Now, if you're thinking, "Bear attack, what are the odds?" the answer is: going up all the time. In fact, there are actually more bears now than at any other time in centuries. In North America alone there are now more than 750,000 black bears and more than 55,000 grizzlies (including brown bears) and their populations are still increasing. This is a tremendous environmental success story, but it also means those of us who like to trek off the pavement have to prepare for encounters.
When you happen upon a bear in the forest, you've stumbled into a test reminiscent of that found in The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber (if you don't know this short story by Ernest Hemingway, acquaint yourself; it's manly as hell). Set in Africa, it tells the tale of Francis Macomber who, while on safari, runs from a charging lion, an act his wife perceives as cowardly. In fact she loses so much respect for him she sleeps with the professional hunter guiding them. Over the years I've been false charged by black bears twice and have had quite a few grizzlies growl and slap their jaws at me. The key to staying manly in such primal moments is knowing what to do and of course, what not to do. Here are a few pointers.
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"Look, a bear. Let's go feed it."
"Oh, those rangers are always hanging bear warning signs. I can just ignore them." Last year a man was killed in Wyoming who did this.
"I'll just leave this sandwich right next to my sleeping bag in case I want a midnight snack."
"Bear attack? The odds are greater that I'll be hit by lightening." Actually, when you go where bears are, your odds increase. By comparison, if you like whitewater kayaking, then your odds of drowning are not the national average.
"I'll just leave my can of bear spray in the car for safe keeping." The cans are aerosols. Their contents will expand in a hot car and might even explode.