An Outdoor View: Thoughts on bears

Earlier this month, predatory black bears killed two people, and brown bears defending cubs mauled five others. While this number of attacks in a short period is unusual, it’s not the first time bears and people have tangled.

Whether you’re into watching bears, hunting bears or just trying to work or recreate in relative safety, the more you know about bears, the better.

I’ve lived in Alaska since 1964, and I still have to remind myself that everywhere in this state is “bear country.”

If nothing else, knowing that bears are “out there” makes you more alert. Just going for a walk or bike ride this week seems more like an adventure.

I know bears are out there. While walking in my neighborhood a few years back, a very large brown bear walked slowly across the road in front of me. I decided not to walk down that road. Another time while riding my bike in Sterling, a brown bear with cubs walked across the road ahead. Timing is everything. If I’d started that ride a few seconds earlier, the outcome might’ve been different. I chose to go another direction.

Many maulings occur when people come upon a bear unexpectedly, surprising both parties. This can happen in deep grass or thick brush, or when the noise of wind or water covers the sounds of your approach. Bears don’t like surprises. Like humans, bears have a flight-or-fight instinct. If you surprise one, you increase the chances that it won’t run away, but will attack you.

The encounters I’ve had with bears have taught me to be alert. No matter where I am, I try to be watchful of what’s happening, ready to react. Startled bears, or bears feeling defensive about their cubs, can inflict a lot of damage in a short time.

Everyone has his or her own ideas about being prepared for bears. My neighbors range from one who goes nowhere without a .44 Magnum pistol, to one who walks with eyes glued to some electronic device. I’m somewhere in between. I figure the odds of being run over by a texting driver are far better than those of a run-in with a predatory black bear in the neighborhood. To me, being alert is ample defense against both hazards.

On the other hand, if I’m on a float trip down a river at salmon-spawning time, and trying to sleep in a tent beside that river, I’ll have an adequate firearm, bear spray, marine flares and a recording of Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.”

If you’re going to buy and carry along bear-repellent “tools” of any kind, think about how, when and where you’ll use them. Bear spray might be just the ticket in one situation, but not in another. A canister of bear spray, like a pistol, should be carried afield in an easily reached holster, and you should familiarize yourself with using and carrying it.

The recent bear attacks will cause more people to rely upon guns, but will they know how to safely and effectively use them? If you’re going to pack heat, get some formal training, practice shooting regularly, and act responsibly.

If you choose to not carry a gun, the responsible thing to do is to learn everything you can about bears, to think about how you’re going to respond when you encounter one, and to stay alert.

To put things into perspective, unless you’re working or recreating in a bear-rich environment, your chances of being mauled or killed by a bear are slim. Most Alaskans go for years without so much as seeing a bear.

If you’re set on finding real danger in Alaska, consider that more than 30 of us humans are murdered by our own kind each year, and that’s not counting all the other creative ways we employ to kill and maim one another. By comparison, bears in Alaska attack only a handful of people each year, and only a fraction of these people die as a result of the encounter.

To learn more about bears, visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s web page, “Living with Bears.” Or pick up a free brochure at the Dept. of Fish and Game offices at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Soldotna.

Les Palmer can be reached at

More in Life

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Let there be lights!

When I stopped in at one of our local stores, I didn’t cringe when I saw all the holiday decorations on display.

Cabbage, potatoes, salmon and an assortment of pantry staples make for a culinary challenge. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Take a culinary pop quiz

Get creative with what’s in your pantry

This undated John E. Thwaites photo, perhaps taken near Seward, shows the S.S. Dora grounded. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 3

Her long career had come to an end at last.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes I wonder, who needs who

Dog whispers we are not. Suckers for unconditional love, you bet.

Meredith Harber (courtesy)
Minister’s Message: Don’t let termination dust bring you down

If I’m honest, this time of year is the hardest for me mentally and emotionally.

Pieces hang on display at the Kenai Art Center for the open call show on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘They felt like they could share with us now’

Art center open call offers space for new artists.

The Cosmic Hamlet Entertainment film crew prepares for a new scene to roll on the set of “Bolt from the Blue” at the Kilcher Homestead on Sept. 28. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
‘Bolt from the Blue’ film features Homer

“The Office” star Kate Flannery cast in feature film produced in Homer.

These old-fashioned doughnuts don’t skimp on the fat or sugar. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Memories of old-fashioned doughnuts

My recipe is for old-fashioned doughnuts, and since I make these maybe twice a year, I don’t skimp on the sugar and fat.

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: October is here again

The days are shorter. We are losing nearly six minutes a day. It’s getting colder.

This John E. Thwaites photo shows the S.S. Dora near Sand Point, Alaska. Thwaites sailed as mail clerk on the Dora between at least 1905 and 1912. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 2

The S.S. Dora touched lives on and became part of the history of the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska.

Steller Sea Lions can be seen in an enclosure at the Alaska SeaLife Center on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska SeaLife Center to Alaskans: We’re still here for you

You rallied and kept us alive. Today, we’re writing to say thank you.

A wood-carved whale hangs in the Nikiski Senior Center on Sept. 23, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Nikiski Senior Center)
Whale of a job

Nikiski Senior Center gets addition to dining room.