Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My Idea for a new Reality TV Show

Wild Suburbia

Concept: Human encounters with wild animals in Suburbia.

Last weekend my wife and I were in Talkeetna, about 60 miles south-southeast of Denali, celebrating our 16th anniversary.

It was also the first weekend we had left the woman-child and man-child on their own.

When we checked in Saturday morning -- our B&B having no cell phone coverage -- we heard a tale of daring and adventure.

With the sun just setting at midnight, they let Rusty the Alaskan Wilderness Adventure Dog out the back door for his evening constitutional before bedtime. Ordinarily he lopes to his designated area in the backyard, does his thing, then lopes back for his treat.

Not this time: he instantly went all hackles, started growling and barking, then took off around the corner towards the front yard. The not-yet-adults no-longer-children, with no small amount of trepidation, peered around the house to see what was going on.

Rusty had chased a bear up a beech tree in our front yard1.

A beared tree. The claw marks span about five inches.


Rusty, being the obedient sort, came when called, but was reluctant to go back inside the house when there was pack defending yet to be done.

Whereupon my daughter grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, greatly accelerated his progress through the back door, then slammed and locked it.

Three days later, while riding her bike in an east Anchorage park, a 15-yr old girl was jumped and mauled by a bear.

Is Marlin Perkins available?

At about the same time this was happening, my wife and I were in a bar, responsibly enjoying adult beverages when a couple just a few stools away settled their bill.

Whereupon the bartender returned their 30/30 lever action rifle and a .44 pistol.

To absolutely no one's surprise except ours. But then, we are still kind of new around here. After a moment's reflection, though, our simultaneously dropped jaws slowly retracted: after all, when hiking probably half the men we come across are carrying a gun of some sort (women seem to prefer pepper spray). Almost everyone I know has at least one gun in the house2.

Why? Because, around here, being gunless means the predators are king.

Gun control is a total non-starter here. Only a drooling idiot desperately in need of round-the-clock supervision would advocate unilateral disarmament in the face of predators.

So why does anyone think it is a good idea in D.C. or Chicago?


1Since RTAWAD is so darn friendly, we assumed he would make the mistake of trying to play with a bear. All it took was his first whiff -- it was on the other side of the house -- to put him in the attack mode. Interesting how mere DNA can code for conduct based solely upon scent.

2Full disclosure. I don't own a gun. Yet. A short barrel 12-gauge and a .44 pistol are in my near future, though.

10 Comments:

Blogger Mark Frank said...

I have nothing against people owning guns for recreational use, but those who wish to promote their use for self-defense do considerable harm because they work by building up unreasonable fear and then overstating the ability of guns to reduce that fear.

I can't find complete statistics for bear injuries in the USA - but this little report on Yellowstone shows how small the risk is and how a few sensible measures can further reduce the risk. To quote:

From 1980-2002, over 62 million people visited Yellowstone National Park (YNP). During the same period, 32 people were injured by bears. The chance of being injured by a bear while in the park is approximately 1 in 1.9 million.


The mauling you refer to is presumably this this incident. Are you suggesting that the girl should have carried a loaded gun while doing her mountain bike race? Wouldn't it have been better to organise the race so it did not go on recognised bear trails?

July 08, 2008 11:12 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Neither a shotgun nor a .44 will save you from a mauling in the circumstances you describe.

Bears can be pretty single-minded when they are hungry or angry. In a close encounter, you will have time for one shot. Maybe.

A shotgun won't stop a motivated bear. A pistol might, but not one person in 10,000 is a good enough pistol shot to hit a vital spot on a moving bear.

The most likely danger to your life and property was to your dog. How good a shot is he?

Read the bear chapter in Gene Caesar's 'The Wild Hunters.'

July 09, 2008 1:18 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

The fear already exists; there is nothing unreasonable about fearing crime in DC, or Chicago.

Now, the question is not whether guns reduce that fear -- I'll bet fear itself is greatly reduced among gun owners -- but whether criminals fear guns enough to alter their behavior.

I'll bet they do. Almost everyone owns a gun in Alaska. Home invasion crimes are almost unheard of here.

... this little report on Yellowstone shows how small the risk is ...

... in Yellowstone.

To even come close to properly extrapolating the risk to Alaska, you would have to note that the number of visitors to Yellowstone over a 22 year period is something like 70 times the number of Alaska residents. Further, you might note the ratio of bears to people in the two places.

Last August, about 12 miles away from my house, a woman walking with her dog was attacked and mauled by a bear. Fortunately, her dog sufficiently distracted the bear so that the injuries she suffered were not severe.

Two days before the girl was mauled, two runners were attacked by a bear, but avoided serious injury.

Last winter, wolf packs within three miles of my suburban house were attacking -- and killing -- dogs on walks with their owners.

Last year, a homeowner shot and killed a bear that had broken into his house.

A couple years ago, about twenty miles from my house, two people were mauled and killed by a bear while hiking. Their grandson watched from a tree branch.

Are you suggesting that the girl should have carried a loaded gun while doing her mountain bike race?

No, I'm not. The point only was to further emphasize that here in suburbia, predators lurk, and that one is at their mercy in the absence of self defense.

++++

Harry:

In the specific circumstance, the girl on the mountain bike, no, a gun would not have helped.

But there are plenty of circumstances where they have done, or could have.

When I'm hiking, I'm not the least bit interested in a bear encounter. Which is why I always bring the dog. I'm a lot less likely to be surprised, and RTAWAD has proven he will stand and fight. He is a great dog, but I'm willing to trade his life for my wife, kids, or mine.

That said, having some experience with fire arms, I'm willing to bet that with a little bit of practice I can hit a bear with at least one round from a shotgun. With heavy buckshot at close range, that will stop a bear.

The standard shotgun load here is two rounds of heavy buckshot, then three slugs.

But never mind that. Without a firearm, I become a complete hostage to fortune.

With a firearm, the odds even considerably.

And that is against a predator incapable of asking existential questions.

Most human predators are capable of at least that.

Somehow, I doubt they welcome confronting an armed victim.

July 09, 2008 11:07 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

To even come close to properly extrapolating the risk to Alaska, you would have to note that the number of visitors to Yellowstone over a 22 year period is something like 70 times the number of Alaska residents. Further, you might note the ratio of bears to people in the two places.

OK. But let's deal with figures not anecdotes. I had time to do a little more Googling to get at bear casualities in Alaska.

Look at this little report:

A study by the state epidemiologist showed that during the first 85 years of this century, only 20 people died in bear attacks in Alaska. In 10 years, 1975-85, 19 people in Alaska were killed by dogs.

Should we all buy guns to protect ourselves from dogs?

July 09, 2008 12:59 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

We don't have bears on Maui, but if we did, I'd rather face off with a high-power LED flashlight than a firearm.

I see that this week in San Antonio, some armed citizen shot up people trying to steal his car at a convenience store.

The possibility (high) that somebody in the store was armed doesn't seem to have been much of a deterrent. Whether the armed people in the store felt more or less fear than the unarmed is an interesting proposition.

I've been in a convenience store in Texas, as recently as May, unarmed, and I didn't feel any fear at all.

I'll note in the Texas case, the armed defender didn't get in a kill shot.

July 09, 2008 2:08 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

Should we all buy guns to protect ourselves from dogs?

Depends upon how much you want to be a hostage to fortune.

And, I suppose it depends on how much you want to count maulings.

It also depends on one's assessment of the dogs in the area.

In my neighborhood, not to worry.

There are some, though, were pit bulls are quite the rage, where your mileage may vary.

It seems to me, though, that you should be trying harder to defend the position that people should unilaterally deprive themselves of the weapons possessed by criminals.

++++

Harry:

The possibility (high) that somebody in the store was armed doesn't seem to have been much of a deterrent.

In order to find out how much of a deterrent armed citizens pose, you need to count the crimes that didn't happen, not the ones that did.

Otherwise, the position you are maintaining is directly analogous to saying that aviation safety measures don't have any deterrent effect on the accidents that happened.

BTW -- the shooting was effective, was it not?

I've been in a convenience store in Texas, as recently as May, unarmed, and I didn't feel any fear at all.

Excellent. Exercise your constitutional right to not bear arms.

July 09, 2008 3:43 PM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

Hmmm. I still think you ought to get one of these, in the manly caliber of .45-70, or the even manlier .444 Marlin, mostly because I want one, so it would be nice to know somebody who had one, and could let me know beforehand how painful they are to shoot. (I have a little Winchester 94 in .44 Magnum, which delivers only about 1/3 as much muzzle energy, and it will leave you black and blue down to the elbow after a hundred rounds or so.) Plenty of guys hunt black bears with pistols, or at least they did where I was growing up, so it can be done. You've got grizzlies up there, though.

July 09, 2008 9:37 PM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

By the way: you've got a great dog. May the Big Spook bless and keep him.

July 09, 2008 11:51 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Joe:

Actually, and probably because I watched westerns as a kid, I would rather have one of those Marlins instead of a shotgun.

Unfortunately, Marlins are a lot more expensive.

Also, many experts have told me that shotguns have one significant advantage over something like a Marlin. If the encounter starts at long enough range -- say 50 to 100 yards -- a round of buckshot won't kill the bear, or even seriously injure it, but may well cause it to make a different decision.

And if it doesn't, then the slugs soon to follow will eliminate the threat.

With a Marlin, there is no opportunity to discourage the bear first, before killing it.

Still, I would sure like to have the Marlin ...

July 10, 2008 11:08 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

It does not sound as if any kind of firearm would have been helpful in the latest bear encounter, as reported in the News-Miner. http://www.newsminer.com/news/2008/jul/25/woman-injured-kenai-grizzly-attack-mend/

July 27, 2008 11:52 AM  

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