Many of us love to hear a scary bear story told around the campfire on a starry night. Vicarious fear can be fun sometimes, but it isn't any help if you carry it over into a real encounter with a bear.
Grant Bronk, in FWP's field services office in Helena, with a degree in ecology specializing in river systems, agrees.
Bronk is outdoors a lot.
"I've encountered my share of bears in the outdoors before—but only one grizzly bear encounter really shook me up," he said.
Returning from a mountain bike trip on the Middle Fork of the Flathead trail he surprised a grizzly bear head-on. He went over on his bike, with his legs caught in the toe clips, trapping him to his bike. While he struggled to get up, one of his dogs took on the job of confronting the bear with barks from behind surrounding trees and deadfall.
"I was terrified, on the ground and trapped to my bike with a grizzly bear coming on, but in the end I was prepared and that is what got me out of the situation," Bronk said. "Let's just say that bear spray works, but it hurts like hell if you get a good bit of it on your own bare skin."
"I still cherish the presence of griz in our woods, and today I can honestly say I look forward to seeing my next bear," Bronk said.
Bronk did some things wrong—he surprised the bear by moving quickly through the woods without making sufficient noise, and he got himself into a physically compromised situation and lost control of his dog—things that could be expected to rile a bear and cause it to defend itself.
But, he also did some important things right—he carried bear spray, he didn't make direct eye contact with the bear but talked calmly to it while backing away, and he used bear spray effectively to diffuse the situation. In the end, Bronk successfully repelled a grizzly bear with no harm to bear, man or dog. It happens, but these are not the bear encounters that make the news.
The news makers tend to be bear encounters that usually include—a surprise encounter, an unlikely occurrence, a novice's basic error, the experienced outdoorsman's oversight—mixed with a liberal burst of fear and little preparation.
Sometimes facts can help defeat fear, so here are a couple that might help.
Statistics suggest domestic animals are to be feared more than wild ones. In the U.S. alone, dogs are responsible for about 30 human deaths a year and horses for about 20. Human fatalities from bear attacks average three per year in North America.
Between 2005 and 2009 nearly 10 million people visited Glacier National Park. The park reports that grizzly bears injured three visitors in that period—none of whom used bear spray.
For the most part, if you are in Montana you're in bear country. The people who fare best always prepare to see a bear. They:
Even surprise bear encounters and unexplained attacks have been survived. For more on Being Bear Aware got to fwp.mt.gov. Always prepare to see a bear—but leave fear home—it won't help in bear country.
Be Prepared To Encounter A Bear
Human behavior is half of the equation when it comes to experiencing a positive wildlife encounter. Here are some human behaviors that help lay the ground work for a safe outing.