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:
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!
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:
"Know Before You Go" (KBYG) Online Avalanche Education Program
Just in time for winter the Utah Avalanche Center has produced a new set of Avalanche safety classes and made them available online.
The free "Know Before You Go" (KBYG) online avalanche education program was specifically made to help people learn about avalanches and the best way to ski, ride and hike in avalanche terrain safely.
There are 5 interactive courses designed to help everyone learn the principles needed to be safer and more confident in the avalanche terrain.
You can find out more at both the “Know Before You Go” and the Utah Avalanche Center websites.
Packing Lighter for Endurance and Speed
These days many people are not just out there backpacking, they’re lightweight, ultra-lightweight and super-ultra-lightweight backpacking so that they can travel further and faster. So what are the definitions of lightweight, ultra-lightweight and super-ultra-lightweight backpacking, and what gear do you need to jettison from your normal load to give it a go?
The short answer is that for lightweight backpacking your “base pack” should weigh less than 20 pounds. Ultra-lightweight requires a base pack weight of less than 10 pounds and super-ultra-lightweight requires a base pack that weighs less than 5 pounds. Note that “base pack weight” refers to the weight of all the items in your backpack, including the backpack, with the exception of your consumables (food, water and fuel). Base pack weight also doesn't include the clothing that you are wearing to hike. Alternatively “skin-out weight” refers to everything in your pack plus your consumables and the clothes that you are wearing. In other words, skin-out weight is what you weigh with your clothes and backpack on - minus the weight of your naked body. But there’s a lot more to Lightweight, Ultra-lightweight and Super-ultra-lightweight backpacking.
Luckily one of our website’s readers found a great article on Angie’s List (thanks Steven and Stephanie - who knew that they had hiking articles on Angie’s List) that summarizes this trend and provides lots of links to other websites to give you all the necessary information to get you started. Since the article nicely aligns with our thoughts on the topic we thought that we would pass it along - "Ultralight Backpacking: Keeping the Packing List Short". You can find the article here:
….and here’s a complete listing of the 21 links that the article references:
1) Start Lightweight Backpacking
2) Ultralight Backpacking Guide (How to Easily Conquer Lightweight Hiking)
3) Working Gear List: The Big Three
4) The Big Three: How to Lighten Your Backpack, Sleeping Bag and Shelter
5) Lightweight Backpacking Step 2: The Big Three
6) Ultralight Makeover
7) How Much Should Your pack Weigh?
8) A Weekend Backpacking Checklist for First-Timers
9) Lightweight Backpacking: The Big Three
10) How to Pick Your Big Three
11) Water for Hiking
13) How to Cut Water Weight: A Backpacker's Guide to Hydration
14) Ultralight Backpacking: 10 Tips for Shaving Weight Without Sacrificing Comfort
15) Tips for Lightening Your Backpacking Load
16) How to Calculate Backpack Weight with LighterPack
17) Organize Your Backpacking Trip
18) How to Pack and Organize a Backpack for a Euro Trip
19) Long-Distance Hiking: Lessons from the Appalachian Trail
20) Pack Like a Pro: Ultralight Backpacking with Scott Robertson
21) Making the Switch to Ultralight Backpacking
If you read the article you’ll see that many of the embedded links talk about the need to first sort out your backpack, shelter and sleeping bag/system (the “big three”) since they are the absolute required gear and weigh the most. After that, assuming that you still have remaining weight allowance, you need to add water, food, fuel, cooking/eating utensils, first aid kit, etc.
So, if you’re interested in challenging yourself with a Lightweight, Ultra-lightweight or Super-ultra-lightweight backpacking adventure, look over all this great information and get out there…….
Another Good Source for Gear Reviews, Gear Checklists and Outdoor Knowledge
These days there’s lots of information related to Hiking, Camping and Shooting gear on the internet – some of it good and detailed - and some of it superficial and just plain wrong. Since we like to help our readers save time by focusing on information from good online resources (instead of wasting your time surfing all over and filtering out bad resources) we list the best sites that we find on our website under the heading of “Other Helpful Information Sources”.
Because the content on the internet is constantly changing, we also update our references when we find new ones that we like. Recently the folks at MyOpenCountry.com found our website online and reached out to us to us since we both love the Outdoors and share a common point of view. We hadn’t seen their site before so we looked it over and really liked the information that they were putting online.
We especially liked that they had a specific sections for “Hiking & Camping Gear”, “Hiking & Camping Tips & Guides" and “Trip Inspiration” – much like the content on our site.
In addition to all of their other content, the folks at My Open Country just published a great detailed article with their point of view on the gear you need for Hiking titled "What to Carry: 3 Season Hiking Gear Checklist”; they even included a downloadable checklist to make things easier for you.
Their article starts with some "Quick Tips: Do's & Don’ts" and then the covers the areas listed below in more detail:
So, if you’re searching for another great outdoor information source, you might want to take a look at, and bookmark, MyOpenCountry.com.
If you want to see our latest gear checklists you can download PDF versions of them here:
Disaster Preparedness Gear
Preparing for Fall Hiking
Well Autumn is in full swing here in New England. For some people that means that the happy days of Summer Hiking and Camping are over – for us it means that there are even more beautiful sights to see in the outdoors. But one thing is sure, hiking in the Fall requires different preparation than the other seasons. So here’s some tips from what we have learned over the years.
Be prepared for shorter daylight hours. Because of this you should plan to start and end your hikes a little earlier. If you are planning a half day hike (e.g. ~6 hours) you probably need to be on the trail by 10:00 AM to give yourself a little buffer. As Fall approaches Winter you probably need to even start earlier since here in New England sunset will arrive between 4:30 and 5:00 PM. When you plan your hike read your guidebook or trail map ahead of time and be realistic in assessing your group’s ability to complete the hike in the allocated time. As always, make sure that you tell someone what your plans are before you depart, especially if you are hiking solo. If your plans change, make sure that you let your contact know.
Be prepared for changes in temperature. Since temperatures can change 20 or 30 degrees during a Fall day make sure that you pack an extra layer in case your hike takes longer than you planned and the temperature begins to drop. Wear polypropylene or other wicking layers. Don’t wear cotton since it can soak up perspiration, mist and rain - and stays wet, making you even colder – especially if it is a windy day. On colder days make sure that you pack gloves and a hat – and perhaps a down or fleece vest.
Make sure that you have the appropriate rain gear. If you unexpectedly get caught out in the rain without a rain shell or poncho an adventurous hike will turn into a miserable outing.
Make sure that you have enough water. Because the air is cooler and moister than in Summer, many people fail to bring the water that they need to stay hydrated on fall hikes. Bring at least 2 quarts of water for any hike longer than two hours.
Make sure that you have some food for energy. It’s always a good idea to have some high energy food with you on a hike, On a Fall hike it’s probably even more important since your body needs to generate more heat to combat the colder temperatures. So take some snacks with you.
Make sure that you take all of your normal Hiking gear – especially your First Aid and Emergency Supplies since your survival may depend on them if there is a problem on the trail and you have to spend the night in the wild.
Check the latest weather reports and trail conditions before you so. Since the weather can be more variable in Autumn make sure that you know what you are getting into before you start. If there has been wet weather lower elevations may be muddy and slippery, while higher elevations may have snow and ice.
If you are in a location that has Fall hunting seasons make sure that you increase your awareness while hiking and take the appropriate safety precautions. Pay attention to trail signs as you enter an area. It’s also probably a good idea to avoid hiking in the early morning or at dusk when most hunters are active.
If you make a fire make sure that you are even more cautious than usual since all of the fallen leaves (assuming that they are dry) increase the chance of a forest fire should something go awry. Keep fires in designated areas, fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
But whatever you do – get out there and enjoy the beautiful Fall weather and sights. You might even want to check one of the online websites that shows when the trees are at their peak Fall colors so that you can experience the full majesty of nature.
The Ultimate Leaf-peeping Road Trip Through New England
Following up on our previous blog - If you're in New England (like we are) and want to go on a leaf-peeping adventure - the Outdoor Project's got you covered. They just published a great article with lots of wonderful places to see the full glory of nature - complete with details on all the locations.
Their list of great places in New England includes:
We've been to half of them and plan to hike the others soon.
Here’s the link to the Outdoor Project’s article with all the details to the leaf-peeping locations; enjoy:
When Will the Trees Get Their Peak Fall Colors in Your Neck of the Woods?
Since Fall is now officially here - it's time to start looking at all the beautiful Autumn colors. Luckily there’s a great online resource that you can use to see when the tree colors should peak anywhere in the US on a “Fall Foliage Prediction Map”.
Here’s what they are predicting for the upcoming week:
And it looks like they are predicting the week of 15 October will be the peak for “leaf-peeping” here in New England:
If you want to see what the predictions are for your part of the country, or a part of the country that you plan to visit to see the beautiful fall colors, then you can check it out the on the following website:
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