Druidry and wilderness safety

Hello everyone, I have run into an issue lately and was wondering if anyone has faced similar difficulties. I live on an island in southeast Alaska. Inevitably we have a large brown bear population with approximately 1 bear per square mile. I’d love to get out and into the woods more often but right now it just isn’t safe, especially not alone or unarmed. But, it also feels wrong to go trek out into their home with a firearm when I’m trying to operate under a banner of peace and understanding. By the time the bears start settling in for the winter, the weather will be deteriorating fast with the changing season.

So my question is, how do you all manage wildlife if there are any large predators in your area? And for those that don’t, do you have other hazards that you’ve had to overcome?

I welcome any and all input, and would love to hear about any of your wilderness challenges regardless of what the cause.

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I have been learning about this as part of planning a family trip to Yellowstone, so I am also interested in hearing these responses. What I’ve been reading/seeing/learning is about bear spray, and the experts I’ve been watching say that it is even more effective at repelling a charging bear than a rifle. I wonder if others on the forum living in bear country have any experience with that and its effectiveness. Also they keep reiterating that mostly the bears will keep away from you if you make enough noise in order to not startle them, but a bear per square mile seems like an awful lot so maybe that’s not applicable. I’m interested in learning these answers too! If these things don’t actually work then I’d really like to know. Or maybe they work in Yellowstone because the number of bears isn’t so high as where you live.

I live in northeast Ohio, so the biggest natural hazard I have is poison ivy. I’m highly sensitized to it (to the point where I once had a rash all around my mouth because there is a teeny tiny amount of urushiol in the skin of fresh mangoes, and I was eating one off the peel before I knew this), so even a small interaction causes me to break out for weeks and sometimes causes scarring. I have recently started to think of the poison ivy as a guardian of the forest, instead of an antagonist. It grows mostly in the border spaces, not in the deep woods, so it helps to keep people on the trails where they can’t do much accidental damage. I try to just be mindful, and accept that I might not get to explore all the places that I’d like to, but that’s ok, they just aren’t meant for me (not trying to apply that directly to your situation).

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It is absolutely correct about bear spray. I carry it any time I go hiking here. But bear spray only works until it doesn’t. It will never be able to stop a bear that has decided that the pain is less important than ending you. When hiking, I would always rely on bear spray first and foremost for an encounter and hopefully that would drive it off. But I typically bring a strong sidearm for if it doesn’t work. Noise is another good deterrent though I recommend just relying on the occasional clapping or talking rather than something like bells or music. Bears have a tendency to tune out or even be curious by rhythmic patterns so it’s better to be clear you are human.

I typically opt for numbers by bringing my wife and dog but when I’m looking to sit in nature and observe, I’d rather be alone to clear my mind.

That’s unfortunate you have such a strong reaction to poison ivy. It can be a serious problem in some areas. But I like your insight regarding it’s purpose. I’m grateful that I have no reaction to it especially when I used to go foraging around St. Louis in the summer.

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Honestly since it’s brown bears…definitely bring the firearm. When walking through the wild (if you’re not hunting) wear bells, multiple bells, or something that makes noise when you walk. It’s important to carry multiple objects. There will be a rhythm to the sound, but multiple objects clanging together can break that up a bit, and be more recognizable as a “pace” from something moving. That sound will alert predators that a human is coming. If you see a bear (and have the option) keep a big distance, and holler something like “hey bear!” Don’t shout, don’t sound aggressive, simply a loud “hey bear!”. If a bear becomes aggressive, and doesn’t move away - do what you need to do to protect yourself. If that means firing your weapon, so be it. The wild isn’t necessarily a place you can be safely simply because you want to be peaceful. Be careful out there. I always carry a knife, and have been taught how to use it to protect myself against animals. You won’t always get a choice, sometimes they make it for you. If you cannot protect yourself, because you have no weapon, spray etc, and the bear is clearly going to attack you - drop to the ground in a fetal position, and lock your fingers around the back of your neck. It will be the only thing you can do. Running is pointless, and so is climbing, or swimming. Any of those activities will guarantee that the bear pursues you.

But above all pay attention, carry a weapon, make noise, and stay away from bears near fish spawning areas in season! They’re in feeding mode, and have a greater risk of becoming potentially aggressive.

Wish I had nicer advice, but I grew up around large black bears, they’re smaller than a brown bear. and not quite as aggressive (but they can be!). They are easily one of the most powerful predators I’ve encountered. Personally they’re tied with a mountain lion in my book. Simply animals not to mess with.

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I also wanted to add - that by watching for specific behaviour you can guess what a bear will do. Grunting, huffing, pawing at dirt while looking at you is aggressive behaviour - but it’s a warning. Do not walk away, do not back away. Simply stand, and watch. They behaviour may continue, or it may stand up, or it may start to move away from you. If the behaviour is simply continuing start your “hey bear” again. Not as loud, definitely no aggression, or force behind it. The bear is paying attention, so you don’t need to holler. Do not move.

If the bear stands, very slowly prep your weapon, but still “hey bear”. It’s still a warning, but you want to be ready. Move slowly, and keep your eyes on the bear. Obviously if the bear starts making louder noises, or seems to be “getting worked up” you should have your weapon ready.

I used to practice drawing my knife, and getting it into a proper position while keeping my eye on a target. Also lol if you carry a knife, and need to draw it because of an animal - do not let the blade hang down from your hand. It looks like a claw, and will be interpreted as a threat. Always hold the knife so that back of the blade rest along your arm. The hilt doesn’t trigger the same response from animals as a blade does.

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I appreciate your advice. I am fairly familiar with brown bears and most other large predators like mountain lions and wolves. I’ve travelled a lot and spent a lot of my life in the pacific northwest. We used to get Grizzlies up at my grandparents house all the time. My concern is less of how to deal with the animals themselves, and more of how to still get adequate nature time, without directly wandering into dangerous situations. For example, instead of going and sitting in the woods in the morning while I have my coffee, I instead have been staying on my back porch and whittling while trying to identify sounds and pinpoint which birds or small animals are making them. Its relaxing and pleasant, but it doesnt quite have the same mental and spiritual impact for me. The trails right behind my house have been visited nightly by a young sow and her cub, so I’m playing it extra safe right now. Hopefully they’ll move on here shortly since the salmon will be running soon on the other end of the island.

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How big is the island? What kind of geography are you in? I know some areas can be pretty sparse, and some are heavy woodlands. If the island is big enough there’s likely areas you could venture to with relative safety depending on the available space lol. If it’s smallish - sticking close to home is probably the best idea with cubs around. Those are the encounters that have really scared me. Sows are way too unpredictable when they have cubs.

As for experiencing the spiritual aspect from your porch - I used to sit comfortably, completely still, and silent, with my eyes closed. I didn’t actively try to pinpoint sounds. I simply listen, and try to open my awareness to as much as possible. Hear the wind, the birds, the animals, the insects, branches creaking, leaves rustling, all at once, from all around. Breathe deeply through your nose, and take in the scents. Don’t try to scent, or hear anything specific… simply experience them. Then open your eyes and do the same thing. This was an activity I used to do with my grandpa :slight_smile: It was to help me feel a connection to everything around me.

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The main island itself is pretty large (about 4100 sq km) but the readily accessible parts are fairly limited. We’re 14 miles of road end to end. The smaller island I live on is much less space being about 1 sq km which is why having 2 bears on it is a concern. The geography is pretty much like coastal Washington/British Columbia. We’re a rainforest with rocky beaches and steep elevation changes. The forests here are primarily Spruce/Alder/Hemlock and pretty densely populated. I can’t even see 15 feet off my back porch because of the Alders and dense berry bushes.

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I have lived with bears all my life. I have met hundreds of black bears in the wild. On one river trip in Alaska and the Yukon I saw 14 grizzlies. I have an electric fence to keep the black bears out of my garden and my apple trees. We get to know the local bears and name them. Bear bangers are quite effective at chasing them out of the yard. One one occasion on the west coast I walked down a logging road beside a mother black bear and her two cubs. None of us were concerned. I do not own a gun. I have never carried bear spray. I have camped with the garbage bears in Yosemite and watched them mooch in the campground. I like bears but I keep a respectful distance. I talk to bears like I would talk to a large and potentially dangerous stray dog. I hike with my dog in bear country so I have decided to carry bear spray in case a bear chases my dog back to me. I am convinced that all animals are telepathic including humans. Apparently no one brainwashed the bears into believing that they were not telepathic so they just do what comes naturally. The only bear that was aggressive to me was a bear that I treated with disrespect and she did not like my attitude. I know it was a female because she was a griz with three little cubs. Fortunately I was in a canoe on a fast river. I learned to treat bears with respect… they pick up your vibes. I can’t comment on brown bears in Alaska. That may be different from my experience. Yes bears occasionally attack people. So do other people. Overall I feel much more comfortable in bear country or cougar country than I do in a city.

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Every time I head into the woods be it local (black bears) or further out I remember a quote from my time in the Military " better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it", any animal can be a threat under the right circumstances, unfortunately it is is very difficult to know what they are.

Be alert and be prepared it is for both yours and the animals best interest.

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This is a little late but going to put my thoughts here. This is a reminder that we live in a world and our druidry has to adapt to ever changing circumstances. You have to either accept the risk and go on your hikes to get as much mental and spiritual fulfillment you can while being armed or accept that during certain times of the year you need to stay closer to the house and focus on how to achieve better mental and spiritual fulfillment there. Maybe focus on how you are giving nature and the wildlife the time they need to create a space for you to enjoy later.

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I live in the mountains of northern New Mexico. It’s basically Colorado. And we have a lot of wildlife. I put bells on everything. I don’t know if that would help you. I also have a really really loud whistle. I do have bear spray but half the time I forget it in my backpack. I’ve gotten the creeps pretty big around cats. I’ll see their scat. My dogs good I have a Grove I go to in the words and he let me know if there’s anything around. I absolutely hate guns. But when it comes to wildlife and your safety it might be an option. You can just shoot it in the air. But I’ve done my best to never own one.
Blessings my friend/|\

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@IanM I am in California in cougar country, as in cougars hunting local deer and small mammals in our backyard at night and jumping on and off of our roof at night and making noshing noises as the eat outside our windows. That said, we know this cat has a large range, and is not always present, but you never know. Time of day matters also — not sure if you might similarly track habits of your bears? In any case, when I know that Cat is unlikely to be around here, I venture farther afield, but use a nature observation sit spot on my front porch when in doubt, and an indoor altar set up next to a window that looks out into an oak tree when I know she is nearby.

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Don’t have to worry too much about bears here in the AZ desert… rattlesnakes are the big danger here.

Meirneal

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I encountered a rattler once when I was a Boy Scout in SoCal. We were in the middle of the Angeles National Forest when I heard something that sounded to me like a Rainbird irrigation sprinkler, and I’m like “wait, what?” The scoutmaster stood watch with his y-shaped snake staff while we passed single file away from there. I moved north later on and don’t see them around anymore. That was a long time ago, when the scouts still sold snake-bite kits with razor blades and suction cups. I’m glad some things have changed.

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I’ve encountered rattlesnakes twice in Pennsylvania. The first time I was on a local mountain near a heavily used recreation area, wandering around on some stone slabs–and I heard that sound. The rattle. I knew instantly what it was, even though I’d only ever heard it on a TV show before that. The really terrifying thing was that I couldn’t figure out where the snake was. I couldn’t see it, couldn’t tell just where the sound was coming from. Literally, I didn’t know which way to jump. It rattled some more. I finally jumped to another slab, then another, and there was no more rattling. Most likely it was actually right under the first slab I was standing on. But it would have had to move into the open to strike me, so maybe this wasn’t as dangerous as it felt.

Hubby and I also encountered a rattler occupying a hiking trail. This one we could see. Said snake refused to move for us, even when hubby threw rocks at it. “Nope, my spot, not going.” We ended up thrashing through the woods to go around it, anxiously wondering if there might be other snakes around. None encountered, but a good reminder to keep an eye on the trail ahead.

People tend to assume that the East Coast is safe from predators, but it ain’t necessarily so.

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Friend of mine was mountain biking in CA. Crashed out swerving off trail to avoid a rattler on the trail. Lifted his head and found himself nose to nose with another one.

Snakes don’t play. I respect and admire them so much. So I avoid them and give silent thanks for their hard work in keeping the ecosystem in balance.

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I live on Vancouver Island and we have all sort of creatures here. Whenever I go out for long treks in the wilderness I just make a camp fire somewhere safe and let the smoke hit my shemaghs and outer wear to absorb that smell.
When I do cross paths with bears and cougars I just talk to them like they’re my dog or cat haha I don’t know if its the smart thing to do, but has seemed to work for me.
With that said I do always have a blade/axe on me when I’m out there for obvious survival purposes, with my military training I do feel quite confident that I could use them to protect myself if the need ever arises.
So far showing love to the animal has been my armour!

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I talk to the animals I see, especially the predators. My grandpa used to say respect will go a long way with our animal cousins. I’ve shared berry patches with bears (which was always super cool), but people really should know bear signals before attempting - I’ve known many who ended up with really scary/dangerous bear interactions while foraging for berries. I’ve never had to use my blade to defend myself thankfully, but we had rituals I had to practice in case I ever did.

I have had to play ring-around the-big-ol’-tree with an angry moose though lol. I don’t recommend having to do that. I was about 12, wandering through the bush on my way home, and encountered a bull moose during rutting season when I came around a rock cluster and a tight group of trees. He did not appreciate the little kid intruding in his space. I ended up spending a couple hours keeping a very large tree between me, and the moose. Eventually he got sick of me and left. Then I hurried home lol.

Terrifying and amazing experience - but do not try that at home folks! I could have been seriously injured, or killed.

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Rutting bucks really frighten me. Just the idea of a rutting bull moose is terrifying.

We have a lot of very large white tail dear here in my suburban area. They grow extra big because of lack of predator pressure and hunting and the ability to feast on people’s flower gardens. I do NOT walk my 120 lb dog at certain times of day during the rut. The deer don’t run from him during the regular part of the year. I have no doubt they would happily gore him and stomp him to death for interfering.

Someone I know from my dog’s breed club nearly lost one of his big stud dogs that way. Grappa was well over 150 lbs, powerful draft animal. He saw a buck and merrily pranced over to have a bark and chase (owner didn’t realize the buck was there). The buck’s friend, an even bigger buck, came out of nowhere and got Grappa with antlers and hooves.

Much respect to the Forest Lords. Especially when they wear their antler crowns.

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