Mark of the Grizzly by Scott McMillion

Subtitled “True Stories of Recent Bear Attacks and the Hard Lessons Learned”, this book examines a series of grizzly encounters (I loathe to use the word “attacks”) to provide lessons on how to behave in bear country for visitors and attempts to piece together a more in-depth explanation of bear behavior. Incidentally, however, I was quite happy to be reading this one on the plane away from bear country; I have no idea how I would be able to sleep in a tent or going hiking after reading about maulings in some of the places I have visited!

Despite my understanding that the book is set entirely in Montana, bear attacks from Alaska, Canada, and Wyoming are included as well. And one of the more fascinating parts of the book wasn’t even about a bear encounter. Rather, the book touches upon the problems facing Banff National Park in Canada. The park’s proximity to Calgary, the spectacular growth occurring in Banff, and the TransCanada Highway bisecting the part pose a serious threat to the park’s survival, particularly the genetic variability among the grizzly bear population. Given that the book was published in 1998, I would be curious to learn more about the park and if the problems have become worse or been mitigated somehow.

The bear encounters included in this book are meant to be a cautionary tale. Not to scare people about bears, but rather to educate them about the decision to enter bear country. Some of the encounters are thought to be provoked either by stupidity (McMillion gives the antidote of one man who touches the behind of a grizzly cub while its mother watched) or by natural instinct on the part of the bear. If you startle the bear, get between a mother and her cubs, or it perceives you as trying to take its food source, the bear could respond in a aggressive albeit natural way. The hope is that people would not get themselves into this situations but, if they do, that they know how to properly respond. Running, looking the bear in the eye, or screaming could trigger a bear to charge.

Some of the encounters, however, seem to be unproved. Bears wandering into campsites and attacking people while they sleep or seeing the victim as a food source after protecting their young, for example, will typically be exterminated by the National Park Service. In this discussion, the Canada Parks Service ends up looking like a bunch of bumbling fools — killing bears that were not involved in the attack. But the decision to kill a bear that has hurt or killed a human is not always a clear cut science, and it was interesting to read the different reactions of those who have been mauled by bears.

One person demanded on their way to the hospital that the bear involved in their mauling not be killed. Another purposefully went out with his father and brother to try and kill the bear himself. I, personally, don’t believe the first reaction should be to kill a bear, but I do understand the other side of the argument, which may be why I found these parts of the story to be one of the more interesting sections.

There does not seem to be a clear idea of what one should do if they are charged by a bear. Some people fought back and survived. Others did not. The importance of this book comes from heightening people’s awareness and making them more bear aware, more conscientiousness of their activities and actions in bear country.

Book Mentioned:

  • McMillion, Scott. Mark of the Grizzly: True Stories of Recent Bear Attacks and the Hard Lessons Learned. Helena, MT: Falcon Publishing, 1998. Print. 252 pgs. ISBN: 1560446366. Source: Borrowed from my mother.
Book Cover © Falcon Publishing. Retrieved: June 4, 2013.
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