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[at-l] re: Bear stare



>The Logues write (in "The AT Backpacker") "Never, ever look a bear (or any
>animal in the eye. Direct eye contact is perceived as aggressive." Can any
>of you savvy hikers or biologists validate that? I'm a bit skeptical.  "Poet"

  Funny you should ask - I was just talking about bears with a co-worker here. 
I was defending the position of not carrying a weapon, while he was defending
carrying a weapon, even for hikes I consider on the fringe of civilization. 
Here in Alaska, this is an ongoing debate, since we have bear problems all the
time (this mornings newspaper had an article about a grizzly on the outskirts
of Anchorage that had to be destroyed).  I also have a lot of respect for
persons on the other side of the argument from me and have no problem with
someone killing a bear that was in an agressive, dangerous situation.  As I was
telling him, my experiences have led me to believe that we make choices and we
live or die by some of those choices, and (so far) I choose to not carry a
weapon, knowing full well that choice might be my epitaph.
  Anyway, there are basically 2 schools of thought on bears and dealing with
them.  I have not read the Logues book, so I will not second-guess what they
have recommended.  The first school of thought I will call the PLAY DEAD school
and has generally been the most promoted method among the unarmed backpacking
community, but is giving way to the the second method, which I will call the IN
YOUR FACE school.  Basically, the PD over-riding thought is yield to the bear:
do not fight back, do not look a bear directly in the eye, do not speak loudly,
do not move quickly; do drop to the ground if the bear charges, curl up into a
ball to protect your "soft spots" and "play dead", hoping the bear will leave
you alone when the aggression passes or it gets bored.  The IYF thought is the
opposite: let the bear know "who's boss" (that's you, in case you were
wondering), stand as tall as possible and make yourself look as big as
possible, and stand your ground ALL THE WAY, fight back if attacked, hoping
that the bear will become afraid and run away.
  I have never been in a situation that became that dangerous, with black bears
(like on the AT) or grizzlies.  I have run into countless numbers of black
bears, from picnic areas to deep wilderness; all of my grizzly encounters have
been on the fringe of civilization, never face-to-face in the wilderness, but I
know my number will come up someday.  Most of these bears have been solo, but I
have also run into the proverbial "mother with cubs", both black and grizzly. 
I have done really stupid things like chase a bear (in Yosemite) who was
dragging away a friends backpack - the bear dropped the pack and turned on me
but gave up chase (and I was running as fast as I could) and spared me from
becoming another statistic and front-page story.  The only bear I ever saw on
the AT was on the side of Mt. Bigelow in Maine (it ran away as soon as it saw
me) but I had just missed some in the Smokies, the home of the "caged human". 
Honestly, I have at times taken both approaches, and I cannot say one is better
than the other.
  Last summer, in Kluane National Park in Yukon Territory of Canada, a couple
was attacked by a grizzly.  They took the PLAY DEAD approach and the woman was
killed.  There was a lot of press about how Canada Parks has promoted that
approach and maybe it was time to change the policy and promote the IN YOUR
FACE.  Bear behavior is very unpredictable: what worked for someone will not
work for someone else.  We should never forget that a bear is an omnivore (will
eat meat or vegetable substance) and must be violent at times in order to
survive.  I believe that if a person studies bear attacks on humans, they might
be surprised to find that black bears have probably caused as many fatalities
as grizzlies, which are much larger and hunt black bears for food - all bears
must be considered possibly dangerous.  Both schools of thought agree on some
things: that there are a number of things people can do to avoid a
confrontation before it becomes dangerous, and this centers mainly on proper
personal hygiene and food handling, so as to not attract a bear in the first
place (hard to do in places where bears are used to people), which I will not
go into.
  2 new interesting results from bear research of recent years: first, that
menstruating women, contrary to popular belief, may not be any more
"attractive" to bears than non-menstruating women or men (though this should
not be taken as advice not to be reasonably sanitary with waste); second, that
some black bears have actually developed a "taste" for the "anti-bear" pepper
sprays (look for more bears to win one of those chili eating contests?) and are
not only not repelled by the spray but actually enjoy it!  I guess the jury is
still out on bear behavior and might be a fun field of study for all you young
aspiring wildlife researchers out there.
  I will finish with a bear story that gets tossed around a lot here,
especially at parties.  It relieves a lot of tension about a scary subject.

  "I was out hiking on Such-and-such Trail, when I heard this rustling in the
bushes.  Looking around quickly, I spotted a tree I could climb, so dashed off
and climbed it as fast as possible, just in time to see a huge bear break into
the open.  The bear circled the tree where I was, stood up on hind legs and
started pushing on the tree.  I grabbed the trunk harder as it swayed back in
forth but the bear finally got bored and left.  Cautiously, after several
minutes of waiting to make sure the coast was clear, I climbed back down to the
ground.  No sooner had my foot touched the ground than I heard loud rustling
again, so climbed back up the tree to my perch.  Sure enough, here comes the
bear, only this time, it brought another bear with it, just as big, and they
both start pushing on the tree.  I'm becoming horribly frightened as now the
tree is really swaying hard, and I have a death grip on the trunk.  But again,
they become bored and leave.  I wait a lot longer this time before coming down. 
Again, just as I finally am ready to leave, there's another loud rustling in
the bushes.  Back up I go and this time there are 3 bears, and they again push
on the trunk.  I don't know how much longer I can stand this: the tree seems
like it will eventually break as there are cracking noises coming from the
trunk, and my arms are becoming exhausted as I desperately cling to the tree
for dear life.  But just when I think I am doomed, the bears again leave.  I
wait half a day this time, no way am I going down until I feel they have lost
all interest and are never coming back.  Many hours of silence later, I
cautiously put foot to earth again, but before I can kiss it, there is that
same rustling noise in the bushes, and I fly back up to my tree perch.  When
the bears come out into the open, I see it is still just 3 bears and feel
somewhat relieved, that is, until I see that each bear is carrying a beaver."

;-)
Alan
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