Protection Against the Northern Bear

Editorial note: Hi readers. Most of the time the team behind the scenes doesn’t comment on Randall’s posts. However, our home port (and Randall’s when he returns) is very close to Gilroy, California, where a tragic shooting at an annual festival occurred this last weekend. We knew this post was due to go live today, and after a long discussion, we decided it was best to move ahead with Randall’s story even though the timing was unfortunate.

For everyone involved in this project, gun ownership and safety are taken  very seriously. Our hearts go out to all those injured at the festival. If you’d like to support those impacted you can find how to donate here.



July 26, 2019

For a cruiser, the question of firearms carry can be prickly. Laws differ country to country, and in some places the law and local reality are at odds. As the first, long loop of the Figure 8 could find me on many a foreign shore in an emergency, a shore whose rules I did not know, I had decided early on to push getting a gun until later.

Later was Greenland.

Why a gun at all in the Arctic? Protection. Polar Bears are the king beast of the North. They have no natural predator, and they find the summer hunting of seal increasingly difficult as the ice recedes. They are curious, fast and strong; hungry and unafraid. For defense, a large caliber, single-action hunting rifle or a shotgun with heavy “preditor” slugs are recommended.

Canada serves as a good example of the complexity attending the firearms issue. In lower Canada, purchase and possession require licensing, which requires one take and pass a gun safety course. However, upon arrival in the north, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will be more concerned that you *have* a gun than how you came to own it. At what latitude this change in policy occurs is uncertain. In both Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, I found, licensing laws were in full force.

Greenland, by comparison, is dead simple. Here a person, be he local or foreigner, can buy a gun wherever milk or cigarettes are sold.

Or could he?

While in St. John’s, the boat fitting out next to me at the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club, yellow-hulled Breskell, told a different tale. They had attempted to buy a rifle in Sisimiut the previous year, but the purchase was refused. The cashier said an official Greenland form was wanted, and Olivier, Breskell’s French skipper, did not have such a form.

“Yes, all the books they say in Greenland a gun you can buy it,” he reported, “but did they ever try it? We tried it and it was not good.” He waves his hand in disgust.

This threw a kink into my plans. By now it was too late to pursue Canadian licensing; Greenland was my only hope. So, I reached out to Victor Wejer, who has spent many years up here and volunteers his time routing would-be adventurers through the ice from his home-office in Mississauga (near Toronto).

“Gun acquisition in Greenland is not regulated,” he wrote. “The population is small, and it is a hunting culture. It is not uncommon to see a man at the grocery store shopping for tomatoes with a rifle slung over his shoulder.”

But to ease my concerns, Victor promised to introduce me to a Nuuk local named Jens. “He’s a Dane, has lived there for 30 years, and has just returned from a two-year circumnavigation. He is a boatbuilder, a hunter … and he’s the local magistrate. I think he can help.”

The day after my arrival, Jens came aboard. He was small, wiry, tough, and carried himself with the air of a man who’s used to calling the shots.

“Yes, my wife and I did just complete a circumnavigation,” he said, “but it was a two-year cruise only because in Mauritius I took a coconut to the head and was in hospital for five months. I was pulling the tree for one and two came down; the second I did not see. Did you know that more people die from a coconut to the head each year than die of drowning?”

I did not.

“But my wife is the real story.” he continued. “She is the first native Greenlander, male or female, to circumnavigate the globe. We were all over the local news when we sailed back into Nuuk. I’m glad that’s quieted down.”

“Oh nonsense,” he said an hour later when the conversation finally turned to guns, “They can be purchased without hassle. To us they are tools, as controversial as buying a crescent wrench.” And from Mo’s cockpit, Jens pointed to three buildings within view where a rifle could be acquired.

“But come,” he said, “let’s get this done.”

Jens’ stride was large and long, and I had to run to keep up. But two store visits later we had the kit in hand, a reasonably priced, pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun with slugs for ammunition.

Final Editorial Note: This is an adventure blog and not a platform for gun ownership discussion. We ask you to respect this.

11 Comments on “Protection Against the Northern Bear

  1. Hi Randall, I’ve been loving the blog and following your travels for quite a while. We met when you took our Advanced Wilderness Life Support class in Lake Tahoe years ago (I work with John at Backcountry Medical Guides). I am going to have to share the coconut vs. drowning story in class….too funny.

  2. Here’s hoping you and the polar bears only visually interact and that you can sell your gun once you get to Nome.

  3. You have to do what you have to do. Common sense.

  4. What sort of boat is the double-ender? It looks very similar to my Saltram Saga

  5. Your thoughtfulness on this issue is much appreciated. I hope, for your sake and the bear’s, you don’t actually have to use the gun but I am glad you are properly prepared! Best wishes!

  6. Now you are equipped, you won’t need it! Guess you are waiting forward from the Canadian Coastguard to proceed further …. hope you met the doughty crew of the (restored) Ilen (out of Ireland) in Nuuk.

    • correction: waiting for word from the Canadian Coastguard!

  7. Randall, this post reminds me of my husband Andy’s humor about being invited to sail up north in polar bear regions. He always told the story he was asked to sail with his great friends because he was the oldest aboard and they could all run faster than he could!!!!!!!!

  8. Been following you with great interest Randle. My close pal Mike Johnson sends you best regards and wishes you good luck in your transit. Victor also acted as Mike’s ice guard angel on Mike’s passage. Before Mike.embarked on the Passage, Victorsaid he advised “Stay away” to many “adventurers asking about the NW Passage,”It’s a dangerous trip for the unprepared glory seekers.” Further “the object is no story to tell at the end; no problems, no disasters; all ice openings to be taken advantage of…It makes a really boring book…expect to tell stories of what you see and people you meet. Adventure is a sign of incompetence!”

    Mike was instrumental in a special award being given to Victor by the (British) Ocean Cruising Cub.

    Godspeed, Randle, and look forward to reports of your successful conquest of the fabled Northwest Passage.

    Michael Pschorr
    Santa Fe, NM

  9. Actually the rules about rifles and shotguns are the same in southern Canada as in the Arctic. Everyone needs a permit to purchase a rifle in the north or the south and Canadians also need a permit to import one. The exception (north or south) is that a non-resident (i.e. foreigner) can import a rifle they already own with a temporary permit issued for a fee on entry into Canada. Hence as an American you can’t purchase in Canada without the course and permit but you can import a rifle temporarily that you have purchased in Greenland and bring with you.

    Laurence Roberts
    Northwest Passage 2013

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