Speaking of Safety while Searching…

Submitted February 22nd, 2020
by dal


I can tell it’s close to spring because I am getting questions from searchers about bears in their search area…and what precautions to take to be safe…

Most of those concerns are about the Yellowstone/Teton area or about the Glacier area.

Since 1979, Yellowstone has hosted over 118 million visits. During this time, 44 people were injured by grizzly bears in the park. For all park visitors combined, the chances of being injured by a grizzly bear are approximately 1 in 2.7 million visits.

That all sounds pretty good unless you are the one in 2.7 million visits…and your chances of being that one person are exactly as good as everyone else’s chance….

However, you can take some precautions to minimize your likelihood of being the one…

I believe the best precaution is to be sensible about where and when you search. It seems unlikely that Forrest, who planned this chase for families and whose intent it was to get kids outside and having fun in the outdoors, would hide the chest in any kind of “dangerous” location…including a known grizzly bear riddled location.

Next, if grizzly bears are known to inhabit the area you are headed into, check with the rangers the day before, or the morning before you search. Ask if there have been any grizzly bear sightings in the area. They will warn you if there have been sightings…then you should reevaluate your plans…

Finally, before you head into any area where bears or lions frequent, make sure you don’t search alone. Make noise while you hike and carry bear spray.

Speaking of bear spray…make sure you know how to use it…
Bear spray is pretty useless tucked away in your pack and not a lot more useful if you have not practiced with it. You need to have armed the can and pressed the trigger once to see how it works before you need it. Then, unarm the can and keep it handy when you hike.

A very bad time to be reading the instructions is when you need to spray a bear…

But safety in the mountains…even in our national parks should be of concern to any searcher. Here are some statistics to get you thinking about safety..

Every year, more than 318 million people visit America’s 419 National Park System sites, including designated National Parks, National Lakeshores, National Monuments, National Historic Sites and National Seashores.

An average of six people die each week in the national park system, a figure that includes accidents like drownings, falls, as well as motor vehicle crashes, natural causes such as heart attacks and suicides. Drowning, automobile accidents, falls and suicides are among the top causes of death at national parks.

And the number one cause is automobile accidents. Folks rarely drive fast in national parks…but they do drive distracted. Running off of the road or crossing into oncoming traffic lanes are common problems in national parks…

So be careful out there…deadly encounters with wildlife are rare…but there are many other ways to hurt or kill yourself in the mountains…

The Boy Scouts have it right…”Be Prepared”!





59 thoughts on “Speaking of Safety while Searching…

  1. Dal,
    What is your advice in regard to snow cover? Is there a good chance that snow would empead searchers and in what ways.
    Thank You

      • My very first BOTG trip was in March. I thought that my experience with snowshoeing & winter mountain-climbing would make my search a cinch. I even brought along an inflatable sled with a rope in my pack so that I could glide the treasure chest back over the snow with minimal effort. I was very much wrong on all counts and had a miserable day. I wished afterwards that I had waited for the snows to melt like a sensible person. Sometimes I have to learn lessons the hard way!

    • Owwweeeee!!! That bear spray in the crotch incident is pretty hilarious…of course it’s only hilarious because it was not me…
      But…I will admit…about 25 years ago I was traveling with someone and we were headed to Glacier and bear country for some hiking. My hiking buddy had never used bear spray so I decided to stop and practice on the side of the road somewhere in the hinterlands. I showed how to remove the trigger lock and then pointed the can away from me and pulled the trigger. At that exact and precise moment a puff of wind blew the spray back into my face. GAWD! That was both painful and humiliating. The effect in my eyes lasted for about a half hour and on my respiratory system for a about the same. It took an hour to get back in shape to where I could drive again.The skin on my face stayed sensitive to the sun for about a day..
      I never made the downwind mistake again.

      Life is one big learning experience…

      • When I became a certified instructor, the final exam for same was giving a 1 hour graded lecture. One of the other Sergeant’s attending the same school had the OC canister on his duty belt start leaking during his final exam. He finished his presentation, but I never saw him move so fast as when he was told he had passed. He resurfaced about in hour later to support the rest of us who had not yet given our presentations, but he was still wearing that unmistakable eau de OC cologne.

    • Cynthia…in anticipation of our planned search (somewhere in the greater Yellowstone area) in a few months, I’ve been practicing my 2 fisted, ambidextrous, spaghetti western style bear spray quick draw and I hope you are too!!

        • Lisa…After a close encounter of the worst kind I now carry 2 cannisters of magnum sized bear spray. Easily accessible because they fit perfectly in my front wader pockets. Alternatively, I have a super small and lightweight Nathan running pack that has 2 front elasticized pockets that perfectly hold 1 cannister and the other easily clips on. Gotta go with confidence!!

        • Just last fall in Montana and individual deployed entire can and then upon throwing the empty can at the bear, the bear left.

      • Sally – Love your description above for being “bear aware.” LOL! Yes, as you know I live in Montana and I go fly fishing by myself at times. That spray is always at my side and so is my “stop and look around every few” method. Hard to do though when you have an 18″ Cutthroat at the end of your line! 🙂

        Be safe this season ladies!

  2. It’s funny that people are concerned about bears. Maybe it is something that they have subconciously drawn from hints. I often find myself looking at places that are named for bears. Like bear wallow and bear spring.

    • I was driving down a forest service road in Shoshone. Someone in town had told me there’s an old Grizz that lives in the area. But as I approached a bend in the road I saw a sign that said “bear left”. So I breathed a sigh of relief, left the bear spray in the sedan and went searching for Indulgence.

    • I wasn’t all that concerned about bears, until I was hiking in snow once and mud another time and saw fresh tracks the size of dinner plates. I looked at my bear spray, and decided it did not give comfort as much as I thought it would.

  3. I concur with the incidences, Dal. In RMNP, we’ve had our share of rescues/recoveries due to falls. Last year, my husband heard a gunshot in the evening and reported it to the Ranger at our campground. He directed her to where the sound came from and was told the Park is popular for suicides, which we had not known, and that they would do a search.

  4. I just always remember that there’s no one coming to help. Slip and fall, animal encounter, the possibilities are endless for danger. Everytime I have been blessed with learning (sarcastic here), being calm and having previously learned what to do, is what got me home. Rain kills more with hypothermia than winter for example. Forrest fires go as fast down as up, mt.lions watch you not the other way around, and of course bears are HUGE. Hopefully everyone has a safe time in the woods and wear a seat belt and drive defensively. My three cents.

    • Brian,
      My biggest fear are big cats, they don’t make a sound and blend in under bushes rocks and trees. They are masters at stalking and before you know it, they pounce. I always carry a gut knife on my belt, it’s what you want if you have any chance of fighting a cat.

      Having said that I love cats and I’M no Jim Bridger or Siegfried & Roy… I don’t want to end up like Roy. Perhaps I will bring a Big Ball of String for the Cats

      • The closest I’ve came was about 15ft face to face, we stared for the time it took a ciggerrette to burn. I anticipated a pounce and attack, but ultimately it walked away as casual as we crossed each other’s paths. The cats definitely deserve some respect in the woods.

      • Lol Grapevine… I’m going to start making a big ball of string for my next search . I wonder if bears ever stalk people like the the one in Scrapbook 126?

  5. Summer time= bug spray, bug spray, bug spray.
    In most of our search areas, flying bugs will give you something to remember the trip by. If heavy, face nets and long sleeves. And of course, use all the safety comments from f, don’t take anything for granted.

  6. In my opinion you should never think you won’t run into a bear. My son and I have been to our search area a dozen times, yet we ran into a massive grizzly. We were stopped on a sharp corner of the trail and talking of which direction to take off of the trail when this monster of a bear turned into the corner we were in. The bear was looking low and swinging his head side to side and didn’t notice us. This gave us time to pull out our bear sprays and lock shoulders to appear larger. By the time the bear looked up to notice us, he was approximately 25 feet away. As the bear peered at us, it was like a cartoon surprise with the “YELP” WHOOOP!!! The bear spun around with unbelievable speed, then leaped and bolted off! THIS IS AN EXPERIENCE I WILL NEVER FORGET! It was awesome to see the bear in his natural state just moseying along with no worries. But to see the terror in his eyes as we tried to avoid his, was distraughtly un-satisfying. I felt guilty for intruding upon his peace. I am proud in the way my son and I handled the situation, with courage and calmness. My experience has been 1 huge bear in twelve trips.
    Learn all you can about each individual species as this was our lifeline and can be yours. Over the next week, we ran into warm bear scat and freshly broken tree branches. Please be bear aware.

  7. I haven’t yet had a grizzly encounter I didn’t like. It’s nice having them ’round. Do not underestimate their intelligence!

  8. Don’t fret everybody, with my luck I’ll probably get attacked at least 8.25 times by unapologetic wildlife once I drop boots into the Rockie Mountain territory. So, the way I see it, y’all are safe to search this up coming search season, as for I will be tryin to avoid the Grizzly heed.

    Pauley T

    P.S. I think Cynthia has it right by the way, spray yourself with bear spray and walk into the wilderness, who’s gonna bother ya that way? Smart and efficient.

  9. Nice safety bulletin Dal. Safety is the responsibility of everyone that accepts Fenn’s challenge to search for his treasure. Ignoring it is flirting with disaster at any given moment. Let’s all help keep this a safe search season.
    Side note… Bear Grylls had an episode where they “spiced up” a wild meal by spraying their catch from a distance with a canister. I say… don’t ever spray on or near anything that you may come in contact with at any time. Choose sprays that have the appropriate EPA labeling. It is worth the research to stay away from improperly labeled products as these can result in life altering circumstances. Good luck and don’t rush foolhardily out and become another statistic…

  10. On a serious note here …

    I had a dream one night that I was walking in my neighborhood. Out of the bushes came a huge male lion. I was caught off guard and completely defenseless. I wasn’t even carrying keys in my pocket. I learned from this dream. Sure it was just a dream, but what I will never forget is the powerful feeling of “fear” that came over me. I knew I was going die a horrible death. Be prepared for bears and mountain lions. Carry bear spray in a ready holster. It will cost you $50 but it will give you a fighting chance. I carry a 12” hunting knife too. I carry a pressurized safety horn to scare away animals before they get close. Everyone IMO should have that (bear spray, safety horn, knife) with them at a minimum. Sometimes I also carry a Ruger Alaskan .454 Casul handgun depending on where I’m going. That’s my absolute last resort. I see way too many hikers in the Rockies walking in a wilderness full of danger with none of these deterrents. Don’t do it! Don’t become a casualty. Give yourself a fighting chance should you run into unexpected trouble.
    Don’t hike alone. Carry a radio for emergencies. You never know when you might twist an ankle or worse.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled program of mayhem and shenanigans.

    • Just got the Toklat. Backup for the Rem 870, which is backup for at least 4 bear sprays in search party. Almost all charges are bluffs. I don’t think I could ever take a shot unless there was contact. Plus if the first one isn’t on, you are in much deeper than if you had gone with any other option. I’ve lost track of how many searches now, maybe 15 or so. Two ended with too close encounters, stalked face to face. Only saved by the proper moves at the proper time the first time. The second, my search partner saved the day. I’m not feeling those 1 in 2.7 mil odds. When told my son a similar stat he said those odds can not be used by a searcher. Having been there he knows those stats are for the most, that spend their time in the car and on the boardwalks. But where is the fun in that? I would still go with only spray and at least one search partner. Three might even be way better, after seeing the lasts reaction to realizing I was not alone. g

    • Trouble can come in many forms. I once heard an elk very close. I ran down hill to cut it off and hide for a good picture. To my surprise it turned out to be a poacher, out of season with a call. I stayed put and let him pass. Another time I suddenly heard voices ahead. One telling the other that he was looking for that bear that was messin with his foal. I was 100 feet from his property line and 100 feet sideways to a ledge edge. I didn’t want to be mistaken for the bear and yet didn’t want to call out. I quickly weighed my odds, got up and sprinted to the edge where, looking down was a perfect a perfect ledge I dropped onto, safe at home. Another two times my closest calls by distance where moose. Only a few feet with snot flying. At least with the bear, if she would have charged I may have had a second or two. These moose were on me before I could decide why the ground was shaking. g

  11. Being attack my a mountain lion or a black bear is pretty rare. Being attacked by a grizzly is comparatively a much greater risk. Searching alone is multiplying your risk. Bear spray is very effective, however many times when people are attacked by a grizzly they are hit so hard that it knocks the spray out of their hand. If you search alone carry 2 bear spray canisters; one to quickly draw and the other on your belt for a cross draw so that if you are down with the bear on top of you the spray can be reached to blast that critter in the face. Sometimes people spray the bear and it will run away but then come back. Remember, grizzlys can’t climb trees. If you’re getting into an area where it’s difficult to see very far, pull your spray out and have it in your hand. The best thing to do is make lots of noise. Just saying, “hey bear” once in a while doesn’t cut it. Make sure that bear knows your coming! All this preparation seems like you’re making too big a deal out of it until you see that bear and your blood suddenly runs cold and you feel like throwing up!

    • And above all stay vigilant! Watch ahead of you, check behind you, and listen! Oh, and have fun, it’s an adventure remember?

    • I encountered a Grizzly on my last trip. I first smelled a strong odor of urine, was thinking it was cat piss but sure enough, a young female grizzly maybe 3 years old comes walking down the river side. I was shocked because the day before I was right where she was.
      Come to find out the locals knew Momma Grizzly and her two adult Cubs were living in my search area. Wish I had known that.
      So the next day I moved and sure enough bear scat everywhere.
      The locals said the bear population has exploded and they see bears more along the rivers now near the fishermen.
      I search alone …. So perhaps I should carry a boom box and play some classical music or Me and Bobby McGee.
      Quite frankly I carry a .357 , a gut knife and 2 cans of bear spray. I look like a traveling salesman… Next time I just might go naked, that would scare anything …

  12. Precautions are always a good idea in considering the place you are searching.

    To me the area Forrest hid indulgence is not a really dangerous area. Sure expect the unexpected, rotate your eyes in all directions as you hike and stop and listen every 100’ or so, it’s my practice and I have hiked many a trail through my life.
    Remember Forrest thought of everything and I’m sure he knew kids were going to be involved in this chase and he would not put them in serious danger. I believe that Texan with his truck load of kids could camp right where the chest is hidden without worries. So if you are putting yourself in areas that grizzlies and mountain lion are known to frequent to me you in the wrong area. Yes I know that’s about half the search area, but only half.

    Good luck and be safe.

    • Good thoughts. Maybe indulgence sits in a spot with big views. One would see if the area is safe, even from a distance. Maybe there is enough human traffic that a bear would not claim it as their own. I think he said, he was fortunate that day that there was Know one around. Maybe, and probably, our generation is just not as tough as all that came before. I like grapevines naked search idea. Here I am, human. g

  13. Regarding bears and other animals, I’ll add this advice: Much like humans, animals prefer to travel on trails (people or animal) for ease of travel. If you find yourself walking on a trail and see a bear plodding down the same trail towards you, leave the trail (at a casual pace) for a decent amount of distance (preferably uphill) and allow the animal to pass by down the trail. If they stop and take interest in you, you’ll have your bear spray ready for plan B, but normally the animal will continue right past you along the trail to wherever it’s going.

    I almost think moose are more dangerous than bears. Those animals have some of the nuttiest mood swings and can go crazy in a split-second. Just stay as far away from them as you can! And for those of you that like to hike with your dog, that advice goes double! Dogs will trigger all sorts of violent behavior in a moose as an instinctive defense reaction.

  14. Mosquito net is a good idea, and snake chaps if your off trail. I found the snakes plentiful last year, and Yellowstone has a special variety of blood sucking mosquito/gnats that don’t go away.

  15. There are several areas within YNP that do not open up until later in the spring..Grizzly Restricted Areas are some of them. I believe they don’t actually open until Memorial Day weekend.

  16. Dal,, ha ha
    Sorta like peeing., check wind.
    In NW WY, , outside of YNP I have really come
    to be a bit more concerned about moose..
    Ya, never know, if they are having a bad day.
    Around Pinedale, any creek willow
    thick, stream course it seems as if a
    20% encounter.

  17. Don’t forget that spring means spring thaw and spring melts and runoffs. You might get to your favored locale only to discover all that ice and snowfall has left your area flooded, muddy and possibly inaccessible due to torrential river flow. Be safe.

    • Good point ST, mud, and high water has been the most dangerous thing I’ve encountered while searching. While searching alone once I sunk up to my waste in mud. Spring can be a tough time to search in Yellowstone.

  18. that was a good laugh DAL thanks just make noise when walking in the woods as not to startle said griz and don’t run move slow just a thought

  19. Bears instinctively move away from humans if they know you are there. They learn it as a cub from their mother through generations.

  20. If wind and a grizz are both coming in the same direction…AT YOU…a can of bear spray will incapacitate you with uncontrollable coughing, & stinging, blurred vision. Try telling a charging bear to switch directions so the bear spray doesn’t blow in your face. On windy days borrow Dal’s ice axe just in case.

  21. There is no simple “right” thing to do to prevent problems with bears, but a couple things can help to some extent… I was a forest-fire fighter in my younger days, and while on one spot fire with one other guy, a black bear ambled up with it’s head down in the ashes. It didn’t notice us, and I only noticed it when it was about 15 feet away. I yelled, “A bear!” It took off like lightning. We walked over to see where it went and then noticed a nearby noise—a couple cubs in a nearby tree we had not seen. Meanwhile, the mother bear was racing back towards us full tilt. I yelled, “Run”, and we both raced away as fast as we could. I can still recall my less than heroic thoughts about hoping I was faster than my fellow worker… As it turned out, the bear must have stopped when it got to it’s cubs. Some people claim you don’t run from bears, but I have no doubts at all that our running saved one of us getting mauled. Another suggestion: If hiking in bear areas—make some noise. A couple pans rattling in a pack, etc. Let a bear know you are nearby, much better than surprising it.

    • Wow, yes it’s all about not getting between mama and cubs. Once I was walking to my car late at night. I walked 4 feet from a tree on the way. I glance to the tree as I past and was eye to eye with a mama Black Bear clung to the base and two cubs right above her. I never broke stride with a hey bear and sountered right on by. I am sure if there had been even a little hiccup in my step, I would have at the very least, taken a paw to the face. The proper reactions are key. Yours worked because you got away from those cubs. Now a stalking bear is a different story and all bets are off, but I wouldn’t run with that. Strength in numbers to avoid conflict there. IMO, move loud and slow, and stay together. g

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