There’s an old saw that pokes fun at those who operate and theorize from ivory towers and their penchant for, at times, failing to see the forest for the trees as it were. It works in practice, but will it work in theory? An sltrib.com report touts the latest findings of “longtime bear biologist Tom Smith” whose theory is that during a bear attack, those with guns are statistically no safer than those without them. “…Smith and (his) colleagues analyzed 269 incidents of close-quarter bear-human conflict in Alaska between 1883 and 2009 in which a firearm was involved. They found the gun made no statistical difference in the outcome of these encounters, which resulted in 151 human injuries and 172 bear fatalities.” About those 172 dead bears, though . . .
They didn’t die of myocardial infarctions while chasing down the poor hapless hikers who stumbled upon Mrs. Yogi and her little Boo Boos. Yes, I understand that, assuming the good perfesser’s numbers are accurate, statistically you’re just as likely to end up hanging like a salmon from a grizzly’s mouth with or without that Super Redhawk on your hip but . . .
“It really isn’t about the kind of gun you carry. It’s about how you carry yourself,” said Smith, lead author of the study published online in the Journal of Wildlife Management.
“Guns are great, but for a gun to be great you have to be very, very good. No one ever practices on a 500-pound animal charging at you through the brush at 10 meters. They practice on paper targets,” he added. “That’s a big, big difference from being in the moment of stress.”
OK, I can live with that. If I know how to shoot – and shoot under pressure – my odds go up. Significantly. Pretty much as they do in just about any DGU. Prof. Smith’s number crunching also found some interesting output when it comes to handguns vs. long guns.
While Smith said his data set was not perfect, it did tease out some surprising findings. For instance, handguns slightly outperformed long guns, resulting in a positive outcome (meaning the gun stopped the bear’s aggression) 84 percent of the time versus 76 percent.
“That’s surprising because some believe that handguns have no place in bear safety,” Smith said. “But they are much more maneuverable and carried more accessibly. A majority of bears go to extreme lengths to avoid people. When an encounter occurs, it is in close quarters and poor visibility. They are on their back shooting the bear in the mouth.”
So forget that stuff about using your pistol to fight your way back to your rifle. It can be hard to kick a 900 lb. bear off your chest. What’s the professor’s weapon of choice, then? Capsaicin. Yep, he’s a pepper spray man. Or he is if he lives by what his numbers tell him.
“Out of 176 incidents (studied), there were only three injuries, just scratches,” Smith said of his pepper spray findings. And no bears died.
That’s nice to know. My weapon of choice: prevention. As in stay out of areas frequented by bears. But if I’m going to be there – because it’s, you know, beautiful and everything – I’m going to have a large caliber wheel gun on my belt. And probably a fire extinguisher-size pepper spray dispenser, too. Thanks to Disreali, there’s another old saw – there are lies, damned lies and statistics. I just don’t want to be one of them.