A very fake-looking bear mounted atop a lumbering radio-controlled platform might seem awkward, but this faux bruin has an important lesson to teach.
Facing an irritated grizzly barreling in for an attack in the Wyoming backcountry is hardly an enviable situation. And having bear spray, but not knowing how to use it, can just make matters worse.
There’s a lot to think about in those precious few seconds between a grizzly starting its charge and slamming into its target in a flurry of teeth, claws and sheer mass. By then it’s a little late to try figuring out how to quickly draw a can of bear spray and release the trigger, Maria Davidson of Pinedale told Cowboy State Daily.
“You really don’t want to have to try figuring all of that out when a bear is in the mix,” said Davidson, a spokeswoman for Safari Club International, a wildlife conservation and hunting advocacy group.
SCI recently bought a “grizzly” mounted on a remote-control platform through its Campfire Conservation Fund.
The contraption is capable of zipping across rugged ground to simulate a charging bear. It’s been made available to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which will use it in training seminars across the state.
The robo-bear has been used at a couple of events so far, most recently in Jackson, she said.
The rolling bear can’t really simulate the sheer terror of a grizzly coming straight at you, Game and Fish large carnivore specialist Dan Thompson told Cowboy State Daily.
But it can give people an idea of just how quickly they must react if they ever end up having to use bear spray for real.
“It is not meant to frighten people, but it is set up to provide a little bit of pressure to allow people to feel the stress associated with accessing bear spray and effectively deploying it,” he said. “What we usually see is fumbling with the safety.”
Bear spray comes in pressurized cans that have plastic safety tabs. Those are designed to keep the spray from going off accidentally, because it’s decidedly nasty stuff, essentially grizzly-grade pepper spray.
Knowing how to release the tab and hit the spray trigger, while under stress, is vital, Davidson said.
It’s also important to develop the “muscle memory” to quickly draw a can of bear spray from its holster, since most bear attacks unfold in a matter of seconds, she added. Hip holsters and chest holsters are the most popular means of carrying bear spray.
Game and Fish gives away cans of bear spray at events featuring the robo-bear, and the rolling bruin is a great way to make sure people know how to use it properly, Thompson said.
“There are other charging bear iterations as well that have been built on rails that offer the same scenario of simulating a surprise encounter with a charging bear,” Thompson said. “Obviously it’s not the same as the real thing — we don't want to give that type of stress to anyone — but it offers insight into the mechanisms of bear spray, how it works and where to spray.”
And bear spray has proven its value over the years.
The ongoing debate over whether bear spray or a firearm is the best defense against grizzlies might never be settled. However, experts and outdoor enthusiasts agree that when properly used, bear spray is highly effective.
Law Enforcement Roots
The radio-controlled bear can be deployed at various speeds, usually a bit slower for “charges” at children, Thompson said. He and Davidson said they haven’t yet clocked its top speed, but estimate it to be about 20 miles per hour.
The rolling platform was originally designed for law enforcement training to teach officers how to deal with a charging human threat, Davidson said. But it’s adapted well to bear charge training.
The bear and its transport trailer are usually stored at the Game and Fish office in Lander because of its central location, Davidson said.
Game and Fish plans on taking it all over the state this spring and summer, Thompson said.