Janey’s got a gun

Because I know next to nothing about guns, hunting or general bush safety, but was about to take a trip to Williams Lake to buy a gun, I  decided to call a friend, Gary Shelton, who happens to be an avid hunter, an ex-hunting guide, an international expert on survival techniques and bear behavior, a renowned author, and a bush safety instructor extraordinaire. Gary is an extremely engaging speaker and I love listening to him speak; my mind paints images as he guides me through the forest of his knowledge.

I asked him about guns in general, and what he thought I should get that would meet my needs. “What you’re going to need is something that will not only shoot a deer or moose, but also be a bear defense weapon,” he said, and gave me a couple of options in styles and makes that he considered suitable for my requirements.

We talked some more about safety issues, my requirements, and the types and styles of guns he recommended. One particularly helpful suggestion was that whatever I get, I should have its stock cut down to meet my diminutive size; he suggested I try out one of his guns that he had cut down for his daughter. (I would not have thought that a gun could be customized in this way.)

Then, being a natural teacher, Gary talked about things to consider when hunting in the bush with someone–all to do with safety. He told me how the landscape of hunting has shifted in the last twenty years and described to me some of the changes in the legislation with respect to hunting and culling of animals. The result of this is an increase in the numbers of bears, particularly in our area: we now have the largest population of grizzly bears anywhere in the world, right outside our doors. I know this! I see them, or evidence of them, on a daily basis.

Gary also praised the bushman skills and hunting prowess of my friend Clarence, and declared: “You and Clarence should have your bear defense strategy all worked out beforehand.” Pardon me, but did you say beforehand? As if the need for a bear defense strategy is part of a lunch list: like, don’t forget your sandwich, cookies, and to take with you some water. Oh, and remember to bring along your bear defense strategy–you won’t want to be without that, if you get hungry.

“The landscape of hunting has changed here in the last twenty years,” Gary reminded me. “Because of the sheer increase in bear population, your chances of running into one have also increased significantly. Not only that: there are far more of them who are no longer afraid of humans.”

I asked him what the ‘bear defense strategy’ should look like and almost regretted it immediately: one  of you should be the lead (this should be the more experienced person), while the less experienced person should be prepared to follow the lead person’s direction. The back-up person is exactly  that: the back-up, ready to follow the lead person’s orders.

In a bear encounter, the second person should move 90 degrees to one side of the lead person (about 6 or 7 feet), so if the need to shoot is determined, neither of you are in the other’s line of sight. The lead person will make the call if there is a need to shoot, when to shoot, and if and when the back-up person should chamber a round. In other words, the lead person will gallantly step aside, calmly watch the horror unfold, and after a quiet but complex calculation say, ‘When.’ Meanwhile, the other person has ‘moved into position’, ‘squared off with the bear’ and is poised to shoot, waiting only for the signal. Oh, and if necessary, shoot well, for the love of god, and accurately–the last thing you want on your hands is a wounded, and therefore even more angry, bear.

It is important that your plan is discussed before going into the woods. It is of no use to start the discussions once the bear encounter situation has begun. The lead person will make the decision as to whether or not there is a need for defense and be making this decision based on the behaviour of the bear. This is very important, because there will be bear encounter situations that never require anyone to shoot the bear.

Of course, each situation will be different, and just because you have a plan does not mean the event will unfold precisely how you imagine it. The above description is of course, the ideal (if you can call a bear defense situation, ideal). However, there may be a situation where you cannot move to the side. In this case, the back-up person will not chamber a round. Under no circumstances should the back-up person (or anyone standing behind another) chamber a round–that is simply too dangerous.

Oh. My. God. These are not things I had considered when I committed myself to learning to hunt, or when I wrote my first happy little post by that name. Nor were they things Clarence had ever talked to me about, not even when out on our first hunt together. Then, I had presumed that if we came across a bear, or any dicey situation for that matter, it would be Clarence’s job to deal with it. My job would be to try not to pee myself, faint, or become hysterical and run rough-shod across the forest, prompting a merry little chase in which the bear would, no doubt, participate lustily.

“So,” I asked Gary, not sure I wanted to hear the answer, “will the gun you recommend be sufficient for this?” He listed the various merits of the guns he was recommending, and why. As politely as possible, I pressed him for a more precise answer: “Well [for the love of God!], which of the ones you have suggested is better for the ‘bear defense situation’, then?”

“Let me put it this way,” Gary said matter-of-factly. “When a bear defense situation goes down, you’re going to wish you both had Bazookas.”

Mental note to self, talk to Clarence!

In the end, I decided upon a Remington 700 series .280 rifle. Last night, Gary ‘pre-approved’ my rifle. What is more, he told me a whole bunch more about the rifle and listed off various merits not even the gun store salesmen revealed. All together, I did even better than I had thought. Now, I’m equipped to go hunting–and will be off for the next week or so!

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12 Comments

Filed under Animal issues, Funny stories, Hunting, Politicking with predators

12 responses to “Janey’s got a gun

  1. EJ

    Your blog is very interesting, and I enjoy reading about your farm. In fact, thanks to your sourdough post we will soon do a neighborhood sourdough workshop with a former baker.

    I wonder though about your description of a wounded bear as angry. Hurting, desperate, hungry, threatened, all things that a bear can feel in this situation. But anger?

    Why do I think this is important? Because assuming animals have feelings like this in this type of situations affects how we deal with/react to the situation.

    Maybe just semantics?

  2. EJ–glad to hear you are enjoying the blog, even more happy to hear it is spurring people into action!

    RE: the bear’s feelings

    You are spot on when you say that how we think about bears (and any animals for that matter) affects they way we humans treat them. I don’t think it is semantics that (maybe) separates us. In fact, you have sparked a very interesting discussion with your comment–and thank you for it.

    My question to you is, Why do you accept that a bear can feel the things you list (hurt, desperation, hunger, and threatened) and yet not accept they can feel angry?

  3. Holy cats! What a catch-22 you’re in. You have to walk quietly through the forest so that you might bag a moose, but therefore, might walk so quietly that you stumble upon a bear.
    I loved to hunt when I was younger, but the scariest thing I would encounter was a covey of quail that would jump at the very last second.
    Good luck to you and Clarence. May you not see a bear all day.

  4. EJ

    Now we all have to think. I listed those feelings because hurt and hunger are physical and all animals feel them.
    Desperation and feeling threatened are borne out life threatening situations which some animals can perceive.

    Anger is a reactive feeling – I am angry at him because he lost my mittens, you are angry because I cut your trees down, we are angry at them because they closed our school. But what words would could be used to describe the bears anger? The bear is angry because you are trying to kill it? because you threaten its territory? In these sentences I would substitute anger for desperation. If another person shows up in this situation will the bear be angry with them? No, the wounded bear is desperate and replacing you with someone else won’t change that.

    In my mind anger suggests that you understand cause/effect. Animals live in the present, and cause/effect understanding is minimal. Which is not saying that I don’t have a high regard for animals. I know that some are very smart and understand things that we don’t even know we are missing.

    What does Clarence say?

    May your hunting go well and all shots be clean kills.

  5. This is really an inspiring post! We’ve long known that we are going to need to look into what sorts of guns are proper for our situation, and I learned a lot from this post. Thanks! I’m inspiried – I’m going to do some research later today.

  6. EJ-I can pretty confidently say that every experienced hunter, guide outfitter, or knowledgeable person (and by that I mean someone who has had lots of experience in dealing with bears in confrontational situations, knows their ‘language’, and knows if and when the need to shoot arises) that I know, will use one or all of the following terms: anger, mad, and/or pissed off, in reference to bears–in particular, when describing a situation where the bear only gets ‘hurt’ (aka if they are shot and not fatally wounded), particularly with grizzlies.

    Do you really think that animals that can survive a Canadian winter can afford to live in the present?

    Humans can’t, why would animals?

  7. LittleFfarm Dairy

    Good luck; but just you keep safe, m’dearie. Have you done any target practise with the new weapon, & how much prior experience do you have? Just don’t want anything to happen to you, it sounds pretty dangerous.

    Having spent 17 years as a Royal Air Force Officer I did a fair bit of work with various firearms, but admittedly would never relish the thought of facing a bear – whatever, errmm, ‘mood’ s/he was in. Gimme the moose, any day!!

    Incidentally I found that breath control – & watching the wind speed & direction – most helped me to release an effective shot, even at 600 yards (& admittedly a darn good SUSAT sight helps at those distances, too!). However when you’re having to run (either to acquire you target – or escape it I suppose!!) it’s not quite so academic….blimey, brave girl.

  8. EJ

    I don’t think living in the present is a concern with regards to surviving winter. Animals prepare for winter by instincts, not like we do by planning. A squirrel doesn’t look at its nut stash and think- gosh do I need more, a bear does not wonder if she is fat enough to be able to survive hibernation. Wouldn’t it be great if we could spend an hour in the mind of even our closest animals- say dogs? I’m sure we would come away with so many insights.

    I hope your staying warm in the woods. Here its quite miserable- even the birds are soaking wet.

  9. Little FFarm-yes, lots of target practice, lots of ‘dry runs’ practice for things like moose and deer, and I now have two foxes under my belt. Another little fellow showed up a couple of nights ago and managed to get one of my chooks before I could get to him with the .22. I tell you what, it is a whole different ball game shooting at a live, moving target (and in the dark), but I got him!

    I don’t even want to have to contemplate a ‘bear defense’ situation. Unfortunately living where I do, it is a necessary exercise. I tell you what, it is quite the emotional development to be out in the bush where those critters are and know there is nowhere you will run to if they show up. There really is no ‘dry run’ for the ugliest possibility. I simply have to hope it never happens. The best I can do is to at least have thought it through and discussed it with my partner in the unlikely event (she said hopefully!) that it does.

    EJ-we’ll have to agree to disagree. For one thing, I do think that living in the present precludes ‘planning’ for the future, for example getting through a winter.

    Also, I think it is human arrogance to make the distinction that animals survive by ‘instinct’ and humans by ‘intelligence’.

    They are interesting issues and worthy of debate, but this medium does not really do it justice.

  10. LittleFfarm Dairy

    You’re welcome to come & get some ‘target practise’ on the foxes we have here – darn things, they’ve taken chickens, a goose & even several pretty robust lambs, this year.

    Fortunately foxes do tend to steer clear of the place whilst our Greenland Dog, Nanuk, is still here owing to her occasional wolf-like vocalisations ; unfortunately though owing to prejudice in the local area we’ve reluctantly conceded to find her a new home.

    Basically, because she “looks & sounds like a bit like a wolf wearing foxy colours” people assume she’ll behave just the same, going on some sort of wild frenzy & killing all their sheep; but overlook the fact that a ‘rogue’ Border Collie can be one of the most dangerous & efficient sheep killers, there is.

    Sadly it’s been made very clear to me that she’s not welcome in the locality; so although I’d prefer to have something that at least looks & sounds like a guard dog about the place, we’ve made the very sad decision to let her go.

    Fortunately we were contacted recently by her breeder who wants her as a sled dog & also to have a couple of litters of pups (they’re a rare breed here in the UK); but it’s been a heart-wrenching decision nonetheless.

    But do give one of those darn foxes that’s troubling your chooks, “both barrels” from me….!

  11. I can’t speak about bears, but I can speak about other species, particularly pigs. I breed domestic pigs and I’ve hunted more than my fair share of wild/feral ones.

    Pigs very definitely get angry. There’s a very big difference in attitude and behaviour between a desperate pig and an angry one.

    Take two real-life examples, both involving 350-400kg boars.

    The first had been injured in the past, he was trapped in a gully, and his only way out was past me. He was scared and he was dangerous because he knew he had to get past the threat (me) to get to safety. In other words, he was desperate.

    The second had spotted us and our Land Rover on his territory. He was in his prime and nothing, whether pig, human or truck, was coming on his patch. The boar stalked the truck, then charged from cover and rammed the back and sides of the Land Rover, lifting it in the air. He was exploding with rage and was very definitely angry.

    (Both were shot with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with SG shot—nine .32in balls.)

    And I’m with LittleFfarm Dairy on the need for practice, practice, practice and not just with smaller calibre weapons. I used to do a lot of shooting—military, hunting and target—and spent a lot of time (and money) shooting all the calibres I used.

    It’s even more important to practice when your life is going to depend on the weapon. You need to know intimately how your weapons feel, where your hands need to fall to control your weapons to best effect, and exactly how they shoot in all conditions and all positions.

    So if it’s dusk, it’s raining, you’re on your bum on the ground, and Mama Bear’s coming for you, then you to need to be very, very instinctive in your reactions and you don’t get that without practice.

    One method we used to use for practice was to have one person roll small, hard melons very hard over rough ground from behind the shooter. The shooter would adopt awkward positions and had no warning until a melon came rocking past. It had to be shot with one round, while it was moving.

    Another was to for one person to go out and hang cans from trees on a windy day. They’d retire behind the shooter, who’d then work their way through the trees, trying to get every target with a single shot. The stronger the wind, the greater the challenge.

    Did it work? Well, my best was using a .22 rifle to down a running wild pig at 50 yards with a snap shot through the left eye. My Dad and I had gone out to get a few rabbits, hence the .22, when the pig broke cover. I was confident in the rifle, a sporterised Lithgow Lee Enfield Mk3 SMLE with a .22 barrel, and confident in my ability so I was able to take the shot in a difficult conditions. But I was only able to do so through long practice.

    I don’t know if this has been of assistance, but there’s one piece of advice I would always give. Remember that the most dangerous critter out there is not a wild animal. It’s the person with a firearm, whether yourself or someone else.

    Stay safe.

  12. Stoney, thanks for the ideas about practice; the melon one in particular I hadn’t thought of (though, tis the season for squash!).

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