Staccato noise is the trick

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 16:33:16 04/06/15

In Reply to: Alternative horn method posted by Granite Head

Granite Head,

It sounds like you apply a good measure of common sense on when to use the device. The thought of someone using a police whistle makes me a bit nervous. There are quite a number of people, myself included, that carry such a whistle to summon help in an emergency. Hopefully, those that use them for bear dispersal are using a staccato method, and not the international "code" for "HELP", i.e. 3 short, 3 long, and 3 short bursts.

I know I have presented the following information on this page before, but I will repeat it for the benefit of anyone that may not have seen it in the past. If it prevents one unfortunate incident with an aggressive bear, it is well worth the redundancy.

Research conducted with bears has shown that any sort of noise that is rhythmic and repetitive (with the possible exception of ultra-loud noise, like high caliber gunshots, explosives, or caldera eruptions) tends to produce curiosity in some bears, as opposed to scaring them. Anyone who has read research on auditory figure ground reference will understand this right off. What was most effective in (1) gaining the attention of bears, and (2) producing the desired impact of dispersing them away from the source of the noise, was LOUD staccato noise. This is a characteristic of animated conversations in a group, anticipatory horn honking on the approach to a "blind spot", or public safety radio communications. Unfortunately, in the case of some portions of Yellowstone, particularly along the southern boundary, staccato gun shot reports have become a magnet for some adult grizzlies, who associate the noise with the possibility of a free meal, via a freshly-killed elk carcass or at least, a gut pile, during hunting season.

Sooooooo, if you are going to do anything to make noise to alert bears to your presence, do it in a staccato fashion. Unfortunately, bear bells have an annoying tendency to ring in a rhythmic fashion, as our walking gait is rather rhythmic. (I tried numerous approaches to rendering bear bells staccato, and failed miserably, back when the research was first published.) One of my favorite methods for producing LOUD staccato noise when hiking solo in grizzly country is to either create songs ad hoc, or sing way crazy made up ditties that I have made up over the years, every once in a while, suddenly boosting the volume considerably. I have yet to surprise a bear while using this technique. (Nothing like someone with absolutely no formal training/experience in singing and no natural talent doing a rendition of some oddball tune a cappella to get any organism's attention!) I've used this technique extensively in Alaska, where some trails navigate tight, brushy space, where way BIG moose hang out. So far, so good.


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