Camping and hiking are great, but there is always a risk that you might run into a bear. Bear attacks are rare, but in case you find yourself in front of these furry mammoths, it’s best that you are prepared. We are visiting their homes, after all, so we have to play by their rules.
The first thing you need to do is identify the bear. Not all bears are the same, and each one will react differently. Your chances of survival will depend on how fast you can assess him and determine what type of bear he his.
Here are two scenarios you might find yourself in with the two most common bears in the US – the brown bear (or grizzly bear) and the black bear.
Scenario 1: The Foraging Grizzly
After a hike, you head back to your campsite where you find a very large brown bear (often referred to as a grizzly bear) rummaging through your cooler filled with food. The bear hears you and stands up high to get a better look while letting out a few growls. He begins to move closer towards you…
What do you do?
- a) Drop down and play dead
- b) “Run, Forest, Run!”
- c) Wave at Mr. Bear and walk away to allow him to finish his meal
When confronted with a brown bear that starts charging towards you, the first thing you should try doing is using bear spray – a necessity you must always have with you. But if you don’t have one or it doesn’t seem to work, drop to the ground into the fetal position, cover the back of your neck with your hands, and play dead.
Grizzlies will stop attacking when they no longer see you as a threat, so if you’re dead (or at least in their eyes), you won’t appear threatening. After they’re done pawing and sniffing at you and leave, remain “dead” for a good couple of minutes. Grizzlies have a tendency to wait and see if their victim will get back up.
DO NOT turn your back and run away – they’ll think you’re prey and will keep chasing you. No matter how fast you think you are, you’re not. You’re never going to be able to outrun a bear that can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour.
The Grizzly Mug Shot
|Height:||9 – 12 feet when standing, but 6 feet on average|
|Weight:||660 – 1,500 pounds (300 – 680kg)|
|Color:||Medium to dark brown, but some can be black to blonde|
|Body/distinguishing features:||– Distinct hump over their shoulders, which is a muscle used for digging and slashing prey.
– They have silver-tipped fur that looks “grizzled” or streaked with gray hair.
– Their back is sloping, concave face, and have a large, light-colored head.
|Claws:||Long and curved – may be seen from a distance|
|Location:||– Found mostly in Canada and Alaska.
– The Northwest States including Washington, Idaho, North and South Dakota, and Montana. Also found in California (and in their State Flag)
– Scattered around Eurasia
Scenario 2: The Lost Black Bear
It’s starting to get dark and you’re beginning to prepare your meal for dinner. You have your pots, pans, and a flashlight ready for the cooking. You walk a few steps to the cooler to get your food when you notice a black bear coming your way from deep in the forest. It notices you and starts swatting in your direction and approaching you.
What do you do?
- a) Make like a monkey and climb that tree nearby
- b) Grab those pots and pans and make a lot of noise
- c) Toss him some of your food and a thumbs up after
Again, first and foremost start with bear spray. If that doesn’t work, make a lot of noise because black bears are great bluffers who bluff most of the time when you think that they are attacking.
It helps if you make yourself appear bigger as well by standing up straight or separating your legs to make you look wider. If you look like an intimidating enough opponent, they might just say, ah forget it and leave you alone.
DO NOT attempt to climb a tree because black bears at great at climbing. They’ll probably be waiting for you at the top of the tree. In the rare cases that they actually do attack you, fight back and use any weapon you can find such as rocks, sticks, your fists, a spatula, pan, or even your teeth. Aim for their face, particularly their eyes and snout, which are the most sensitive parts.
If the black bear realizes that you are willing to fight till the end, they’ll usually give up and just go away. This is very different from a grizzly bear who will maul you until you are no more.
The Black Bear Mug Shot
|Height:||2 – 3 feet to shoulder; 4 – 7 feet standing|
|Weight:||125 – 660 pounds (56 – 300 kilograms)|
|Color:||Ranges from black to blond, with a lighter muzzle. They might have white patches on their throat or chest|
|Body/distinguishing features:||– No hump like grizzlies
– Straight face and back line
|Claws:||Dark, short claws|
|Location:||North America (41 out of 50 states) and all provinces of Canada|
WHY BEARS ATTACK
Most of the time bears attack because humans come too close for comfort. After all, we are going into their home kind of unannounced. Other reasons bears attack is because they are hungry – this is especially true for polar bears.
Bears might attack when they feel threatened or when they feel like they need to protect something like their cubs, food, or a carcass. They may also attack when they get surprised, confused, or afraid because they feel cornered or invaded.
Even though these two bears react differently, there are some general recommendations that you can apply to help you out if a bear decides to attack.
- Bring bear spray. This is your first line of defense. If you’re an avid hiker especially in bear country, you need to always carry bear pepper spray.
- Keep your backpack on if you’re being attacked. This will serve as an extra layer of protection for you.
- At night, use a flashlight on the bear’s eyes to blind them.
- Avoid sudden movements
- If you spot a bear from far away, change direction immediately and stay quiet. If you can’t change your route, stay in place until the bear is gone for at least 30 minutes.
- Use bear-proof coolers and containers. Never leave food laying around because they can smell that from miles away.
- Do not turn your back and run. Again, they will catch you.
- Never get between a female and her cub. If you find a cub alone, no matter how cute, run! Chances are mommy isn’t far behind and she will definitely see you as a threat.
- Don’t go out into the woods looking for bears just to practice these skills!
The chances of being attacked by a bear are 1 in 2.1 million, which means you’re more likely to die doing ordinary everyday things like driving (which is 1 for every 6,700 cars, by the way).
But even though the chances are slim, it’s best to always be prepared! Remember these things and you might have a chance in case you encounter a bear while out in the woods.
Rita is the founder of Dating With Nature, where she writes about her outdoor experiences – both good and bad, as well as tips and ideas she’s learned along the way and wants to share. Dating With Nature has all kinds of articles and information about everything to do with camping, hiking, and being outdoors. She is also a wife and mother of two boys; balancing her passion for being outdoors and her family, who she considers are her biggest joys in life.