I was attacked by a black bear (trash bear) last summer in Yosemite. I can tell you that pepper spray works and saved my arse. I believe that I owe my life to pepper spray. Sure, it's not foolproof and as they say its not 'brains in a can' but it beats trying to fight him with your bare hands.
Carry it ready to go on your hip in a holster - mine is from the UDAP company. It points forward so it can even be fired from the hip without taking it out.
I like shotguns but the rangers in National Parks aren't keen on them and they're too heavy. Save the Mossberg for turkey season.
I believe that black bears anywhere are not much of a threat. I've had two encounters with them while hiking here in Colorado, including surprising a sow and cub, and in both instances the bears simply moved on, unconcerned about me. I have also come home to find one bear destroying my gas grill (I live in the mountains) which ran away when I yelled at it.
That said, black bears in the Sierras, especially Yosemite and Mt. Whitney National parks, are an entirely different story. They are completely habituated to humans and human food and show no fear whatsoever of us. I think it's foolish to camp in the backcountry of these areas without carrying pepper spray.
We were camped a few miles from Little Yosemite Valley when my friend and I were awakened in the middle of the night by a bear getting into our food, which had been counterbalanced in a nearby tree (our first mistake - we should have been using canisters because nothing else works). It was sitting on the branch literally pulling up the bags of food by pulling the rope hand, er, paw over paw. We tried everything to scare it away - yelling, throwing rocks, shining flashlights in its eyes. The bear, which had a red tag in it's ear
signifying it was a problem bear, ignored us the whole time. I guess I got pissed off and had the bright idea to hit the food bags with a rock to knock them off the branch. At that point, the bear turned and hissed (like a cat) at us and promptly ran down the tree hitting the ground running at us.
I managed to spray the bear, hitting it square in the face at 6 feet in full charge. He was repelled instantly, retreated about 10 feet, charged again and was stopped again when I sprayed him in the face.
But, wait, there's more! We retrieved the food, got back to camp and started a big fire. Why? That bear wouldn't leave the area, pacing back and forth at about 50 feet from us. Also, probably due to the commotion we had created, we began hearing noises elsewhere in the woods surrounding us. Shining our flashlights into the woods we counted three other bears, all within 50 feet. Two of them even began fighting one another, presumably over the rights
to our food. At that point, another frightened camper came running up the trail warning us about three bears that had just raided his site. Admitting defeat, we packed up camp and the three of us hiked for three hours in the middle of the night by flashlight to escape. And, yes, we were followed by them for part of the way.
We made it to Tuolomne Meadows the next day and rented canisters. We also told the story to a ranger who indicated (in a roundabout way) that that bear would have to be destroyed. Later on that same trip, I talked to a ranger near Red's Meadow who said a woman was attacked in her tent. I also talked to many other campers who had bears in their camps going after their food. Several of them were using Ursacks which proved useless against those bears. I know this was one extreme encounter and this isn't meant to scare anyone away from Yosemite or to exaggerate the chances of a bear encounter there, but this is definitely
one neck of the woods you should consider bringing along some pepper spray and using a food canister (which is going to be required now to get a backcountry permit).
So there you have it! By the way, if you should ever have to spray a bear, move well way, even if it's in the middle of the night. If it comes back, the bear spray is likely to have less effect on it.
Thanks for letting me tell my story!
ARCHIVED FEATURE ARTICLES:
- BEAR ATTACK & the VALUE of PEPPER SPRAY, by Scott
- WEEKEND WINTER HIKING, by John Macri
- GEAR WEIGHT CALCULATOR, by Chris Ibbeson
- HIKING WITH CHILDREN, by Penny Schwyn
- LIGHTENING THE LOAD, by Greg Cope
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