Stopping a charging bear with a blast of pepper spray, driving a four-wheeler and trap shooting were just some of the fun simulation activities kids got to try at this year’s Outdoors Fest on Saturday.
Now in its fifth year, the event at Montana Wild Education Center and Spring Meadow Lake State Park, gives kids and families an array of fun outdoor activities to try out, said Laurie Evarts, Montana Wild education program manager.
Activities ranged from kayaking, rafting and archery to trap shooting with a laser gun, mountain biking and fishing. Altogether 70 volunteers and some 200 to 300 kids and their parents got to play in the outdoors and try out some new adventures.
The Off Highway Vehicle simulator is a fun way to get kids to think about safety, said Tom Reilly, a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks assistant administrator. “Always wear a helmet,” he said, as he helped yet another excited child into the driver’s seat of the OHV. Soon it would be bucking down a back road as the child’s eyes grew larger and larger and their hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Always wear boots,” Reilly advised, “and always wear protective gloves.”
Across the parking lot, another popular simulator was going full bore. Mark Matheny, a grizzly bear attack survivor and the president of UDAP, which makes bear spray, was demonstrating a new piece of protective equipment and also his charging-bear simulator.
“We’re celebrating 20 years of being in business,” he said. “I was mauled Sept. 25, 1992, just outside of Big Sky when I was bow hunting.” His hunting partner happened to be a physician and EMT, who got him to an emergency room and closed his wounds with more than 200 stitches.
Matheny was mauled by a female grizzly with three cubs, he said. “When my head was in her mouth, I had an out-of-body experience. I was going down a white bright tunnel.”
But it turned out to not be his time to die. “I got a message to go back and serve others,” he said, and he began to make products to make people safer.
The latest product he showed off Saturday is a bear spray pack that attaches to the back of a backpack and can be deployed if a person is attacked from behind and has a bear on their back. A push of a button on the backpack shoulder strap releases a burst of pepper spray into the bear’s face.
His new charging-bear simulator machine gives people an opportunity to practice using bear spray on a “bear” racing at them at 25 miles per hour.
“It gives you an idea of the actual speed bears can move,” said Matheny. “They are faster than a race horse. People can be stunned because of their quickness.”
For the younger set, like 4-year-old Savannah Crumley, there were some calmer activities to try out such as fish tattoos, the Wildlife Olympics, making leaf sun catchers and the oh-so-fascinating tornado in a bottle.
Meanwhile, indoors at the Montana Wild Center, the laser-shooting simulator was a hit, drawing a line of enthusiasts.
Kids and some moms tried out laser trap shooting under the watchful eye of volunteers who showed them the correct way to hold the rifle.
The simulator is also used for hunter education classes across the state, where students learn about safe shots to take in the field and which ones to pass up.
“It’s a way to teach shooting skills and technique and it’s a confidence builder,” said Wayde Cooperider, FWP outdoor skills and safety supervisor. “This is a safe environment to work on shooting skills.”
Six-year-old Cheyenne Prater had just scored six hits. “It’s a perfect score for a 6-year-old,” she said, smiling at her mom, Kristy Brown.
“They’ve liked it all,” said Brown of the activities the family had tried. “But bear spray practice was the favorite.”