Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Benefits of Bear Spray

©Bert Gildart: If you’re reading this on Tuesday between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., chances are Janie and I are in the air somewhere between Kalispell, Montana and Boston, Massachusetts. We’re returning to the East Coast for two weeks for a much overdo visit with children and grandchildren. We will be back mid-August and will then be heading to Glacier National Park in our Airstream, gathering information both from the field and from the park library on various species of wildlife for some projects which we have been recently assigned. Those assignments started Janie and me thinking about bears and bear country, which Glacier most certainly is. Janie and I know that personally as we have had a number of encounters, and though they always ended the way 99.9% of all encounters end, we always want to be prepared. The encounters we’ve had have generally occurred when we’ve let down our guard. And so for that rare 0.1% time when a bear might charge (See: Night of the Grizzly ), we always carry bear spray.

Grizzly Bear on Iceberg Lake trail Glacier National Park

Grizzly Bear on Iceberg Lake trail Glacier National Park

GRIZZLY BEAR ENCOUNTER

Once, Janie and I had followed an ancient trail out of Cut Bank Valley to a spot along Mad Wolf Mountain. It was fall and we had stopped in a vast grassland meadow to eat lunch. For a while we were quiet, peering east toward the Great Plains and toward the Sweet Grass Hills. Suddenly a bit of motion caught our attention and we realized that the motion was the forward progress of not one but two grizzly bears and they were heading right toward us. We called out, but a slight wind was blowing and the bears, not able to determine our location stood, and then began gazing around. The wind shifted and instantly they turned, stared at us, and then, as though we were the most powerful creatures in the world, they bolted.

Bill examines exposed cambium layer

Bill examines exposed cambium layer

That was a very nice bear sighting–but it could have been different, and for that remote eventuality, you need to have a plan and be prepared.

HAVE A PLAN

Bear managers advise that you always be aware of your surrounding(see: Training People to Watch Bears ), such as my friend Bill Hutchinson in the associated image. Bears eat the cambium layers of certain trees, and the chompings on this tree were recent. And so Bill and I continued to make noise and we made sure our bear spray was easily accessible. And that may be the best thing you can do. Bear spray has been proven to be more effective than guns in protecting yourself against a mauling. Lots of people ask about guns, but evidence of human-bear encounters suggests that shooting a bear can escalate the seriousness of an attack. Conversely, when firearms are not used, injuries to people and bear are much less likely to occur. Essentially, what the experts ask is: can the shooter be accurate enough to prevent a dangerous, even fatal, attack? Killing a charging grizzly means your bullet must be precise, and sometimes even a heart shot won’t immediately stop a bear. If your bullet hits the enraged animal in the auricle, the ventricles still have adequate blood to pump blood to the brain, giving it many more lethal seconds of life. Head shots don’t always work either as Kalispell game warden Lou Kis can attest.

Many Glacier Valley grizzly

Many Glacier Valley grizzly

Kis recalls when a bear trap rolled from the back of a pickup, releasing the spring held door. The bear leaped out, turned on Kis and grabbed him by the leg. Kis fired a number of shots into the animal’s huge head, and that slowed it down long enough for another game warden to fire a rifled slug from a shot gun into the bear which was still clinging to the warden’s leg. Later, Lou told me the bear’s massive skull had deflected the penetration of the bullets and they had lodged beneath the animal’s skin near its neck. What that means is that you should use bear spray. In fact, in Glacier that’s your only choice, for it is illegal to carry firearms (a very wise policy considering the number of bozos who shoot at sounds during the fall hunting season).

CAPSAICIN MAKES SPRAY EFFECTIVE

Why is bear spray so effective? Essentially because it contains capsaicin (the hot stuff in all peppers), one of the most irritating substances around–as a good friend of mine can attest. So as not to embarrass this man, let’s just call him Bruce, and here’s the scenario. While hiking in Montana’s Crazy Mountains near Yellowstone, somehow the protective cap worked itself loose from the can Bruce had strapped to the rear of his belt.

Bear spray works

Bear spray works

When my friend leaned against a tree, capsaicin sprayed out and the vile stuff permeated his pants. Almost instantly it worked its way toward those tender areas of a person’s posterior. Fortunately a creek was nearby, and Bruce quickly stripped off his cloths and then soaked his posterior in the water for over an hour. It was days before he felt whole. That’s the effect capsaicin has on a bear’s eyes and on its respiratory system. The thick stuff blinds the animal and shuts down its lungs and trachea–and then it burns with the intensity of a blow torch. Though the results are not fatal, for a while the bear must wish they were fatal. That’s the reason the Fish & Wildlife Service so strongly recommends bear spray, further stating that a person’s chance of incurring serious injury from a charging grizzly doubles when bullets are fired versus when bear spray is used. When Janie and I return from our much-anticipated family get-together and then head back to Glacier, you can be sure we will continue our habit of carrying bear spray.

AUGUST 2007 POST: *Faces of Mount Rainier

AUGUST 2006 POST: *Fort Ticonderoga

AND NOW, THE COMMERCIAL:

If you’re interested in exploring the Flathead Valley and Glacier National park, here are two books produced by Falcon Press, one part of their Exploring Series, the other one of a new series of “Pocket Guides.” Janie and I, of course, are the authors and you can obtain both from us, or directly from Falcon. Look for them, too, in bookstores and in Glacier.

 

Glacier Pocket guide book

Glacier Pocket guide book

Exploring Glacier Nationa Park Guidebook

Exploring Glacier Nationa Park Guidebook



One Response to “Benefits of Bear Spray”

  1. Flathead Smoke Greeted Us Weary Plane Travelers | Bert Gildart: Writer and Photographer Says:

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