Bad News Bears
The following list includes the worst case scenarios for
bear encounters. These are situations that all hikers and mountain bikers would
like to avoid.
that have become addicted to garbage and human food. Once bears become
accustomed to human food and garbage, they become drawn to areas of human
occupation. This may include backcountry campsites far from urban centres. A
history of poor backcountry garbage management by backpackers can add
backcountry campsites to a bears regular forays.
Bears that have first year cubs which go up a tree. In
this situation, the female may not leave the area, but rather will defend
the cubs. The sow may attack quickly if you are within its comfort zone. Be ready with your bear spray, and be prepared to climb a tree if possible.
Bears with second year cubs that may participate in a
bluff charge. Again, this can be a very dangerous situation as you are
now dealing with multiple bears. While this is very rare, it
would allow the family to protect a kill site more effectively.
Bears defending a kill site. Bears are very
aggressive when protecting a kill site. Learn to watch for signs of kill
sites such as large accumulations of ravens and other scavenging birds or
Predatory Encounters. While this is a rare situation,
and generally refers to predatory attacks by
bears, this can be a very serious encounter. Since the bear is hunting
you as prey, you must be prepared for an imminent attack. The bear may
circle you, slowly moving in closer and closer until it decides whether to
attack or not.
What do you do when you meet a bear?
Whenever you travel in bear country, you have to accept the
basic reality that you may encounter a bear. The tips on these pages will help reduce the
likelihood of meeting Master Bruin, but at the same time, you need to be
prepared for what to do when the unexpected occurs.
If you are in open country,
use binoculars to scan the horizon to look for bears. In more forested
landscapes, be sure to make lots of noise and keep a mental inventory of
climbable trees (just in case). Remember,
bears are agile climbers, and grizzlies have also been known to climb short
distances up trees. To be safe, you should look for trees that will allow you to
get at least 10 m (33 ft) above the ground. Don't forget that bears can charge
at 50 km/hr (30 m.p.h.). You'll need some time to climb that tree.
Situation 1 - Bear has not detected your presence and is more than
100 m (350 ft) distant.
Don't announce your presence if the bear has not seen you. If
possible, retreat slowly and give the bear plenty of space. If you have the
opportunity, you should retreat and leave the trail to the bear. If you must
continue, back off a short distance, and give the bear time to leave the area.
You should also do a wide detour quietly and quickly downwind to avoid problems.
Situation 2 - Bear has detected your presence, but is more than
100 m (350 ft) distant.
Your goal here is to act in such a way as to allow the bear to
identify you, but to also let it know that you are no threat. Speak calmly so
that it knows you are a human (their eyesight is quite poor). They will often
quickly give ground to you once they identify you as human. If the
situation permits, back away slowly, keeping a close eye on the bear. Otherwise,
you may wish to detour around the bear, but in this case, detour upwind so that
the bear can get your scent. Keep talking calmly. Waving your arms may help it
identify you as a human.
Situation 3 - Bear has detected you and shows signs of aggression
If you have followed the advice listed above, hopefully you have
a bit of distance between the bear and yourself. You'll need to
Assess the situation. Are you dealing with a
bear or a grizzly?
Are there cubs involved? Are there climbable trees nearby (and do you have
sufficient time to climb them)?
Do Not Run. You can't outrun a bear so don't even
try. Despite rumours to the contrary, black and grizzly bears can
outrun a human on ANY terrain, uphill or down. People will tell you
that you should run downhill when chased by a grizzly. This is simply a myth
- don't try it!
Try to retreat slowly. Back up slowly and try to put
more space between you and the bear. Talk calmly so that it can identify you
as human, and slowly back up. Keep your backpack on as it can provide
protection if necessary. Don't make direct eye contact, but keep a close
look at the bear as you back away.
Climb a tree if available. If you have enough time,
and the bear continues to move closer, take advantage of a tall tree to
climb. Remember, black
bears are strong climbers as well.
have also climbed short distances up trees after people. You want to get at
least 10 m (33 feet) high to reduce the chance of being pulled out of the
tree. Even though some bears can come up the tree after you, the hope is
that they will feel less threatened, and thus less likely to chase you up
If the bear charges you. Bears will often bluff
charge before attacking. This is designed to allow enemies to back down
before the bear needs to actually make contact. It evolved as a way to
prevent encounters with enemies and it may provide you with an opportunity
to back away.
Use your pepper spray. This is a last resort.
Pepper spray is only good at very close range (5 m or 15 ft). Wind will
reduce this effective range even farther (and may blow the spray back into
your face). If the bear approaches within this
range, point the spray at its eyes and discharge the contents. Hopefully,
this will either disorient the bear to allow you to escape, or at the very
least deter it from attacking. Once you have partially discharged a canister
of bear spray it should be discarded. While the spray may deter attacks, the
smell of pepper can act as an attractor.
bear (or any bear that is stalking you) makes contact. If the attack
escalates and a black bear (or any bear that appears to have been stalking
you) physically contacts you, fight back with anything that is
available to you. Black bears tend to be more timid than
and fighting back may scare the bear off. In addition, if a bear is stalking
you than you are in a predatory situation and fighting back is your only
option. This also applies to any attack at night as these may also be
considered predatory in nature.
If a grizzly
makes contact. As above, if you believe the bear to be stalking you,
fight back with everything you have. In general though, playing dead in a
encounter tends to reduce the level of injury sustained by most attack
victims. Many grizzly attacks are defensive in nature, and playing dead may
show the bear that you are not a threat. Keep your backpack on as it will
provide added protection. The best position is to lie on your side in a
fetal position. Bring your legs up to your chest and bury your head into
your legs. Wrap your arms around your legs and hold on tight. You may also
lie on your stomach, backpack on, and place your hands behind your neck to
protect that vulnerable area. Do not play dead until the last moment.
Staying on your feet may allow you to dodge, or divert an attack.
After the attack. Once the attack has ended, remain
patient. After a few minutes, try to determine if the bear is still in the
area. If the bear has moved on, you should make your way towards assistance
as quickly as possible.
Bears in you backyard?
Much of the focus in the literature is on bear attacks in wild
settings. Don't forget that living in bear country comes with a responsibility
to help reduce natural attractants in townsites.
here for more details on living safely in bear country
All Material © Ward Cameron 2005