Alarms for Protection in the Backcountry

10:25 a.m. on February 2, 2009 (EST)
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I'm wondering if anyone has ever used or read about studies of people using personal alarms (the ones with the high pitched screeching noise) as defense for warding off animal attacks such as bears. They can be pretty small and I would think that they would be more effective than pepper spray since the piercing sound would travel further than 10-20 feet. Also, you woulnd't need to reload after a 5 second burst and it wouldn't hurt the animal. I'm just not sure if it would work in warding them off or if it would just provoke an attack.

5:20 p.m. on February 2, 2009 (EST)
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I vote for provoke an attack. Most of the small animals that bears might eat have high-pitched alarms : ) Really, an animal of any size in fear or pain gives a high-pitched squeal, scream, or shriek - that doesn't dissuade the carnivore, but attracts it.


OTOH, a fog-horn might work. Even the sound of a large-caliber weapon will usually stop a bear. Low-pitched sounds carry authority; high-pitched, fear and vulnerability.

5:34 p.m. on February 2, 2009 (EST)
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As far as warding off or provoking goes it would most likely depend on the situation & circumstances just like bear deterrent spray. I have read that some of the bear deterrent sprays can project up to 35 feet. But the down side to them is the wind. A lot of people using a bear deterrent spray that are scared, nervous etc because of the situation can actually incapacitate them self's accidentally buy spraying in to the wind or using it improperly. A personal alarm is a no brainer with no effect to the operator other than possibly a headache and no real thought proses to use just push a button or pull a cord. I would be interested in reading some info and seeing some input on this subject.

7:05 p.m. on February 2, 2009 (EST)
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Based on my own experience, and what I have been taught (blackies only) I would agree with overmywaders, high pitched yells, screams, or visible signs of panic such as flight (fight or flight) only heightens the predators agitated state.

This is the reason that high pitched squeakers are put in cat toys. I do not know that a personal alarm would illicit a predatory response, but its similarity to high pitched squeals emitted by prey should be taken into consideration. Maybe there have been studies done on this topic, I don't know.

I would be more inclined to use both bear spray & an air horn like the kind boaters use.

One should make plenty of noise when hiking in bear country to give the bear plenty of advance notice that humans are in the area, hiking with a group is safest.

Sneaking around quietly will only increase the chance of an encounter and create a situation in which the bear is startled and may make a split second decision to stand HIS ground if he feels cornered or threatened.

Taking the time to learn bear safety is way more important than knowing all the specifications of the latest gear. I meet people all the time that can tell you anything you want to know about backpacking gear as they clean fish in camp or toss a half empty bag of corn chips in their tent for later. Same goes for first aid.

I camp far away from them! HaHa

Here are some links on bear safety:

This link discusses proper bear bag hanging:

8:20 p.m. on February 2, 2009 (EST)
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I was taught in scouts that when it comes to black bears that they are more timid than grizzly's and that if you encounter a black bear you should make a lot of noise such as banging rocks or sticks together or yell at them. Do not approach them but do not run. For grizzly's you should try to back away slowly. That approach could have changed in the years since then though. I agree with trouthunter you should take the appropriate actions to let the bears know that you are there before you see them if possible. I actually came across a black bear with a group while hiking the foothills trail here in SC. He hawled ass down a gully away from us a quick as he could. We barely caught a glimps of him and he was gone.

8:36 p.m. on February 2, 2009 (EST)
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So an ear piercing alarm would not scare off a bear in your minds huh? I figured it would ward them off if the situation arose because bears have hearing much like a dogs and if it huts your ears I figured it would hurt theirs more which would cause them to vacate the area in order to get relief from the noise. I would love to find out if anyone has studied this.

I agree that you should take every opportunity to let them know you are there before you come upon one, I wouldn't want to be in a situation where I would have to defend myself from a bear.

9:14 p.m. on February 2, 2009 (EST)
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Bear and Cougar Awareness Class

Today I received the following timely e-mail from the University of Victoria:

Attached is a flyer with information about an upcoming General Public health & wellness course on campus with the Division of Continuing Studies, University of Victoria. We would greatly appreciate if you could post or circulate this course information to others who may be interested.

Bear and Cougar Awareness
Thursday, February 26, 2009, 6:30-9:30pm
$54 + gst

Learn how to prevent, avoid and minimize conflicts with cougars and bears by understanding tactics for conflict prevention at home and in the wilderness, from an instructor with over 15 years of experience as a conservation officer on Vancouver Island.

Topics include basic biology and life cycles of cougars and bears, Vancouver Island and BC cougar and bear populations, cougar and bear behaviour, cougar and bear attacks on humans, conflict prevention and avoidance, and advice on what to do—and what not to do—when encountering cougars and bears.

Instructor: Peter Pauwels, LLB, conservation officer for over 15 years with the Ministry of Environment, and is a trained Wildlife/Human Attack investigator.

To register call 250-472-4747 or online at

Sounds kind of interesting. If anyone takes this course, they should tell us the opinion and advice of the "trained Wildlife/Human Attack investigator."

9:54 p.m. on February 2, 2009 (EST)
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Hey Griz,

yeah, I don't know for sure, you may well be right that the loud annoying noise just may do the trick. I have not heard of that method being recommended (personal alarms). Why don't you give it a try and see how well it works. HaHa

But I do know to avoid high pitched screams and running, because they do agitate the predatory instinct all that much more. Of course some things are easier said than done aren't they?

According to what I have read, and been told by wildlife officials it is important for encounters between humans and bears to be such that the natural fear of man is reinforced in the bear, while at the same time providing for the safety of the group/person involved.

I think all I meant in my earlier post is to think things through before making them part of your strategy. Not that you need me to tell you that, just thinking out loud I guess.


If I had the ability to travel up there I would love to take that class!

I have been through three orientations which included the subject but those were just 25 - 30 minutes and covered several subjects, although literature was distributed I noticed a good bit of it laying around on picnic tables or left behind in vehicles.

I even heard one guy comment, "These Rangers don't have anything better to do than scare people?" or at least something very close to that.

If you can't take a class at least read a book or online articles I say.

The following was taken from the website I have linked to below.
"Bear repellents (such as pepper spray), even when effective, only work at such close range that depending on them could endanger you. Air horns are unproven in their effectiveness. High-pitched noises can arouse curiosity or irritate a bear.
If a bear approaches you very quickly, drop a hat or a bandanna (but not your pack or anything else associated with food) and move away without running. The bear may stop to examine what you have dropped, distracting it from you.
Never imitate bear sounds.
Most attacks involve bears that have learned to associate human presence with the availability of food, or defensive responses by females with cubs that are encountered by surprise. However, every instance is different, and what works best cannot be known with certainty in advance."

11:59 p.m. on February 2, 2009 (EST)
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I can only speak for myself here and about 15 black bear encounters. First, I love bear, I love when I get to see them and I especially love when I get to see them in the backcountry. My bear encounters for the most part have been in the Shenandoah's where the bears are pretty docile. I encountered 3 Black bear in Sequoia.


First, to relate my experience in the Shenandoah's. The bears here are docile and smaller than the blackies out west. Small being around 400 lbs mature. These bears will run for cover at a clap and a loud "hey bear".


The bears out west are a bit bigger but again, loud voices will run them off. I did see someone use one of those loud high pitched noisemakers you are referring to. The bear hated it and high tailed it out of there.

7:53 a.m. on February 3, 2009 (EST)
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I think this falls into the "Hey, if it works for you..." category. Personally, I carry a Fox 40 whistle, and it has worked well for me when faced with bear. Maybe a high frequency personal alarm WOULD work on chasing a bear. I've heard stories where they have worked on dogs. But... I'm not sure I'd be willing to do the bear field tests!

Finding out your alarm batteries are dead just as a bear walks into camp is not the perfect situation either. The only way to know for sure if your alarm is going to work, is to test it from time to time, like you would your flashlight. Then again, testing an alarm with other people anywhere nearby, might get you "Labeled". I know my whistle is going to work - no batteries or testing needed.

9:39 a.m. on February 3, 2009 (EST)
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That's just it trouthunter, I don't want to be the one doing the filed tests either:) This was just an idea I thought of while dreaming of getting out into the woods when everything thaws out here.

f_klock, I figure if people are willing to count on batteries for their GPS units and their Steripens then why not a personal alarm? I would test it at home as well before I would ever test it around others in the woods. I for one don't go to the backcountry to be anoyed by others, I prefer to go there to get away from that. Most people who go into the woods are respectful of ther peoples spaces. Good point with the whistle, I have a Fox 40 but I didn't think of that as a bear deterrent which is why it's in my emergency kit. I like using something I already have an something I know will work every time without batteries.

10:30 p.m. on February 3, 2009 (EST)
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I have been bluff charged more than once by black bears. I thought I was being very ingenous with this idea - a friend had one of those key chain alarms - the kind you pull the ring and it goes off - and I though hmmm that might work well with bears - it's supposed to make a lot of noise - I hadn't tried it but it seemed like a good idea. I attached it to the side of my pack so I could get to it easily and off I went hiking down the my favorite section of the A.T. in New Jersey. All the sudden I hear this shrieking noise - I swear I jumped 4 feet in the air - it scared the *&$# out of me!!! I had somehow pulled the pin on the darn thing with my arm and it scared me so badly I couldn't figure out where the noise was coming from!!! :) Well, I can tell you I wasn't bothered by any bears (or for that matter any other living thing) that day! It would work I guess but I was so paranoid it would happen again I threw the darn thing out!

10:33 a.m. on February 4, 2009 (EST)
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I think the keychain alarm would work but you probaly wouldn't want to carry it on the outside of your pack, maybe put it in your pocket so you don't give yourself a heart attack like DesertRobin.

DesertRobin, what did you do the times you were bluff charged by black bears?

9:29 p.m. on February 4, 2009 (EST)
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I stood absolutely still at first:) As you know black bear country is usually thick brush and woods and sometimes you just come around the corner and there they are! Even when you're watching and careful. Most of my black bear encounters were in NJ and NY state. I always made noise, and I did try bells. The first time I was bluff charged happened just as I said. I came around the corner and there he was. I grabbed hold of my dog's collar and all three of us stood there staring at one another. Before I could think straight he stood right up, popped his jaws and started towards me on his hind legs. Let me tell you a black bear is pretty big when they stand straight up! I stood my ground because I was too afraid to run away!! We all stared at each other, he stopped, and came down - he was probably 4 feet away from me. It occured to me to try to scare him away but honestly if it didn't work he would have gotten me. We played a staring game for a few minutes - really I know I shouldn't have but...he would take a few steps away, stop and stare right at me. Truly - I know you're not supposed to stare them down but I couldn't take my eyes off him! My dog was wonderful, she didn't move a muscle - probably as scared as I was. I swear it felt like it took a half an hour for him to get far enough away from me that I felt I could turn and get the heck out of there! I don't think I've ever run so fast! I have also been bluff charged by a sow with a cub - she was way off in the woods - I didn't even know she was there until she started running towards me. That time I screamed, hollared, waved and managed to scare her off. That's what I've done since and it's worked. And by the way I was always on a trail. No matter how hard you try to watch for them there are certain areas where there are large populations. I would also avoid areas where there were berries. I just remembered a story about a couple who were hiking the AT in the Delaware Water Gap in NJ and were being followed by a bear. I heard this from a friend who was a ranger. The bear got so brave and close to them that they threw their packs at him and ran off. Absolutely not the right thing to do!!! They just taught that bear that humans have food and if you scare them they'll throw it at you! Which is probably how he learned to do it in the first place. Being from NY/NJ I could tell you lots of bear stories!! I'm spoiled being in Southwestern Utah now. Hardly any bears and if they are out there they're usually scared to death of you. I backpacked the Under The Rim Trail at Bryce last year and had to hang food for the first time in a long time. They have had one or two bears around and were taking precautions. And yes, it was an incredible shame about the boy in northern Utah that was killed by a black bear last year. The family is sueing everyone and I don't blame them.

9:02 a.m. on February 5, 2009 (EST)
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Wow, that's not a situation I would like to be in. Dog's and bears do not get along at all and your situation was probably helped by your dog not barking and agitating the bear. All of my encounters have been just seeing the bears from trails and the minute they spot you they take off. Nock on wood, I hope I don't get charged. I would have to clean out my shorts before I would be able to get out of there.

I hadn't heard the story of the boy in Utah but I looked it up. What a sad situation, it's not often any bear will drag you from your tent. I'm not sure what you can really do in that situation if your the family.

1:30 a.m. on February 6, 2009 (EST)
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Right now, I just pull out the latest Wall Street Journal. The bear sees that it's most definitely not a bear market, and goes his merry way. I refuse to cross pastures at the moment, however.....

9:12 a.m. on February 6, 2009 (EST)
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Nice, I like your humor Perry Clark.

6:55 a.m. on February 7, 2009 (EST)
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I've got Karelian Bear Dogs and when I'm in a tent, whether it is in the mts, on the tundra or in the boreal there is one sleeping right beside it......and a Rem 870 Express.


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