Alaska Bear Safety in the Backcountry
By Marcus Weiner
Alaska bear safety is important knowledge to have to be fully prepared before going on fishing and hunting. Fishing and hunting in Alaska is among the finest in the nation. Salmon, trout and a wide range of resident species are abundant and grow to impressive sizes. Moose, caribou, blacktail deer, mountain goat and Dall sheep, to name a handful of the more popular game species, are found across the Great Land and are pursued by hunters from all over the world.
One common theme that both anglers and hunters face in Alaska is the large and healthy population of brown- and black bears.
Unlike Polar bears, who are apex carnivores and will hunt a person as quickly as they’d hunt a seal or whale, black- and brown (grizzly) bears are omnivores and prefer to stay away from people. Fishing and hunting in their domain is usually without incident and by following smart Alaska bear safety practices, can be made even more predictable. Here’s a rundown on some of the basics to keep in mind.
- 1. Alert the bears of your presence. Bears who know that you are in the area will generally seek to avoid you. Make ample noise while hiking. Some people like to shout out “Hey Bear” on a regular timetable, others wear bells (www.sabrered.com/pepper-spray/bear-bell-magnetic-silencer), others sing or just talk loudly. By alerting bears to your presence, you have a better chance of avoiding a confrontation with a sow with cubs, or a bear guarding a kill. This is an important step of Alaska bear safety you should practice no matter what activity you participating in.
- 2. Keep a clean camp. Bears are opportunistic and will take the path of least resistance to find a meal. They also have good noses. Don’t leave food around camp, store food in bear-proof containers, and don’t leave trash around. The Frontiersman INSIDER Bear Safe (www.sabrered.com/pepper-spray/frontiersman-insider-bear-safe) is a good choice for food storage. It is scent proof and water tight. Wash dishes away from camp, and burn garbage when possible, after cleaning off any food residue.
- 3. Cook away from where you camp. It’s a smart idea to make your meals away from where you will be sleeping. During float trips, we’ll stop for dinner, then jump back in the raft and continue downriver a mile or two to set up camp.
- 4. Avoid getting too close to bears. Bears are wild animals, can be unpredictable and don’t have the best eyesight. Don’t invade their personal space trying to get photos or fall into the trap of thinking that you are at the zoo. Give bears a wide berth and the respect they deserve and they will usually react in kind.
- 5. Never feed a bear. Bears that get fed by people will come back for more. If you are fishing and a bear jumps into the river trying to get your fish, break it off and back away.
- 6. Minimize hiking in the dark. Bears are generally more active at first and last light and in the dark, so do your level best to avoid hiking in the dark. Not only will there be more bear activity, but you will not be able to locate and avoid a bear as readily as you can in the daylight.
- 7. Don’t run from bears. This will generally incite a predatory reaction and they will chase. Stand your ground, avoid direct eye contact but keep an eye towards the bear so you can see how it reacts, and slowly back away after the bear stops moving towards you.
- 8. If a bear takes your game, let him have it. Don’t challenge a bear who has claimed your kill. It’s not a fight you want to start, and discretion is the better part of valor.
- 9. Learn how to use bear spray. The most effective bear repellent, should you get in a situation where you need to use it, is bear spray. A firearm is also chosen by many, but in the heat of the moment, bear spray will be more effective for most people. One of our go-to brands is Frontiersman (www.sabrered.com/bear-spray). It provides maximum stopping power with a 2% capsaicinoids content, produces a 35-foot spray which is the maximum in the industry, releases 1.84 ounces per second of spray to provide maximum bear protection and can be bought with a hip and chest holster to make access easy. It provides the greatest protection at the safest distance of 35 feet, by rapidly deploying a large barrier to protect you from a charging bear. We recommend the 9.2-ounce canister and suggest that you buy the practice canister so that you are intimately familiar with how to deploy the spray (www.sabrered.com/pepper-spray/frontiersman-bear-spray-92-oz-practice-spray).
Brown- and black bears in Alaska are commonplace, so it’s important to practice Alaska bear safety. Maulings and fatalities are extremely rare. Use these precautions in bear country and you will further decrease the chances of a negative interaction. Alaska is filled with amazing sights, as well as a variety of incredible and diverse animals, and it’s a wonderland for the outdoorsman. Be sure to carry Frontiersman bear spray with you on your next adventure in Alaska.