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Living with bears

August 31, 2012

It was unnerving to say the least, a small black bear mock charged me as I sat behind the fallen rotted corps of a tree. Now the bear had pulled himself up so he could stare into my face with his front claws only inches from my face… Me brave, no way, and it was not the 44 magnum sitting in my lap, but the four other hunting guides who now had there rifles trained on the bear waiting for one wrong move from him that had me at the very least breathing normally.

I was at one of our bait stations in the middle of nowhere videotaping the hunt for use in a promotional video of our spring bear hunts. Right now we had only three small black bears in the station and Les Cobb the owner and head guide decided the bears would make good footage for his hunting video. I was an apprentice hunting guide and had never before this year been this close to bears outside of a zoo. I had spent the spring months learning what not to do when around or near bears. Which brings me to the point of this posting, the recent attacks, mauling and death caused by bears here in Alaska.

In general bears do not want to have anything to do with humans. Wild bears, those that have never encountered a human have no idea what we are about and will if given the chance, avoid us. That is not to say that some will not be curious to find out just what we are when they encounter us, but again for the most part they will stick to what they know is food.

One of the first things I was told was to make noise when walking in the woods. For someone from Philadelphia this made no sense. I thought it was like an invitation to dinner to announce ourselves as we walked the trails. But I soon found that to walk quietly and surprise a bear was far worse than to let them know you are in the area. Of course now I can joke that the ‘bear bells’ hikers are encouraged to wear are often called dinner bell’s by locals, and the ‘bear spray’ meat tenderizer.

This knowledge, or lack thereof, on how to survive in the wilderness makes me wonder why we are having all these bear attacks lately? There were three separate incidents on the–two-girls-get-bear-scare-on-Granite-Tors-Trail One involving a woman and her two nieces hiking back from a camping trip then another attack where a tent was ripped open and a while later another couple challenged by a bear when hiking the same trail. A week or so later a hiker in Denali National Park was killed, the first death in Denali in 95 years and most recently a woman working for a Canadian mining company was attacked in the Tangle Lakes region.

It makes one wonder if these people were knowledgeable enough to be hiking in areas frequented by bears? In the lower forty eight states most wilderness is bordered/surrounded by some form of civilization and most people with a basic knowledge of woodsmanship can deal with travel in those woods, here you can be literally in the middle of no where, with thousands of square miles of nothing surrounding you. Any wrong move from a sprained ankle to storing food too close to your tent can bring death. Alaska’s reality is that it can be both beautiful and deadly.

I know all of these people felt they understood the risks of backcountry travel

but sometimes people learn the hard way

that there is no substitute for a handgun.

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