Fishing in Alaska Bear Safety
Alaska has some of the largest bear populations on the planet, and every year people in Alaska are attacked by bears. Remember that when you are out fishing in Alaska you are in bear country. The bears depend on the same rivers for food that you fish in, and you are competing with Bears for the same food supply of salmon when you go fishing.
Image courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service
Alaska Bear Attacks - Don't be a statistic:
Bears attack humans in Alaska every year, and statistics show that attacks can occur both in remote locations, and right inside cities and towns. People have been attacked by bears in parks, neighborhoods, towns, campgrounds, remote areas, and nearby rivers and lakes. Many people think "it wont happen to me," but the smart thing to do is to always safe safe and vigilant so that bear encounters never happen.
Bears attack people for a variety of reasons including being surprised, protecting cubs, protecting territory, protecting food, or sometimes believing that humans are prey. The best defense against a bear is avoiding bear contact in the first place.
Dangerous Bears, 10 ways to stay safe:
1. Fish with a group of friends. Bears are much less likely to approach a group of people, more eyes looking out mean better awareness, and a friend can help you out if a dangerous situation occurs, and things turn for the worst.
2. Carry some Bear Protection. Bear spray is a pretty good deterrent, and in some locations is the only protection you are permitted to carry. That being said, I would never want to be in wild bear country without a powerful firearm, just incase. You need to be sure it is a weapon with enough stopping power to drop a bear, this is not a time to bring along your .22 rifle or .30 pistol. Think BIG guns, with lots of mass and power in the projectile. Shotguns with slugs, high powered hunting rifles, or large caliber high powered handguns are really the only options you should consider.
3. CARRY the Bear Protection. Many times mauled bodies of bear attack victims are found with guns or bear spray just a short distance away from them. They never got to them to use them. A gun or can of bear spray in the car will do you no good in bear attack situations. If you can not get to it within a second or two it may be too late.
4. Don't Tempt the Bears. You must always keep your area clean and keep your fish in the water or inside a closed airtight container or cooler. Bears have an amazing sense of smell, and will home in on your location if they smell food or blood. Cut a gill and bleed your fish in a shady spot IN THE WATER and then place it in an airtight cooler. This way you are less likely to put out the scent of FISH FEAST, attracting hungry bears from the entire area bears right to your spot.
5. Don't Leave out food. never leave open food containers lying around you camp or fishing area. This basically goes right along with #4, you should always avoid doing things that will attract bears to your area.
6. Be aware of your surroundings. You don’t want a bear surprising you, and more importantly, you do not want to surprise a bear. Use your all your senses, especially your eyes and ears. Constantly scan the shoreline in both directions, look on the opposite bank and watch and listen behind you.
7. Be LOUD!!! Make plenty of noise. Make noise, talk in a loud voice, sing songs, play music, and be sure that bears know you are there. Bears usually want nothing to do with people, and many times a bear will avoid humans all together. Certain times of year though, bears need to fatten up for winter, and because of that bears in the summer and fall, will frequent a river to feed, even when humans are present.
8. If you see bears AVOID THEM! If a bear approaches your area from a distance, try to move (not run) away. If a bear is close to you or your group, you should STAND YOUR GROUND. Never, never, NEVER run away from a bear. Running can provoke a bears natural hunting and chasing instinct. If a bear is a good ways off, and coming in your general direction, moving away at a normal pace can often avoid bad bear contact. When you leave, be sure to take all your gear and especially you fish and food with you. If you leave fish or other food behind that bear will begin to associate fishing activity with an easy meal, and will become more dangerous to people.
9. Never harass, approach, or feed bears. This should go without saying but there are some idiots out there. Tourists sometimes try to get close enough to the cute cuddly bear cubs for a picture. Sometimes they think throwing food at the bear is acceptable. Mother bears will kill you to protect their cubs, and bears that have been fed are being programmed to attack people.
10. Protect yourself if necessary. Sometimes you
just have to stand your ground and protect yourself using any means
necessary. If a bear is focused on you, exhibits aggressive behavior, or
is otherwise posing a threat STAND YOUR GROUND. Talk to the bear in a
calm voice. If a bear continues to approach your area and gets too
close, it is time to use bear spray or fire a warning shot at the ground
or water in front of the bear.
Guns should never be used to make up for foolish behavior in bear country. Avoid getting into the situation. If you do have to defend yourself from an aggressive, attacking, or charging bear with a firearm you should shoot at the vital areas, just like you would if you were hunting. For those non hunters out their this means take shots at the CHEST (Heart and Lung). Be sure to take multiple shots… a wounded bear is even more dangerous, and con cover lots of ground injured and still kill you dead. This is not the time to 2nd guess yourself or to be shy, if you need to shoot you need to shoot to kill.
Any bear killed to protect yourself must be reported. In Alaska bears killed in defense of life or property are to be reported to the law enforcement or game wardens. They will make you take the bears skull and hide and turn it in. This may seem cumbersome, but it is to prevent people from illegally hunting bears and then profiting by taking the valuable skull and hide, while claiming it was self defense.
Bear contacts that require lethal defense are very rare. You should always try to avoid contact with a bear if possible. By following and practicing bear safety, you should be able to avoid ever having to shoot a bear in the first place. Good luck and stay safe out there.