Saturday, 24 January 2015

How to Use and Not Use Bear Spray

     After work one evening, two young men drove the truck three miles down a narrow logging road looking for a perfect fishing hole where cutthroat trout patrolled picking up floating salmon roe. It was salmon spawning season on the river and the valley reeked of rotting fish mixed with berry engorged bear scat. Gulls, crows, and eagles perched in the huge spruce, fir and alder trees overhanging the river waiting for full crops to digest before going for more of the plentiful feed. Large padded, five-clawed prints marked the sandy river banks as the men made their way to the river edge loaded down with fishing rods, hooks and carefree optimism. As they cast their roe baited hooks into the pool they could see flashes of silver flicker out of the deep dark shadows checking for easy red meals. One cutty went for the bait and swallowed it greedily, unaware of the danger until the hook set suddenly and securely into its bony jaw. It shook its head and tugged violently against the sting, pain and resistance that incessantly towed it to the exposed shallows. It ran hard, down stream towing Jack along the sandy riverbank. They fought and tugged to and fro for a couple of minutes before the three-pound trout lay panting on the shore. Jack quickly released the hook and cast it back into the river. Fishing was great and both men soon had a couple of fish lined up on the river bank when a bear emerged from upstream, slowly and methodically casting his huge nose back and forth searching for the fresh smell of free meal. Andy was further downstream and noticed the bear coming behind Jack and called a warning. Jack spun around reaching for his bear spray canister hanging from the holster on his hip. 
Hungry for Fish

     The bear spotted the fish lying on the bank and sprang forward, splashing downstream claiming the beached trout. Andy, wisely backed off, abandoning his catch, but prepared to defend himself if the bear wanted more. He popped the safety clip off the trigger as he continued to make his way downstream. Grizzly stopped and nuzzled then ate his free fish and the men managed to make their way safely to the truck.
     Before they boarded Jack struggled to replace the safety clip onto the trigger of the canister.  Andy supervised passing out instructions, as Jack got more frustrated. They were both soon huddled over the canister, trying in vain to snap the clip into place. Somehow, Jack’s finger slipped onto the trigger, releasing a sudden orange bomb of spray directly into the palm of his hand, which deflected the fire into both fellows’ faces. Instant burning, gasping, swearing, fumbling, can’t see, can’t breathe, and can’t drive.
Laughing Bear

     “Where is that bear?” they are wondering through the foggy background of pain and confusion. Need water but got none; the river is right there but so is the bear. All these thoughts ricochet around their fogged brains and burning sinuses that are trying to get reloaded with fresh oxygen but can’t. They are finally able to get in the truck but can’t see to drive through tear filled eyes. The radio doesn’t reach camp from here. They finally are able to get turned around and fumble their way toward safety. Finally they reach camp and rush into their rooms, shed their clothes and pile into the shower, fighting for the same nozzle of cold relief. By this time a crowd of very unsympathetic co-workers arrived in time to hear renewed gasps and cries of burning pain, now expanding downward. The oil-based pepper is flowing down onto tender bellies and cascading even further downward over even tenderer, dangling body parts. It seems to have no mercy on the men and their laughing mates seem to have even less. There seems to be no end to the fire and even cold water cannot extinguish their anguish.
     Finally someone takes pity and calls the hospital to try to figure out what to do. The sympathetic but snickering nurse orders the burning men out of the crowded shower. This is about the worse first aid you can provide. “Flood them with whole milk.” she advises. “The milk will absorb the peppery oil and don’t rub it in any more. After a bit get some Dawn dish soap and slowly rinse off the milk and pepper spray. They should be okay in a little while!”
     Bear spray is probably the best and safest deterrent you can take to the bush if there may be bears or other predators in the area. It is light and easy to carry on your belt where it can be easily and readily grasped if required. It does you no good to be buried in the bottom of you pack. If a bear approaches, slowly back off while speaking in a calm voice trying not to stare a challenge eye to eye. Get your bear spray out and release the safety. Make sure your companions are also slowly and calmly backing off, not running. If the bear continues its advance with ears back, lips curled be prepared. You must wait until it is quite close to you, ten feet or a bit more before you spray a short two or 3 second burst in a sweeping motion toward its face. Hopefully it is downwind from you but be sure to make sure it is making contact with the bear. You may need another burst so try not to empty your canister.
     Studies have found that good bear repellent is about 95% effective in stopping bear attacks or advances. A rifle or shotgun is effective in about 45% of the time in skilled hands. Pepper spray can also be used if the bear already has a hold on you or your partner. You can spray him but you probably should not shoot your rifle into that squirming, squalling mass of fur and friend.
     Before you ever get in the position of needing it, you should practise. Go out with your hiking companions and practise drawing the canister, releasing the safety and pressing the trigger. Aim the spray down toward an imaginary bear face and fan it back and forth being sure the charging bear has to pass through the peppery cloud. By all means don’t intentionally entice a bear to your camp or your body. Keep food away from both, make a bit of noise and hike with a group when in bear country. Get out and enjoy the wilderness and her critters but be prepared for all emergencies of which charging bears are probably one of the fewer.
     The above episode is true and happened more or less like explained. The guys suffered no permanent harm except for the emotional scarring caused by unending teasing and long memories of all who were witness to their embarrassing episode.

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