spray stored? This has no relevence to carrying bear spray in bear infested hiking areas. Last time I checked, there weren't too many bears walking through Winnipeg.

I suspect that the bear spray purchased in this case was for protection. By the way, Winnipeg is the country's violent crime capital. Manitoba has the highest amount of violent crime of all provinces. Manitoba had the highest homicide rate for the fourth consecutive year. Winnipeg has the country's highest rate of robberies.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Statistics on 01/06/2012 11:50:51 MST Print View

Statistics can be confusing when they are not put in the context of other risks or done on a per capita basis. Thanks, Bruce, for putting this into perspective.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Guns on 01/06/2012 12:12:23 MST Print View

Despite a few encounters, I've never had to shoot at a bear before and can therefore only imagine that you would need a cool head, a potful of self-confidence in your weapon and shooting ability, and a very tight anal sphincter to be able to place a killing shot into something with 5 inch claws and 3 inch teeth that is closing the distance between the two of you at 40 mph while bobbing up and down.

IIRC, the lethal target area on a bear's chest is the size of a softball. Even a bazooka is useless if you can't hit the target with it.

You'll also need to decide if what you're facing is a bluff charge or the real thing. Shooting but not immediately killing a Grizzly will virtually guarentee you of getting his undivided attention. Is that what you want?

Listen to the man from Alaska who knows of what he speaks.


Edited by wandering_bob on 01/06/2012 12:14:24 MST.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Bear Attacks... on 01/06/2012 12:25:00 MST Print View


Edited by skopeo on 06/17/2015 16:44:30 MDT.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Bear Attacks... on 01/06/2012 12:45:51 MST Print View

"With about 16,929 murders a year in the US and Canada combined out of a total population of about 334,000,000, about 1 out of 19,625 people will be a murderer in a given year.

With about 3 fatal bear attacks per year in the US and Canada combined, and about 660,000 bears in the US and Canada total, about 1 out of 220,000 bears will be "murderers" in a given year."

Your stats need to be shown in context. How many people backpack annually in bear country as a relation to bear attacks? Out of the 3 fatal bear attacks annually (this is an average over time of those incidents reported), how many people hike in bear country? The first statistic is defined by a total population of victims. The second isn't.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Bear Attacks... on 01/06/2012 13:01:50 MST Print View

There is no definitive answer here or a truly right way. And every area with grizzlies has different populations and factors. You can discuss forever and nothing will be proven, other than they are big, fast, and potentially dangerous.

I have never hiked in grizzly country, and to be honest the idea does scare me some. Should I decide to go somewhere where they live, I would do my research and listen to folks who do it a lot, such as Dave, Bruce, et al. Then I would select my gear and methods accordingly.

It is like what I do a lot; hike in deserts. I normally sleep with no shelter. I have no fear of snakes or other "dangerous" creatures. I do have respect and operate in a safe manner. Others are terrified. I guess it all comes down to experience and "risk assessment."

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
nols on 01/06/2012 13:10:35 MST Print View

I don't have any argument w/ someone who elects not to carry bear spray in grizzly country (I happen to, my grizzly encounters are into the 100's w/ no bad incidents, my only "bad" bear incident was actually w/ a black bear!), BUT this was a youth educational setting and IF I was in charge, every student would carry bear spray, every student would carry the spray where it was handy, every student would get a chance to practice unsheathing the spray and every student would have the chance to actually use the spray (they sell inert bottles just for that purpose).

Would this have changed the outcome, very possibly not, but I as the instructor would feel much better that every student who attended my training learned the proper carry and application of bear spray. What they elected to do AFTER the class would be completely up to them.

I've wrote at some length on my opinion of firearms for bears, so I won't repeat here- I'll just say that I carry a firearm for a living and when backpacking outside of work I don't carry a firearm (unless that backpacking trip also happens to be a hunting trip :) )

My .02

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
assessment on 01/06/2012 13:19:18 MST Print View

my rule in climbing is that a person new to the sport cannot assess the risks ... despite them being a grown adult ...

they simply to not have a sense of what can go wrong, the risk involved of certain dangers, and how accidents happen ... i will do everything reasonable in my power to not subject them to unneeded risk ... with more experienced partners you can knowingly agree to take on a few more risks in the interest of time or other such

yet despite this, i see "experienced" climbers take out new climbers in risky ways IMO over and over again ... "you dont need help on a long climb as ive never seen anyone hit by a rock", "this traverse is perfectly safe (and it aint)", "my anchors are good (and it aint)", "you can belay hands free with a gri gri"

i suspect something happens with other risks in other sports... avalanches, bears, hypothermia

remember that just because we are the "elite" (joke) and were highly "experienced" (another joke) ... doesnt mean newer or others should do as we do all the time ... especially newer participants

like i said avalanche deaths are not that common when one considers "statistics" and deaths from driving, STDs or eating too many cheezy poofs are much greater ... but who here goes into avy country during risky periods without a shovel, probe, beacon and some training?

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Nols... on 01/06/2012 13:38:55 MST Print View


Edited by skopeo on 06/17/2015 16:42:19 MDT.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Bear Attacks... on 01/06/2012 15:09:33 MST Print View

">> There are a couple of a saves each year in Alaska from SPOT alone, whereas there rarely more than one fatal bear attack a year <<

I don't understand your rationale. . . . Please explain your thought process, I don't understand why the fear of being lost/rescued is greater than a bear attack when the stats look pretty similar. I'm not trying to be confrontational about this but I truly don't understand the thought process"

Mike: For me, it's a mult-factor decision as to why I sometimes carry a PLB and very rarely bear spray (pretty much only when someone else wants it along):

SPOT publicizes their saves to me (I get their emails) and I especially note their Alaska cases. But I hear other cases through, say, the Kenai chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, or the local paper that SPOT doesn't report. And I'm not on ACRs (GlobalFix, ResQFix) or McMurdo's (SmartFind, FastFind), Sydertrack's, etc's mailing lists so I'm sure I know of only a fraction of the PLB saves.

But if a bear so much as scratches a human anywhere in the state, it's on the front page and I hear about. So there's a huge reporting bias. And, for almost everyone, an emotional bias in our response to big, scary, strong, toothed and clawed carnivores. I try to factor that out of my practical decisions.

SPOT is 147 grams and I don't have to keep at the ready. Bear Spray is 420 grams plus holster = ?470 grams?

Bear Spray is for one issue - bears, and maybe could be multi-purposed for undesireable humans.

SPOT could assist in a wide variety of situations that I can imagine and others I haven't. And I can send on "OK" or "help" message to family in addition to the "SOS" to SAR personnel.

And, having looked through Herraro's articles and data, it all screams at me that making noise is far more effective than what you have in your holster. Subtly, and I shouldn't, but I would make somewhat less noise if I was carrying spray. I don't know if this is the phenom Bruce was considering but for me, in that way - being a bit quieter - spray could increase my risk of a bad bear encounter very slightly.

Also, I'm a high-mileage guy - 40-mile day hikes, that kind of thing. Weight matters and my voice weighs nothing. Standing all day in the Kenai River, "Combat Fishing" shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of old, fat, white guys? Then I wouldn't mind the weight. But, in that case? Where 85% of the other fishermen have spray and a Glock and maybe a shotgun with rifled slug? I'd just start moved back and out of the line of fire/spray when everyone else cuts loose.

But I am fine with anyone who wants to carry spray. Mostly because I think it's good when people get out in the woods more. I'm fine if you carry a gun IF you are safe, skilled, and have carefully considered when and how to use it. But I'd rather people carried spray than guns.

Maybe, fundamentally, my fear of a bear attack is pretty darn low. I've studied, thought about it a lot, and assimilated it. I was MUCH more worried about lions and cape buffalo on a walking safari in Zimbabwe than I am about bears along a salmon river in Alaska. Because it was new to me, new stuff is scary, and I hadn't come to terms with it. And how can I possibly, long-term, fear bears if I still drive my car 20,000 miles a year? For activities we do all the time, we each have to come to terms with the risks, take the mitigating steps we choose and get on with our lives. Otherwise, I'd be a well-armed, paranoid, whack-job barricaded in my bunker. And we already have enough of those up here.

Mike, what are your bear experiences? How often have you surprised a griz on the trail?

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
It's about the big picture on 01/06/2012 15:36:58 MST Print View

Mike W.: I am hunter and a gun owner. I know sometimes firearms are successfully used by honest people to defend themselves. A friend and I were discussing this topic and he suggested that everyone in New York City should carry guns because there are more good people than bad people. He became quite angry when I said that it seemed certain to me that it would result in far more deaths. It's not only the days where a gun is used in self defense that count. All the days where guns are carried are days people are at a certain level of risk from accidents.

On bear spray, I've already said that in the most dangerous circumstances carrying bear spray makes sense. It doesn't take a lot of experience to make a pretty good guess where those places are. But I think it's undeniable that any day I carry bear spray and DON'T use it, I am at greater risk than if I wasn't carrying it. It's illegal to carry bear spray in the fuselage of an aircraft because if it happens to leak the plane may crash. In the United States there are tens of millions of people who venture into bear country without carrying bear spray. If we make it a rule of "common sense" to ALWAYS carry spray in bear country, there will be tens of millions of cans of bear spray being carried on horseback, in cars and other vehicles, and it's inevitable that some fatal accidents would result. According to some sources, wasps and bees in cars cause thousands of accidents.

We have to weigh the risks of accidental spray discharge against the risk from bears. I disagree with anyone that says the answer is obvious.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Risks on 01/06/2012 15:53:06 MST Print View

"my rule in climbing is that a person new to the sport cannot assess the risks ... despite them being a grown adult ..."

I think this is a pretty good rule for quite a few sports/activities. It takes experience and education to know the risks and be able to make wise decisions. If you're new to something it's best to play it cautious.

Slightly off topic, but 2 summers ago was the first time I ever free climbed. My buddy was leading the pitches and I was following (whatever that is called). I took a fall on the first pitch about 30' up and a piece pulled out. It was an extremely scary feeling for a second until the next piece up caught me. It was still a pretty good swinger. Being new, I had no idea these pieces weren't 100% solid.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
If the risk is low, why carry? on 01/06/2012 15:53:40 MST Print View

If the risk of serious injury by a bear is really that low, should NOLS be teaching people to use bear spray in the area. Honestly, wouldn't they be better off teaching that there are a few places it makes good sense to use it? Should a NOLS trainee leave believing he needs bear spray in most or all places?