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!