Bear attacks are rare. Most bears are only interested in protecting food, their offspring or their space. But each bear experience is a unique experience. There is no single strategy that will guarantee your safety in each and every situation.
Avoiding a Bear Encounter While Hiking
Your first and most effective strategy for preventing a bear attack is to avoid an encounter with a bear. Any encounter (if mishandled) could easily escalate into an attack. Here are some tips to lessen your chances of a bear encounters while hiking:
- Don’t hike solo. A group of people makes more noise than a single hiker, increasing your chances that any bear in the area will hear you. Chances are a bear isn’t going to hang around if he hears a commotion. Wear a bear bell and carry bear spray (every small deterrent helps) but don’t become too reliant on either.
- Never let your small children run ahead from you or wander off the trail.
- Stay on the trail. It will help lessen the chances of encountering a bear.
- Avoid a bear food source. If you smell a dead animal or birds circling overhead, avoid the area.
- Be aware of your environs. Features like running water, a curve in the trail and dense vegetation all increase your chances of surprising a bear.
- Hike during the daylight hours. Early morning and late afternoon hours are when bears are most active. Hiking during those times increases your odds a bear encounter.
- Keep food packed and don’t leave food bits or garbage along the trail. Bears have a very exceptional sense of smell. They can detect even small amounts of food in the vicinity. Don’t leave your backpacks unattended lying around. If a bear smell something in your pack, it will investigate.
- Watch for signs that a bear may be in the vicinity. Tracks, scat and markings on trees are all good indicators that there may be a bear nearby.
- Avoid wearing scented lotions or perfumes on the trail. Their keen sense of smell will pick up those orders.
- Avoid areas known to have a lot of bear activity or a high bear population and watch for signs of bear activity. Tracks, scat and markings on trees are all good indicators that there may be a bear nearby.
If You Encounter a Bear On the Trail…
If you’ve been noticed a bear – especially if it’s paying attention to you – the correct strategy can help prevent the situation from escalating. Keep your distance and stay calm.
Here are some strategies that can help prevent a bear encounter from escalating.
- Pick up small children immediately.
- Talk calmly to the bear. This way the bear knows you are a human and not a prey animal. This also helps you stay calmer. Remain still and slowly wave your arms. This helps the bear recognize you as a human. Never imitate bear sounds.
- Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example, move to higher ground).
- If the bear is stationary, move away slowly. Move sideways; this allows you to keep an eye on the bear and avoid tripping. Moving sideways is also non-threatening to bears.
- Leave the area or take a detour. If possible, wait until the bear moves away. Always leave the bear an escape route.
- Be especially cautious if you see a female bear with cubs. Never place yourself between a mother and her cub. And never attempt to approach mother and offspring. The chances of an attack escalate greatly if the mother perceives you as a threat to her cubs.
Avoiding a Bear Encounter in Camp
Here are some tips to lessen the chances that a bear will wander into your campsite:
- Stash your trash properly: Use bear-proof containers when available. If they’re not available or full, double bag your trash and lock it in the car trunk or RV. Never leave trash outside.
- Store food and other bear attractants for safety: Store food, beverages and toiletries in air tight containers and lock them in your trunk or RV. Many bears have figured out that coolers, bags and boxes are full of food and other yummies.
- Keep a clean camp: Bears are attracted to odors of all kinds. They will investigate any interesting smell in hopes of finding food.
- Keep a clean tent: Never leave anything with an odor into your tent – that includes all food, beverages, scented toiletries, gum, toothpaste, sunscreen, candles and insect repellent.
- Don’t sleep in the clothes you cooked in: Store any clothes you wore while cooking with your food – and lock them away in your car trunk or RV.
- Lock all vehicles, including RVs: Close windows and lock your vehicle and RV when you leave your campsite and at night before you go to sleep.
If You Encounter a Bear In Your Campsite…
Things to Do:
- Yell, scream
- Toss small stones or other items in the direction of the bear (but don’t hit the bear; it will just make it mad)
- Bang pots and pans
- Blow your car horn, air horn, or whistle
- Make sure to leave the bear has an escape route
Things Not To Do:
- RUN: Stop and hold your ground. Bears can run as fast as a horse – both uphill and downhill. Bears will pursue a ﬂeeing animal.
- CLIMB A TREE: Both grizzlies and black bears have excellent tree climbing skills.
- HIT THE BEAR WITH THROWN OBJECTS: It will just make it mad.
- DROP YOUR BACKPACK: It can provide protection for your back in case of a bear attack.
After the danger has passed, report all bear incidents to a authorities immediately.
Bear attacks are rare. However, every situation is different and there is no single strategy that will work in all situations. Being prepared and having a plan can help you react effectively and lessen the threat of danger.