Seven months in bear country and I’m still breathing

by Kim on September 17, 2014 · 25 comments

My bear phobia has really loosened its grip this year. Back in 2012 when Brian and I were hiking and sleeping in Bear County I was constantly on guard. During a backpacking trip through Grizzly Country I laid wide-eyed and panicked through those long middle-of-the-night hours when a visit from a chipmunk sounds like a bison lumbering through camp. In Yellowstone, where grizzly attacks happen almost every year, I refused to camp altogether.

But one can spend only so many nights in Bear Country before it starts to lose its panic-inducing murderer-on-the-loose grip on the psyche. This year, we’ve spent too many nights in Bear Country to count, including a week in the Smoky Mountains where this year’s bears are, according to the rangers, “young and highly aggressive” and a week in Glacier where a week before we arrived a man had to use Bear Spray and then shot a charging Grizzly.

“Our bears can and will break into cars,” the Park Ranger told us as we entered Yosemite National Park. Further reading of park materials taught me that they’ve also been known to roam around campsites trying the bear lockers to see if they’re latched property. That’s a fact I find both adorable and troubling.

So when Frontiersman asked if I’d be willing to review their Bear Spray I said yes because free bear spray. Plus, they said they’d send me a holster so I could wear it on my hip like a backcountry cowboy. Plus plus, Frontiersman is maximum strength and shoots at a range of 35-feet (others have a range of only 15-feet). It’s been field-tested in Alaska and Montana. I’m really glad I don’t have that job.

The bear spray was shipped to our hotel room and I emailed Frontiersman to let them know I’d received it. “I hope I don’t actually have to use it,” I wrote. “Let’s hope not!” they responded. I was glad we were on the same page about that.

Frontiersman Bear Spray

Though I slept with the bear spray next to me our first night in Yosemite I did not have to reach for it once. Our camp neighbors left their cook stove out overnight so I figured the bears would eat them first anyway.

The next day we hiked to Merced Grove in the western part of the park. At the trailhead was a hand-stapled warning that Mountain Lions have been spotted in the area. Among the not-so-useful tips on the flyer was this gem: “If a Mountain Lion attacks, FIGHT.” Personally, I’d prefer it not get to that point. “I wonder if you can use Bear Spray on Mountain Lions?” I asked Brian. He shrugged. “I don’t know but I’d be willing to try.”

We hiked to North Dome, Half Dome and Mono Pass. Signs at the trailheads warned of bears. As we hiked I’d make useful comments like, “If I were a bear, I’d hang out in that grassy meadow” and “I think I smell bear scat.” Brian would just roll his eyes. We passed many an hour this way.

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If I were a bear I would totally hang out here. 

After a few days my trusty Bear Spray began to feel a bit like an old friend or a practical piece of jewelry at the very least. We hiked and hiked but we did not see a bear. I suppose that’s a good thing because I’d feel kind of bad pepper spraying a bear in her own environment. It’d be like if I came home after a day of work and Brian pepper sprayed me just for walking in the door. I told Brian that and he said I was anthropomorphizing. I tend to do that.

My favorite places in the world are the places that bears call home. Anyone who spends time in Bear Country, especially in Grizzly Country, should carry bear spray. It’s the responsible thing to do. While I’m happy I didn’t have to use my bear spray I’m glad that I was prepared in case of a bear encounter. The way I see it, if anything happens to me in bear country it’s the price I pay for having access to these sacred wild spaces where animals larger than me still roam. Go outside, please, even where the bears live. Just be safe, smart and prepared.

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Frontiersman asked me to review their Bear Spray and I was happy to do it. Frontiersman meets all Health Canada and EPA guidelines so no lasting harm will befall any animal that is sprayed with Frontiersman Bear Spray. The 7.2 ounce canister with holster retails for $44.99.

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