PACK YOUR BEAR SPRAY!
It’s been a record year for bear activity in the parks this year, and Glacier National Park has been no exception. The Many Glacier area of the park is especially prone to bear activity, and this summer has seen a plethora of bear sightings and a few bluff charges. For locals, there’s not much alarm, as this is part of life here, but to visitors and new residents, it is an eye-opener for sure. To help newcomers and visitors understand how to be safe in the outdoors in Montana, the link below offers some great advice regarding bears and how to use bear spray. I carry it always, and although I’ve never had to deploy it, I have had it out and ready several times, including last week while hiking in Many Glacier. A friend and I were about a mile from Bullhead Lake when about 25 people came at us, stating there was a bear in the brush and they were afraid to continue. I unclipped the safety on my bear spray, held it ready, and we all continued as a group, making lots of noise, singing, and keeping our eyes out. There was no sign of the bear, and we all made it safely to our destination.
If we had to turn around every time there was a bear sighted on a trail, we’d rarely finish a trip, but please take note that there are times to continue down a trail with a bear around, and times not to. If there’s a bear on a carcass on the trail, turn around! No question on that one. If you encounter a sow and cubs, give them a wide berth or turn around. If the sow, or any bear you come across, is behaving stressed at all (huffing, clacking their teeth, swinging their head side to side, swiping at the ground), definitely do not continue down the trail. If there’s a bear quietly grazing a safe distance off the trail, it’s worth determining your comfort/safety level, and deciding if continuing on with caution or turning around is the best choice for you. Using your common sense in these situations will keep you on the right track, and out of harm’s way. As an example, I was biking Going To The Sun Road a few weeks ago and encountered two bears just off the road, at two separate locations. The first bear had a group of bikers and hikers stopped, as they were afraid to pass. Happening upon the scene, my friend and I saw the bear quietly grazing, fully aware of the people and not a bit ruffled. We choose to pass him while speaking softly and maintaining a full view of where he was and his actions, which were peaceful and unconcerned. Did we have our bear spray ready, yep. You never know how a wild animal will act, so it’s always a calculated risk with bear spray back-up. We passed the bear with only a glance our way on his part, and he never stopped grazing. On the way back down the road, we encountered a second bear that I hadn’t noticed, until two other hikers waved me down. I was about 50’ from the bear, and they were walking up to take pictures of it. I glanced in the direction they were pointing, and immediately noticed the little bear was stressed, clacking his teeth and in obvious distress about the proximity of humans. I immediately got out of there and as I rode away told the hikers they’d better back up as the bear was stressed and could charge. Surprisingly, they kept getting close to him and I rounded the corner, not wanting to see what happened. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and leave a stressed animal alone. As I always say, this is not a petting zoo out here, and the smallest bear can do a lot of damage in a short time, so be respectful.
Carrying bear spray and having a little education on how to read aggressive or stressed bear behavior are simple ways to keep yourself safe, so please take a moment to watch the videos embedded in the link, so you understand how to use bear spray properly.
Stay safe out there, and have a blast!