October 07, 2023

Of Bear Spray, Bears, and a Missouri Hog

Gusse and Inglis canoeing in Canada (NY Post).
I have been reading the sad story of Jenny Gusse and Doug Inglis, experienced Canadian canoeists and backcountry travelers, killed September 29th, together with their dog, by a grizzly bear in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

A friend who sometimes traveled with them said, “Their skill level was extremely high, they were conservative. They took every precaution they possibly could."

Another of the couple's friends said, "“I remember him telling me about camping and how you got to go so far even to pee from your tent. He would tell me all the safety precautions.” 

An expended can of bear spray was found at the scene.

Naturally the commenters weigh in on how bear spray is useless and ya gotta have a big 'ol gun in a caliber starting with 4 or 5. Except this is a Canadian national park: "The use of firearms (including pellet guns, bear bangers, bows, sling shots etc.) and hunting are not permitted in Banff National Park." So there is that.

I am not a big bear expert, and I have used pepper spray only on angry dogs (where it worked just fine). But I am reminded of my late brother-in-law Stone Curtois and one of his hogs.

He used to raise a small number of hogs at at time, ten or fifteen, on a little farm in southeastern Missouri, supplementing his main source of income, which was a portable sawmill. 

The hog pen was fenced with electric wire, which the animals respected, except for this one. It wanted to break out, he told me, but it knew that the electric fence would "bite." 

So it would charge the fence, screaming in pain before it hit the wire. In other words, its commitment to breaking free overruled the pain that it knew was coming.

I've read of various bear attacks, talked with people who used pepper spray on grizzlies successfully, and interviewed one woman who was shaken like a rag doll by an Alaska brown bear but saved by the person in her BLM survey party who had a rifle.

I have noticed that people living in places like Cooke City, Wyoming (adjacent to Yellowstone NP), mow their yards and walk to the store with bear-spray  cannisters on their hips.

It seems that bears can be like that Missouri hog: once they stop assessing the situation and commit to an attack, pain won't stop them. But if they are still only assessing, bear spray can be effective.

The 2018 attack on Wyoming hunting guide Mark Uptain and his client seems similar to this recent case: bear spray was used, but the bear (or two) involved were not fazed. Like the hog, the bears had already made up their minds.

It's also indicative that both of those attacks occured in September, when bears are "hyperphagic," as the biologists like to say. In other words, eating eating eating.

As for my brother-in-law, he died in a tree-felling accident. Him, a guy who read logging-supply catalogs for recreation. You can know what you are doing and still have something go wrong, or make that one tiny error.

1 comment:

Taku said...

if either a black bear or a griz is intent on a predatory attack, it is going to be hard to prevent them from attacking. Does not happen often - but have had friends literally shoot a bear that was ripping into their tent and died in the tent mostly on top of them.