Last Resort Protection from Bears – Will a Handgun Save You?
Across the wooded parts of the United States and Canada, there are bears. Here in New England we have Black Bears; lots of Black Bears. Black Bears prefer large forested areas with a combination of evergreen and deciduous trees with a mix of wetlands, thick vegetation and a wide variety of food to include berries, beechnuts and acorns. Since Black Bears are omnivores, in addition to nuts and berries they also eat carrion, small animals and insects. They like to stay in areas that are relatively undisturbed by humans and are without high traffic roads. Their dens range from hollowed out or fallen trees, rocky ledges, small caves and brush piles. Most Black Bears camouflage the entrance to their den with wood, leaves and brush to make it hard to find them during the winter.
The Black Bear is the largest meat-eating mammal in New England with males weighing from 130 to 600 pounds and females weighing from 100 to 400 pounds. Based on the latest estimates Maine has ~30,000 Black Bears, New Hampshire has ~5,700, Vermont has ~5,150 and Massachusetts has ~4,500 - and their population is growing.
So if you are out in the woods hiking or camping this Spring, you will certainly see signs of bear activity – and you might even run into one of them. Because of the potential danger bears pose most of us know that if you encounter a Black Bear you should make your presence known by making loud noises and waving your arms. If you surprise a Black Bear, walk away slowly, while facing the bear. Do not turn your back and run, which may trigger them to give chase. Never look a bear straight in the eye. The bear may perceive this as a threat and charge. Sometimes a Black Bear will bluff charge you to within a few feet. If this happens, try to stay calm and slowly retreat, waving and shouting as loudly as possible.
Even though most of us know about the danger that Bears present twenty-five fatal Black Bear attacks have occurred in North America during the past 20 years (1997 - 2017). If you want the details on these fatal attacks you can find them in this great article from Wide Open Spaces:
So what if you take all of the precautions and actions listed above and none of it works? What then? Well if you’re really in Bear Country then you should probably have a firearm with you. If you’re hunting that firearm is probably a rifle – and that will certainly dispatch a Black Bear if used properly (e.g. you shoot the bear before it gets close to you). But, if you are just hiking or camping, chances are that it’s not a rifle – it’s probably a handgun. So the age old question is “Will a handgun save you from a bear attack”? Well now there’s an answer to that question thanks to Dean Weingarten’s recent detailed analysis of 63 bear attacks where a handgun was used to fend off the bear. Contrary to many myths, Dean’s analysis found that handguns were 95% effective in defending against a bear attack.
Dean’s bottomline is that of the 63 pistol defense cases, 60 were successful and three were failures. The three pistol defense cases that were categorized as failures were:
Based on Dean’s detailed analysis of these 63 bear attacks it’s clear that using a pistol to defend against bear attacks is a very viable option. You can read the complete Ammoland article here:
A Pocket Guide and Smart Phone App to Help You Identify Animal Tracks
Are you wondering who made all those tracks in the fresh snow? If so here's a great pocket guide to animal tracks. It shows both the track pattern (e.g. how the wildlife walks) and what the front and hind footprints look like. It even has a ruler so that you can measure the prints. It's a lot of great information on a single page.
If you want even more information about animal tracks - here's a link to the iPhone app that we use - "iTrack Wildlife Pro" by Jonah Evans. The app has detailed photos and information for 70 common mammals of North America, to include over 700 high quality track (with precise front and hind track drawings and detailed track, gait, and “similar species” descriptions for every animal), sign and animal photos with detailed captions. It even has 120 detailed skull photos for 41 of the species just in case you run across a skeleton during your adventures. The app also stores the Wikipedia page for each species so that no internet connection is required to obtain even more details about the animals.
The app allows you to search by the following criteria:
The 70 animals currently covered by the app are:
You can learn more about the app, and see more information about tracking, at the “Nature Tracking” website: http://www.naturetracking.com/
If you want to purchase this app you can get it at the Apple App Store or Google Play store. You can download the “iTrack Wildlife Lite“ app for free, the “iTrack Wildlife Basic” app for $4.99 or the “iTrack Wildlife Pro” app for $14.99. The Pro app may seem a little expensive – but if you’re serious about animal tracks you should spring for the extra cash because it's good.
Here’s the link to the Apple Store for iTrack Wildlife Pro:
Here’s the link to the Google Play Store for iTrack Wildlife Pro:
Video by Alex Hommes - Operations Manager for the Silverado Shooting Academy
We’re always learning and looking for new sources of knowledge about both our gear and our techniques for all facets of Hiking, Camping and Shooting. Recently we came across a great video by Alex Hommes, the Operations Manager for the Silverado Shooting Academy (www.SilveradoShootingAcademy.com) in Orange County California about “The Secret to Mastering the Handgun”.
In the 18:57 minute video Alex covers the essential facts about shooting a handgun, and what you need to do to consistently hit what you are aiming at. The core of Alex’s video is that mechanical technique is 10% of the shooting process and that mental discipline is the other 90%. The problem that most people have with the mental part is due to the fact that we all have a natural aversion to holding onto things that explode. This aversion causes many people to lose their sight picture at the exact moment that they reach the trigger breakpoint – causing them to pull their aim off target. Alex calls this “reactive interference”.
This point of view really resonated with us – so we thought that we would share Alex’s video and some of the key points that he makes. The video covers the following topics:
1) What is Handgun Mastery?
2) Why Handgun Shooting is Difficult
2a) Freeze the sight picture
2b) Squeeze the trigger without disrupting the sight picture
2c) Realign the sights on the target
2d) Reset the trigger
3) Neurophysiology 101
4) The "First Shot" Phenomenon
5) Classical Conditioning or "Reactive Interference"
6) The Paradox of the Handgun
7) Urban Legends of Handgun Shooting
8) The Problem with Conventional Training
9) The Zen of the Handgun
10) The Silverado Method
11) The Alternative Method: Habituation
Here are some of the key points from Alex’s video that match our beliefs on what you need to do to enhance your handgun shooting abilities and increase you shooting accuracy.
“The handgun is the most difficult of all firearms to shoot effectively.”
“Don't rely on ‘spray and pray’.“
“Mastering the handgun is about controlling shot placement to the limit of your physical ability.”
“Shot placement is determined by one thing, and only one thing - the direction of the muzzle at the instant the bullet clears it. Your ability to control the shot depends on how well you can stabilize the gun while pulling the trigger.”
“We all have a natural aversion to holding on to things that explode. The lower animal part of our brain doesn't like concussion and tries to move us away from the gun at the same time our higher thinking brain is trying to carry out a new skill. This high brain - low brain conflict is why handguns are difficult to master.”
“A flinch will never mess up a shot because it is a reflex that happens after a loud sound. By the time the sound wave reaches you the bullet is already two feet out of the barrel. Nothing you do at that point will affect the shot.”
“After the first shot we will associate the trigger brake pressure applied by our trigger finger with the concussion of the gun. When we fire the gun again our anxiety level will increase as we increase pressure on the trigger. We will reflexively brace for the shot. Our reactive animal brain will have us take defensive action against the expected explosion right at the trigger breakpoint. These reactions interfere with the skill of handgun shooting. We call this ‘reactive interference’.”
“Reactive interference has nothing to do with good technique. It's the effect of the animal getting into the shooting process. If you can't control the animal your skill won't matter. You won't be able to apply that skill.”
“Conventional handgun training focuses on shooting as a mechanical technique and not a mental discipline. It applies technique to the problem of reactive interference leading to solutions that don't work very well.”
“….……..illusion that bad trigger technique is the major cause of handgun inaccuracy. In reality bad trigger pull will only produce minor variations in shot placement.”
“No technique is going to solve the problem of reactive interference.”
“Mastery of the handgun means eliminating reactive interference; getting the animal out of the shooting process. We can't eliminate our reflexes, but we can suppress them. All of the muscle movements involved with reactive interference are subject to voluntary control.”
“It's important that the closer you get to the trigger break the slower you increase the trigger pressure so that you can stop the trigger pull at the instant you become aware of bracing for the shot.”
“Once you can bring the trigger all the way back without bracing for the shot it's just a matter of being consistent while repeating this until you can do it faster.."
Like most of you we’ve watched way too many online videos. But we really liked this one. So, if you’re interested in improving your handgun shooting abilities, we highly recommend watching the Silverado Shooting Academy’s video on “The Secret to Mastering the Handgun”.
Glacier Point vs Horsetail Fall
This week you might have seen news about the "Firefall" at Yosemite National Park.
Technically this is the natural phenomena caused by the light hitting Horsetail Fall at just the right angle - not the manmade "Firefall" that was conducted at Glacier Point from 1872 until 1968 when people pushed glowing embers over the edge in a steady, controlled manner, resulting in a prolonged glittering cascade.
After the activities at Glacier Point were stopped in 1968 there were no Firefalls seen in Yosemite until February of 1973 when Galen Rowell took a photograph of sun light hitting Horsetail Fall in just the right manner that it caused what appeared to be a natural Firefall. It took a while for the Horsetail Fall Firefall to gain notoriety – but once the internet started publishing the stunning photos - people from all over the world started traveling to Yosemite to see the sight.
But, as we all know, Nature can be fickle, so the Horsetail Fall sight doesn’t always appear; the conditions have to be just right. There has to be enough snowpack for Horsetail Fall to be flowing and the daytime temperatures have to be warm enough to melt the snowpack. If the water is actually flowing over Horsetail Fall then the western sky has to be clear at sunset so that the sun’s rays hit the water as it flows over the falls. Even with perfect conditions the Firefall is only visible for approximately 10 minutes.
Whatever it is - it's stunning.
If you want to read more about both Glacier Point and Horsetail Fall here's a website by James Kaiser with a great write-up on both.
Inputs from the Field
Recently one of our readers, Michael Bourke, the Founder of SciCamps.org, dropped us a note with links to several articles that he's found useful in his outback adventures with his son and family. In Michael’s own words:
“I’ve always been a fan of being outside because I’ve always been a science guy, but since my son has been old enough to go camping, I’ve really taken advantage of exploring the great outdoors. Being in nature, and especially camping, has been a great way to spark my child’s interest in natural sciences, not to mention it’s just plain fun and a great way to spend time with my favorite kid. Regardless of the type of camper you choose to be, one thing is true for all, camping is a moment to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and a time to appreciate nature and create lasting memories.”
Since the main purpose of our website is to spread knowledge about Hiking, Camping and Shooting, we thought that we would pass the links to these interesting articles from Michael along to all of you.
Camping Gear and Apps
Camping Gear Checklist
Trekking: Stay connected with our favorite outdoor apps
Camping with Kids
25 Camping Hacks to Teach Your Kids
Backyard Camping for Kids with Disabilities
20 Fun Camping Games for Kids
Camping with Dogs
Camping with Dogs: An in Depth Guide to Doing It Right
13 Insider Tips for The Perfect Winter Camping Experience
On his website Michael has a "growing list of sortable science camps across the United States”. So, if you have a minute, and are interested in camps that have a scientific slant, you might want to check out the SciCamps website that’s in the early stages of currently being built out: http://scicamps.org/
If any of you have any interesting articles, or comments, for us – please send them along. We’re always happy to hear from our readers from around the world!
Amazing Artistic Maps of the World’s Rivers and Forests
Like most of you we love nature and the breathtaking views that we routinely see outdoors. So much so that we like to bring those views indoors with paintings and photographs.
Always on the lookout for great nature images, we recently ran across the work of Hungarian cartographer Robert Szucs who has made breathtaking maps showing the world’s rivers and forests by artistically colorizing the data from Geographic Information Systems.
Robert's river maps are detailed watershed maps (grouped together by color) showing the flow of all the tributary streams into main rivers, and these rivers flowing out to the sea. Note how large the Mississippi River basin is in the map of the United States.
Robert's forest maps are stunning two color (green and black) relief maps highlighting the density of the forests in the specific geographic region.
If you want some stunning art, you should really checkout Robert Szucs' Grasshopper Geography website where you can purchase his works as paper prints, wall art, desk art or other nicknacks to “decorate your home or office with some unique new maps”:
Unimi Professional Sharpening Water Stones (600/1,000 Grit and 2,000/6,000 Grit)
Keeping your knives and other blades sharp is critical since a sharp blade really reduces the effort you need to expend to cut something. In our experience, to really sharpen your blades correctly you need three sharpening stones - one to rough-grind, one to sharpen and one to hone. So, although we already have a file for when we’ve really nicked up our machete, hatchet or axe blades, a dedicated sharpening stone (325/750 grit) for normal sharpening, and a small sharpening stone (120/400 grit) for on the spot touchups, and backup in the outback, we decided to add some finer (e.g. higher grit number) sharpening stones to our gear – especially for our knives. To that end, for medium to fine sharpening and honing we purchased two different dual-sided Unimi Professional sharpening water stones; one with 600/1,000 grit and the other with 2,000/6,000 grit – both for use before we head out on any adventure.
You can find the details about the Unimi Professional Sharpening Water Stones on the Camping/Tools page.
Super Blood Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse
Well, yesterday (20 January 2019) here in New England, we had 12 new inches of snow dumped on us between 5:00 PM Saturday and 6:00 PM Sunday, so we thought that we wouldn’t be able to see any of the Lunar Eclipse of the Super Blood Wolf Moon. Luckily, the storm ended and the sky cleared up (mostly) just before the eclipse started.
The lunar eclipse started at 9:39 PM ET when the edge of the Moon began to enter the Earth’s penumbra (the outer section of the shadow). At 10:33 PM. ET, the Moon reached the umbra and the Moon became significantly darker. By 11:41 PM ET the Moon was all the way inside the umbra and the eclipse really started. The edge of the Moon began exiting the umbra at 12:43 AM ET and the eclipse completely ended at 2:48 AM ET.
Although the snow storm had passed there was still a little haze in the air and, with the temperature at 5 degrees (wind chill of -7 degrees), although we could see the eclipse quite well – it was difficult to take any great photos. Here’s the best of what we captured
If you missed the eclipse, and want to see what it looked like without watching a replay of one of the 5 hour livestreams, here’s a great 1:23 minute time lapse video of the whole event from a Skywatcher (Wouter van Bernebeek) in the Netherlands:
Enhancing Your Backwoods Navigation Skills
When we’re in the outback, especially the deep outback, we like to have all the necessary navigation tools that we can (e.g. trail map, compass, GPS app, etc.,) to make sure that we successfully find our way to where we are going. But, in addition to having these tools, you need to have the knowledge related to how to use them, and the basic knowledge of how to read the signs of the wilderness around you.
So, if you're looking to enhance your backwoods navigation skills, you might want to check out Tristan Gooley's "The Natural Navigator" website. The site gives some great tips on how to use the Sun, moon, stars, sea, plants, animals and weather to help you find your way. The website has lots of great information and write-ups on how to navigate in the wild; it even has tips about how to navigate in a city and in extreme environments.
You can check out “The Natural Navigator” at: https://www.naturalnavigator.com/
If you want to read a brief overview of natural navigation, here’s a good article, written by Sommer Mathis for Atlas Obscura back on 25 July 2017, that provides a good overview – “An Animated Guide to Nature’s Best Wayfinding Secrets”. The article covers five of Tristan’s favorite natural navigation tricks:
You can read the entire Atlas Obscura article here:
If you want to learn even more than is covered in the brief Atlas Obscura article, or what is written on Tristan’s website, you might want to check out one (or more) of the books that Tristan has written to share his knowledge and expound on his point of view:
What’s the Right Saw for You?
After I posted the blog about getting a new Silky Ultra Accel Curved Blade Folding Saw (Large Teeth 240mm, 446-24) for Christmas I received a few questions asking about the pros and cons of different types of saws and how a person should go about choosing a saw. So I thought that I would take a crack at answering those questions in this blog post. Note: We also have a Chainmate CM-24SSP 24-Inch Survival Pocket Chain Saw. You can see the details related to both of these saws on the Camping/Tools page.
Types of Saws Overview
First of all there are three basic types saws to consider when looking for a saw to take with you into the outback (specifically excluding the typical “wood shop” hand saw – which is great for construction at your house – but lousy in the woods):
1) Bow Saws
2) Folding Saws
3) Pocket Chain Saws
Since each of these types of camping saws are significantly different let me touch on their advantages and disadvantages.
Bow Saws – Bow saws are probably the most efficient type of camping saws. A reputable brand’s saw will have a stronger frame, more clearance and longer blades, improving your ability to cut larger logs and green wood. The biggest advantages of bow saws are that they are sturdy and efficient. The biggest disadvantages are that they are heavier, oddly shaped and do not pack very well. To address these disadvantages there are several folding bow saws on the market, but in our opinion these hybrid designs decrease the effectiveness of the saw (mostly due to the reduced clearance space between the saw blade and the frame) and only partially solve the packing issue since you have to reassemble the saw to use it. If I was in a stationary campsite, I would choose a bow saw because of their stability and efficiency – but a bow saw would not be my choice if I’m hiking and camping due to their packing shortfalls. If you want to check out bow saws you might look at the following 8 popular ones:
Folding Saws – Folding saws are our preferred type of saw for camping since they do the best job of balancing cutting efficiency and packability. There are lots of folding saws on the market, but we prefer saws that cut on the “pull stroke” instead of saws that cut on the “push stroke”. In our experience the fatal flaw on most folding saws is the thickness (or thinness) of the blade. On pull stroke saws there is less pressure on the blade when it is cutting since it is being pulled back toward you. Whereas on saws that cut on the push stroke there is maximum pressure on the blade when it is being pushed forward to cut. Often times this causes the saw blade to flex and bend/break if it binds up while cutting. In contrast, if a pull stroke saw binds while cutting it just gets stuck – without bending/breaking the blade. The biggest tradeoff on folding saws is the length of the blade since that dictates what size wood you can cut and how long/heavy the folded saw is. We think that you need a blade that is at least 8 to 9 inches long to be effective. The other critical component of a folding saw is the handle – so make sure that you have one with an ergonomic design that fits your hand (diameter, length and material) and how you saw. Also make sure that the saw has a mechanism that locks the blade into position when it is in use since there are few things more painful than having a saw blade cut into your hand while sawing. If you want to check out folding saws you might look at the following 8 popular ones:
Pocket Chain Saws – Pocket Chain Saws are just what they sound like; a chain similar to that on a gas-powered chain saw that is driven by you pulling back and forth instead of a motor. The critical considerations on a chain saw are the length (since that determines what size wood you can cut) and durability (since the only component is the chain and a cheap one will either quickly wear out or break). If weight is an overwhelming consideration then a pocket chain saw is a good option since it will pack into a small pouch (approximately 3" x 4" x 2"), weighs only 3 to 4 ounces and will get the job done on any reasonable sized log that you want to cut. The biggest shortfall of the pocket chain saw is that it really can only be used for rough sawing of wood; you can’t easily use it for cutting notches or joints. So if you are using it for bushcraft activities it might suffice for the getting the timber – but not for the finer cuts. If you want to check out pocket chain saws you might look at the following 4 popular ones:
Selecting the Right Saw for You
So now that we’ve covered the basic differences between saw types, what factors should you evaluate when looking for a saw to take with you on your outback adventures? Although the evaluation factors differ a little depending the type of saw you prefer, in general we think that you should look at the following: 1) length, 2) strength, 3) weight, 4) number/type of teeth on saw, 5) diameter of log that can be cut, 6) durability, 7) ergonomic design, 8) ease of blade replacement and 9) cost.
Of course one of the most critical items on a saw are the teeth on the blade. The standard way manufacturers measure the teeth on a blade is by the inch - often listed as “teeth per inch” (TPI). In addition to the number of teeth, the size of the teeth is also a factor. Larger teeth (and lower TPI) typically provide faster cutting and are better at cutting softer wood and smaller teeth (higher TPI) are good for cutting harder wood. Blades with 2-8 TPI are good for ripping soft woods with the grain. Medium blades with 10-20 TPI are for crosscutting and moderately hard materials. Fine blades with 20-30 TPI (not really applicable to camp saws) are for very hard materials and/or very precise cuts.
If you want to see more detailed information, and reviews, about saws here are some good articles/websites to checkout:
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