Hank Shelley

Column: Reaction time to bears

There was recently another grizzly bear attack, this time involving a hunter in the east Kootenays.

No doubt he came across a mom with cubs. The bear’s natural maternal instinct was to protect the cubs. Mr. Blackmore was fortunate he only came out of the attack with severe bites (wounds) on his legs, etc.

The East Kootenay has the largest concentration of the big bruins in B.C. Bush-wise hunters living in that region are aware of the situation, and with a expanding grizzly population, prepare themselves, by reading up on recent bear activity where they hunt – and pack bear spray. But over years of time, many bears have attuned themselves to an easy meal. This being the innards of a freshly harvested deer/moose/elk. It is a custom now, that one hunter stand by with loaded rifle while his partner clean the animal.

Bears relate the sound of a rifle shot to a dinner bell.

Years back, a harrowing experience awaited a young gal, pacing back and forth in the camper as her husband and a partner lay dying in the snow, atop a rugged mountain peak back and beyond Raven’s Head in the Kootenays. It was late in the afternoon and snowing when they harvested a bull elk. Placing their rifles against trees, they began to dress out the animal. Unfortunately, a grizzly was on the scree slopes below. On hearing the shot, the bear attacked, wanting the elk. The reaction time to get to their rifles was too late and, as the helicopter hovered over the site the next morning, with conservation officers aboard, the bear was shot and a rescue team retrieved the bodies.

While still working, a group of us fishery officers had gathered at the Lillooet community hall as Gary Shelton began instruction on bear behavior, including tactics to avoid attack, reaction time if being attacked and what to do in an attack.

The final scenario of the day was each officer being pepper sprayed. This was with our own issue (the human kind), to be used in a take down situation.

Bear spray, is a restricted product, containing 0.75 per cent capsaicin.

Fishery officers are more prone to bear attack as each fall throughout the province, hundreds of streams must be walked to count spawning salmon entering their natal streams. Tally’s are recorded and, historically, runs are tabulated. Each spring, during qualifications, officers must be proficient in the use of issue firearms, including shotguns.

While walking the Wap Creek/Hunakwa Creek (Anstey Arm, Shuswap Lake) counting coho, we had the shotgun ready as fresh bear track was evident and the smell of bear scented the heavy cedar/hemlock along the trail. Large tracks, the long claws evident, showed buddy the big bear was close by.

Many years ago, while still operating Postill Lake fishing lodge, we always saw a big ’ol bruin feeding on grass on a landing come spring. Folks would stop and admire him. While checking a new large man-made reservoir Otto Hemmerling and John the backhoe operator stopped at the lodge for lunch break. They talked on seeing the bear break ice for a drink at the lake. John said what would we do if the big guy charged. Otto said he’d climb a tree. The only tree. John said he’d beat Otto up the tree.

Now that’s reaction time.

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