Anyone pack a handgun when you hike?

9:22 p.m. on January 29, 2006 (EST)

I'm going to be hiking in some areas that are know to have decent populations of black bears and mountain lions. I know that the possibility of actually getting in a confrontation with a dangerous animal is very...very minute, but there is still a slim possibility.

I've heard that pepper spray does wonders for repelling large aggressive animals....but I'd rather not have to wait until they get 10feet away before I can use the spray.

I'm just wondering if any of your take a small handgun with you when you are hiking in report areas that are "off the beaten path". Is it a bad idea? I would rather be over prepared than find myself in a situation where I where my life was in danger.

Just wondering. Thanks

10:13 p.m. on January 29, 2006 (EST)
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Personally I am more concerned about crazy backpackers.

I could just see it now. Show up at a designated campsite for the night and lo and behold there are some "backpackers" drinking beer and acting obnoxious. That is what worries me.

10:50 p.m. on January 29, 2006 (EST)

In Southern MO where I hike, I've heard more than a few storys of hikers walking up on a meth-lab out in the middle of nowhere....and being chased off by meth-brewing hillbillys toating guns. You never know what situation you may find yourself in. I guess it's better to be safe than sorry.

12:08 a.m. on January 30, 2006 (EST)
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It's that bad down in southern Missouri? I wonder if I should cancel my upcoming backpack trip on the Big Piney Trail.

1:20 a.m. on January 30, 2006 (EST)
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Here in B.C./Canada, carrying a handgun in the bush is illegal due to our vile, statist government and the actions of crazed, extremist feminazis who have succeeded in getting fascist gun laws enacted. Some occupations can get permits to carry and I could get one, but, don't bother.

The use of a handgun for bear defence is largely an illusion, I have very extensive bear experience due to my former occupation and also have been shooting since 1958; handguns for bears is an activity for the very few real experts with bigbor revolvers, starting with .44 Magnums, my choice in a bigbore sixgun.

I frequently solo backpack in extreme wilderness and have for many years; our Grizzly attacks/deaths have been rapidly increasing here during the past decade or so, due to anti-hunter sentiment allowing fro a massive increase in "day-bold" bear survival. Whenever I honestly feel that the extra weight of a gun is worthwhile, I usually carry a customized .45-70 leveraction carbine, one of two I have, with heavily-loaded premium 400 gr. bullets, a truely adequate bearstopping combo.

I do think, in the densely populated U.S.A. where meeting questionable strangers on trails is so possible that a good 4" .357 with 158gr.HP loads THAT YOU CAN HANDLE WELL, is a very good idea. Women especially are at risk in today's whacked out world and you have a fundamental birthright to defend yourself.....sad, that we cannot even go backpacking to escape the crazienness, eh?

6:55 a.m. on January 30, 2006 (EST)

I've been thinking about carrying my Springfield XD-40. It's not very heavy (polymer frame), and if the horrible day even comes where I actually have to use it......I'm sure 12 rounds of .40 S&W should do the trick....hopefully I never even have to think about using it.

But nowdays, there are so many crazys out there (not to mention bears)'s good to be prepared.

3:39 p.m. on January 30, 2006 (EST)
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A small hand gun is almost useless against the animals you mentioned. If you were very lucky you might kill a cougar and a black bear you would just piss off even more. I would not carry anything smaller then a .357 if your intent is to some day fend off an animal. That said, something small then a 357 would do nicely if your only intent was to protect yourself against a human. I personally ALWAYS carry a Desert Eagle .50 cal AND bear pepper spray. Believe it or not the 50 cal is my back up but if I have to use it I want to know that so long as I hit the creature its going to go down eventually.

9:15 p.m. on January 30, 2006 (EST)
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Never in my 37 years of backpacking, not even on solo treks. Sierra, Colorado, Arizona. All sport black bear and mountain lion.

Scariest animal I ever encountered was a dude sporting a gun. Much scarier than the bears that roam camping areas in the Sierra or Chiricahua Wilderness (AZ).

2:08 a.m. on January 31, 2006 (EST)
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What you just said concerning "questionable" strangers on the trail sure reminds me of some guy I went hiking with from that popular site some years back.

I suppose we can make another topic devoted to this very subject.

12:39 p.m. on January 31, 2006 (EST)

I agree with everyone who says that the possibility is extremely rare that a hiker will ever come upon a bear or mountain lion.

But if that one in a million time ever comes along, I would rather have some kind of weapon to defend my life than not have anything and wish that I did.

12:14 p.m. on February 1, 2006 (EST)
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The best argument for not carrying a gun is you won't be tempted to use it. I've been an Infantryman for eight years and have spent over a year in and a half in combat zones and I wouldn't carry a gun into the woods for anything but to hunt. Carrying a gun large enough to stop a bear is cumbersome, or you carry one too small and only wound it. If you have a gun, your more likely to become unnerved by a bear and shoot it when it may only be fake charging to let you know to back off, or is rummaging around too close to your tent--both common situations. As far as a cougar goes, the only chance you'll be likely to be able to shoot one would be in a situation where you don't have to; cougars are ambush predators, especially in human attacks, which means you'll usually be fighting for your life clawing and and punching, not having time to unholster a gun to shoot it. Even if it attacks your hiking partner, your chances of making a clean shot on the animal aren't worth taking except in dire, dire circumstances. You won't feel good if you accidently shoot your Wife, Husband or child in the head trying to save their life. Carrying a gun will also add a false sense of security and can led to potentially dangerous encounters. If you tell yourself you can get just a _little_ bit closer because you have a gun, or that you can walk over at 1am and ask the group of drunken rednecks to keep it down, you're eventually going to pay the price. Going unarmed teaches you proper respect for animals and leads to safe practices in the wilderness.
Of course, there are circumstances, if you're a competant marksman and know you can shoot shoot straight under extreme pressure, where carrying a hand gun is recommended. Three off the top of my head are hiking or fishing around a large population of Grizzly bears (I'm talking 3-5 bears per sq. mile here, so this is geographicaly very limited), during a particularly long backcountry trip (backcountry being key here, we're not talking the AT) and this is for hunting/survival not self-protection and, finally, anywhere in Southern Missouri/North-West Arkansas. The previous post about meth labs and the people that run them is not an exaggeration. I grew up in this area when it was safe to leave your front door open on a hot Summer night and now I've personally known over 10 people that were murdered or commited murder over this drug in the past five years. Two years ago, my Wife and I were trail running while on Vacation here and we ran into a meth lab sitting less than a mile from a lare highway. My Mother's Husband is an avid horseback rider and he and his friends have had to pull their guns on people in the National Forest twice last year alone. I'm sorry this turned into a rant, but I hate the way that drug is posioning the heart of America without anyone paying a lot of attention. Okay, I'll stop.
Finally I'll say this: if you're still not convinced you need to go unarmed, consider the use of bear or pepper spray. It affords you affective protection, won't cause accidental deaths or injuries and won't make you feel like Dirty Harry of the woods.

2:09 p.m. on February 1, 2006 (EST)

Your post seems to contradict itself.

First you say......

"The best argument for not carrying a gun is you won't be tempted to use it. I've been an Infantryman for eight years and have spent over a year in and a half in combat zones and I wouldn't carry a gun into the woods for anything but to hunt."

Then you say......

"The previous post about meth labs and the people that run them is not an exaggeration. I grew up in this area when it was safe to leave your front door open on a hot Summer night and now I've personally known over 10 people that were murdered or commited murder over this drug in the past five years. Two years ago, my Wife and I were trail running while on Vacation here and we ran into a meth lab sitting less than a mile from a lare highway. My Mother's Husband is an avid horseback rider and he and his friends have had to pull their guns on people in the National Forest twice last year alone."


So what would have happened if your mothers husband wasn't carrying a gun? Just based on your post and your experiance with running into methlabs......I'm going to carry every time I hike in SW Missouri or AR.

4:07 p.m. on February 1, 2006 (EST)
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It is my firm opinion, based on decades of life, work and recreation in the jurisdiction of North America that has the two largest Bear populations in existance, that so-called "bear spray" should be outlawed and NEVER used. It is NOT effective and is a danger to the user in windy conditions, characteristic of Grizzly habitat. It also promotes a feeling of false security among urban hikers that has resulted in a number of injuries and deaths here in B.C. and Alberta. I hate this blankety-blank stuff and have used it on two fighting Rottweilers in my front yard; a tiny bit got into my eyes and I was blinded which would have got me killed in a bear encounter.

I have had about 60 Grizzly encounters and 100s of Black Bear encounters over the past 50 years and I will NOT go into the bush with anyone who carries "bearspray", period.

4:20 p.m. on February 1, 2006 (EST)
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To clarify, the post is not contradictory. I clearly expressed that there were some circumstances where carrying a hand gun, if and only if you're properly qualified and able to perform under duress, is acceptable in my opinion. Its the remaining 98% of the time and 80% of the population that I was refering to not having a need, or not being competent enough to carry a hand gun.
And although I respect the other poster's experiences with bear spray, I always lean towards facts and research in these situations. With such a vehement first response, I imagine you'll take that as flame bait, but its not ment as such. I was merely offering an alternative (one that does work, if used properly) to carrying a firearm.

8:03 p.m. on February 1, 2006 (EST)
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Having been within ten yards of three different Grizzlies on separate occasions, here in B.C., twice while armed and once when unarmed as well as having helped skin out a number of them, my opinions might just have some value. Of course, working in resource management for much of my life and ealing with bears of both species on a frequent, regular basis both alone and accompanied may give one some actual knowledge as does assisting with biological research projects concerning Grizzlies, a logtime interst of mine.

Now, as to ...research..., I know most of the bear biolgists here in B.C. personally and have done since before I went to college in the '60s. This includes Steven Herrero, Wayne McCrory and a number of others; in fact, the neighbour "John" that Herrero mentions in his book was one of the treeplanters that I taught basic Bear avoidance to on my first reforestation crew at New Denver, B.C. in May, 1969.

Failures to stop Grizzlies and especially Black Bears with oleoresin Capsicum are well known here and "Bear Spray" is pretty much out of favour among professionals who work with Bears or in Bear country. I could go on at length, but, I think my point is made. May I ask you to cite your sources for your research and, also, what actual experience with Grizzlies have you had....I have had a lot, as recently as last Sept. 12 on the Harvey Pass Road in southeastern B.C.

I am not trying to discredit you personally, but, this topic is one that I have extensive knowledge of and I can document this although I have no means of posting pictures here. A gun, if, as you rightly state, the person packing it KNOWS how to use it, is the best Bear defence tool available, a small Freon horn is a very useful tool to warn Bears of your presence, a very wise move.

10:09 p.m. on February 1, 2006 (EST)
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Please excuse the spelling errors in my previous post, I cannot find an edit function here.

3:15 a.m. on February 2, 2006 (EST)
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Okay, topics running out of hand, so my last statements:

Bear spray works. A simple Google search reveals hundreds of first hand accounts, scientific studies and recommendations from nearly all National Parks. Your resume is impressive, but there's a long list of people that owe their life to bear spray and that's irrefutable regardless of your experiences.

My experience with Grizzlies is limited to Yellowstone and the mountains ranges outside of places like Jackson Hole. I've never carried a gun, nor spray. I've hiked in Black bear country my entire life with several encounters and, again, never carried a gun or spray for personal protection.

Lastly, to take things back to their original context, my point was in nearly ever hiking situation, carrying a hand gun is more likely to cause more problems than it would ever solve. I also posted a few caveats to this, one of which was carrying a gun in densely populated Grizzly country---your type of country, in other words. I wouldn't "go into the bush" with spray instead of a gun either, but for the majority of hikers, a solitary Grizzly or Black Bear posses next to no threat and, given the alternative of a handgun, I recommended they carry bear spray. We can argue back and forth all year about its effectivness, but I'd rather have the woods full of cautious hikers carrying spray, instead of a gun. I guarantee more injuries and deaths would occur due to the firearms, then ever would a bear not reacting to spray.

8:59 a.m. on February 2, 2006 (EST)
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There are also a considerable number of incidents where bear spray failed to deter an aggressive bear and quite a number of studies indicate that it is seldom effective on Black Bears. The problems with using it in wind and under stress make it, IMO, an over-rated and actually problematic option, just like a handgun carried by someone who is not both experienced with bears and VERY competent with a .44 Mag., heavily-loaded .45 Colt. or a Linebaugh, Casull or .480 Ruger. So, my best advice is to avoid this stuff as it gives one a false feeling of security just as paking a gun that you cannot use does.

Generally speaking, we agree on this, I think, my ...vehement...attitude is due to having dealt with so many incidents of bear aggression/attack over 40+ years of adult bushwork/recreation; this includes having colleagues mangled by Grizzlies while working alone in the wilderness. I cannot stress too strongly how devastating this is to the vistim, family and friends/co-workers, so, I tend to recommend warning devices, avoidance of bear areas and serious study of certain resource books as being a far better option than bear spray.

My last can failed to deploy when I used it and Grizzlies are active here, year-around, even in temps. down to -20F; this also makes me not trust this stuff which may work or may not. I don't carry that often, but, a dedicated bear gun is simply so superior to the alternatives that I do use it when my intuition "tells" me to.

I appreciate your courtesy while discussing this and am cognizant of the situation in national parks in the U.S. I would suggest some further "research" on this and the best current advice I know of is "Bear Attacks", by James Gary Shelton of Hagensborg, B.C. Steven Herrero's book is also worth reading, I remember when he arrived here in B.C, new PhD. in hand, fresh from California and eager to do "research" on Yogis in Canadian National and Provincial Parks; he was not allowed to do so by "the brass" as they felt he lacked "hands-on" coping skills due to very little field experience.

Time went by and Steven got to do his research, he is a nice guy and I deeply respect his work and share his attitudes toward the environment, much more than I do Gary's; we are all about the ame age. But, Gary Shelton's methods for coping with bears are better and reflect the "organic" experience of many oldtime B.C. bushwhackers, the kind of men from whom I learned a lot, years ago. Shelton advises using bear spray, but, with caveats about it; I would just avoid it and use my airhorn and be cautious.

As to "meth labs" sounds like a good job for a flamethrower!

9:50 p.m. on February 6, 2006 (EST)

a.k.a. hayduke

if you are not well versed in the use of a large caliber handgun or rifle you should not use one. if you are not experienced in avoiding and or reacting to a grizzly attack you should not be hiking camping doing whatever in an area that these large bears live in. the fact that people have to ask if they should carry a gun is evidence enough they should not. you people need to know your woodsmanship and survival abilities way before you start planning to go to an area that has grizzly bears. it is plain and simple and you will be stupid to tryand go out there and not get into a situation that becomes life threatening. havent you heard of timothy treadwell. do you think he got eaten alive because he was making good choices? no he was clearly in way over his head and paid the price, not only with his life but with that of his lady friend. grizzly bears are very real and they are engineered to kill you very quickly and efectively. carrying a gun by no means insures your safety, niether does carrying that stupid spray. having a plan and being able to make intelligent choices about whare you stay and where you hike is far better bear repellent than a gun. i live in alaska and guide fishing and hunting trips on kodiak island. i have 13 years of experience out here and although i do carry a 45-70 lever action rifle i have only had to point it at bears twice. trust me that if you have not been in bear country before and you come up on a ten foot grizzly, your heart will be pumping so fast and so hard that a rocket launcher will do no good. 98% of the people i guide will freeze up literally and chances are you will too. your best bet is stay home and hike the at or something like that. if you want to start traipsing around in big brown bear country do it with a professional first because it will save your life.

9:56 a.m. on February 7, 2006 (EST)
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I VERY strongly agree with this poster and after using several different firearms to deal with Grizzlies, my choice in packing guns is exactly the same as his. I lived alone on the B.C./Alaskan border for 86 consecutive days with one helicopter supply trip, in 1972 and have done similar stints in Grizzly country quite frequently; my opinions are NOT based on reading statistics, they are the result of much experience.

I will not even bother to carry a large handgun as the .45-70 lever carbine is MUCH more effective and easier to use in a tight situation. My last bear encounter was at about 25 yds and this was just outside of Goldbridge, B.C. last fall; the bear was moving slowly toward us as my partner, a professional photographer, filmed him. I had my .338 locked on his chest and was going to kill him when he stopped, so, I did not shoot; I love bears and hate killing anything without a good reason, but, "Tadd" is right about how you react when you suddenly encounter one.

Try the airhorn for warning, it is cheap, light and it really does work.

11:26 p.m. on February 8, 2006 (EST)

i think here in the northwest,your more likely to get attacked by an elk w/a calf than you are a bear.i think pepper spray would work far as crazy rednecks......kick off your boots an assume the whooping crane stance...they'll take off running.

2:14 a.m. on February 9, 2006 (EST)

I must admit, I got a kick out of reading the replies from those in the lower 48 states. I guess in all honesty, packing a handgun while hiking depends on where your hiking. I would suggest you research the location you are planning on hiking first, talk to your local fish & game warden about the area before you decide if a handgun is even needed. Loud noises tend to scare off bears, depending on where you are, in some cases loud noises attract bears too, depending on how hungery they are, type of bear, and if it's a sow with cubs. I don't know how they do it in the lower 48 but in Alaska we carry guns.
We don't waste our time with 9mm or 357, carry a 45 auto or larger. If you do have to stop an attacking bear with a gun, you want to make sure you can stop him, not just piss him off. I know of too many wildlife biologist who come to Alaska thinking they know bears better than the locals, and hike into the wilderness not packing a gun, who have ended up mauled or worst. Like I said, it depends on where your hiking. If you hike in Yellowstone park, no problem, if you hike in Alaska, only a fool would be caught in the woods without a gun. Good luck and be safe.

2:36 p.m. on February 11, 2006 (EST)
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Does anyone know where I could find statistics about Grizzly and Black Bear attacks/encounters?

10:42 p.m. on February 11, 2006 (EST)
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wow. After reading all this, I think I will bring a .458 Winchester Model 70, Safari Edition, in case of bear attack, as well as a couple air cans w/horn. It has about 10 times the muzzle energy of a .44 magnum pistol. I wonder what it's like to carry a 9 pound rifle slung on my back all day?

11:46 a.m. on February 13, 2006 (EST)
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When you actually work in Grizzly country, you soon find that your rifle belongs in your hands, not on your back.

It's funny, but, first-hand experience with dangerous animals seems to produce a VERY high level of respect for them and this assists on in making appropriate choices for defence weapons, warning devices and general behaviour in bear country.

IF, you actually ever deal with Grizzlies, I suggest getting an invention known as a Kifaru Gunbearer fitted to your pack(s). These can be found at and they carry a heavy rifle like nothing else I have ever used, I have them on every pack I own and they are worth every cent they cost.

11:07 a.m. on February 14, 2006 (EST)

It’s funny how yall went from the original question about black bears and mountain lions to ten-foot grizzlies. I don’t claim to be an expert here so correct me if I’m wrong, but I was led to believe that the behavior of black bears was different from the behavior of grizzlies, and what black bears are interested in is the food (or anything that smells like food) in your pack. I was also told that black bears almost never attack humans in order to eat them, and that most maulings occur when the bear is investigating something that smells like food, like the snickers bar you forgot was in your back pocket before you went to bed and then you wake up with a bear trying to get in your pocket and scream which freaks out the bear so he hits you.
I was told that mountain lions almost never attack adults, and that most of the human attacks have been unattended children in suburban areas that have pushed into what was the lion’s habitat. The last one is hardest to believe and I seriously doubt this, but one supposed expert told me that if you whisper sweetly in their ears black bears would roll over and let you pet their tummies. Again I really doubt that last one.
Seriously though, I’ve spent a lot of time in black bear and mountain lion country and all of the bears I’ve seen were running away, and I’ve never seen a mountain lion. I saw mountain lion tracks…..once.

12:05 p.m. on February 14, 2006 (EST)
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I am a former member of the B.C.Forest Service and the Alberta Forest Service, supervising crews in bear country AND teaching them basic "bearsafe" techniques was part of my job for many years, I base my opinions on that experience as well as research and seminars with various "experts" in the field.

Black Bears attack and sometimes kill humans here in B.C., this happens frequently and B.B.s DO prey on humans as has been repeatedly documented, see Shelton, It is the current opinion among most bear "experts" that B.B.s tend to be more predatory on humans as a food source, adults included, than do Grizzlies, see Shelton, Herrero, Russell, and divers others who document a number of recent cases here.

Cougars frequently attack adult humans and this happens here in Greater Vancouver, every so often. They can, will and sometimes do kill adult humans and they are very common here, even in urban areas. Cougars are NOT an animal to dismiss lightly, they are silent, swift, very strong and attack suddenly from behind. A full-grown Cougar of about 110 lbs. can kill an 850 lb. bull Elk in a few minutes and can even kill an 1800 lb. bull Moose.

I take this topic very seriously as friends of mine have been attacked and co-workers have been very seriously mauled. I am "old school" and tend to use traditional methods that work when dealing with wild animals....and I have done lots of this as Cougars and Black Bears would stroll down the back alley behind the house I grew up in and we learned about safety real quick.

I would add that bear spray ain't likely to work at -30F and it is now, in late winter, when Cougars are most dangerous due to limited food supplies; this is also the case with B.B.s who wake up early and hungry.

5:19 p.m. on February 14, 2006 (EST)
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"decent populations of black bears and mountain lions"

Well, if they are decent, then you won't have to worry, will you?

Some interesting stuff in this thread. In the 6+ decades I have been wandering in the hills and woods, I have never had a bad encounter with bear or lion (except for one lion we were chasing who met with a bad end - but I don't hunt anymore). On the other hand, I have seen people camped within 20-30 feet of me lose all their food to bears.

Last May and June, Barb and I spent some time in Katmai NP, getting up close and personal with the big brown furry guys. I got a lot of good images of them, a few of which I posted over on It turns out this was within 30-40 miles of where Timothy and his girlfriend were eaten. Timothy forgot one important fundamental thing - bear (black as well as brown/griz and polar) and lion are wild animals. They are very good at what they are genetically programmed to do - eat, reproduce, defend their young, and defend their territory. If you pose no threat to them or these functions, and are not associated in their perceptions with food (either possessing it or being it), they will leave you alone.

Most of my experience in this regard in the wild is with black bears, with much less with the various varieties of grizzly, and somewhat less with lion. I live and hike a lot in mountain lion territory, although most people do not perceive my house in Midtown Palo Alto as being lion territory (despite occasional sightings of lion within a mile of my house and the nationally reported case a year or so ago of a lion being killed within a block of a local elementary school). I see lion sign fairly often along my most frequent hiking trail, Rhus Ridge in Montebello Open Space Reserve, and the caretaker has told me several times that I missed seeing lion by less than 5 minutes. I have seen one lion (2 years ago) across the SFBay in Mission Peak Regional Park, an area where the local residents report sightings every few months and the media get video every year or so. Main thing here is I do not act like or look like prey. Learn the behavior of the lion and respect it. Same with bear.

Every individual animal is an individual. Like humans, some are shy, some are aggressive. Some learn to associate humans with food, some associate humans with a threat to their territory or young. But, again, lion and bear are wild animals. Even when raised in captivity and intensively trained, they remain wild and will react when some instinct is triggered - as Sigfried and Roy found out the hard way (the tiger in Roy's case apparently was trying to protect him from a perceived threat, but did not know that humans, unlike tiger cubs, cannot be carried in the tiger's jaws without harm).

As for carrying a "small handgun", there is a story (apocryphal, a legend, no doubt, but instructive) about a grizzly in central Alaska that had killed many prospectors and trappers. This one trapper felt he was sufficiently armed while carrying 2 large caliber pistols. One day he disappeared. Several years later, after several more people were attacked by the bear, the bear apparently died of old age or other causes. His skull (recognized by its size and an injury to an adjacent part of the skeleton) was found and examined. Inside the mouth were two large-caliber bullet holes. The speculation was that when attacked, the trapper had shoved his two pistols into the bear's mouth and fired them, but this was insufficient to stop the griz from killing and eating him and attacking a couple more men later on.

The moral of the story is that a pistol, even a large caliber one with a heavy powder load, is at best barely adequate to stop a large bear. It takes a fairly large bore rifle. Even more important, it takes a good shot in the right place, something that is hard to do when you are under attack.

That said, black bear and brown/grizzly behave very differently. Further, black bear in different areas behave differently, and over time, bears learn different patterns and pass it on to their offspring. 20 years ago, most California black bear (who can be anything from honey blond to jet black) were very shy of humans. Currently, they have learned to spot which cars are easiest to break into, how to get counter-balanced bear bags of food to the ground, and how to recognize various types of food containers. They have been known to mug hikers to try to take packs off the hikers' backs. At this point, there seems to be little interest in attacking humans as prey. On the other hand, as kutenay points out, black bear attacks on humans as prey seem to be happening with increasing frequency in western Canada. Reasons for the differences are unknown, but seem to be associated with learning to associate humans with food and translating that to associating humans AS food. Grizzly have attacked humans as food in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, again apparently translating human presence with food to humans as food.

It would appear, as with humans, that the majority of bear, black and grizzly, are willing to coexist with humans. But there are a few bad apples, as with humans, for whom violence is a way of life. Apparently, the grizzly that ate Timothy and his girlfriend was pretty aggressive with other griz in the area, and at the point of attacking Timothy, had not been succeeding in getting enough food for the hibernation. Judging by the video of Timothy in the presence of that bear, there were plenty of warning signs that got ignored.

What it comes down to is this - before you venture into the wild, understand all you can about what is there in terms of risks. Go under the guidance of an experienced mentor. Recognize that you are taking risks and do not for a second forget that this is not the city or some nice, peaceful rural town where all the residents are of good heart, friendly, and peaceful. Some may appear friendly for the moment, but get touched off by something you did not understand. You need to have a large safety margin. It should first be your understanding of the risks and how to deal with them, and only second reliance on big artillery.

By the way, in talking to a number of people who are experienced in dealing with grizzly in Alaska, something that appears to be more effective than pepper spray in detering a bear attack is highway flares. But, just as with pepper spray, it requires using it at just the right time and requires time to get out and get lit (just as a firearm has to be in hand before the attack, not after you are knocked down). Will you be able to light it in time when under threat?

Yeah, so I have some experience. But that does not make me invulnerable, or even able to anticipate all possible scenarios. As long as I go into bear and lion territory, I recognize I am taking a risk. Hopefully, by keeping vigilant and continuing to learn all I can about the continually changing behavior of these creatures, I can survive a few more years.

12:02 a.m. on February 15, 2006 (EST)

I have a beautiful grizzly hanging on my wall from my more youthful days in Alaska. Still flyfish often and always carry a 44 mag, more out of personal comfort than likely effectiveness. In more than 25 years I have only pulled it once to scare off a nosey bear who would not leave our camp. It was night and the flash from firing in the air was adequate.

As for hiking in the lower 48, I carry a Glock 26, again more for personal comfort. I find carrying a concealed weapon for most responsible people makes them more responsible. In fact, most reasonable never let anyone know they're carrying a gun and never unholster it. It's a personal choice usaully driven by personal experience. Don't let others who may have idealogical differences dissuade you from your choice. Be responsible and quiet about your choice and no one will know the difference.

9:14 p.m. on February 17, 2006 (EST)
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5 forum posts

"but I'd rather not have to wait until they get 10feet away before I can use the spray."

I did not see anyone comment on this. How close is too close for you? Most charges are bluff charges. I've been within 10ft of habituated black bears. One came at me from behind while I was unpacking. I was between it and a bad bear hang. I'm pretty sure there would have been contact if I didn't turn around in time.

I backed away slowly, out of his path. A cool head and me somehow holding my bodily functions in check saved the day. But I could not save the poor souls food.

In any case, keeping your wits about you is probably the most important thing in these situations. Not what you carry.

BTW - I always carry spray in bear country and sleep with it. But I don't let it give me any type of false sense of security.

11:10 p.m. on February 17, 2006 (EST)
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560 forum posts

Let me try to put this into perspective.

If a predator wants to eat you, you will be lunch. They make their living surprising and jumping on and taking home what they need. Most times they are not successful because the animal they pounce on are stronger, faster or lucky. You probably are none of the above.

I'm guessing that you are packing the heat in the pack. No way you are going to get it out and ready in the time a predator will give you.

Even if you are a fast draw from the hip you will more than likely be attacked high from the back or uphill side.

If they are not stealthy they are either dumb or just want you the heck out of there. So take a hint and back off. Report the encounter when you get back.

Pack a bottle of cognac instead of that blunderbuss. It will be put to better use for the same weight.

12:18 p.m. on February 19, 2006 (EST)

I would argue against a gun for several reasons:
1) Shooting a gun accurately is a perishable skill, meaning that you must train to establish, and then maintain those skills
2) Your more likely to shoot yourself or an innocent bystander than a wild predator
3) For self defense, are you going to be able to access the gun/ If you have it stuffed in the bottom of your ruck sack b/c it's illegal or socially unacceptable to pack a weapon on your belt.
4) Are you going to hesitate b/c it is lethal force?
5) Are you going to maintain the weapon sufficiently
I'll stop here , I think I have made my point; Many times people buy guns thinking that it will protect them. What they do not realize is it ends up giving them a false sense of security.

Now that I've poo-poo'd all over gun ownership (ironically I have several, served in the military, taught and competed in Jujitsu and am an avid outdoors man) I would like to suggest an alternative that everyone can live with. I have read good things in regard to Pepper sprays. Here is a link if you are interested:

12:04 a.m. on February 22, 2006 (EST)

RE: Unlikely to ever encounter a bear or mountain lion.... Where do you backpack? Central Park? I have walked up bears, and a mountain lion jumped off the trail 25 yards from my tent last summer, too.

10:20 a.m. on February 22, 2006 (EST)
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409 forum posts

"We don't waste our time with 9mm or 357, carry a 45 auto or larger."

IMHO, a .357 is a much better choice than a 45 auto.

I think pepper spray makes a bunch of sense for folks who aren't proficient with firearms, especially with regard to the original posters query with respect to black bears and cougars. Especially if you feel an absolute need.

I dunno. Might depend a bunch on the exact area. I think most folks do just fine by being aware that there's critters out there. I'd say, in the lower 48 especially, I hardly ever (almost never) carry any bear/cougar deterrent. When I have (and its been years ago), its been a .44mag (which I've convinced myself that I'm sorta ok with, especially 310 grain solids).

In Alaska, in the bush especially, I've always been fairly heavily armed (12 gauge, or, a ridiculously ineffective .44mag that again, I've convinced myself might actually work, when in all honesty, I'm probably kiddin' myself).

Had a number of fairly close bear encounters, including being charged on Chichigoff Island (sp?) in AK by a big brownie. Thank goodness for shotguns (warning shot over the bow sufficient). Also, very close to Kodiaks, but, they seem to feed well on salmon, so...

Since we're qualifying where our opinions come from. Grew up in Montana, live in Utah. My current backcountry time is mostly spent hiking to/from climbs. I run into a fair number of bear. Keep wishing I'd see a cougar (have seen in Montana, but, years ago and from a car, at night). I read up on bear stuff all the time, because its a titallating subject, and tends to bring out both the best and worst in a person. Got signed copies of Doug Peacock's books (he was just here promoting his new book). Ditto "Bear Aware" by Bill Schneider and Mark of the Grizzly. Was psyched to chat with Bill, as I've had his first hiking guide to Montana since I was a kid. I'd recommend reading a bit about the subject from a variety of viewpoints and authors. Not every one agrees and the subject seems to play on fear fairly well (and possibly deservedly so).

So, that said, here's my advice. If you're hiking in black bear/cougar country and there have been recent encounters between the critters and folks, then maybe either hike somewhere else, or, possibly carry a deterrent. If there isn't a history of encounters, then, maybe just be super aware that you're in bear/cougar country and have fun. There just doesnt' seem to be that many folks gettin' attacked. I'd be more worried about gettin' stung by a bee or bit by a snake. You might also examine why you're afraid.

I will admit to coveting a S&W J frame .357 3" pistol, but, mostly 'cause it really fits my hand well...and, I seem to be able to hit well with one (don't own, but...). For me, if I felt like I had to carry in the backcountry, and considering black bears and cougars, that'd be the minimum I'd consider. And for now, I carry nothing. Except that darn heavy pack with climbing gear.

Interesting thread.

-Brian in SLC

June 17, 2018
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