Handguns and bears

41 Ounces of Prevention
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The adage we all learned as youngsters — “An Ounce of Prevention is worth A Pound of Cure” — always struck me as sound advice. Being something of pessimist, it stood to reason that adding a few more ounces of shootin’ iron might be advantageous if circumstances ever went so far south, so fast, that there is only time to react.

Hiking, camping, fishing a nice stream — all of these endeavors put people into environments where they’re not in charge. Those of us who grew up in outdoors families understood this from early childhood, which is why you don’t see me leaving the pavement without at least a sidearm.

Sure, there may be a campground loaded with well-intentioned folks just around the bend of the river but when one decides it’s a nice morning to go wet a fly or drown a worm, all kinds of things — many of them bad — can happen in the distance between you and that campground.

I recently scanned the U.S. Forest Service website for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest while taking a few days off for vacation. What jumped off the screen in big letters with an image of a black bear was a message which began “Bear Warning.” Since dad didn’t sire any morons, and mom didn’t raise any fools and I only “look” stupid, I considered myself warned. When I head for an area to spend some leisure time, along often goes my Ruger Blackhawk in .41 Magnum. Empty it weighs, coincidentally, 41 ounces according to the Ruger website. So, my holstered companion went along for the ride.

Black Bears Rule

Back when I was in my mid-teens one of the popular hook-and-bullet periodicals ran a lengthy article how the previous summer in Alaska was marked by several bear attacks. Nasty encounters with grizzly bears are hardly new occurrences, but what made this article different, as I recall, was that it dealt primarily with black bear problems.

More than ten years ago, a man walking his dog near his vacation cabin at Lake Wenatchee — a popular spot for Washington recreationalists — was mauled by a black bear. It was a September encounter, when bears have been fattening up on ripe berries, and at this time of year, we’re talking about hundreds of pounds of pure fury if they’re grouchy.

There have been reports of black bears killing people, but it is such a rare event one might consider it almost non-existent. There’s nothing to fear — until it happens.

When I was 16, I hiked along the east side of Mount Rainier National Park with a couple of friends. First night on the trail, some people in the next camp started yelling, and when we rushed to see what was happening, a rather burly bruin was making its way back into the brush. Luckily, nobody was hurt, but such encounters can turn bad in a heartbeat.

New Jersey has seen its share of black bear problems in recent years. In states where hunting has been curtailed, bears have occasionally passed the “nuisance” stage and in some cases have become genuine problems, especially when family dogs are involved.

All of this has convinced me to take nothing for granted and while it’s nice to hear from the experts insisting one needs only to do “this” or “that” if they encounter a black bear in the woods, there is always the exception to the “general rule” and I don’t plan to be the exception. Thus, my “several ounces of prevention” personal safety rule — call it an insurance policy.

A .41 Magnum, 210-grain JHP can leave the muzzle of my Blackhawk at more than 1,500 fps, with more than 1,100 ft. lbs. of energy. My personal handloads aren’t quite as stout, but my Blackhawk has accounted for two of the three deer I dispatched with handguns, so it just might make an impression on the rare bear that gets up on the wrong side of bed some morning.

They’re Still Wild

The scientific name for the black bear is Ursus americanus and it is the smallest of the North American bear species. “Small,” in this case, is a relative term because some of these animals can weigh several hundred pounds.

Years ago one of my acquaintances killed a 400-pounder using a .45-caliber pistol near a community dump. While we like to think bears would stick to the forests, thanks to human encroachment into wildlife habitat, bears have been attracted to populated areas because there is food available. Black bears are omnivores, meaning they eat a variety of stuff, including meat. They are known to kill deer fawns and elk calves.

While they might seem lethargic and almost docile, I’ve seen black bears move with amazing speed. Encounter a sow with a cub and you might be in for an exciting experience. I once did and it was. Fortunately, I was seated in my truck at the time, and it wasn’t in Yellowstone Park.

Whatever you may have heard, black bears are wild animals, with the emphasis on wild. The term means many things to many people but in my book it translates to unpredictable and possibly dangerous. Elk live across the road from my house. They’ve dined on apple trees in my yard. Neighbors up and down the road like having them but we’re all cognizant of the differences between elk and family pets. Ditto bears; there is at least one known in my rural neighborhood, which means there are probably two.

So, you won’t see me storing food in my tent — or on my porch, and the trash cans are secure. I make sure to wipe and put away any greasy frying pans in camp. And if you spot some fellow on the bank of a river with a sixgun and cartridge belt wrapped around his hip waders, it just might be yours truly. Don’t be alarmed — I’m just cautiously wading through life.

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