After reading Night of the Grizzlies by Jack Olsen, I have to say that my respectful fear of bears has returned in full force. I think it’s smart to remind yourself every once in a while that there are 500 lb. creatures that can tear you to shreds as easily as they can eat a glass baby food jar of jelly (it was in the book). This reminder comes just in time for my planned migration to the Pacific Northwest, a.k.a. bear territory.
I was not in for a surprise picking this book up, I knew what I was getting myself into. The tragic story of two 1967 deaths that occurred in Glacier National Park on the same night. There were two different bears, lots of problems and a lot of ways things could have been prevented from going down the way they did. WITH THAT SAID,
there have been eight deaths since in Glacier NP and seven total deaths have occurred in Yellowstone. As Yellowstone officials proudly point out, that is only slightly higher chances than getting hit by lightning. I think I’d rather bargain with lightning instead of teeth than can rip and mangle, slicing claws and a weight alone that can crush (there’s a story of one man being killed by his captive bear that lacked teeth or claws).
Most of these occurrences occur in what is called the “backcountry” which basically means the area that isn’t really heavily traversed by hikers, campers and backpackers. People do still go there. It requires a bit more effort and know-how, but it can be fairly simply done.
Another important fact: there are more deaths at the hands of black bears than grizzlies. This is most likely because there are physically more of them (as you can see in the infographic). However, grizzlies are generally more aggressive. Especially if you stumble across a mother with cubs or any bear with food.
The basics of what to do if attacked are here. But the first real rule is try not to get attacked by doing various things like wearing “bear bells,” not going alone into bear country, not keeping or making food near your campsite and not approaching the bears unnecessarily. I know you really want that photo to send to National Geographic, but I bet you want your heart still beating more than that.
If a bear does attack, you have a couple of options:
1) Bear Spray
This won’t do much if the bear is in your face already or if the wind is blowing at you. But if a bear is acting aggressively and starts to charge, AND YOU’RE UPWIND, use this. The reason the wind is so important is, well, do you want your eyes and lungs to burn or the bear’s? Apparently this has the chance to kick in kind of late. So if the bear starts punching you, just wait a couple more minutes. Hopefully.
Don’t do this with grizzlies–only black bears. As I understand it, this is due to size and somewhat due to behavior.
3) Curl into the fetal position, cover your neck (think: tornado drill), and try not to scream
Good luck with this one. I think I’d have a hard time not screaming, but one of the guys in the book whose female friend was then eaten instead of him managed not to. I was really impressed with him. He got the backs of his legs eaten, but lived.
I guess from there you either die and become a new warning for people or live and hope you have the capacity to tell the tale to future generations. You should definitely tell a ranger though…so more people don’t get mauled.
Also! If you don’t like books, or really like having especially vivid nightmares, Night of the Grizzlies is also a documentary. It has two of the survivors in it and I haven’t seen it because I like to sleep at night.
There is also a documentary on Timothy Treadwell called Grizzly Man. This man decided he was going to do lots of things documenting himself, and eventually his girlfriend, living with bears in Alaska. His bright ideas landed them both dead the day before they were supposed to leave. There was also an audio recording taken of the attack, but the family has either destroyed it or made sure it isn’t in the public eye (what sicko would want to hear that anyway? Okay, I might try to listen).
Basically, this whole experience has given me some new ideas for gifts this upcoming graduation. Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa? I could really use a nice bear canister….
Oh, and ladies! According to the National Park Service, there has been some research done that shows some bears (mostly the polar variety) really enjoy the smell of menstrual blood. They leave this for you to consider before hiking into the wilderness.