I visited Yellowstone National Park this summer, and on the way in we stopped by the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, where I picked up this book as well as Mark of the Grizzly, by Scott McMillion. I read them back to back during our trip, and so will compare them in my reviews.
Dr. Stephen Herrero is Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. He is recognized throughout the world as a leading authority on bear ecology, behavior, and attacks.
This book is the definitive "go-to" text for practical advice about keeping yourself safe in bear country. It has the most detailed, the most up-to-date, the most well-documented, and the most information, period, of any book available. If you do any hiking or camping in bear country, you need this book - and you need to not just read it, but to buy a copy for your permanent collection so that you can refresh your memory before each trip.
A great deal of research has been done on bears in the past several decades, and much of the accepted wisdom that we grew up with turns out to be dead (and I use the word deliberately) wrong. For example:
- Play dead - the worst thing you can do if the attack is a predatory one. Does sometimes work in defensive attacks, though.
- Climb a tree if it's a grizzly - Grizzlies can and do climb trees; plus which they also have a very high reach. Some people have indeed escaped grizzly attacks in this way, but others have been pulled out of trees by grizzlies from as high as 32 feet up!
- Black bears never prey on humans, only grizzlies do - It's actually just the opposite. Although black bears are far more easily intimidated by humans who fight back, blacks are also far more likely to prey on us.
- Carry a gun - Pepper spray has been shown to actually be more effective on grizzlies.
- Wear bear bells to make noise - Not only do they NOT scare off bears, they actually attract them, because bears are highly curious. The best deterrent is the human voice - LOUD. But even then, you may not be heard upwind.
- A tent is useless for protection - It's true that a cloth tent can't physically slow down a bear for even a second. But for some unknown reason, they do seem to provide some kind of psychological deterrent. Most (but not all) nighttime attacks on sleeping people occurred to people who were sleeping out in the open without a tent.
One piece of traditional wisdom that IS true, is: never, ever, run from a bear. Stand your ground or back up slowly.
We have always been told that it is very important to establish whether a threatening bear is a black or a grizzly. That one is true, however it is equally important to determine whether an attack is defensive or predatory. Both of these factors are critical in how a person should react.
Another important thing to know - never bring a dog into bear country. Dogs and bears are natural enemies, and the presence of a dog can draw a bear to attack an accompanying human.
And, surprisingly, the best way to keep yourself safe? Go on horseback. Horses sense - and will alert a knowledgeable rider to - the presence of a nearby bear long before a human or even a dog could. But even more importantly, although a bear will attack either a riderless horse or a human on foot, it is almost unknown for even a grizzly to attack a horse with a rider.
One thing that Dr. Herrero stresses is that there is no guarantee. His advice provides a rule of thumb, but bears are as individual as humans; and what works for one human with one bear in one situation won't necessarily work for another human with another bear in the same kind of situation. (This was vividly illustrated in the August bear attacks in Cooke City, Montana, in which three people sleeping in three separate tents in the same campground were attacked by the same grizzly on the same night. The two survivors used totally opposite tactics: one punched the bear in the nose, and the other played dead. That attack happened while we were right there in the area - we drove by that campground twice. But we didn't learn about it until a few days later.)
Bear Attacks has an excellent index and notes section, as well as plenty of black-and-white photos and drawings.
Like McMillion, Herrero tells numerous stories about bear attacks (often the same ones.) Dr. Herrero tells them in a more journalistic/scientific way - i.e., with more detachment, and just the facts, to illustrate a point. McMillion tells them in a way that is far more detailed, vivid, and interesting to read about.
I recommend reading Mark of the Grizzly for the stories, and Bear Attacks for the practical information.