Bear Attacks!

A charging brown bear was so close that all the hunter could see in his scope was "two sets of canines and two flapping gums."

"I just heard a twig snap," said hunting guide Jim Boyce. "And when I wheeled around, I saw a thousand pounds of brown bear on the way,"

He pulled his .458 Winchester Magnum to his shoulder.

Illustration by Jonathan Milo

"When I looked through the scope, all I could see was four canines and two flapping lips."

The 500-grain bullet knocked the bear down, but to finish it off took three more shots.

The bear died exactly eight feet from where Boyce and I were standing.

Our buddy Scott Newman -- another crackerjack bear guide -- wasn't so lucky.

Just before dark on the last day of his Alaska hunt, one of Newman's clients wounded a huge brown bear, having shot it in the leg. So Scott went into the thick old-growth forest in pursuit.

He too heard a twig snap. And when he turned, the huge old bear was in full charge. At 10 yards, Scott hit him square in the chest with a 400-grain pill from his .416 Remington Magnum.

That shot killed the bear -- but not before it spent its last minute of life chewing Scott's legs and arms to shreds.

He was in the hospital for a month. Thankfully, he has fully recovered.

But it's not just grizzlies and brown bears doing the damage these days. More and more people are moving into wilderness-type areas in the Western states, even while many of those states continue to severely restrict seasons and hunting methods. That means black bears are taking a toll, too.

Most of these bear-versus-human conflicts do not involve hunters.

  • In July, Allena Hansen was walking her two dogs on Piute Mountain Road, a couple of miles north of Walker Basin Road near the California town of Caliente, when a black bear mauled her.

    It was the 13th reported black bear attack in California since 1980.

  • In June, a Colorado Division of Wildlife officer shot and killed a bear in Bayfield after the bear had entered the same house twice.

    DOW spokesman Joe Lewandowski said the officer shot the bear because of the agency's two-strike policy. Usually when the DOW catches a bears, officers relocate it. But the yearling killed that day had come to depend on humans for its food. It would be unable to survive in the wild and if relocated, would continue seek out humans.

  • In July 2007, a 31-year-old woman was mauled to death by a black bear at the Panorama Mountain Resort in eastern British Columbia.

  • In September, a black bear attacked a mountain biker while the 51-year-old man rode with his two dogs through Banner Forest Heritage Park in Olalla, Wash. The man was treated for wounds on his arm, face, back, neck and ear. It was the second time that summer that a mountain biker in the Pacific Northwest was attacked by a bear.

    Of course, hunters also have their share of bear encounters. They report that the grizzlies living within the Yellowstone ecosystem -- bears that have been fully protected all their lives -- show no fear of man. In fact, it's said the bruins aggressively run hunters away from elk and deer carcasses.

    And black bears can be equally nasty.

    In June, while hunting in the Cascade Range of southern Oregon, Aaron Wyckoff set out to help a 15-year-old friend, Chris Moen, track a wounded black bear that Moen had shot with a .338 Winchester Magnum.

    During the tracking, Wyckoff decided to go up a hill for a better view of things.

    He then heard a rustling behind him, then a grunt. And the bear came at him.

    Wyckoff told the press that he fired a round from his .45-caliber handgun into the bear's forehead, but the animal kept coming and got on top of him.

    From beneath, he got off three more rounds before he accidentally released the pistol's clip.

    As the bear kept chewing his arm, Wyckoff said he tried to pull the bear's jaws apart, then tried to roll down the ridge. But the bear grabbed his leg, pulled him back and went for his groin.

    By then, the battle royal attracted the attention of Wyckoff's party, and the others rushed over.

    Friend Justin Norton fired a round from his .44-caliber pistol into the black bear's stomach, then approached the bear, put the gun behind its ear and fired again. It finally rolled away.

    That bear weighed more than 300 pounds. Wyckoff was lucky. He spent only two days in the hospital.

    For years, I guided bear hunters in Alaska. I've also hunted black bears extensively in the Lower 48 and in western Canada. I've studied bear behavior closely and spoken at length with many of the leading experts on bear attacks. Their advice on what to do is pretty simple.

    Reduce Risk
    First off, both at home and when in the field, do everything you can do to not put yourself in danger. Don't leave anything in and around camp, your home or your vehicles that might attract "nuisance" bears.

    Obvious attractants are food (including pet food), used barbecues, garbage and -- amazingly! -- petroleum products like oil, gasoline and plastic water and fuel containers. Bears love to munch on these things.

    Also, when in bear country, never hike through thick brush and other areas where bears may be bedded and you might accidentally stir them up.

    Pepper Spray Works
    Second, be prepared.

    Tests have shown that commercial pepper sprays are very effective when used against grizzly and brown bears, though not quite so effective against black bears.

    The key is to wear the pepper spray in a holster where you can draw it quickly, should an unexpected bear encounter occur. If you can, try to get upwind of the bear so you don't get the spray in your own eyes.

    Grizzly Or Black?
    Third, know that there's a difference between how a grizzly and a black bear will attack. Generally when grizzlies attack, they are protecting their territory or their young. If you drop, cover up and wait it out, they may chew you up, but will usually leave when they think you no longer pose a threat.

    Conversely, most experts believe that when black bears attack, they want to kill you. If the worst occurs and a black bear gets on you, fight back as violently as you can -- again, according to the experts.

    Don't Panic
    Last but not least, if you encounter a bear, do keep your cool. Talk to the bear in a low but firm voice: "Hey, bear! Here I am. I won't hurt you if you leave me alone. How about it?"

    Raise your arms and try to make yourself appear as big as you can, while slowly backing away. Always face the bear, and when it tries to circle you, do not let it get behind you.

    In areas where bears are aggressively hunted, if you'll let them smell you, more times than not, they'll run for their lives. But in areas where they show little or no fear of humans, this may not be effective at all.

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