Bear Safety is Everybody's Business!

Tips For Safe Travel in Bear Country

The following list of bear safety tips has been developed through years of experience in the mountains of Alberta and British Columbia, and through the research of many other outdoors people. For the single most definitive source on bear safety, be sure to read Stephen Herrero's book "Bear Attacks...Their Causes and Avoidance". This is the undisputed bible to bear encounters in the Rocky Mountains. It is from sources like this that many of the tips on this page have been gleaned. 

  • Black bear feeding on bearberry in spring - Click for more infoCheck with park officials for recent bear warnings and closures. Park managers are not only the best source for information on bear sightings, but park officials may also know the history of particular individual bears. This also makes park information centres your best source for information on areas to be avoided. Click here for a list of park trail reports where bear closures will be listed.

  • Learn to recognize the signs of black and grizzly bear activity. These may include droppings, grizzly diggings, signs of feeding on berries, etc. If you see fresh sign, your best bet is to leave the area. Yield to the size and power of bears by allowing them to have the trail if there is sign that they may have been in the area recently. 
    Click here to learn the differences between black and grizzly bears 
    Click here for more details on recognizing bear sign

  • Learn to identify seasonally preferred foods. Bears have a very predictable diet, and will seek out specific foods at specific times of year. Knowing these seasonal preferences can greatly assist you in knowing when to anticipate bears. Click here to learn more about annual food preferences

  • Make lots of noise. This is especially important when you are on a trail with restricted visibility, as well as those times when the wind is blowing towards you, meaning that bears will not have the benefit of your scent. What is most important is for the bear to hear your approach long before you are within its personal space. Bear bells make for great marketing, but they are not very loud. There is also the chance that unusual sounds like bells may actually trigger a curiosity response. Far more useful as a sound maker is your own voice.  

  • Travel in groups of 6 or more. Larger groups tend to make more noise, and thus reduce the chances of encountering a bear. Large groups offer the added benefit of appearing much more threatening and thus less likely to attract an attack. 

  • Stay alert! Even though you may be making noise, it is still important to stay vigilant and on the look out for bears. Most bear attacks occur when the injured person was not aware of the bears presence until the bear was less than 50 m (164 ft) away. At this close distance, there is little opportunity for either the bear or the trail user to react. 

  • Always carry bear spray, and make sure that it is quickly accessible. It will do you no good if it is buried in your pack. Practice quickly getting it out and preparing to spray. Bear sprays are an effective deterrent in very close range, emergency situations. However, it is of no help at all if it is in your backpack. When you find yourself in a situation where bear spray becomes necessary, you better be able to pull it out and activate it with little or no notice. It should be on your belt, and you should practice drawing it quickly. Click here to learn more about what to do if you meet a bear

  • Camping in bear country requires extra precaution. Site selection and safety become even more critical if you will be spending the night under canvas. Click here for more tips on safe camping in bear country

  • Mountain bikers especially should be vigilant. While riding the trails is great fun and exercise, cyclists move fast and very quiet. Bears may not hear you approach and the last thing you want is to round a blind corner and find yourself face to muzzle with a grizzly. Click here for more tips on safe Mountain Biking

All Material Ward Cameron 2011



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