Guns and Gear

Hoober: Grizzly Bears And Pavlov’s Dogs

Grizzly (Credit: Shutterstock)

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By Sam Hoober

People who live in areas with a population of bruins will often get themselves a “bear gun” in case they have a run-in with an unsympathetic ursine. Bears have sold a boatload of 10mm and .44 Magnum pistols, and a few have actually been used on them.

Not that there’s no reason to.

A camper was recently killed by a grizzly bear near Ovando, Mont., a small town near the state capital of Helena and close to the Bob Marshall Wilderness, which made national headlines.

Typically, no more than three people are killed per year by grizzly bears in the United States and fewer than five in North America in total, as Canada has some too. Fatal black bear attacks occur, too, usually with about the same or lesser frequency.

While it does happen, it’s also not uncommon for no fatal bear attacks to occur in any given year.

However, the recent incident in Montana does highlight one pattern that is known to influence the frequency of grizzly bear attacks, as well as that of black bears.

You might be asking why the heck this guy is blathering on about bears, rather than the typical concealed carry stuff.

Glad you asked!

There are 4 states with known populations of grizzly bears (Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming) and two with purported populations. Washington state has a transient population in the northeast and there are some rumors of sightings in Colorado.

More than 20 states have black bears, and they are on both coasts. Heck, a black bear was even in “The Sopranos.”


Point being, one of these species is probably not too far away from you. Since concealed carry is all about being concerned with threats to life and safety, you may have to think about four-legged ones rather than two-legged ones.

Again, the good news is bear attacks on humans are rare for starters; fatal ones even more so. But part of being aware of threats is understanding any patterns, any macro trends that tell you when or where one might be more likely.

And when it comes to bears, there is a particular set of circumstances that causes them to be more likely or more frequent, outside of a mother protecting her cubs and an older bear hunting anything that’s close by.

Specifically, it’s when bears come to associate people with food.

In the Montana case, the victim was killed in a campsite. The suspected bear was seen wandering in and out of campsites, looking for something to eat.

Grizzly bears are a protected species outside of Alaska; hunting is not allowed, and bears are only killed if or when they become a problem bear and cannot be relocated elsewhere.

The federal government has been participating in efforts to help the population recover to the extent that they can; the grizzly bear was extirpated from more than 90 percent of its range as Europeans colonized and Euro-Americans expanded further westward.

Recovery efforts have been slowly succeeding but as more bears come into the world, they are going to live in closer proximity to humans, especially since Montana and Idaho are popular destinations for refugees from California.

So what’s the point?

Bears aren’t a problem in the city, and in the wilderness they tend to spook easily and wander off, unless you basically appear out of a bush in front of them.

However, as the suburbs spread out even further into the rural/wildnerness interchange, that means more bears are going to be in contact with humans. When they associate us with food, that’s when the problems start.

A California vacationer shot a black bear in Meyers, south of Lake Tahoe, after the bear broke into their home. The bear was found wounded, and was euthanized by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The bear was inside the home looking for food, as she was found in the kitchen.

This was just weeks after a bear and her cubs enjoyed some time at the lake amongst the swimmers in the same area.

A black bear was shot and killed in Norman, Okla. in May after climbing a tree and charging wildlife officers after being tranquilized and falling out of the tree. Norman is a suburb of Oklahoma City; it’s close to a wildlife management area but is hardly what you’d call a rural area.

Point being that while the actual bear danger out there is not rampant – they aren’t lurking behind every tree or bush waiting to pounce – it’s that it is getting more significant.

Something to…


…in mind.

Ever have any bear encounters? Sound off in the comments.

Sam Hoober is a hunter and shooter based in the Inland Northwest.