For all you northern hemisphere parents getting ready to take your little troopers out for spring and summer backpacking into bear country (or just to the parking lots of the major National Parks), the USGS has recently published its information sheet for how to more safely deal with aggressive bears. This fact sheet is ostensibly for USGS employees, but it contains good information for anyone who expects to be in bear country.
Some salient statistics showing that bear deterrent is better than a firearm: Those who defend themselves with firearms suffered serious injury in about 50 percent of encounters. Those who used bear deterrent suffered far fewer and less serious injuries and were subjected to shorter durations of attack than those who defended with firearms alone (original research article). I highly recommend leaving the firearm at home (for the non-hunters) and just carrying the bear deterrent, especially when camping with children.
Even better bear safety information comes from the various links in the fact sheet. For instance, you should know that the pepper spray sold as personal defense is not a bear deterrent; pepper spray is pretty much useless against bears. The EPA regulates bear deterrent, so follow that link to get an idea of who sells the good stuff. The Center for Wildlife Information has a good “Be Bear Aware” fact sheet as well.
Regardless of which bear deterrent you carry, you’re safest if you avoid the bears altogether. The Be Bear Aware site has a lot of good information on how best to avoid encounters of the bear kind; explore their sidebar.
Have fun and stay safe!
(Post by new GeekDad Moses Milazzo)