A second archer has been attacked by a grizzly bear while hunting elk near Yellowstone National Park, but this time bear spray worked to drive off the sow and a cub.
A more important lesson from the attack on fifty-something Bob Legasa form Coeur d’Alene Idaho, might, however, be this: Chose your wilderness companions carefully.
Bear spray is now carried by many in Alaska. Though it has been proven effective, there is still considerable debate over whether it is better or worse than a large-caliber firearm for bear protection.
The spray worked for Legasa on Saturday, but he is giving most of the credit to hunting partner Greg Gibson.
The duo got too close to a “sow grizzly and her cub as we were moving in on some elk,” Legasa wrote on his Facebook page. “We walked up to with in 12 yards when we all saw each other and before I could even reach for my bear spray she was at full charge.
“I was able to get my arm up to…protect my face when she knocked me over, Greg was only a few steps behind me, and he was able to get his bear spray out and give one shot to the bear which stopped her and she reared up and came towards him, he was able to give her one more blast where she and her cub retreated.”
Legasa suffered significant injuries in the attack. KRTV in Great Falls, Mont., reported the hunter was recovering in a hospital in Bozeman after the attack near Beattie Gulch, Mont., just north of the Montana-Wyoming state line.
“My arm is broken in two spots where she grabbed on with her mouth and I have a nice couple of scratches on my face where she got me with her claws,” Legasa told the television station.
He was the first person to die after pepper-spraying a grizzly. But the exact deals of what happened in that case are not known.
Uptain was attacked after he an an archery client returned to recover the carcass of an elk shot a day earlier. The adult bear first went after the client and grabbed the Florida man.
Uptain yelled at the bear, which then let go of the client and charged him. The client told authorities he tried to shoot the bear with a handgun the men had brought back with them to the kill site, but it wouldn’t fire.
So he threw it to Uptain and fled on horseback. At some point, Uptain – who had bear spray with him – used it on the bear. Authorities later shot the bear and found pepper spray residue on the carcass, Brad Hovinga, the Jackson region supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department told craigmedred.news in September.
But when Uptain sprayed the bear is unclear.
Hovinga said Uptain’s body was found about 150 feet from where the attack began, and an empty canister of bear spray with the safety off was feet from his body. But it is possible, Hovinga said, that Uptain had already suffered fatal injuries before he used the spray.
That would make it possible the bear spray worked even though Uptain died.
His death rattled some who have come to depend on spray for protection in Alaska. The product is now so popular cases of it can be found on sale at Costco in the summer. It is regularly carried by hikers, mountain bikers and dog walkers on the Anchorage Hillside because of the state’s healthy population of bears, both grizzly/brown bears and black bears.
The former are far more dangerous than the latter, but the state has a nasty history with black bears. Two Alaskans died in black bear attacks last year.
Though such attacks are extremely rare, renowned bear research Stephen Herrero has noted they cluster in rural Canada and Alaska despite the low human populations in those areas and thus the lower likelihood of bear-human encounters.
“….We don’t know exactly why there have been more attacks in Canada and Alaska, but we speculate that it could be because bears in those areas are living in less productive habitat with periodic food stress, which may predispose some bears to consider people as prey,” he told Science Daily.
The data set is so small and the details on many attacks so sketchy that such a conclusion is highly, highly speculative, but the stories are many of Alaskans encountering black bears that appear to show no fear of humans. The recommended procedure with such bears is to confront them and try to drive them off with whatever is at hand.
Many Alaskans have reported successfully repelling black bears they described as “stalking” them.
Most grizzly bear attacks and fatalities involve sows charging people in clear and deliberate attempts to neutralize people they think are a threat to their cubs. But there are exceptions.
Hiker Micheal Soltis, 44, of Eagle River – a suburb on the northern edge of Alaska’s largest city – was killed by a predatory grizzly with cubs in June. There is no way of knowing whether the bears attacked him as if he were prey, but they treated his body as if it were such.
A 2012 attack in Denali National Park and Preserve, meanwhile, looked like a clear predatory attack. Backpacker Richard White, 49, from San Diego took multiple photos of the bear as it approached him.
While White was at first blamed for getting too close to the bear to take photographs, the photos in his camera showed the bear approaching him to within an estimated 60 yards. There the photography ended. What happened after is unknown.
White might well have been preoccupied trying to make himself “look big and mean” as the bear came closer. That is the behavior the Park Service recommends when being approached by a bear. Friends and family later said the Californian was an experienced backpacker. The grizzly that killed him was shot and killed defending his carcass as food.
Though humans can bluff down most bears – brown/grizzly or black – the technique isn’t foolproof. And White had neither bear spray nor a firearm for self-defense.
He was, it should be noted, the first person ever to die in a bear attack in Denali, where dozens of bear encounters take place every summer. Soltis was the first bear fatality in Alaska this year. Eighteen-year-old Anthony David Montoya from Hollis, Oklahoma, died in late September after being attacked by a grizzly sow on Admiralty Island, a place long known to the Tlingit Indians of Southeast Alaska as “The Fortress of the Bears.”
Little is known about the attack on Montoya, who was working at a remote, mine drilling site. The fatal attack was the first in associated with the decades-old Greens Creek mine on Admiralty.
Even in the 49th state with more grizzly bears than all of the other states combined, bears attacks are extremely rare, but they do happen.
The issue of whether spray or firearms are better defensive weapon is a personal decision. Bear spray has a proven record of repelling grizzly bears. Up until Uptain died this year, only a handful of people had suffered injuries while using the spray to repel bears, and there were no fatalities.
There are many cases of people shooting bears and then being killed by the wounded animals. Firearms also pose a risk to the shooter and others.
“Readying myself for another attack,” Legasa wrote, “I was able to get my bear spray out of the holster and unfortunately during all the chaos sprayed myself.”
Taking a dose of bear-repelling pepper spray is painful. It makes most people’s eyes burn like it is hard to believe, but the recovery is quick compared to most any injury caused by being shot with a firearm, and there is no known instance of anyone dying from being hit with bear spray.
Bear spray also has advantages in weight (it’s lighter than any reasonable firearm) and ease-of-use (it takes very little training and very little skill to use).
The advantage of a firearm, at least in the hands of a skilled shooter, is that it can be counted on to end the encounter then and there with the bear dead and no worries about whether it might return to resume an attack.
Alaskans should take note that fall seems to be coming late this year, and bears in the Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna Borough areas are still on the prowl for more food before hibernation. A woman living near Elmore and DeArmoun roads on the lower Hillside in Anchorage reported black bears destroyed her beehives over the weekend.
And the abandoned bear cache in the photo above dates to a kill just last week. Judging by the jawbone in the photo and bones at the site, the prey appeared to have been a smallish yearling moose shooed off by its mother this summer or a very large calf of the year. The kill was on the north side of McHugh Ridge on the south side of which 77-year-old Marcy Trent and her son Larry Waldron, 45, died in a 1995 bear attack that rocked Anchorage.
If you stumble on a bear cache – they tear up the terrain around their kill to obtain material to bury their prey – the best idea is to get away from the site as fast as you can. Don’t hang around to take pictures.
CORRECTION: An early version of this story left out the attack on Anthony Montoya on Admiralty Island.