Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Guns And Bearses

Leading an extraordinary life.

Barton C. Hubris seems ordinary.

So ordinary that you could walk right past him on any street anywhere and never notice him. He's that kind of ordinary.

Yet, Barton C. Hubris is not ordinary. He pokes bears for a living.

It started back home in Bupkis, Idaho, around his fourteenth birthday. His present that year, from his proud parents, was his first pencil, and he had no idea what to do with it.

But being a naturally clever boy, Barton quickly realized the pencil had a point on one end, so he tried it on the cat.

The results could have scarred a lesser boy for life, but not Barton. He was a Hubris after all. And had plenty of time in the hospital to recover.

Now 44, Barton Hubris calls himself the world's first and one and only Poky Man, and he's still using a pencil.

Technically, he's a statistical wildlife biologist. Even has a Ph.D. in counting critters. But after all that education, Dr. Barton Hubris still felt he had no mission in life. Until one fateful day.

He was doing some August backpacking in the Grunge Range, northeast of Seattle along the Canada border, and, out of habit as much as anything, was taking notes. Without warning he was attacked by a grizzly. Nobody had even seen a grizzly in these parts for decades, and suddenly a huge and angry one was all up in his face.

Although carrying a sidearm, a habit he'd picked up while living in a frat house, Dr. Hubris had no time to even reach for it. His only weapon, if you can call it that, was his pencil. He poked.

It worked.

The bear turned. And ran away, wheezing and whimpering.

Hubris was stunned, by the effectiveness of his pencil, and the bear breath. Mostly the breath. But he was alive.

Later, after sifting through forgotten research papers in obscure libraries, he found hints. Hints that bears are severely allergic to pencil lead. Even more so than bullet lead. In fact, grizzlies can eat bullets like popcorn, and munch the people who shoot them for dessert.

But wave a pencil around and ninety-nine times out of a hundred even the biggest and ugliest bear will just turn tail and scram.

Dr. Hubris and colleagues have analyzed 269 incidents of close-quarter bear-human conflict between 1883 and 2009. The findings are sobering. "Once a bear charges, the odds of a successful outcome is seven times less likely, regardless of whether or not you have a firearm," he said. "But if you have a pencil, and know how to use it, you're almost perfectly safe."

Dr. Hubris has plenty of field work to back him up.

Armed with a pencil and a few cans of sardines as bait, Dr. Hubris has so far personally prodded, poked, or wiggled his trusty 2B at well over two dozen charging bears, though he's found that an HB works just as well, and doesn't wear down so fast. Plus, once the bears run away you can eat the sardines yourself.

But, he added, "bears are not at all the same. Avoid them if possible. And sometimes the best defense is running away. But if you can't, if you are cornered, if there's nowhere to go, don't hesitate to whip out your note pad and start with the pencil. And if that doesn't scare off the bear, aim for the nose."

Good advice.

But don't try this on the cat.

More: Guns are not fail-safe protection against bears.