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Probabilities and perspective: what about protection from wild animals?

Probabilities and perspective: what about protection from wild animals?

I hope everyone had a great Christmas weekend!

Despite the holiday (or perhaps because of it), I got a lot of email this weekend. One of them asked a question that comes up every so often, and my answer to it has changed over the years.

The question is usually something akin to “I’d like a gun for protection against dangerous animals (bear, cougar) while out hiking. What do you suggest?”

In the past I’d have answered with a run-down of the best calibers for use against large animals, but over the years (and particularly after a stint doing search-and-rescue work) my answer has changed dramatically.

What do I recommend these days? A course in wilderness first aid, a course in land navigation, and a course in multi-environment survival. Those are a far better use of your limited resources than a frickin’ “bear gun”!

The fact is that attacks from dangerous animals in the U.S. are quite rare (and unprovoked attacks even rarer.) Inhabitants of suburbia worry about bears in the woods, but fatal bear attacks are incredibly uncommon in this country. According to bearplanet.org, there were two in this country in 2009: one occurred when a woman intervened in a fight between a couple of cubs (gross stupidity), while the other occurred when a ‘pet’ bear attacked its owner (more stupidity.)

How about 2008? There was one: an attack by a trained grizzly against its handler. 2007? Two. 2006? One.

Cougar attacks in the U.S. are even rarer: one in 2008, none in 2007, 2006, or 2005, one in 2004, none between 2003 and 2000, and one in 1999.

In contrast, there were 21 deaths due to lightning strikes in just the first half of 2010! I’d be willing to bet that most of the folks worrying about ‘bear guns’ haven’t yet learned proper behavior during a thunderstorm.

Your chances of getting injured or lost in the woods are much higher than the risk of being attacked by bears or cougars. Learning how to use a map and compass (your GPS is useless without charged batteries and a knowledge of how to use it) or how to survive a night alone in the woods is far more valuable than spending hard-earned money on a gun with limited purpose. Learning how to treat injuries in the backcountry is incredibly important, because what amounts to an inconvenience when you’re near medical facilities can become life threatening when you’re miles from your car (or a reliable cell signal.) Knowing what caliber will stop a black bear pales in comparison to knowing how to treat shock.

It’s a good bet that most (if not all) of the people asking the gun question haven’t yet attended to these more likely and thus more important things. SInce everyone’s resources are limited, doesn’t it make sense to spend yours preparing for the most probable risks?

Don’t let armchair fantasies dictate your priorities.

That’s how I currently answer the question of the best gun for vicious animals. In the future I may start asking for a training resumé and a survival kit inventory before I answer!

-=[ Grant ]=-

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On December 27, 2010

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