Staying Safe Around Bears To Avoid A Bear Attack

Brown bear

NPS Photo Kevyn Jalone

Like many outdoor enthusiasts, you love being outside and exploring the wild. You love the woods, but guess what? You are not the only one. Bears love the woods too and that is where they live. Sooner or later you are bound to run across one the more time you spend in the woods hiking, camping, or fishing. We always recommend carrying bear spray as a safety precaution.

It is pretty exciting to see a bear, but it can also be an unnerving experience, especially if you are not in the safety of your car. While bear attacks are rare, keep in mind they can be dangerous animals. This is especially true if they feel uncomfortable or in danger themselves. Fortunately, most bear encounters end well with no bear attack. There are some things you can do that will lessen the chance of confrontation. Here are some tips to help you stay safe.

Try To Avoid Bears In The First Place

Okay, so this may seem a little strange, but try to avoid bears if possible. When you are hiking, camping or biking there is a pretty good chance there are bears in the area. In general, bears try to avoid humans. If they know you are there, they will try to avoid you.

Make Some Noise When Hiking

People go into nature because it’s peaceful and grounding. We don’t suggest screaming the lyrics to “Back In Black” as you stroll through the forest, but you want to make some noise as you go. If you are in a group, this is pretty easy. All you need to do is carry on a conversation with the people you are with. Typically this is enough noise that a bear will hear you coming and slip away long before you see them.

Remember you are a hiker, not a ninja in training so you don’t need to be super stealthy. If you are alone, humming, singing or whistling every so often can let bears know your presence. If you are hiking in the middle of the day, you are less likely to see a bear. They are not as active during that time.

Make sure you pay attention to bear signs such as bear scat and tracks. If you run across them, then you know there is a higher likelihood that a bear may be in the area. Be aware of berry patches and water sources as that will definitely draw the bears in.

Consider Your Food When Camping

Just like Yogi, the rest of the bears will come for your picnic basket, or food as the case may be. Keep your food in sealed plastic containers. If you are camping with your car nearby, keep your food in the car. If you are tenting or backpacking, follow the guidelines to double-bag your food and hang it around 15 feet high. Bears have a great sense of smell and will be attracted to the scent.  It is also a good idea to set up your tent a fair distance from where you store your food. We suggest 100 yards if you can. Be tidy. Not only will it make your mother proud, but food wrappers, dirty dishes, and leftovers put the scent of food blowing in the wind.

How To Handle A Bear Encounter

If you encounter a bear, here are a few things you can do so the situation doesn’t escalate. These are general guidelines, but remember wild animals are just that, wild. Bears can be unpredictable but these tips will increase the likelihood of a good outcome.

  • Talk to the bear. Talking to the bear calmly helps the bear to know that you are human and not another animal. Something to the effect of, “Hey bear, hey bear, how are you”. Repeat that several times. We don’t suggest inviting them over for dinner though.
  • Stand your ground and stay still. You can slowly wave your arms as you speak but avoid sudden movements.
  • Don’t panic, but stay calm. Most bears just want to be left alone and are not looking to attack you. They want out of the encounter as much as you do, but they also want to know they are safe. Talk is slow, low tones. Don’t do things that may trigger an attack from the bear such as, screaming or sudden movement. Do not make a high pitched squealing sound or imitate bear sounds. This is a sure-fire way to make them NOT very happy.
  • Stand tall. You want to seem as large as you can to the bear. Go ahead and puff that chest out like a high school boy, trying to impress someone.
  • Move away slowly.  You want to give the bear a wide berth and move away slowly, keeping an eye on the bear as you go. You want to move in a sideways motion as you go. Whatever you do, DO NOT RUN. This will trigger their instinct to chase you just like a dog will if you run from them. If the bear follows you, stop where you are, face them, and keep talking to them in a calm low tone. Hold your ground and DO NOT RUN. Bears are surprisingly fast and will have no problem at all outrunning you. Also, don’t try to climb a tree to get away from a bear. They are great at climbing trees.
  • Get out of the area. Sometimes it’s okay to be rude and not hang around. A bear encounter is one of those times. Leave the area as soon as you can. If the bear is directly in your path for where you need to go, try to take a detour. If this is not possible, you will need to wait until the bear decides to move. Back up a little, keep talking, and make sure you don’t make the bear feel trapped.

Bear Attacks

Although bear attacks are rare, they do happen. Knowing what to do ahead of time will help.

As we mentioned before, get the best bear spray you can and carry it with you.

best bear spray banner

So what do you do if you get attacked by a bear? Well, it depends. brown bears and grizzly bears are different than black bears.

Brown or Grizzly Bears

With a brown bear or grizzly bear, you should play dead if you are attacked. If you have a pack on, leave it on so it will help protect your backside. You want to lay flat on your stomach, which helps to protect vital areas and clasp your hands behind your neck so your arms will cover your neck better. Spreading your legs wide makes it more difficult for the bear to roll you over. Lay still as you can until the bear leaves. Most of the time if you fight back it increases the intensity of the bear attack. Although it is rare, if the bear attack continues on, you will have no choice but to fight back as hard as you can. You need to hit the bear as hard as you can, with whatever you have in the face, primarily the snout, mouth, and eyes. If you drive a finger or thumb into the bear’s eyes you should.

Black Bears

If a black bear attacks you, you should NOT play dead. Your best option should be trying to escape to a vehicle or building if you can. If that is not an option then you need to fight back using anything you can. The most sensitive area on the bear is going to be the bear’s face and muzzle, so focus your attacks there. Be as violent and as vicious as you can.

No matter what, if any kind of bear comes after you in your tent, or actually stalks you prior to attacking, you need to fight back, and not play dead. This almost never happens, but when it does, it usually means the bear is hunting for food and sees you as prey.

We hope you found this advice to be helpful. Our goal is to help you stay safe in your outdoor adventures.

Check out this video of a park ranger using bear spray in Yellowstone when a bear starts to bluff charge towards him.