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 with Rob Miskosky

Wilderness Reassurance

“Robert’s eyes moved slowly from the cub high in the tree toward the ground. There, looking directly at him from only feet away, was the huge sow grizzly.”

After Alberta bowhunter Robert Bennett was attacked and severely injured by a sow grizzly in September of 2012 near Swan Hills, and after reading the story written by TJ Schwanky (see Alberta Outdoorsmen May 2013 issue) and seeing the gruesome photos of Robert’s injuries, I started to think about the amount of time I spend on my trapline, often alone, in bear country. And while I’m a firm believer in carrying bear spray and always have a can readily available, after reading Robert’s story, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is it enough?”

- Duane Rosenkranz photo
My trapline resides in Alberta’s foothills somewhere between Edson and Fox Creek in a remote area. Definite bear country, including grizzly bears. I often find their tracks and scat, including those of a grizzly sow and her cub, and have encountered black bears twice over the last two years. And while those encounters didn’t necessarily mean I was in danger, the fact remains that one day those circumstances could change and a dangerous situation could develop.

As a trapper, I keep a bait station up for wolves and have to prepare it well in advance of the legal snaring season in my Wildlife Management Unit, which is 346. Because of grizzly bears, snaring isn’t allowed to take place until December 1, presumably because the bears are in their dens by this time. As my bait station has to be walked into, often while carrying things like beaver carcasses, my hands are usually full and carrying a rifle isn’t an option. Because of this, I always have a can of bear spray on my hip and a load of alertness on my shoulders. The last thing I want to do is walk in on a bear who has claimed my bait station as its own... and I know they visit it.

The argument for what works better for protection, bear spray or gun, is one that can bring heated debate from both sides. Many swear by bear spray, others are more comfortable with a gun. Studies have shown that bear spray is more effective than a gun because of its ease of use and ease of accuracy. As well, bears do not die from being shot by bear spray. However, it too may not be perfect in every situation.

Robert Bennett was wearing a sidearm on his hip and had in fact unholstered his gun when he realized he was in a dangerous situation. Would the outcome have been different had he been carrying bear spray instead of a sidearm? That’s a question we’ll never have the answer to. The fact remains, his sidearm saved his life, but not before he was brutally ravaged.

Bear spray, which contains concentrated capsaicinoids—the stuff that makes hot peppers hot—has been shown to be very effective, but not in all cases.

So, with this in mind, I chose both to carry bear spray, and to wear a sidearm, with the bear spray being my first defensive option.

Now, some may consider that overkill, while others might suggest I’m being paranoid. Others yet might consider me extremely wise. Frankly, I really don’t care what others think; I’m only concerned with my own safety and the safety of those who might be with me.

Already having a restricted firearms licence, all I needed was to qualify for an “Authorization to Carry” permit, or ATC, to be able to legally carry a sidearm while on my trapline. Few individuals can qualify for an ATC, but a trapper is one of those who, potentially, qualify because of the amount of time spent in the wild working in remote locations.

Recently, four of us took the ATC course with Alberta’s Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) present for a portion of the training. The course is designed to test your proficiency with a handgun and includes shooting at targets from five different distances from three different positions, with a minimum score required. As well, training to draw your gun from a holster properly is a requirement.

I’m happy to say I passed the course. It’s what happens now that shows how much bureaucracy is involved with handgun ownership and use in Canada. The paperwork is endless and once completed and approved in Miramichi, an interview by the provincial Chief Firearms Officer is required. He or she will be the deciding factor as to whether or not your ATC is approved.

Wilderness handgun carry in Canada is strictly limited. However, there are many who believe the option to carry a handgun while hunting or fishing should be legal; after all, everyone deserves the right to protect oneself if there is a chance of injury or death. How they choose to defend themselves, whether it be bear spray, gun, or both, should be their choice.

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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