$0.00 0 items

No products in the cart.

An Alaskan Hunter’s Thoughts on Fear of Bears

Moriah Humphries,
April 5, 2023

The public point of view on bear safety and fear around bears, even among fellow hunters, has always been an interesting phenomenon to me. It was at the age of seven when I saw my first Grizzly Bear and my first Black Bear in the wild. My dad believed in starting us young and had decided I was old enough to sit with him in the bear stand. Although I didn’t realize the significance of it at the time, my mom trusted my dad and decided to let him haul me into the bear woods. I distinctly remember three parts of the first hunts but not in any particular order. One was riding on the back of my dad’s Arctic Cat 500, clutching the bars and trying hard not to fall off, or jumping off when we got stuck so he could wrestle the big beast of a four-wheeler back onto hard ground (I learned to operate a winch from a very young age.). I also remember getting into the “stand” (which was a piece of plywood straddling logs that were ratchet strapped to various opportunistic trees about eight feet off the ground) and my dad handing me a notebook and some crayons to color and draw with. The last, but not least, thing that I remember from those first trips is seeing my first Black Bear and Grizzly Bear.  

Captured from the authors trail camera: a massive boar nicknamed Samson compared to a 55 gallon drum.

I don’t remember having any sense of fear when I saw either of the first two bears, and I was probably no more than ten yards from either bear when they had come in. From the age of seven and on, I do not believe there has been a bait season that I haven’t been in a bear stand at least once. Doing some quick math, I don’t believe that I’ve spent less than five hundred hours sitting in the bear stand and it may be as many as one thousand, but I never logged my time, so I don’t know for sure. In those many hours, a decent percentage of the time has been watching bears eat and do bear stuff. They are a lot like dudes, they eat, scratch their butts, sleep, and they mate.

Walking into baits with black bears is uneventful most of the time. Usually they move off, let you climb your stand and come back in to continue gorging on the delicious offering you have provided. Keep in mind that I said usually. Remember, they are like dudes and don’t always appreciate dinner being interrupted by some loser. I have known of times when a Black Bear forces a hunter to back off their bait simply because that’s the way they wanted to walk. Approaching a bait with a Grizzly on it can be a whole different story, they don’t always just move off peacefully. Many times, you will hear a loud snapping or popping sound. It sounds exactly like what it is. They will pop their teeth together to warn you of their presence. I have walked into baits many times and heard a less than cordial Grizz warning me that he didn’t want to share the evenings victuals. Most of the time they will move off and let you enter the bait, but on occasion, they will bluff charge or circle you while popping their teeth as you walk in.

One year I went into a bait that had nothing but Grizzlies on it at the end of a season to clean it up. As my habit is, I carried my Marlin 1895 SBL guide gun, which is chambered in 45-70 Government with a hot hard-cast bear load from HSM in the chamber. Incidentally, it’s the same rifle Chris Pratt carries in the movie Jurassic World and is listed on Marlin’s website as appropriate for hunting T-Rex. It was the middle of the day, and I was only there to clean up not to hunt. I approached the bait making noise, and even shouting, “Hey bear!” as to let any bears know that I was there so I didn’t spook them, as that is a very good way to get charged. I didn’t see or hear any bears, did the clean-up, and left. Later I reviewed the trail-cam footage and discovered that there indeed had been bears on the bait eating the last of the food minutes before I walked into view. There were two fully grown, adult Grizzly Bears less than one hundred yards from me without my knowledge.

Moriahs arsenal of choice when walking into close quarters bear country.

I have yet to feel fear or anxiety when in, or reflecting on, any of these situations. Fear is a funny thing; I was pushed to overcome any fear of heights at a young age by my dad and for that I am very thankful. My early experience with the cousins of the biggest predator in North America, I believe, has attributed the most to my lack of fear. And yes, the 45-70 loaded with 430grn hard-cast bullets that I carry as a bear stopper helps a lot with my peace of mind.  All of this, however, does not mean that I lack caution around bears. Indeed, I have a hyper sense of awareness when in bear country, and the moment I hear or see sign of a nearby bear I go into bear mode. Bear mode is what I call the hyper sense of awareness, focus, vigilance, and logic that take over while I shut out anything that doesn’t matter when I encounter, or think I may come across, a bear in the wild.

A bear that can be seen can be read. If his nose is in the air, he is wondering who and what you are. If he is looking from you to something else, he might be about to walk off, or SHE might be checking to see if you are a threat to her cubs. Hair raised and head up is usually a sign of aggression. If I can’t see the bear, I do my best to move to a location where I have good visibility between me and the bear, but I do not turn my back. Soldiers like to use the adage “front toward enemy” off the claymore mine. In the woods I’m going to change “enemy” to “bear”. This isn’t an article about what to do in a confrontation with a bear, but if you take anything from it, let it be this; “front toward bear.” There is almost no situation where running is the right response. Stand your ground and keep the bear in sight. The only situation I can think of where running may be the right response is discussed in Episode 2 of The Northern Hunter Podcast with Clint Adams, the man who impaled a Brown Bear with his Ice Axe. In this unique, but not impossible situation, running allowed the guide to buy time for the others to respond to the immediate threat of a charging Brown Bear.

I’ve heard from many a hunter that I’m crazy to hunt bears with a bow, and there has been a lot of fear expressed to me by those who have not encountered bears. I’m not talking about caution; I mean fear and an unwillingness to even face the thought of encountering a bear in the wild. This anxiety is purely based on unfounded and unknown facts about bears in general from Hollywood and the media. Either they are portrayed as a danger that no one has the capacity or ability to face; or worse, they are painted as a fuzzy, furry, and lovable critter you should feed and pet. Hopefully by this point in the article you see the fallacies in both portrayals. Bears are awesome creatures. They are dangerous and can be very unpredictable; but with the right attitude, education, and experience there is no reason to fear encountering a bear.

There's nothing like feeling the accomplishment of a successful hunt! A prized hide and skull, meat for the family and a worn down pair of front shocks on the wheeler.

 The best thing a hunter, or hiker, in Alaska can do is to prepare their mind and plan what to do when encountering a bear. One should read about them, learn how to read them, and learn when to use various contingencies for when the bear changes his attitude. If the thought of encountering a bear in the wild breeds fear and anxiety in a person’s mind, they should stay home until they learn enough to change fear to clarity of thought and resolve. Caution, attention to the sounds of the woods, a hyperawareness of one’s surroundings, and logical problem solving based on learned factors is how we should navigate the wilds of this great state. The best protection is to carry a gun that someone is comfortable with. They need to learn it and plan on when and how to use it because a gun never shot is about as good as not having one at all.

© Copyright 2022 - The Northern Hunter - All Rights Reserved
envelope linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram