Survive Predators In The Wild

©1997-2004-2018 K.G.Lawton

This paper contains both real events as well as information that is strictly my own opinion. My opinions are not offered as personal advice for other folks who may have varying levels of wilderness experience. For some, this may be nothing more than entertainment. This is an ongoing paper; updated as equipment changes require.

On the other hand, the Park Ranger's advice, in my opinion, was terribly dangerous as well as less than helpful to the visiting tourists who were drinking it in.

So, My Good Visitor, you pick the wheat from the chaff, OK.?

"Thoughts About Surviving A Bear Attack"

The Situation (as it's being explained to the crowd by the Ranger):

"When you are out in the woods, make lots of noise, because by doing so the bears will hear you and have a chance to avoid you so they can run away."

(Ranger is looking wisely at the visitors, nodding his head to emphasize his advice, looking strangely like he's waiting for someone to say something...). (Then Continuing): "But if they don't run away, and instead they charge you, what should you do..."

  • A: Run Away? or

  • B: Play Dead? or

  • C: Fight Back?

(Park Visitor in the crowd, raising hand, answers): "I know, I know... FIGHT BACK!"

(Ranger, frowning at visitor like you would at a disobedient child throwing a fit at the supermarket):

"W-R-O-N-G! You could never win a contest with an eight-hundred pound bear!".

“The answer is...  PLAY DEAD!”

(Whereupon the Ranger explains how to play dead for an attacking bear:

  • You lay face down,

  • Clasp your fingers behind your neck,

  • Remain motionless, letting the bear roll you around for awhile, giving no resistance.

  • By playing dead, the bear miraculously becomes tired of the game and walks away.

This life-saving technique is demonstrated by the Ranger playing the part of the bear, growling and rolling the prone visitors back and forth on the ground with his 'paws'. The visitors are dutifully allowing the designated 'bear' to show them it will all turn out OK if they just play dead for the bear.

I get the idea the Ranger enjoys his life-saving demonstration more than just a little, because the 'victims' are both rather attractive young ladies.

(Park Ranger Finishing the demonstration):  So, you see, if you just play dead, you might get roughed-up a bit, get a little bloody, but you'll survive! 

(Hands on hips, smiling knowledgeably, nodding head in agreement with his own instructions, daring anyone to challenge his wise, scientifically unassailable, politically correct, advice).

! Play D E A D !......

Well, in the vernacular of the politically incorrect, and to bring the play dead theory to an abrupt end, allow me to add my opinion of the Ranger's sage advice;

Good grief, not only has this do-gooder Park Ranger been preaching this play-dead theory at the Park, it even showed up on the national news recently. Acted out by cartoon manikins, in a somewhat entertaining manner, but every bit as deadly as the Park Ranger in his misguided spiel.

But, what the heck; go ahead, ‘play dead’ if you really want to. It will be good practice for the real thing, which could be completed by the predator in less than 30 seconds! If you want to add some realism to the play, do a lot of deep-lung screaming, call desperately on the name of the Lord, and the Angel of Mercy. Scream until your lungs are empty, then become totally quiet. Because you're dead.

Think that's being "over the top"? Not really. The actual audio recording (taken from a video camera with the lens covered) of Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend was briefly released until his sponsoring agency clamped it shut. It was very revealing and totally chilling. In a real-world, "this-is-how-it-goes-down", sort of way.

Seems to me, this self-styled expert Park Ranger (eX is the Unknown Quantity, spert is a drip under pressure) with his greatly abbreviated, simplistic, gooder-attitude, obvious penchant for filling novice out-backers with a dangerous tree-hugging brand of bullpukey, is just setting them up for big problems in the wilderness if they ever are confronted with an aggressive predator. And that includes Mother Natures' gorgeous creatures, like bears.

The bottom line, brother, is that you better be packing some kind of personal protection device in the outback, and know how to use it!

All bears are not created equally calm, timid, mild, aggressive, hungry, protective or predictable. Various types of bears are likely to react in ways dissimilar to bears of other breeds. The same bear may be, on different days, either naturally timid or naturally aggressive. Animals sometimes have "moods" somewhat like people do. The problem is that you cannot quickly predict what mood the predator is in. It isn't like being able to subconsciously detect accurately what mood your mother is in.

Therefore, it is advisable to have your natural defensive reactions hard-wired into your subconscious for immediate action. "Playing dead" in the face of an attacking bear or other predator is a serious mistake. No two bear encounters can be counted on to be the same. Any more than every encounter with two-legged critters in the wild can be counted on to be the same.

Now, right up front, a good canister of pepper-spray has been credited by many folks for saving them from an aggressive bear. Or dog, or criminal. "But", truthfully, I will never choose to have pepper spray as my only defense in the outback. Just isn't going to happen. That said, I do have to admit that I watched my wife turn an aggressive, slobbering, growling, teeth-grinding, chain-stretching pit-bull into a confused, retreating butterfly with one blast from her little purse pepper spray can. Just about 1/10th of a second before I was going to turn him into dead with my God Bless John Browning. A very lucky dog.

In defense of pepper-spray, however, I understand that pepper-spray labeled "Bear" is acceptable in many places where firearms are not normally allowed by the general public. For instance, the gun-shy Canadian government seems to allow pepper-spray. Who knows what the anti-gun bureaucrats and tree-huggers we are paying in the good old U.S.A. to manage our forests might think. But anyway, here is a Canadian link for their laws

And here is a pepper-spray company with their product available in Canada:

A couple more pepper-spray links: UDAP U.S.A. and Pepper Power U.S.A.

These two websites market related products but their canisters have slightly different content. The second one, ( has several personal bear encounter stories from folks who successfully used pepper spray to defend themselves from bears in the outback.

So, the following is just my own opinion. It might not work for you, so take it or leave it for what it's worth.

If you discover, detect, see, hear, smell, or sense a predator in your safety zone, you need to be able to immediately detect and interpret its attitude, intentions, capabilities, and probabilities. And if you are out in the wilderness and you don't have all your own human survival senses on alert, and prepared to defend yourself, you might just as well  play dead  because you might assume the position for real.

In the first place, a bear is no different than any other large predator; it can move faster than you can and it's bigger and tougher than you are. It has extremely long sharp claws, can hit like a freight train, has a bone-crushing bite and the big ones can put most of your head inside their jaw. In order to compete with an aggressive beast you have to be able to create an advantage for yourself. Our pre-historic ancestors were able to do that, so why shouldn't we? You think the cavemen lay down and played dead? If they had of done, you and I would not be here now.

Some other people, with different agendas, will tell you that bear spray (various brands and sizes) is more effective against an aggressive bear than firearms are. Brother, that claim is open to discussion. They know it, you know it, and the Forest Rangers who go after rogue bears or to the scene of an attack know it because they pack guns, brother, big guns, not spray cans!

Although at the link up above;, you will find lots of outdoors folks who swear by the pepper.

Just a side-note here; on one pepper-spray site, they rave about their ten-percent pepper concentration (which is about average across the offerings except for one company who offers 18% pepper) and state that any stronger concentration of spray might lead to a court case if you used it on a person. OK, so I wrote to them asking how they figured that, because any concentration up to 100% would probably be less lethal than a 300-grain slug from a .44-Magnum. They never answered, so perhaps they were just blowing hot air about their particular level of pepper concentration. Who knows?

Probably the most publicized example of people not giving bears proper respect, and paying the ultimate price for that mistake, is the recent event in Alaska with the late Timothy Treadwell. And his poor, equally late, girlfriend. Rangers responded to the call from Treadwell's pilot who had flown in to pick them up. He saw from the air the torn-up camp and a bear feeding on what appeared to be human remains. The responding Rangers and State Police didn't bring spray cans to hunt the bear; they brought slug-shotguns and high-powered rifles besides their service sidearms. Apparently the Rangers did not have much confidence in the story of spray cans being more effective than guns, against an attacking bear. Neither do I. And neither should you.

If you read the Yellowstone Bearman link, I have to disagree with him on what the screams were meant to accomplish.

The problem is, if a bear or (other predator capable of attacking humans) is actually stalking you in the outback, and you are not paying attention to your environment, you will likely be hard-pressed to detect it before its close enough to complete its attack. On one occasion while deer-hunting in central Utah my Dad and I noticed large cat tracks overprinting our own footprints which we had made just a few minutes prior. We never did see the cougar although we always paid close attention to our environment.

Of course, if you're out in areas where there is little cover for predators to hide in, you might see them in plenty of time. The fact is that by using stealth and a sudden attack, with a calculated high degree of success, is how a predator makes its living. How it eats. How it feeds its family. How it survives as a species.

A bear can cover 50-feet in less than two seconds, from a motionless start. No guess on that, it's been measured numerous times. Brush, small trees, irregular ground, shallow ponds, streams, rocks, nothing will slow him down. You have about one second for every 45-ft distance to react in a defensive manner to a charging bear. Even much less if you happen to unconsciously surprise one in its nest nearby, or when it is taking a little nap in the brush, or when it's shopping peacefully for blueberries along it's trap line, or when it's been quietly following you off in the brush a ways. The predator has likely been making a lot less noise than you have, unless you are a true outdoors type.

By knowing that one fact about maintaining situational awareness, you can enjoy the outdoors while staying alert to your environment. Whatever means of personal protection you have with you should be immediately available to your hand, and you should know exactly how to deploy it. And if the wind is blowing, or that bear is covering fifty feet per second, he may well simply run right through it without a single thought except how you're going to taste.

No matter what kind of protection you decide to carry.

1858 Bison Pistol      1858 Bison Pistol

Before we go any further, let me repeat that your first line of defense is mental;  Situational Awareness . Keeping aware of your surroundings, the sights and sounds of the outback, is primary to your safety. And I don't mean "fraidy-cat aware", either. Just comfortable awareness of your environment and what is going on around the area. That's how you get the best photos, by knowing what is there before you scare it away. See what is actually beyond that which you are looking at, beyond that bush or tree-line, or rock outcropping. You get the idea; enjoy your environment by being aware of the total environment. See that big owl over there, waiting for a mouse to move?

 That Said...  back to the subject:

When I know I'm going remote, or might end up remote, you can bet I'm  packing iron . It will probably be either .44 Magnum or .45 Colt, and probably a Canon. Which would be on its strap around my neck. Which, for me, is the primary purpose of being in the outback. Next to relaxation.

Yahica J-5

The Yashica J5

Cameras taken to the outback for extended periods of time are preferably operable without batteries. This model does use battery power for the exposure meter, however the battery is not necessary for actually taking photos. Exposure values are relatively simple to determine with even general rules. Winter cold will drain batteries very quickly.

The fully-loaded iron I carry is in a holster, not covered by clothing or gear, and is immediately available to my hand. There is no substitute for a weapon if you are threatened by any outback aggressor. Our ancient ancestors used clubs, spears and rocks for their protection, and we're much better armed than they were. If you don't have a large caliber weapon, then use what you do have. Any reasonable caliber is better than G-G-G-G-Great Grandpa Ugs rocks and sharp sticks.

Just be positive you know how to use your protective weapon, are familiar with the functions, and can hit exactly what you want to. Spend time practicing with your weapon before you need to use it. If you choose to have a firearm but are not totally familiar with firearms, make your first one a revolver. It is much less likely to get complicated if you need it within 2-seconds.

Don't believe that a firearm novice has to have a major caliber weapon. Even experienced woodsmen are justified with whatever caliber they prefer.

For instance, one wife and husband team in Alaska were charged by a Grizzly, and both reacted with their 9mm's, loaded with ball ammo. Now, before you laugh too loudly at the 9mm and ball ammo, know that they both hit target, and one round broke a front shoulder bone of the Bear which brought it to a skidding halt where the poor beast bled out from the other hits. Probably the ball ammo was able to penetrate to the major bone and break it where an expanding round might have lost its velocity in the thick fur and massive flesh. Who knows? Most really heavy bullets designed for dangerous game have limited expansion, opting instead for greater penetration than the hollow-point expanding bullets provide. But that is getting pretty far away from this discussion.

Talking about  bleeding out  a bear from a gun shot; you need to know that an adult bear has a very slow heartbeat. For a big Grizzly it might be about 9-beats per minute. So, knowing that, you also know it takes a long time for enough beats to  bleed out  a bear from a non-lethal hit. That's why you hear stories of bears being shot who keep on trucking right up to your face.

If you are like me, and need to maximize your cash, don't pass up a good used firearm. Reputable gun dealers will guarantee it works properly or they will fix it, or you can trade it back in for another, get your money back, or exchange it for a different piece altogether. At least my favorite store does.

I got my Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum one day, used, at a local gun shop. This is how it happened: I'm at the gun counter looking at the weapons, thinking of moving up from .357 Mag to something a bit heavier for outback. Been saving my extra cash for several months and finally about ready. The gun counter manager is talking with a customer who is studying a .454 Casull, and telling his story. It went like this: He goes to Alaska fly-fishing every year. Obviously, this Brain Surgeon has to have some relaxation also. Anyway, he's got fish-on out in the stream, and here comes Griz from out of the brush across the river. Doc figures this is a good time to cut line, so he promptly does, and starts slowly backing away. Griz passes up Doc's fish, and starts moving faster towards Doc. Doc pulls out his .44 Mag from under his waders, and puts a round into Griz. Griz flinches, stops, then keeps on coming. Doc turns around and walks faster away from Griz while looking back over his shoulder trying to keep Griz in the sights of his outstretched gun hand. Griz picks up the pace, Doc puts another round into Griz, and Griz flinches again, pauses briefly, then keeps on coming. Doc is trying to pace himself to not run out of ammo, so calculates the distance between him and Griz, the closing speed, and figures his last round will be about point-blank, using up all the bleed-time he can spare. Remember, Griz's heart is beating 9 times/minute, so bleed-out could take awhile. The first two rounds Doc figures hit Griz in the chest but didn't hit the heart or lungs. Doc spaces his next four rounds as he's retreating as fast as he can in waders without stumbling, gun in right hand, full speed loader in the other hand. As the 6th bullet hits Griz, he falters again, then finally collapses. Doc reloads quickly, then breathes normally for the first time in what he says seemed like a week or so. After proper reports with the Alaska authorities, Doc heads back to the lower-48, and the nearest village gun store, where I'm listening to his story.

Anyway, after telling his story, Doc reaches into his pocket, peels off some greenbacks, gets a receipt, and walks out of the store the proud owner of a nice .454 Casull and a box of ammo for it, leaving his  six rounds fired in anger, 18 rounds fired prior at the range  .44 Mag on the counter, with half a box of leftover ammo alongside it.

The gun-counter manager smiled and asked me;  You were looking for a .44 Mag, weren't you?  And that's how I got my Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum topped with a very nice Leopold scope, magnum outback holster, and a pair of speed-loaders. Fate and good luck had me at the proper place at the proper time because I could have never afforded that particular weapon at new retail prices. So don't pass up the chance to find a good used weapon, at a reliable dealer, for the outback.

Now, to wrap up this brief discussion about surviving attacks in the outback, from a bear, or a vicious feral dog, or clandestine gardeners or unregistered chemists doing their thing away from the prying eyes of the law, as the case may be:

Some people will tell you there is a difference between a bear being defensive (cubs, territory, feeding area...) and a bear being aggressive (hungry and sees you as trying to steal his blueberries, or you being lower on the food chain and a lot slower than he is). You believe what you want to. I've decided long ago these wise soothsayers are speculating from the safety of wherever they write that stuff, and I'm not going to waste my living time analysing the mental attitude of any charging bear or his possible intentions. It doesn't matter whether he's pissed that I'm in his forest, or whether he hasn't eaten for too long and sees me as a protein source. You have less than about 2-seconds to detect, evaluate, react, and protect yourself. And I can damn well guarantee you, brother, if a predator gets his teeth into you you're going to fight for your life, you're not going to be able to just lock your fingers behind your neck and keep quiet. So anyone who tells you to  play dead  at the beginning of an attack, instead of fighting for your life with anything you have, has been smoking w-a-y too much of that leafy shit that grows along the ditch at Watery Lane! In the same amount of time it takes to interlace your fingers behind your neck, lie down on the ground and prepare to be dead, you could have several hundred grains of hot lead in the attacker.

When I think  deterrent  for an attacking predator of any kind, four-legged or two-legged, I think hot lead, not a spray can.

Of course, at this point, I should finally admit that I have at least 4 canisters of various size pepper-sprays on hand.

But I will still count on situational awareness and hot lead for any life-threatening situation, against predators of any description.

And that, friends, is my two-cents worth.

Ruger Bisley 45 Colt