Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Do not get caught by a bear in White.

Via Arctic Patriot I learned about a recent bear mauling in the Talkeetna Mountains, NE of Talkeetna itself.   This is remote country (I've hunted a tiny part of it) and certainly griz territory;  the basic story is that some teenage kids on the last stages of a wilderness expedition with an outdooring outfit (NOLS) got caught by a sow with cub, and injuries ranged from minor to pretty serious.

The first article I saw really didn't say much in the way of detail.  I learned more by looking at ADN, as a source.  The most recent story is here, with previous ones available in a link list therein.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a lot of CYA going on in that most recent article, which claims that the kids were "well-prepared" and that the attack was "unavoidable".  The "well-prepared" claim is clearly BS, as nobody seems to dispute that the first thing the nearest kids did was turn and run!  As well, although they did have pepper spray, it was apparently buried beyond reach at the moment of truth, and therefore useless.

As to the claim of "unavoidable", that is in no way conclusive from the information I've seen;  I suspect it is simply an easier explanation to give to distant parents and certainly less embarrassing to NOLS.  (You may note, in today's article, that the "outdoor experts" they quote are either NOLS, ex-NOLS, or the functionally similar American Alpine Institute.)

The CYA continues by trumpeting traditional defeatist arguments against using guns, while conveniently ignoring the liabilities of OC spray.  "Guns can give a person a false sense of security," but stick a can of magic spray in your pack, feel the breeze in your face, and let your worries melt away, eh?

I don't mean to harp on the kids, who seem to be in better shape than originally feared.  But it is a disservice to everyone to ignore that there was a failure here, and the failure was of what Jeff Cooper called "the combat mindset".  One of the kids apparently said this:

"I thought: 'I'm going to die,'" he told The Associated Press from his hospital bed in Anchorage. "I thought, 'This just can't be happening to me.'"

Those are the words of someone in Condition White.  As the old saying goes, "you are no more armed because you possess a gun than you are a musician because you possess a guitar".  They were not prepared for this emergency, mentally:  "[t]his just can't be happening to me" announces with crystal clarity that the speaker did not really believe it could happen to him at all.  They had a tool available (not the most failsafe one, certainly, but still, a tool), but apparently did not even keep it ready for emergency use!  Further, they did not keep their heads when they most needed to keep their heads, but rather did the very worst thing they could have done to provoke a predator to give chase.  That they may have been cool-headed after the action was concluded is great so far as it goes, but defending life often mitigates the subsequent need to preserve it.

This failure is not trivial--it is rather the whole enchilada.  Col. Cooper often said that of all the students who reported back that his training had saved their lives, not a one of them failed to credit the mindset training first, and only then any specific skill-at-arms.  The understanding that a fight could come to them at any time, from anywhere--that it could indeed "be happening to me", right now--and having a response already in mind--is what allowed them to move past dithering and into focused, directed action.

In this case, unless there's a whole lot more I don't know, the kids got lucky.  One can only hope that they realize this, among all the posturing about how "well-prepared" they were and how "unavoidable" the attack really was.

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