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Bear Safety


Knowledge about bear behavior is important to the safety of humans and bears alike in bear habitat.  Bears are intelligent, inquisitive and generally peaceful animals that rarely attack humans – but you should use caution.  Encounters with bears do occur, but can be avoided if you prepare yourself with vital information before taking to the outdoors in bear country.



Taking measures to avoid bear encounters is the most effective means of ensuring your safety. 

When in bear country you should:


  • Stay alert and always be aware of your surroundings.

  • Look for any signs of bears, including tracks, scat and claw markings on trees.

  • Choose campsites carefully and keep a clean attractant-free camp.

  • Leave the area immediately if you have seen a bear or suspect one is nearby.

  • Always carry Bear Pepper Spray at the ready as a bear deterrent.



Remember that bear attacks are rare, and given the opportunity, a bear will usually move away when it becomes aware of your presence.  By remaining calm and responding appropriately, you can greatly reduce the potential for harm during an encounter.   If you encounter a bear that appears unaware of your presence:


  • Stop and calmly assess the situation.

  • Do not surprise the bear with shouts or loud noises, as this may provoke an attack.

  • DO NOT RUN, as this signals that you are prey.  Also, bears can run at speeds up to 40 mph!

  • Move away discreetly, watching for any sudden changes in the bear’s behavior.

  • Leave the area immediately and find safety.


If you encounter a bear that is aware of you:


  • Stop and calmly identify yourself as human by talking softly to the bear.

  • Slowly wave your arms in the air to look bigger.

  • Do not look directly into the bear’s eyes. Turn your head slightly to one side.


  • Slowly increase the distance between you and the bear by backing away while continuing to face the bear. (If seeking refuge, remember that bears are good swimmers and can climb trees.)

  • If possible move upwind to allow the bear to smell your scent.

  • If the bear seems indifferent or disinterested, continue to leave the area, and find safety.



There are two main types of attacks by bears: defensive attacks and predatory attacks


A Defensive Attack results from a bear that perceives you to be a threat to itself, its cubs or a food source.  In defensive attacks, the bear is trying to remove that threat.  A majority of attacks by grizzly bear are defensive attacks involving a sow protecting her cubs.  A bear will often act to minimize chances of harm to itself.  As a result, most defensive attacks stop short of any contact. It is common for bears to bluff charge, one or more times, in order to assess the situation.


Signs of bear discomfort or stress include:
A pause in activity; a stiffening stance or other change in posture; huffing; moaning, other vocalizations; teeth popping.

High stress bear behavior includes:
Salivating; rapid huffing; roaring; jawing with an open mouth; paw swatting; guttural sounds; and charges.


If the bear approaches in a defensive manner:

  • Try to appear non-threatening.

  • Do not shout at the bear. Talk in a calm voice.

  • Try to increase your distance from the bear by backing away.  (If the bear follows you as you try to back away:  Stop, stand your ground and continue talking softly to the bear.)

  • If the bear approaches, use a deterrent, such as bear pepper spray.

  • If the bear cannot be deterred and makes contact, fall to the ground immediately and play dead.  (In most defensive attacks, the bear will stop its attack when it no longer perceives you as a threat.)

  • When the attack stops, remain still and wait for the bear to leave before moving again.


A Predatory Attack

In Predatory (Non-defensive) Attacks, the bear has identified you as potential prey.  This type of encounter is extremely rare, and is more common at night and among black bears.   In predatory attacks, the bear will be intensely interested, with its full attention concentrated on you.  A predatory bear will have its head up, ears erect and will also potentially show the signs of stress noted above. 


If the bear approaches in a predatory manner:


  • Talk to the bear in a firm voice.

  • Try to move away from the bear’s travel path.

  • If the bear’s attention is still focused solely on you, stop again and stand your ground.


If the bear attack seems imminent:


  • Prepare to use your bear pepper spray.

  • Act aggressively toward the bear.

  • Shout and make yourself look as big as possible by slowly waving your arms.

  • If the bear attacks, use your deterrent to spray a pepper cloud directly at the bear.  If necessary, repeat this step.

  • Leave the area immediately and find safety.

  • Report the encounter.


By learning about bear behavior and motivations, we can significantly reduce the potential for serious human-bear encounters.  We can also reduce the ignorance and intolerance that has been so detrimental to the bear’s survival in the past.


(“Staying Safe in Bear Country,” International Assoc. of Bear Research & Mgmt., 2001)


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