One would think that the answer to this question is fairly straight forward after the change in federal law allowing firearms to be carried into National Parks saved its first backpackers. But there was a proliferation of stupid articles about a gun being no protection against bears, articles such as this one.
A well placed bullet might stop an aggressive grizzly, but not shooting could be just as effective in protecting yourself in bear country, according to a new study by Brigham Young University wildlife biologists.
Longtime bear biologist Tom Smith and colleagues analyzed 269 incidents of close-quarter bear-human conflict in Alaska between 1883 and 2009 in which a firearm was involved. They found the gun made no statistical difference in the outcome of these encounters, which resulted in 151 human injuries and 172 bear fatalities
“It really isn’t about the kind of gun you carry. It’s about how you carry yourself,” said Smith, lead author of the study published online in the Journal of Wildlife Management.
“Guns are great, but for a gun to be great you have to be very, very good. No one ever practices on a 500-pound animal charging at you through the brush at 10 meters. They practice on paper targets,” he added. “That’s a big, big difference from being in the moment of stress.”
One commenter noted how bad studies like this are, observing that:
For any study to be valid, controls must be in place to make certain that conditions are identical for the options being tested. That is patently false in this scenario and for a very simple reason: Bear spray is carried with the full purpose of using it on a bear. That may seem like a simple premise, but let me continue. A firearm may be carried for any one of several reasons; small game hunting, bird shooting, etc. In other words, the bear spray examples they give are all in preparation for those specific situations, the firearm examples may be anything from someone carrying a 12 gauge loaded with OOO buckshot, strictly on the concern for meeting up with B’rer Bruin, to a squirrel hunter armed only with a .22. Likewise would be the case of shotgunner, out for birds and carrying only birdshot.
For this study to be valid, it would have to compare those using bear spray for protection with those carrying heavy enough firearms for the specific intent of protecting the carrier from bears.
Well, yes, but things that seem intuitive to us (e.g., that the presence of a man-killing animal requires protection) get buried by biased “researchers.” Fortunately we have other writers who aren’t so stolid.
A predatory black bear attack on a camper in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness area illustrates why guns–not bear spray–are sometimes the best tool for self-defense.
A five-year old, 185 pound male black bear jumped on the camper’s tent at 7:30 in the morning. The bear then ripped through the tent and mauled the man in what Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials describe as a predatory attack.
The camper–who has chosen not to be identified or talk to the media–used bear spray to deter the bear, however, the bruin did not leave the area.
Since the man was out of bear spray, he was helpless. That would not be the case if he had a pistol, rifle, or shotgun because most of these firearms hold five or more rounds. The man could have killed the bear.
Incredibly, a U.S. Forest Service trail crew employee came upon the injured man just outside his camp. The Great Falls Tribune said the Forest Service employee “chased off the bear,” but no explanation was offered on how this was accomplished.
The Forest Service employee then radioed for help. A helicopter arrived, and the injured man was taken to the Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
Later that afternoon, Montana FWP sent a team to dispatch the bear. The bear was killed just 70 yards from the campsite. It was in the process of moving closer to the tent.
The bruin had bear spray on its fur. It had blood on its claws. A necropsy showed that after the initial attack, the bear had been able to get into food at the campsite. Its stomach contents included bits of Ziplock bags, dried pasta, and other food.
If there’s such a thing as a typical predatory black bear, this bear “fits the mold.” A recent study shows that 92% of all predatory black bears in the past century have been males. This bear was healthy, and that too is typical.
In the 2nd edition of Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, biologist Stephen Herrero writes that “If predation is the motive for an attack, the attack typically continues until the bear is forced to back down, or the person gets away, or the bear gets its prey.” (p.106)
Better to have a minimum of five or six shots from a firearm, than one 5-8 second burst of bear spray.
You can keep your bear mace. I’ll carry my XDm .45 or some similar gun, thank you.