Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dan Crane: Bear Attacks Man in Outhouse

Is nothing sacred? It is getting as if you cannot even take a dump in the woods in peace anymore.

A recent bear attack in Canada may have literally scared the living crap out of a man, in a story that should give every backcountry enthusiast pause before squatting in the woods again. Beware; reading further may just ruin one of nature’s most pleasurable experiences in the outdoors for evermore.

Recently, a Canadian man was attacked by a black bear, while minding his own business in an outhouse in central Canada. The bear pulled him right off the crapper by his pants, which were, naturally, down around his ankles. The man apparently fought back with nothing but his will to live, and some extra toilet paper. Luckily, his companion heard all the yelling and shot the bear before it had a chance to do any serious damage.

Despite the comical nature of the situation, this is no laughing matter. The 65-year old man had numerous scratches and bites on his back, but was not seriously hurt. He would likely have been killed if not for his friend, and his friend’s rifle. I wish him a speedy recovery from his injuries, and congratulate him on an exciting story, far exceeding my own most hair-raising backcountry experience.

Why would a black bear suddenly attack a person, particularly in this way? Could the man have eaten something really spicy the day before? Were the men hunting the bear earlier, and it just decided to catch them unawares before it ended up as a rug or a taxidermic oddity? Or maybe, the bear was sick of going in the woods and just wanted to use the toilet.

This story really strikes us all where we live, or poop, as the case may be. We are at our most vulnerable while doing our business in the woods. The only way to manage this vulnerability is wait to go until it is a near emergency, then do your business, pull your pants up and get the heck out of there. This should be nothing new anyways, as it is standard procedure during bug season.

For those of us who journey far off trail, where there are no facilities, perhaps it might be wise to rethink the whole strategy for choosing a place to take a dump. Although finding a protected spot for privacy’s sake is usually the standard procedure, an open area might be a better choice where it is easier to spot any large animals approaching.

If this bear behavior catches on in the Adirondack black bear community then everyone in the Adirondack backcountry could be at risk. The High Peaks Wilderness might turn into a deserted wasteland, as bears hang around campsites, stalking anyone with toilet paper in their hands. On a positive note, at least the less popular places should remain safe. I rarely see bears in the Five Ponds or Pepperbox Wildernesses, tucked away in the lonely northwestern Adirondacks.

Realistically, there is little to fear, as this bear attack occurred near Sioux Lookout, which is in northwestern Ontario, nearly 200 miles north of the Minnesota border. It is doubtful such behavior could travel such a far distance to the Adirondacks anytime soon, even if the bear do have access to a honeycomb Internet.

If for some reason similar behavior does make it all the way to the Adirondacks, the bears would probably receive the exact same fate as that unfortunate bear in Sioux Lookout. Then again, if it took place way out in the remote Adirondack backcountry, far off the trail, where few tread, who would know? This may just lead to a new thought experiment about observation and the nature of reality; if a bushwhacker is eaten by a bear while taking a crap, does it still stink?

Just be warned, squat down in the woods at your own risk. Then again, if you have to go, then you have to go. This bear attack story won’t keep me out of the Adirondack backcountry, but I am pretty sure it will be on my mind the next time I find myself squatting down in the middle of the woods. How about you?

Photo: Outhouse at Sand Lake in Five Ponds Wilderness by Dan Crane.


Dan Crane

Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.




13 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    “If for some reason similar behavior does make it all the way to the Adirondacks, the bears would probably receive the exact same fate as that unfortunate bear in Sioux Lookout.”

    I don’t think too many hikers carry a rifle? Maybe they should. A hand gun would be easier, but better not keep it at the bottom of the pack.

    Wasn’t it last year that an off duty NYS trooper shot and killed a bear in the high peaks that was entering his lean-to and approaching his daughter?

  2. Dave says:

    “Wasn’t it last year that an off duty NYS trooper shot and killed a bear in the high peaks that was entering his lean-to and approaching his daughter?”

    In 2009 an off duty trooper killed a bear that had approached his girlfriend while she was packing food into a canister after a late day meal. According to them, the bear made threatening sounds and gestures – likely in an attempt to intimidate the girlfriend away from the food. When they were unable to scare the bear away from their camping area, they shot it from about 20 feet.

    The behavior they described is common bear display behavior, not an attack, and it never even reached the level of a bluff charge, which is also harmless.

    Black bears rarely attack people, and it is even rarer that they attack to kill.

    • Paul says:

      I have seen plenty of bears (including those with cubs) in the Adirondacks in areas away from the High Peaks and they never act this way. They run away as soon as the see or sent a human. Bears in places like the High Peaks may have this kind of behavior as “common” but I think it is somewhat conditioned by too much human contact. I saw a large bear near Chicken Coop Brook near Busnell Falls in the Eastern HP one time that was your typical “scary” bear. Completely bold, very dangerous, made that way by too much contact with too many hikers.

      • Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

        Paul,

        My experience is almost exactly the same as yours. Typically, the bear runs off once it detects me, and the only time this was not the case occurred in the High Peaks. That doesn’t mean a bear attack can’t occur, just that they are rare.

        I don’t think the bears in the High Peaks are scary because they have been conditioned to too much human contact. Rather, they have been conditioned to associate people with easy (and high-calorie) food. This is not a bear problem, but a human behavior problem. Now that canisters are required in the eastern High Peaks, I would expect this behavior to slowly recede from the bear population over time.

        • Chris says:

          “Now that canisters are required in the eastern High Peaks, I would expect this behavior to slowly recede from the bear population over time.”
          Hi Dan, I think that would be true – if only everyone actually used a bear canister… I am astonished at how nearly everytime I have camped at one of the more popular high peaks locations (Marcy Dam, Flowed Lands, etc) that there are people still not using canisters.

          In the morning they are dumbfounded and angry when their food is gone.

          It is unfortunate.

          • Bob says:

            Do the DEC officers enforce the canister reg?

          • Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

            Chris,

            I don’t spend a lot of time in the High Peaks anymore, but I have been told the DEC strongly enforce the canister rule. But it sounds like they don’t do as much as they could enforcing the rules. Probably with all budget cuts, they just don’t have as many rangers to enforce the rules now.

  3. Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

    “Black bears rarely attack people, and it is even rarer that they attack to kill.”

    This is definitely true, but occasionaly black bears do stalk and prey on people. Check out the following press release about a study on bear attacks that I unfortunately found AFTER submitting my article:

    http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/lone-predatory-black-bears-responsible-most-human-attacks?page=0,0

  4. Dave says:

    I agree that it is an interesting scientific behavioral observation. In very rare situations, in remote areas, lone black bears can display predatory behavior toward humans.

    But the take away from that study should be this – it is extremely, exceptionally rare: 59 fatal encounters in 110 years, in all of North America. Only 14 of them in the lower 48.

    By any standard, that is not a risk to be reasonably concerned about.

  5. Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

    Dave,

    I agree. One is much more likely to get killed driving to the trailhead than by a rogue black bear. Especially in the Adirondacks, where bears seem to be more wary of people. In all my years I can only think of one time that a bear didn’t take off running from seeing me or hearing my voice. And that one time was in the High Peaks before they started requiring bear cannisters.

  6. Linda Waild says:

    Many years ago (before bear canisters) we wilderness camped near Blue Mt. Lake with our 4 small children. We had an enclosed metal ice box at our campsite with our frozen foods for the 2 weeks.

    In the middle of the night about 3 days in we were wakened by noises in camp. My husband peeked out of the tent to see a black bear had broken into our icebox and was chomping away on a hot dog. Knowing they are more afraid of you, he went out with a lantern and metal pans to scare it away. The bear merely turned, looked our direction, growled a little and kept eating. After several frightening minutes my husband found the lantern fuel and threw a cup full on the still glowing embers of our campfire. The resulting flare up scared the bear enough that he took what was in his mouth and waddled back into the woods.

    After securing the remainder of the food and a very sleepless night we found he had left the 6 lb. ham, the steaks and had only eaten what originally looked like a hot dog but was in reality a rope of Polish Sausage. Needless to say that was the last time we used the metal icebox and from then on stored all our frozen foods along with the rest in the trunk of our car down the hill.

    In the 23 years we camped there bears only came into camp twice (that we know of)the second time while hiking one of our kids had left the chocolate syrup in the beer cooler and when we returned the cooler was torn open, beer and pop thrown everywhere and the chocolate syrup can was now crushed to the size of a quarter.

    Black bears may be afraid of humans but where food is involved that may not be so true. That never stopped us from enjoying the Adirondacks but did make us more conscientious of our food storage while there.

    • Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

      Linda,

      I had a similar experience with my family at Limekiln Lake when I was a boy. This was back when they had a plethora of trash cans scattered throughout the campground. One night a mother bear and her two cubs came into our campsite and popped open the cooler for some steak and milk. My father threw something onto the picnic table and they ran off…but only temporarily. I think we ended up sleeping in the car that night.

      Ultimately, these kinds of encounters are human behavioral issues, rather bear problems. With a little extra effort we can prevent many of these encounters from happening.

      There is little chance of a black bear attacking, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. When dealing with a wild animal that can do grave bodily harm it is best to practice an abundance of caution.

  7. Mike Rector says:

    What are the laws on carrying a Rifle into the woods while hiking? I’ve often wanted to be safe with either my 22 or my shotgun, but always felt like I’d be looked at weird or questioned if I brought a gun on a hike. I’m not a hunter, and I don’t ever have a hunting license, but for safety is this permitted? On that note I have never come across a bear in the woods, luckily *knock on wood*.