Veteran outdoorsmen, whether they be hunters, fishermen, hikers, or other brands know that the world of nature has the potential of becoming a hazardous place.  And take precautions accordingly.  But this country is filled with folk who live in cities or suburbs and see little more of nature than city park squirrels and the occasional roadside deer.  These people too often have strange ideas about natures creatures, and they get into trouble.  Even long time outdoorsmen can have bad luck, and when they do, it’s time to go to Plan B.  Bears are a classic example.

Many of the less experienced have grown up on movies like Gentle Ben, had bear toys, and seen lots of those cute Disney films.  They tend to believe bears are pets, something to be played with and hugged.  You don’t believe it?  Then witness a sight I saw in Yellowstone Park one time when a black bear sow with two cubs was right alongside the road eating jelly rolls tossed out of cars. 

One man got out with his very small son, put it on the bear’s back, and grinned proudly while his wife took a picture.  He got away with it, too.  A park ranger I talked to that day said “People do things like that all the time.  And when they get bitten or mauled, they want to sue the Park Service for keeping dangerous bears!”

 The animal local people are mostly likely to run into, is the black bear, which is becoming fairly common in eastern and southeastern Ohio.  It’s also plentiful in vacation spots like the Smokies, Yellowstone, and elsewhere.  The critters average 150 to 400 pounds, but reach 800, eat almost anything, and can reach speeds of 35 mph.  They rarely attack people, usually preferring to run or hold their ground, but a sow with cubs can be uncertain as witness a fatal attack last year by a female with a single cub.

What do you do if a black becomes aggressive?  Ease off, talking softly, if possible, and if it charges, lay down on your side curled in a ball with your legs drawn tight to your chest, and hands clasped behind your head.  If it sniffs and moves off, fine.  If it starts to bite and maul, fight!  They’re strong, but not big animals, and can often be driven off by stones, a limb club, even fists and yells.

Grizzly bears and brown bears are actually the same species, big animals that might reach 1,000 pounds.  They’re uncertain of temperament, strong enough to knock a horse’s head completely off, and very fast.  Prevention is the best medicine here.  I’ve seen groups of hikers in Denali National Park in Alaska preparing for a hike by putting bells on their shoes and pocketing whistles, and heard the guides tell them to talk loudly as they traveled, so grizzleys would have plenty of time to move off.  Nearly all carried pepper spray on their belts where it could be easily reached.

Hikers and fishermen traveling alone or with a friend or two in bear country should keep a careful eye open for tracks, droppings, and other signs of grizzle presence.  If they see one at close range, they should back slowly away, talking gently, but never run.  That can cause a dog-cat type behavior.  If an irate or touchy animal charges, stand your ground and use the pepper spray.  If that’s not enough, roll up in a ball again, and hope, because there’s little point in screaming or fighting such a huge animal. 

Again, grizzly attacks are extremely rare, though one killed and partially consumed two hikers last year.  Take precautions, make noise, and know what to do if a confrontation occurs.  Unless you do something stupid like running up to one for a photo (it’s been done), you’ll almost certainly have no trouble, and can enjoy nature’s beautiful wild country without fear.

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