After hearing about the wolf that attacked a family in their tent in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada on Aug. 8, I checked the internet for an article on the attack. I was a bit surprised to find not just that attack but several more from wolves, bears and mountain lions. Given the number of humans recreating in backcountry, the odds of an attack are slim, but it does happen and being prepared isn’t being paranoid.

This spring a 10-year-old boy hiking with his family in Yellowstone was attacked by a grizzly sow protecting her cub. His family was able to drive the bear off using bear spray. In grizzly country, that is the number one defensive weapon to carry. Now that I live in grizzly country, I carry one on walks, bike rides, fishing and hikes — just about everywhere I go.

Bear spray isn’t just for grizzlies though. I sprayed an attacking dog once and the dog found it quite effective. I wouldn’t hesitate to use bear spray on black bears, wolves, wild dogs, cougars and even moose. The effect will be the same on all of them.

Trail runners, joggers and mountain bikers are all at greater risk because their activity can spur a predatory response. A jogger was killed in 2017 in Alaska by wolves, and this year a trail runner successfully fended off a mountain lion attack by strangling the cat. A few years ago, a cyclist was chased by a grizzly bear near Driggs. Be aware of your surroundings and carry bear spray. You might also check out the popular personal alarms that can blast out 130 decibel sound (about like a jet taking off).

Tents seem to be another vulnerability. The family in Banff were all asleep when the emaciated wolf attacked the tent and tried to pull the father out. In Colorado this year, a black bear attacked a camp counselor in his tent. Several years ago, a black bear in Utah pulled a sleeping boy from a tent and dragged him away to his death. I have even heard of several experiences where campers were bitten through the tent wall. All of these were predatory acts where the animal was intent on getting a quick meal.

When tent camping, I sleep away from the wall and with a weapon at hand. Even national parks allow firearms (they follow the rules established by the state in which they are in) for defense and even a knife or club is better than nothing. Whether the intruder is two or four-legged, I intend to fight to the death to defend myself and my family. If the victim in Banff had had even a knife, he could have driven back the wolf. Fortunately, a neighboring camper showed up to help, but even he was empty-handed. I would not like to use bear spray inside a tent, but the battle may not take place there and once outside, bear spray is also a good weapon.

With black bears, mountain lions and wolves, the rule is to always face the attack and to fight back. In Michigan this spring, a man was attacked from behind by a black bear. He successfully fought it off by stabbing it with his knife. Try to appear as big and as threatening as possible and like musk oxen, keep the children close.

Again, being prepared isn’t paranoid. It is no different than wearing your seatbelt — it just makes good sense when you play in wild lands.

Terry Thomas is a wildlife biologist and naturalist. You can read more of his work on his website,, or pick up a copy of, “The Best of Nature,” a collection of more than 100 of Thomas’s best nature essays at the Post Register. Follow him on Facebook, Nature-track.