Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bear Spray - Don't Leave Home Without It

     “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes your stronger. Except bears. Bears just kill you.” 

       I don’t have a lot of great bear stories. If you want great bear stories, read Tom Reed’s book Great Wyoming Bear Stories. Tom’s a great friend to 3EM and his first book is the best compilation of legendary bear stories anywhere. The truth is we don’t spend a ton of time in great bear country. Our home country is no more than average black bear habitat and we only see an occasional grizzly. But because I travel a lot and I’m from Wyoming, people ask me a lot about bears – especially grizzlies. I tell them a few stories from my meager collection.

 My favorite comes from one of the toughest backcountry hands I know, my old friend Gary Amrine. I worked with Gary for years, and I don’t know anyone who is physically or mentally tougher than this guy. He tells the story of hunting elk one year in northwestern Wyoming. Gary almost always hunts afoot, and he covers a ton of country. So it was late one day when he came out of the snowy timber to a creek with a meadow on the far side. In the meadow was a nice bull with a large harem. They had no clue he was there, so Gary had plenty of time to set up and make a nice shot on the bull. The rifle roared, the bull dropped and the other elk scattered like quail. “Mission accomplished,” thinks Gary, and he walks over to the creek and scrambles down the cutbank to take off his boots, socks and pants to cross the stream. He wades the creek and puts his clothes back on, then scrambles up the other bank to the meadow. It’s getting to be sunset now, but when he gets to the spot where the elk is supposed to be…no elk. The bull that was supposed to be dead was hit hard, but had obviously gotten up and headed for parts unknown. With the sun going down and dark coming on, Gary starts walking concentric circles from where he thought the bull fell, looking for a blood trail in the snow. It’s no small task, and there are a jillion elk tracks complicating things. It’s almost dark by the time he finds the blood trail, and he follows it by the light of his Mini-Mag flashlight. Not far along the trail, he notices the light from his little flashlight beginning to fail, but he stays doggedly on the bull’s track. On he goes, with the light getting dimmer and dimmer. It’s darker than the inside of a moose now, but he keeps trailing the wounded bull with the light getting yellower and yellower. Finally, thirty feet in front of him, he sees the bull lying dead. And at that precise moment, two things happen: A huge, furry, dish-shaped face rises up from the other side of the bull and says, “WOOF”. And the light goes out.       

        This one story alone is why I carry bear spray when we’re in bear country. But there are a thousand like it, and as grizzlies expand their range into other places in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, there will be more close encounters. I am a believer in bear spray. I have heard some people say they feel more comfortable with a firearm. I generally ask them if they can shoot well while peeing their pants. I don’t want to find out – and I darn sure don’t want to find out over a dead elk carcass in the dark.

Bear spray – don’t leave home without it.



  1. I took Mindi hiking in the gallatins last November... We took a bear bell and believe me Mindi noticed that everyone else on the trail had bear spray strapped to their side, chest or head.

  2. There was a time when Mindi was completely safe - she could outrun you easily. So could the boys. But the new, leaner and meaner Preston needs bear spray. And it works great on those dogs that get a rush out of chasing runners!