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Bear Warning Devices, Wistles, Bells, What?

Question:
What is the best method of letting bears know that you are in their neck of the woods, and thus, avoid being attacked for startling them. Just what do you recomend for solving this little proublem?

Thanks,
Dennis

Answer:
Making lots of noise seems to be the key. Whether you choose bells on your feet or arms, loud conversation, or whacking brush with a hiking pole is more a matter of personal preference. Personally, I wouldn't recommend a whistle. The object is too let them know your around before you startle them or get too close. Once they see you loud noises are unlikely to deter or frighten them (see the article below). I think most people would be unlikely to blow a whistle frequently enough to do the job.

To some extent none of these insures you won't have a problem. The old joke is that the Ranger tells the tourist that to avoid Grizzlies you should wear bells and use pepper spray if one attacks. Make lots of noise if your see grizzly scat, he continues, but don't worry if you see brown bear scat.

"How do you know if its grizzly or brown bear scat?", asks the tourist.

"The grizzly bear scat will have small bells in it and smell like pepper," says the ranger.

I know several hikers who frequent Alaska who always pack a gun. That's not very popular or politically correct these days, but they have come upon grizzlies several times even when taking all appropriate precautions. So far no attacks, never used the gun.

I probably haven't told you anything you didn't already know, but that seems to be best current thinking.

One interesting development is research that shows that brown bears may be attracted to pepper spray. See www.nbs.gov/pr/newsrelease/1998/2-9.html.

Steve Mann

(c) 1997 Copyright Nando.net
1997 Scripps Howard

(Oct 22, 1997 - 09:58 EDT) -- The idea that a can of pepper spray will keep a 500-pound grizzly bear from attacking seems ridiculous. You may as well use the spray on yourself and hope the bear doesn't like spicy food, or so you would think.

Late-night talk show host Jay Leno recently joked about it in his opening monologue. In central Idaho, the crowd at a public hearing on reintroducing grizzly bears about laughed a man out of the room when he suggested it.

But as improbable as it sounds, the spray works. In the past month, personnel in Yellowstone National Park have used the spray to stop two grizzly attacks, and the Park Service is recommending anyone hiking in grizzly country carry a can.

Some people will say they have heard all this before. Pepper spray is just the latest and greatest in a long line of bear repellents.

In the past, people have recommended mothballs and air horns to stop bear attacks. Of course Yellowstone grizzlies have been seen eating mothballs, according to writer and historian Paul Schullery. And the idea that a loud noise will scare an animal capable of making some pretty loud noises on its own doesn't seem likely.

Pepper spray, on the other hand, is about 90 percent effective, said Kerry Gunther, a bear management specialist with Yellowstone National Park.

"It isn't brains in a can though," Gunther said. He still recommends people take all the normal precautions: hang your food, keep a clean camp, stay on marked trails, never hike alone and make noise when you hike in bear country.

"The pepper spray is kind of a good last resort," Gunther said.

When buying pepper spray, make sure it is designed specifically for use against large animals, said Mark Matheny, founder of Universal Defense Alternative Products, which makes one of the most popular bear sprays on the market. The spray should be oil based, a 10 percent solution and have a range of about 30 feet.

Matheny credits pepper spray with saving his life. He was mauled by a sow grizzly while bow hunting near Bozeman, Mont., several years ago. The bear actually had Matheny's head in her mouth. His hunting partner used a can of pepper spray against the animal.

After that Matheny went into the pepper spray business, and wouldn't go into the woods without a can. "It's like wearing seat belts when you get in a car," he said.

Matheny recommends using about a two-second blast of spray to create a wall in front of you as soon as a bear charges. If that doesn't stop it, spray the animal as soon as it's in range, he said.

The pepper spray is especially good for hunters since they can't do things like make noise while they hunt, Matheny said. Spraying a bear is preferable to killing one, he said. "They're such magnificent, powerful animals."

The spray swells the bear's mucus membranes, makes it hard for the animal to breathe and temporarily destroys its sense of smell, Matheny said. It makes the bear just want to run away, he said.

By MIKE BARENTI, Idaho Falls Post-Register



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