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"Shoo Bear Don't Bother Me"

May 30, 2018

By Nick Whitbread

This post is a response to a question from Andrew on how we keep the wildlife at bay on long runs in the bush, or at least give ourselves piece of mind that if we have an encounter with some wildlife that we are ready. 

Before new runners to the trails start worrying that rogue animals are coming to get them, lets squash any unnecessary fears. Where we live in North Western Ontario the most common predators that we would come across in the trails are Bears, wolves and the occasional cat of some kind. Wolves don't have a history of attacking people. I have seen many when out running, even pursuing some of them only to watch them disappear off into the bush. I'm sure we run by more wolves than we ever see. Unless you have a dog off leash wolves shouldn't be a problem. We do have Lynx and Bobcats here. These animals usually pose no threat to humans. The only situations I have ever heard of cats or wolves being aggressive was at the scene of a fresh animal kill or with a domesticated animal. Bears are obviously an animal we need to be very aware of. Black Bears though usually smaller than Brown Bears can be very unpredictable in their actions. They need to be respected as a legitimate concern if encountered on the trails. Bears in different locations exhibit different behaviours. Where there are more people around the bears tend to be less fearful of human interaction and thusly sometimes harder to move along, around or away from.

If you encounter a Black Bear offer it a Cliff Bar and then run while it struggles with the packaging. That was a joke. It is, though, a ploy that can be useful in the event of a chase, dropping an object to distract the bear could save you in that situation. Black Bears should be treated respectfully, maintain eye contact and slowly back away. Every Bear situation is different so you have to read the situation. The protocol for Black bears and Brown bears is different so it's handy if you can identify both so you can make informed decisions in the moment (the tactics discussed today relate to Black Bears). Sometimes you are forced to be more aggressive, shouting, making yourself appear bigger than you are must be employed.

I have encountered My fair share of bears the most frightening being when I startled and separated a Mother and Cub on the Superior Hiking trail. Momma Bear was not too happy with Me but I crouched down, stayed still, prepared My safety measures and allowed her to show me She was boss. She did that with some hissing and ground stamping and then when She felt comfortable that I wasn't a threat, She crossed to the other side of the trail to find Her Cub. I gave Her room and when I felt they had moved a sufficient distance from the trail and were no longer concerned with Me, I ran like the dickens. It's important to stay calm and make good decisions. Don't just kick your training partner in the knee and run...squeeze a gel on their head first :)

The first line of defence against bears is removing the element of surprise. No one likes to be startled. Especially 300 pound wild animals. When we are startled we don't think we react and that can be dangerous when it comes to Bears. Using a bear bell can alert bears to your presence long before you arrive, that way they can choose to move on before you get there. Personally they drive me nuts. If you are running with a friend simply chatting while you run can be enough to alert a bear that you are coming, so make with some nice conversation. 

If you encounter a bear and it does not move off the trail or starts to move towards you slowly a whistle can be a handy deterrent. It's a loud unusual sound. A marine air horn can also be used. Most running vests these days come with a whistle attached. Obviously you can use your voice too. Try to remain calm but be assertive with whatever sounds you choose to make.

If your whistle, horn or sweet voice won't do the trick, it’s time to go for bear bangers. Bear bangers are an incendiary device that when fired from a pen launcher or a flare gun travel about 125 feet or 40 meters and then explodes making a shotgun like sound. It's important to aim the launching device up, not towards the bear. If you fire a bear banger past the bear and it then explodes theres a good chance the bear will run towards you. That's bad. A pen launcher and bear bangers can be purchased from most local gear store and are light and easy to carry. 

If you use a bear banger and your bear still doesn't budge or worse begins a charge it's time for bear spray. Bear spray is similar to the paper spray the Police would use on unruly people. The active agent in bear spray is capsaicin. It affects the eyes, throat and sinus' of anything that comes in contact with it. Bear spray is available in several sizes, most will fit in the soft bottle holder of a running vest. To use the spray the safety clip is removed, the nozzle is pointed towards the bear and the trigger pulled. Do not spray it into the wind unless you have no other option, otherwise you and the bear will both be incapacitated. Bear Spray travels about 30 feet in a misting action. Keep this in mind when you are aiming. 

A spray for dogs is also available with a much smaller size/volume, spray distance and concentration of capsaicin. I'm not going to say it will work on a bear but I carry it often in races that have "mandatory" gear lists where you must cary a lot of stuff already and adding a full size Bear Spray is just not convenient. It's light, easy to carry and can also be useful in an encounter with other types of predators. 

On more remote long runs where I am running alone I also take (when I remember) a pouch of Quick Clot. It does exactly as the name suggests. It can be used in the event of a major trauma like a Bear attack or a severe fall or something of the like. You tear open the pouch and pour it into the wound and it helps to slow or stop large scale bleeding. The movies suggest it also hurts like hell. I have never had to use it, I cannot verify that. 

This one is not Bear related specifically but an emergency bivy bag is just a handy thing to have in your running vest on a long remote run. It's lightweight, waterproof and warm in the event you are forced to sleep out. I have used mine once to sleep at the finish line of a race where I had booked no accommodation (not recommend) and once to keep me warm as I lay exhausted on the side of the highway outside Grand Marais waiting for rescue (Thanks Mike). It really is handy and doesn't take up that much space in your vest or pack. 

Depending on where I'm heading on a long run I carry a combination of the above mentioned products. It's very important if you choose to carry any of these products you are well versed in how to use them. I also, on the very rare occasion, carry a folding knife on a remote long run. Not that I think it would do much good, but like many of these products it’s a nice piece of mind to know you have something.

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