There’s a sign posted at a park somewhere in British Columbia, Canada, that reads

I was in my mid-20s the first time I hunted in bear country. I don’t believe in the Hollywood propaganda that bears are evil creatures out for human blood. I also read widely on the outdoor pursuits and know that while they are mostly scared of humans and will retreat at the first scent of man, they can also be dangerous when hungry, scared or cornered. Worst, yet, separating a sow from her cubs.

I was escaping reality for a few days on the Appalachian Trail when a blackberry patch erupted in front of me and out shot a sow black bear followed by two cubs. I was more startled than scared until she stopped, some 20 yards in front of me, and stood up on her back legs. She stood in this way, looking directly at me, for what seemed like a full minute. Truth be told, it was probably more like a full second. I raised my arms and yelled, just like the thru-hiker’s manual told me and with a huff she dropped back down on all fours and headed out after her cubs.

It took a few minutes for my heart rate to return to normal. What if she had of charged? My hiking stick was no weapon. Nor was my three-inch Kershaw knife. In the years since I have encountered many more black bears in Appalachia and even a few grizzlies out west. The more I learn about them the less they scare me though I’d never turn my back on one.

A lot of big game hunters are forced to enter bear country to avoid the masses and chase after deer, elk, moose and even the bears themselves. It’s an inevitable part of the hunt. The precautions we take could mean the difference between an all-too-close encounter with a bear and safely avoiding their wrath - See The Revenant.

Hunting Safely in Bear Country

Bears will only attack if, as we mentioned, they are threatened, scared or really hungry and you’re covered in blood, guts and sinew from a recent kill. To avoid attacks, use bear spray rather than rely on a firearm. Purchasing a can of bear spray can save you a LOT of trouble later. When a bear decides to charge, it happens fast. There’s not a lot of time for the big game hunter to unshoulder a rifle and make a stopping shot. That’s a lot of pressure!

Bear spray doesn’t require precision aiming. Instead, it fans out and dilates the capillaries of the bear’s eyes and causes temporary blindness plus choking and coughing. This preventative screen will allow you ample time to retreat and the bear will recover from a shot of spray whereas a bullet is whole ‘nother story. If you shoot a bear out of season or without a tag, the Fish & Wildlife Service is going to have to come in and open an investigation. You can pretty much kiss your hunt goodbye when this happens as the law will become priority.

When Butchering an Animal

The thrill of the hunt comes in many different forms. One of the most appreciated by big game hunters is taking the time to recount the events that led to the kill. We like to stand around, take pictures, exchange hugs and give thanks. Then, we wield our knives and get to carving.

In the ideal situation, especially after nightfall, there are three people involved in the butchering process. One is behind the knife. Another is holding a flashlight for the butcher and a third is keeping an eye on the surrounding area with a can of pepper spray in his hand.

Switch every ten minutes or so if you’d like, just don’t let the perimeter guard get lackadaisical. Hunting in bear country can be dangerous, and few things will beat smell of blood in bringing the carnivores in search of an easy meal. A grizzly bear that hasn’t eaten in a few days likely won’t let a few two-legged creatures stand in his way of fresh meat. Again, HAVE bear spray. Once the butchering is complete and the meat is ready to pack out, get going.

It’s best to never make sudden movements when encountering a bear or, better yet, don’t run. Once it’s incapacitated from a good dose of bear spray, then you can light a shuck out of there. If you keep the canister in a handy place on your belt on pack, use good common sense and maintain situational awareness, then you’re never going to be in too much danger while hunting in bear country.