"Ha, Ha, Ha! You Guys Are So Dead!": Despite Mockery, There Is Value To Plastic Robo-Bear

Even though Cowboy State Daily's Mark Heinz and Bill Sniffin were mercilessly mocked for their videos where they shot fake bear spray at a plastic bear on a glorified Roomba, hunters say there is real value to "robo-bear."

MH
Mark Heinz

July 02, 20237 min read

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As the saying goes, everyone’s a critic, but I’ve found that being a target of the peanut gallery is as much fun as being a part of it.

Such was the case recently with a video of an encounter Cowboy State Daily columnist Bill Sniffin and I recently had with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s “Robo-Bear.” The department uses the contraption to help train people in the use of bear spray.

Video Went Viral

The funny thing is, the “Bill and Mark’s Excellent Adventure with Robo-Bear” video came about by pure happenstance.

I live with my wife and our youngest kid in Laramie, but we’ve got close family in Riverton, so I’m over there frequently. I was spending a week there recently, working remotely from my older daughter’s house. I popped over to Lander and visit Bill on my day off.

We decided to head over to the Game and Fish’s outdoor expo. Right after we got there, we met Game and Fish Large Carnivore Specialist Dan Thompson running demonstrations with the Robo-Bear and cans of inert bear spray. So, we decided to give it a try, and took video of each other’s rather pathetic attempts to put Robo-Bear in his place.

I sent the videos over to Cowboy State Executive Editor Jimmy Orr and told him it might make a fun little story, and he agreed.

It wasn’t until many days later that the Cowboy State Daily social media team informed us that the video of Bill, Robo-Bear and me was blowing up the Internet.

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A Good Ribbing Is Always Appreciated

A little while later Jimmy did a follow-up article based on what he was seeing in the comment sections about the video.

The consensus of most viewers? If that bear were real, Bill and I would be screwed. The bear would have mauled us.

I appreciated the well-deserved ribbing in the comments. One of my favorites came from Stan Molluck: “This is hilarious! You guys are so dead!!”

I also liked the encouragement offered by Tony Roth: “The guy in the dark blue shirt sprayed the bear enough where he might only have his arms ripped off.” 

Which prompted me into a rather morbid thought experiment – would I rather lose one leg or both arms to a grizzly?

In later readings of the comments, I came across Joanne Main rooting for the Robo-Bear, and bears in general: “Next these animal killers will be shooting at a robot ... that's how pathetic they can be ... and cruel too!!!”

And since I’ve seen good arguments for either bear spray or a firearm as the best grizzly defense, I’ve got to give a nod to nod to the “use both” approach of Lawrence Valentino: “Bear spray, then the ole 45-70 equalizer,” he wrote.

Watch on YouTube

But In All Seriousness …

All the great one-liners and dark humor aside, the Robo-Bear has real value. Yes, it’s plastic, probably smaller than most grizzly cubs and rolls about on a glorified Roomba.

Robo-Bear isn’t meant to exactly replicate a grizzly charge. It’s supposed to give you a rough idea, and introduce folks to bear spray.

It fulfills Thompson’s and the Game and Fish’s mission in that regard.

I’ve never used bear spray. And one thing I learned is that if I ever do venture into griz territory with bear spray, I’m going to want to practice with it first … a lot.

Sorry, Gun Folks, Bear Spray Is Legit

The “is a gun or a spray better” debate will probably never be settled. But the stark fact is, spray has proven its effectiveness in the field against not just grizzlies, but also mountain lions and other enraged critters.

That, despite some jibing from folks in the comment section that all it would do is “spice up” Bill and me for a grizzly’s dinner.

An extensive, long-term study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revealed that, overall, bear spray is the best option for most people.

It apparently works for two-legged predators as well.

Years ago, one of my three big sisters worked odd hours at a business in a seedy area of a particular Western city (not in Wyoming) that has a bad reputation.

They kept a can of bear spray handy. And in the wee hours of one morning, my sister heard a commotion in the adjacent alley and went to investigate.

She caught a guy in the middle of trying to viciously sexually assault a woman. So, she hit him with the bear spray and said, “it dropped that son of a bitch like a sack of shit” and allowed both women to quickly escape.

Anyway, the bottom line is, bear spray isn’t a joke. It has its legitimate place in the outdoors.

The 10 mm came up several times in online comments as a popular firearm for grizzly protection. Cowboy State Daily Outdoors reporter bought a Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 chambered for that cartridge a few months ago and can attest that it shoots smoothly and accurately.
The 10 mm came up several times in online comments as a popular firearm for grizzly protection. Cowboy State Daily Outdoors reporter bought a Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 chambered for that cartridge a few months ago and can attest that it shoots smoothly and accurately. (Mark Heinz, Cowboy State Daily)

… And Guns Work Too

Now, before you go all ballistic, guns absolutely have their place as well. I don’t live or hunt in griz country, but there are plenty of black bears and mountain lions about in my favorite stomping grounds. So I carry a sidearm.

When the Robo-Bear comments section turned to the subject of handguns, the 10 mm frequently came up as a good option.

I bought one a few months ago, mostly because my .357 magnum revolver has a 7.5-inch barrel (I bought it with the hopes of actually hunting with it) and I wanted something more compact.

I can attest, the 10mm is a sweet-shooting cartridge, and plenty accurate.

And again, the USFWS study, and other notes from the field state that spray can be a good option in most circumstances, but not all.

For instance, Lee Francis of Evanston told Cowboy State Daily that when he tangled with a grizzly last fall, bear spray simply would not have worked.

He startled the bear in its den from mere feet away. He credits his 10 mm with saving his life, even though he accidently hit himself in the leg — because he was on his back trying to kick the bear away while doing a rapid-fire mag dump at practically point-break range.

I have to agree. I don’t think bear spray would have worked for him in that situation.

So, maybe consider carrying both a firearm and spray in griz country.

Cowboy State Daily outdoors reporter Mark Heinz gives "Robo-Bear" a snootful of bear spray during a demonstration in Lander over the weekend.
Cowboy State Daily outdoors reporter Mark Heinz gives "Robo-Bear" a snootful of bear spray during a demonstration in Lander over the weekend. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

They Don’t Want To Fight Either

I also think it’s important to note that griz attacks are, statistically, extremely rare. In most cases it’s because a bear, particularly a female with cubs, was surprised by a human.

That can be a matter of concern for hunters, because we’re trying to be quiet, and we’re frequently on the move before dawn or after dusk, so we’re more likely to startle a grizzly than recreational hikers are.

Grizzlies are incredibly intelligent, as some seasoned bear experts recently told Cowboy State Daily.

As retired USFWS grizzly expert Chris Servheen put it, they’re plenty intelligent enough to realize that humans are dangerous, and so for the most part, will try to avoid us.  

And if you ever get a chance to take a spin with the Robo-bear, I’d highly recommend it.

May you fare better in your comments sections than Bill and I did.

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.

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MH

Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter