A study conducted by BYU professor Tom Smith has generated a rather surprising result. He studied reported bear attacks in Alaska from 1883 to 2009 and said the outcomes of 269 attacks were similar regardless of whether a weapon was fired or not.
“We look at those who never fire a shot and they had about the same ratio of injuries as those who did fire. We found no difference in the outcome. We did find a difference in the outcome for bears though; 172 were killed when firearms were used.” (Source: Herald Extra)
Of particular concern for the safety of people is the false sense of security carrying a gun provides, because it may lead to a belief a gun is all that is necessary for defense, and cause a disregard for learning important things like the appropriate and inappropriate behavior when encountering a wild bear. Some of the things that are advised when walking in bear habitat are:
- constantly make noise to prevent startling a bear, which is one of the main causes of bear attacks
- don’t walk in known bear country alone
- don’t feed bears or knowingly camping in areas with bears that have been fed, and stay out of areas where it is known mother bears with cubs frequent.
- don’t run when a bear charges
If you still think a gun might be useful, consider the fact that some people can’t aim and fire accurately when being charged by a bear due to fear, which may cause trembling or a loss of concentration. Also, guns sometimes jam, or gun operators fumble with the safety to switch it off, and lose their best chance to fire. The BYU research found about one-fifth of the gun carriers couldn’t bring themselves to fire at a bear that was close to them, because they didn’t want to kill it.
With pepper spray on the other hand, people had no hesitancy to use it. And bears may learn to stay away from humans if they associate the tremendous pain of pepper spray in the eyes with them. It seems the most sensible approach is simply to stay out of their territory altogether and leave them in peace.
Image Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service