Firearms/pepper spray in Bear Country?

-- Last Updated: Nov-28-08 12:42 AM EST --

I'm going to be taking a two week trip to Alaska in the late spring/early summer months of 09 and I'm a little apprehensive about bears while camping and hiking in the area. I know the precautions to avoid a bear attack, but if those fail and an attack is imminent, what would be the best defense? Of course a firearm would be an obvious choice, but I have also heard that bear spray may be more effective. And if a firearm, handgun or rifle, and what caliber for a charging bear? I'll be on the water a lot so a handgun would seem the most practical but I wonder if it is strong enough? Any insight on firearms, bear spray, etc. would be great. Thanks

Don’t worry . . .
. . . be happy! You will probably never see a bear. Most folks who visit Alaska spend a good deal of time just tryin’ to get a glimpse of one. A handgun is pretty worthless against bear unless it is something huge like .454 Casual or a .50 somethin’. Bear spray is likely a panacea, won’t hurt and probably won’t help.

Don’t do stupid stuff like smearin’ yourself in bacon fat and you won’t have a problem. Keep a clean camp. Put your food and smelly stuff out of reach. Don’t sleep where you cook.

Read a little on bear behavior and how to deal with the different species. The Black bears are the one likely to want to eat you.

I would go with the spray
with a gun you have to know how to shoot it. If you miss the target your done, with spray you don’t have to be a good shot. As for seeing bears it is the one you don’t see that you have to worry about.

I disagree
I thought it was the hungry ones that want to eat you!


Take a gun
A short barreled 12ga pump shotgun,loaded with slugs. If you get into a problem that involves your life, you’ll be glad you have it. Chances are that you’ll bring it home unfired…but. Most of all, have fun!

Take a slow . . .
. . . friend along.

hmm…a slow friend
Not a bad idea, ha ha! I had thought about taking a shotgun with slugs but I wasn’t sure about the stopping power that it would have. That sounded like the best idea that I could come up with, relatively easy to keep close by, dependable and fast.

Protection from Bears!
There was an earlier post this year on this topic. Here is my view. Carrying firearms for protection against a bear attack has major drawbacks for the average backpacker. In Canada it is illegal to carry handguns, and getting a permit for a rifle is difficult unless you have a Canadian Guide Service for hunting and a hunting permit. In Alaska or the Lower 48 you can carry either a handgun or rifle. The only handguns which would have a chance of stopping a grizzly, brown bear or polar bear are all heavy 10" barrel 44 Magnum weapons. Unless you are one very accurate shot with nerves of steel using a handgun on charging bears is a death wish. A wounded bear is not a happy camper. The alternative is to carry a rifle with 30-06 Cal or larger. Most bear hunters use a 300 Magnum or larger. Lugging a rifle is inconvienient, and probably won’t be in your hands when a bear charge happens.

Could be the reason that most experts suggest carrying Bear Spray as a deterrent. Many times bears will fake charge. They will run about 25’ stop and go up on their hind legs to see what you do. Shooting every bear that did this would not be good for either the bears or humans. Bear Spray will not necessarily stop the bear on his run at you, but if you spray his face, drop to the ground in a ball he will probably take a swipe or two at you and then retreat.

There are no absolute solutions to bear attacks. Your best defense is know bear habits, avoid areas where attacks are likely like berry patches in thick growth vegetation, keep food smells at a minimum, and be aware of your surroundings when moving in bear country. Look and listen often.

No gun for you

– Last Updated: Nov-30-08 11:59 AM EST –

If you are not familiar with a firearm NOW, you are not practiced enough to depend on it for protection from a grizzly bear.

Some use bear bangers. They dont require accurate aim.

I dont hunt, so no gun for me. I have spent just a little time in Alaska boating and hiking..about three weeks.

Much more time in the Yukon. We did have a griz in camp. In camp up there means a quarter mile do not camp anywhere near your food. We scared him off by good old fashioned noise and waving of arms.

He got 6 bagels.

Field and Stream
Field and Stream had an article several months back which concluded that bear spray is more effective than firearms in deterring a bear attack. Easier to use and extremely effective. It just makes better sense to carry bear spray.

I recently read an article about that
issue in the Alaska Magazine (May, 2008). The article was written by researchers: Tom Smith, Stephen Herrero and Terry DeBruyn who did research on the what is the best protection against bear attacks. It stated: “Bear spray was 92 percent effective in deterring attacks and worked equally well in deterring all three species of bears. Firearms were only 67 percent effective in deterring attacks.” The article also states that you should have more than one can since once you use your can up, you’re unprotected. The argument against guns was “But those who do not own a gun are not skilled at shooting under extreme pressure, or are hiking in areas of Alaska where firearms are prohibited – such as national parks…”


– Last Updated: Dec-01-08 12:07 PM EST –

This depends on where you are going and what you are doing in Alaska. If you are in a kayak, and you are comfortable using a shotgun, by all means bring one along. I have a Mossberg marine model with a folding stock and load with slugs -- do not use hollow-point since they can't penetrate a bear as well as an ordinary slug. We always bring the shotgun along on kayak trips with fewer than four people and anytime we are on Admiralty Island here in Southeast Alaska. Also bring pepper spray and keep it near your tarp or on your person at all times. Pepper spray wins over guns in the forest and when surprised. I've only chambered my shotgun once in all the miles we paddled, and was fortunate in having the bear figure out we were not what he wanted by the time it would have been necessary to act. And, its OK to have a gun and not be a member of NRA. Hell, I'm a democrat!


– Last Updated: Dec-01-08 1:03 PM EST –

You'll need a powerful rifle or a good shotgun. Hand guns are not enough. Personaly,I'd go with the spray. It can be gotten at faster and you might not hesitate to use it where with a gun you might hold off because of the permance of its use. A gun would take more time to pick it up or get it out, get the safety off and shoot. Either way, make sure you know how to use whatever quickly because whatever you use will be up close and need a quick reaction. Mostly, though, if you run a clean camp (and there is a lot to this)and don't surpirze bears you should be OK with the safety blanket of spray.

What is “best” depends on you and what you are intending to do on your trip.

If you will be driving, that involves going thru Canada. As mentioned above by someone, that means NO pistol, and generally, rifles and shotguns allowed only with the proper paperwork - that generally allows you to bring in a gun for hunting or target matches. I don’t know for sure, but am guessing that just travelling thru on your way to Alaska wouldn’t get you a permit. If driving thru Canada and bringing pepper spray, it must say for use on animals only, and not say it is for protection against humans, or it will get rejected at the border.

Once in Alaska, will you be tent camping ? If so, I wouldn’t want to set off a can of pepper spray in the tent if a bear was trying to get in at night. That is where a gun would be a better option. Probably the same for a pickup camper or topper.

For what its worth, I’ll relate one hike I took in Alaska in 92. If I recall correctly, it was in Denali State Park, “across the road” from the national park. There was a sign posted in the parking lot warning about bears, and noting that a couple had been attacked in that parking lot several years earlier. I carried a 12 Ga. pump with 3" mag slugs ( I was sleepng in the back of mu pickup, with nothing but a thin aluminum topper over me, so I kept that 12 Ga. loaded and next to me at night too - my security blanket). That trail was totally overgrown with high ferns and brush, and with the rushing water, you could easily have turned a corner and bumped into a bear with no warning. I leaned the gun against a tree nearby while fishing - didn’t have a sling on it, though I should have - it had a long barrel that would have gotten in my way. I saw one other fisherman - he was an Alaska native - he carried a 12 Ga.pump, on a sling over his shoulder, even while he was wading and casting - it never left his person - he sounded like an experienced outdoorsman, and in talking with him, he had seen bears in that area before - he always carried his shotgun when in the bush. I saw two girls go by on my way back to the parking lot, and stopped to chat. They had no bells, pepper spray (or sense, in my opinion) and were hiking up the trail oblivious to any chance of encountering a bear. We all survied - no bears - but one of us was smarter than the rest in my opinion.

I do a lot of camping, including spike camps while archery hunting (in Colorado)and always carry my 9mm with me to camp. It isn’t much of a bear deterrent, though firing off a half dozen noise maker shots might do that. It is my last ditch defense if a bear or lion did get me - shove the left arm down its throat, and while its chewing on me, put the barrel in his earhole and fire off another half dozen rounds - that would deter it I think, from finishing me off.

So what do you do if you fire off your pepper spray and it does not deter the bear for whatever reason?

What if its your wife that a bear is chewing on - gonna go up and spray it - me, I’d rather go up and shoot it.

Pepper spray works as a deterrent most times, but I like the idea of having a “Plan B” in case the spray didn’t work, so I’d suggest bringing both with you, unless you will be going thru Canada. If so, just go with the spray - highly unlikely that you’d need either.

I know alot of people who have taken guns thru Canada back and forth to Alaska. I guess they put a seal on them. I lived in S.E. Alaska for 10 years and carried a shotgun with 00buck followed by slugs. It was recommended to me by some old guy in a gun shop in Juneau. Shoot him in the face with 00buck and then start pumping slugs into him/her. If a bear does attack it’ll probably be a sow, maybe with cubs. A guy name Stan price lived on Admiralty island for 40 years and I guess he never carried a gun. He was a researcher so he knew what he was doing. I’ve been close to bears a few times and the closest times I didn’t have a gun, or even a quick way to escape. They didn’t pay any attention to me, I just stood still and let them go on thier way. If I was traveling in a kayak I think I’d carry bear spray and a gun, probably a shotgun. Talk to the locals where you go about places to camp and not to camp.

Fire works

– Last Updated: Dec-01-08 9:02 PM EST –

If you have a 12 gage flare gun it will shoot a 12 gage deer slug if necessary.
But, I found with some experience while camping up there that carrying some quarter sticks or M80 fireworks and lighting one off if I feell a bear is getting to close works quite nicely.
Plus conservation would rather you through a loud firework of some kind than shoot any day.
I met rangers up there that carried fire crackers for just that purpose.
The only problems with using fireworks are that you must stop and make sure that the fireworks do not start a fire after thrown, and second the best bet is for you to leave the area soon after the fireworks are thrown.
Because, believe it or not, as hunter have found in Alaska. Bears are attracked to loud shots, as they think they can get a free meal provided by a hunter if they can make it to the location in time.
I used bear spray one time with difficulty and you have to spray from a distance with the spray going down wind to give you time to exit.
There is also a method of slapping your hands one on the back of the other that signals a bear in their body language that you are standing your ground and most times a bear will back off.
I learned the slap from a Ranger.
The best way though is make peace with your maker if you think none of the above will work.
But, I had a great time and only encountered five griz on the shoreline that had no real interest in eating human for lunch or my spray that day would never had stopped one of those giants.
You have a better chance of being killed in a drive by in Chicago than haaving a run in with a bear. Relax

fire arm for bears

– Last Updated: Jan-04-09 11:29 AM EST –

most knowledgable people recomend a 12 guage pump shotgun, like a Remington 870 with magnum slug shells--the effective range is limited to 50--100 yards but doesn't really matter because you are not hunting bears but are carrying it for self defense against a bear attack. Some large caliber handguns may be effective too but there are legal hassles involved and the power of even the largest pistol is less than that of the 12 gauge.

Readin’ all dis here baar talk
gives me a grin… granted, not grizz baars but ah’ gots so many black baars waltzin’ through me property all de time (an’ yup, ah’ live in Joisey right on the edge of a State Forest about 25 miles as de crow flies fro’ New York City) an’ ah’ never had any problem wit (yet) dem critters exceptin’ dat dems sure do like ta poop in my yard an’ actually had one climb up on me deck an’ lay down a dump.

Ah’ been as close as 25 feet ta a few dat jus’ took one look at dis here polecat an’ wandered off. De only time ah’ got “concerned” waar when ah’ rounded de corner ta come down me driveway an’ low an’ behold a sow an’ two cubs waar walking up de driveway. Figgered ah’ wuz a gon’na be a baar turd shortly, ah’ jus’ stood thaar, they stopped fer a few seconds an’ then proceeded ta walk right past me (about 50 feet away) an’ inta de woods. Ran inta de house ta grab me camera but too late, all ah’ got waar a couple of baar ass shots. Me first surprise encounter wit a baar waar in Glacier Bay (Bartlett Cove) in Alaska, thaar we stood on an overgrown trail through cow parsnips - eyein’ each other fer a minute. De black baar must’a got a whiff of yer’s truly an’ high-tailed (kin not blame it one bit, either). Got dat filmed on me video camera, too.

Now gittin’ back ta de point… jus’ in case ah’ do have a canister of pepper spray by each exterior door of me house.

Fat Elmo

Black bears . . .
. . . are more likely to see you as a source of protein.

We had six bear attacks

– Last Updated: Dec-04-08 6:21 PM EST –

last Summer here in Ak....If you are not familiar w/firearms I suggest a shotgun that you have put about 50 rounds through to become somewhat familiar and bear spray...Many people travel the bush w/out any firearms. Several years ago an experienced couple traveling in ANWR (up north in the artic)were killed while sleeping in their tent, they had a rifle with them...It's a personal call as to what you carry or not...I carry a gun (my sleeping pill)and have lots of experience with bears and firearms...Getting a permit to carry a rifle in Canada is as easy as filling out the paper work and paying a fee...P. S. I'm talkin Grizzly bears here..I run into many blackies Spring and Fall and 99% of the time they run like rabbits..