Close Calls: Bridget’s Dangerous Grizzly Encounters
April 24th, 2023
8 minute read
Editor’s Note: If you are in grizzly bear country, please do everything you can to avoid coming in contact with this animal as they are extremely dangerous.
Grizzly bears are incredible predators that not everyone gets to witness firsthand. I spend a good portion of every year in Alaska, and during those trips, I’ve had a few grizzly encounters — and that’s a few too many!
To give you an idea of how many grizzly bears live in Alaska: the lower 48 totals around 3,000 wild grizzly bears, whereas Alaska has nearly 40,000.
I’ve lived in Utah for nine years now, and I’m delighted to live in a state with no grizzly bears. We have black bears, mountain lions and more, but for the most part, they mind their own business. They aren’t interested in approaching or hurting people.
A Considerable Threat?
Before my first experience in grizzly country, I did some research. Like most people, I could say I was scared for the first time based on what I read. Grizzly bears are large, aggressive, and unpredictable. We hear brutal and tragic grizzly stories all too often on the news and there’s a reason for that.
Grizzlies are top predators. They are potentially a significant threat lurking in the bushes on your favorite hike. Most people that get attacked by a grizzly don’t survive to tell the tale. If they do survive, they are scarred for life by the giant claws and teeth of the beast.
I grew up around tons of black bears, and I can truly say from experience that grizzly bears are more unpredictable and aggressive than black bears. Grizzly bears are not afraid to attack and fight nearly anything.
As a result, I feel it’s extremely important to carry a proper sidearm in grizzly country. I have some friends who guided hunts for giant Kodiak bears on Kodiak Island, and they said that they carried loaded .454 Casull sidearms at all times. I have other guide friends that have told stories about grizzly charges and attacks that would make it hard to sleep at night.
Grizzly country is not a place to be underprepared. Some of the things that you read on the internet about grizzly protection can be accurate. For example, I believe that most grizzlies don’t want to approach a hiking person playing music or carrying a bear bell. I believe having something to make sounds as you’re moving through the woods helps let a grizzly bear know that you’re there, which reduces the possibility of surprising them.
Most grizzly attacks of which I am aware happen when a person hiking a trail surprises the grizzly. Another common occurrence is a person accidentally approaching a grizzly kill in which the grizz will protect its meal at all costs. Lastly, one of the most common attacks that we hear about is when a sow has cubs. Sows with cubs are extremely aggressive and unpredictable.
The bottom line is, do everything you can to avoid coming into direct contact with a grizzly.
Armed with a Plan
If you’re hunting moose or caribou in Alaska, you likely won’t want to wear a bear bell or play music because you’d spook off the game you’re hunting. If at all possible, hunt with a buddy for safety.
I have hunted alone in grizzly country, but only while being extremely prepared and aware. When I hunted caribou alone in Alaska last year, I had a Springfield Armory 1911 chambered in 10mm on my hip at all times. I had spare magazines nearby as well.
If you’re planning on hunting in grizzly country alone or in a group, I highly recommend the following based on my personal experience:
- Have an appropriate sidearm holstered and be ready to draw. Do not carry an underpowered sidearm or round as grizzlies are HUGE! Have spare magazines loaded and nearby. In every story I’ve heard from friends who had to fire at grizzlies with pistols, they mentioned that it was tough to get the grizzly down. In some instances, it took multiple vital and headshots to stop the grizzly from attacking them.
- Carry bear spray in a place you can access it fast. I like to clip it to my bino harness.
- Carry a satellite messaging and SOS device. I personally use ZOLEO. Keep this in arm’s reach. I also like to clip this to my bino harness or the shoulder strap of my backpack.
- Hunt in open places if possible.
- Look for tracks and scat, and be aware. As simple as it sounds, finding a track first can save you from a close encounter.
- If you see or bump into a grizzly, make a lot of noise as soon as possible. From my experience, this helps spook them off. But that’s only if you’re lucky. Your best bet to surviving a grizzly encounter is to safely get away from the bear or convince the bear to get away from you.
Outdoorsmen and women who live with grizzlies every day in Alaska, Montana and Wyoming definitely have more experience in these situations than I do, but I want to share a couple grizzly scenarios that I’ve encountered, as well as what I’ve done, to give you an idea the dangers.
Solo Caribou Hunt
In September 2021, I was solo hunting caribou deep in the Alaska wilderness for weeks. One fateful day, I was hiking on a game trail through thick timber. I crossed creeks and bogs on a long hike to eventually reach the summit of a mountain where I saw caribou the day prior.
About 3/4 of the way through my hike, and still in the thick timber, I walked up on fresh grizzly tracks and fresh scat. The scat was so fresh that it was steaming in the cold Alaskan air. I got butterflies in my stomach. Thick trees with no visibility surrounded me.
I quickly looked at my GPS and realized there was an opening to my right. I realized that if I traversed the mountain rather than walking the spine, I’d have more visibility. I hustled to the right and dropped off the mountain a bit until I was about 70 yards out of the thick timber.
In this case, I knew a grizzly was nearby, and the best I could do was get to a place where I could have time and see the bear if it were to approach. I did the same for my hike back, and luckily, I never bumped into him!
Moose Shed Hunting
In June of 2022, I was looking for moose antlers deep in the Alaskan wilderness. One of my favorite pilots has a beautiful lodge, and he flew my friend, myself, and my dog to the lodge in his Super Cub float plane.
My dog and I hiked together to find moose sheds every day and it was so fun. One morning, we started hiking on a game trail at first light. Dixie, my spunky chocolate lab puppy, started to get excited and took off on the trail. I yelled her name, and she came back. As she did, I approached what got her excited: fresh, big grizzly tracks in the mud. Just like my caribou hunt, I was in thick timber.
Dogs can be a good and a bad thing in Alaska. Dogs have been subject to a lot of moose attacks, and with any animal, a dog can get excited and curious and start a fight with something way too big for comfort.
In this situation, I also found a more open path for travel so I could at least see my surroundings more and hopefully have time and space between the bear if I were to bump into it. I also coached Dixie into staying closer in hopes of her not instigating a fight. She’d also probably alert me to a bear and sense it sooner than I would, so it was nice to have her close. Luckily, we never saw that grizz!
More Close Calls
In September of 2022, I had multiple grizzly encounters in Alaska. Once on horseback, we noticed sow and cub tracks on top of our horse tracks. We had spent a couple of hours glassing for moose, and during that time a sow and cubs used the same trail we did in the same direction.
Because of the mud and thick timber, we had to take the same trail back. All we could do was be extraordinarily aware and alert. We chatted and had a loud conversation along the trail so that we wouldn’t surprise any bears. Luckily, we never bumped into them even though they had to be close.
Also in September 2022, my boyfriend and I were approached at under 40 yards by a sow with two cubs. This is a wild story that I will share soon in another article here on The Armory Life, so keep an eye out for that one!
In each of these encounters, I had my 10mm, my bear spray, my ZOLEO, and spare magazines on my person. I’ve been fortunate and have never had to use any of them or pull the trigger.
I want to end this piece by saying that with all these stories and encounters, I honestly am not necessarily afraid of grizzly bears — I am respectful of them and understand the danger, though.
This is my mindset when I’m in grizzly country: it’s their home, they’ve been there longer than I have, and they are just out there going about their daily life. I try to give them their space and respect them.
Bottom Line: brown bears are not something to fool around with or underestimate. Be smart, be aware, be prepared, and carry a sidearm. And, do everything you can to avoid an encounter with them. Stay safe out there and don’t necessarily let grizzlies stop you from doing what you love, just take reasonable precautions and respect them from a distance.
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