One thing I’ve noticed in the past few years is an increased bearanoia.
But even more pronounced in the past year or so? People are bringing bear spray into black bear country.
The rule is not absolute, but the more experience a person has in the backcountry, the less likely they are to take bear spray where only black bears roam.
Per the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committe:
… bear spray is not a substitute for following proper bear-avoidance safety techniques and that bear spray should be used as a deterrent only when facing an aggressive or attacking bear.
Our research represents one of, if not the longest-running and earliest comparative studies of a black bear population at wildland–urban interface and wildland areas in North America.
As the population increased, we observed:
1) increasing human–bear conflicts in areas where several generations of people had lived in almost total absence of bears (70–80+ years);
2) changes in attitudes by the public toward bears and in the social realm regarding garbage management; and
3) changes in the demographics, behavior, and ecology of this bear population, due to an increasing human footprint on the landscape
I am more likely to get into an accident on the way to the trail than any black bear encounters while hiking.
In any case, more people seemed concerned about black bears and insist on taking bear spray into the backcountry because it is “better to have it and not need it.” A trope I’ve argued against previously. Many unprepared people take a low-grade weapon essentially with no training, practice, or awareness of its proper use.
So now I have this copy/pasta I trot out more and more frequently. Perhaps it will make people think a bit more about what they may be committing to overall rather than carrying some extra weight.
You’ll find that most experienced people in the black bear country say you don’t need it. Myself included.
However, I also recognize this issue can be an emotional one for many people. If you are part of the “better to have it and not need it” crowd, by all means, take it if it makes you feel better. But, and this is a very BIG but, please do the responsible thing and practice using it first.
Cabelas, REI, and similar sell inert training canisters for about $17 each. Get two or three canisters and practice in natural conditions holstering and unholstering it with your gear (poles included) and spraying in moderately windy conditions.
LEOs, rangers, game wardens, and even volunteer scientists (like my partner in Glacier) do this very thing in the backcountry as a required part of their training.
If you take a canister into the backcountry without knowing how to use the tool correctly, you are merely giving lip service to safety. At best, you’ll use the tool ineffectively when it counts. And you may accidentally harm yourself and others because of your lack of responsibility.
Do the right thing; if you take a bear spray canister, practice first.