Balancing Price, Durability and Weight with Backpacking Supplies
So I've been struggling with how to balance the backpacking budget, durability and weight....Read more
As I understand it, bear bells are simply one element in what is ideally a multi-faceted strategy of bear avoidance. Basically you want mr. bear to hear you coming - that goes double for mrs. bear. Keeping a clean camp and hanging food and other odiferous items is also a major aspect of bear avoidance.
I remember vividly, when hiking in denli NP, my partner and I becme separated precisely at the point where recent griz activity had been recently reported. Although I believe my hiking staff had a bear bell, I made sure I made plenty of noise as I struggled through dense underbrush to hook up with my buddy. No bears appeared.
Unfortunately this is the dreaded anecdote, but remember that the plural of anecdote is frequently data, beloved and cherished by all....
Alright, look, the reason I won't nominate bear bells for removal is FIRST, they don't pose an obvious and immediate threat to the user (unlike The Extractor). Second, we don't don't have any definitive data (proof) one or the other.
In '89, there was a study (experiment) that claimed bells do work. The pointed to the fact that a number of people who were charged were not wearing bells (sounds like faulty critical thinking, but I'll see if I can find it).
Then, in 2000, a guy in Alaska rigged a bell with fishing line and rang it on 15 occasions when one to several bears came near. NOT ONE bear reacted AT ALL! Not even when he rang it vigorously like an alarm!! (I'll look for that one, too). They apparently treated the sound as merely ambiant noise.
Now, if the bell's perceived (or imagined) value is in "warning" the bear you're coming, theoretically so they're not surprised and will move on, then the latter study casts some serious doubts!
THE MAN IN THE MONKEY SUIT
I have a personal theory why the bells didn't work: there was once a study where people were asked to watch a video of a basketball game and told to count how many times the ball changed hands. At one point, a MAN in a monkey suit appeared on one side, walked THROUGH the players, and proceeded out the other side.
When asked, many of the people had NO memory of the man in the monkey suit. Even when the video was replayed, they found it hard to believe.
Point being, when you're looking, or listening, for a particular thing, you may unconsciously ignore the obvious. You probably experience this ready; narrowly missing a motorcycle because you "didn't see him", etc.
I suspect bears are listening for snapping twigs, breaking branches, rustling leaves, and VOCALIZATIONS (voices, grunts, growls, etc.)
Therefore, while warning bears off in advance is prudent, bells may be merely a way to make the PERSON feel better.
OH, and BTW, the guy who rang the bells was Tom Smith, a bear expert.
Interestingly, although NO bears reacted to the bells, when he broke a pencil to simulate a snapping twig, the bears IMMEDIATELY reacted by looking in his direction!
Wrong. An "anecdote" is like a recounting/story of a [typically] singular event, often incidental and never documented in a scientific sense, but may LEAD to a more serious investigation/experimentation.
Smith intended to test the hypothesis that bear bells are effective at the outset and documented it accordingly. After 15 separate encounters, with one to several bears (I can't remember how large the groups were) in each encounter, NO bear/s reacted to the bells as I described.
That's a STRIKING result, even for a single (albeit relatively small) study!! If a number of the bears DID react to the bells, the results might be written off. But NO reaction whatsoever is TELLING and begs a closer look!
Add to this the fact that the bears reacted to the sound of a pencil/twig breaking (at least indicating bears in that area did not have a genetic hearing defect) and you have to consider the possibility the bears may NOT be listening for bells, but sounds that typically warn of an encounter of some kind (beit other bears or people) AND that bells may not only be ineffective, but that the possibility of surprising, and being attacked by, a bear still exists.
In fact, I seem to recall reading the sound of a bell, if the bear notices it, MAY make it curious enough to investigate it, making the situation WORSE and earning it my nomination for removal.
However, this is why we need more and better data. Say, a comprehensive sampling in Alaska and maybe the top 10 locations in the US for bear encounters (black and brown bears).
I've been casually looking for more scientific studies regarding the efficacy of "bear bells" as a bear deterrent and a haven't come across any yet.
However, the top two bear experts (Smith and Herrero) are NOT giving bear bells a thumbs up! The consensus, so far, seems to be that bells - don't - work!
Apparently, bears seem to regard bells as ambient noise, like the wind or birds. Instead, there is nothing more alarming and Un-forest like than a human voice. So, the best advice is to to make a lot of noise (walking on gravel, stepping on twigs, etc.), but above all, TALK, SING, YELL, any sound with your voice is great.
What about, "Yo, bear!"? Maybe if you're alone, but if you're with others, it's been suggested that you reserve the word "bear" for when there actually Is a bear sighting. That way, others will know if they hear the word "bear" there is a BEAR!!
And bear bells? It's an easy buck or two for REI, and the rest, out of the pocket from the uninformed and inexperienced. They SHOULD be told the protection bells offer is all in their head, but somehow, I doubt it will be mentioned as part of REI sales training.
As I said before, if I find any substantial indication that bells ATTRACT bears, I will revisit this subject!!!